The Blue Canyon Boys will be back in Labadie for a concert this Sunday, Aug. 30, at 5 p.m. at Labadie Station. People can bring picnic blankets, lawn chairs, coolers and bug spray.
Band leader Jason Hicks is a Labadie native, which helps draw crowds of 400 plus bluegrass fans to the intimate outdoor venue. Hicks, son of Debbie Wagonseller and the late David Hicks, has been based in Colorado for many years. The Blue Canyon Boys, consisting of Jason Hicks, Gary Dark, Chris “C-Bob” Elliott, and Drew Garrett, have been performing together since 2005.
First-place winners of the 2008 Telluride band contest, the Boys have released five amazing CDs, and have a sixth in the works. When not working as a master cabinetmaker, Jason tours America’s Western states from as far south as Yuma, Ariz., all the way to the top and even into Canada.
The boys have received acclaim everywhere they go, and have even played internationally at the 2011 Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia.
Currents Online Arts & Entertainment Editor Ethan Busse talked with Jason Hicks of the Blue Canyon Boys about the upcoming show. Following are the highlights of that interview: (you can also listen to the recorded phone interview)
EB: How are things out in Colorado since we last talked?
JH: Colorado is pretty good, but we’ve actually had a bear problem in Lions. We have a dozen bears in town at any given time. We had an odd winter spring with warm spells and then hard freezes so their food supply got zapped and the are in town looking for food. Its pretty unusual around here. I had one in my yard at 8:30 last night, I have plum trees and they were eating at that until I scared him off.
EB: Wow, thats not something we’re used to around here!
JH: Yeah, it’s cool to see them, but I’d rather them not be around. Its dangerous for the bears and dangerous for the people eventually.
EB: Did you guys get everything cleaned up and rebuilt from that bad flooding last year.
JH: Yes, and no. All the immediate stuff is done, but the lasting major damage of some areas it will be years before it gets fixed. There’s still people who want to move back to town but can’t because the housings just not there. There’s a good 200 people that had to leave but haven’t been able to come back. There is disagreement about some of the rebuilding process, but they are making progress. We had a lot of outside labor for a while there though. There were actually a lot of Missouri churches who came out to help. Had a lot of St. Louis Cardinals hats around lions right after the flood.
EB: So what’s new with the band?
JH: The band is doing good, we’re excited to come back to Labadie Sunday, We have certain favorite places to play, and this is certainly in our top tier of favorite places. It’s just such a fun time, we’re super excited to do it. We have a CD that’s been on the verge of being done forever. It’s pretty much done and will be coming out shortly. We don’t have a release date, all the music is done and we’re ready to send it off to get printed pretty soon, so that’s exciting.
EB: That’s awesome. I knew you had one in the works for a while.
JH: Took a bit longer than we anticipated, but that’s kind of how things go sometimes. With the creative process and all of our personal lives. You get to a point where you’re ready to get it finished then all of a sudden boom something happens and the studio’s flooded. . . . but the CD is coming out and we’re excited about that and will be promoting that this fall.
EB: You’ll have to let us know once it’s out so we can let your Missouri fans know.
JH: Cool, it will be available on CD Baby and iTunes and our website. Actually all of our music is available on CD Baby and iTunes and we’re on Spotify and Pandora. So people can check us out however is easily accessible for the way they want to do it.
EB: Have you guys been traveling much this year?
JH: We actually made our first foray into the Northeast. We did a festival in Dearborn, Conn., about three weeks ago. It was really quite nice. We had a really fun time playing up there with some other big name bluegrass bands. It was fun to head up to the Northeast for the first time and see that part of the country. It was fun to see the rolling hills and the old houses and get to play for a new audience.
EB: It’s great you could bring your high octane sound up to the Northeast.
JH: We’re a bluegrass band, and we’re very traditionally inspired, but we sound different than a lot of the modern bluegrass bands. A lot of the modern bands, there’s a certain slickness and a main stream country vibe to their sound. When you hear them you don’t know which ones are which because they all sound so similar.
EB: I have to agree with you there.
JH: We were talking with Dudley Connell, who’s with The Seldom Scene a well known bluegrass band, and he was mentioning that too. There’s a lot of great bluegrass bands, and they all sound the same, and you just get bored with it. He was making a comment to us about how he enjoyed our sound because we don’t sound like that. We have a different unique band sound for a bluegrass band.
It helps us stand out a little bit. We’ve put a lot of energy in developing our band sound and sounding like ourselves, letting ourselves come through the music. Not forcing us to sound like any certain thing.
It’s odd in bluegrass music, there are a lot of people who have very strong opinions on how bluegrass is supposed to sound, and we’ve heard a lot of them. People say, “Well, you’re not a bluegrass band cause you don’t have this, or you do this,” but there’s just a lot of opinions.
The bands that tend to be the best and coolest bands are the ones that don’t adhere to those opinions and they’ve really gone and been a band in their own individual ways and created their own sound. We’ve tried to do that, be ourselves. Gary and I write a lot of songs, but we don’t just do songs that we write. On top of that we go and find songs that really speak to us individually depending on who’s going to be singing it. We work it up as a band, and if it doesn’t really gel, we’re not going to force ourselves to do it. I just think there’s a lot of bands that do that, but also a lot that don’t do that as well.
EB: They’re trying to duplicate this mainstream sound to reach success.
JH: It’s just maybe too standard. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass boys, who were the fathers of bluegrass music. Then after him came the Stanley Brothers, They were highly influenced by Bill and Charlie Monroe, but they sounded totally different than Bill Monroe. And then you have Jimmy and Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys, a brother duet bluegrass band, and they didn’t sound anything like Bill Monroe or the Stanley Brothers. All these guys had very distinct sounds. You can even have one of these bands come on the radio and you know immediately what the band is even before maybe you’ve heard the lead person sing, because there’s a certain feel and groove and style that band had. I think in our day and age we hear more of it now, the copycats, than we did in the past.
EB: At the same time nothing is off limits to the Blue Canyon Boys.
JH: We do “Time” by Pink Floyd, upon hearing that you wouldn’t necessarily work as a bluegrass song, but it can, and it does. People love it, it’s a song that everybody knows, which is nice. It’s nice to play songs that people recognize, because we do have a lot of non-bluegrass fans who come to hear us. Nobody knows what it is until you start singing it, then all of a sudden everyone is singing along with you. It makes it fun. It’s music that influenced us. I mean everybody has “Dark Side of the Moon.” It’s fun to do those things.
EB: What kind of set list can we expect this year? Any new originals, any new covers?
JH: We’ll be doing a number of songs off the upcoming CD. I’m going to go back through our set list from last year, we don’t want to play the same show every time. So we’ll find some new songs to play.
EB: How many songs off the new album can we expect?
JH: There are 13 songs on the new album, but we’ll play at least six or seven, maybe more. I tend to be the person who organizes the set list. We try to mix it up a lot, mix tempos and keys. Not a lot of fast songs in a row, not a lot of slow songs in a row. We want to keep the audience entertained. Sunday we’ll see how we’re feeling that day and put the list together.
I’ve been thinking about some older songs that we haven’t done much and throw those in the set list as well. It’s always fun to do that. I write a lot of songs, but a lot that I write don’t fit well with a bluegrass band.
EB: It’s neat you tailor the set list to the area you’re about to play.
JH: It’s always fun to do that. I write a lot of songs, but a lot of the songs that I write don’t really fit well with a bluegrass band. They’re too folky or just don’t really fit with the drive of the banjo. There’s a song I wrote about a year ago influenced by the wall at the gas station in Labadie, where they have pictures of everybody. Used to call it the old timers wall. I was thinking about that wall, and a song came out of it. We might do it, that band hasn’t even heard it, but I mentioned it to them. So we’ll go through it a few times, and see if it fits or not. I’d like to try that song, because I’ve got various figures from growing up in Labadie and the people that I knew in the area. They had an influence on that song, so it’d be kind of a fun, somewhat nostalgic thing. Hopefully we can do it. That’s my goal.
EB: I’m excited to hear that one! You had some pretty exciting roadside Americana stories when I talked to you from last year. Any new travel stories that stand out from touring this year?
JH: We flew into Philly this year, and asked, “Where’s the best place to get a Philly cheese steak?” This lady said, “Well, you gotta go here or here.” We wrote down some names and just took off driving. We stopped at the first one we saw, and it just happened to be the place that invented the Philly cheese steak! It was very good, and it was really cool to be in that part of the country, and we drove by some of the cool old historic buildings in Philly.
We saw where Benjamin Franklin is buried, we just happened to drive by that. It was nice to be in an area where so much of the country’s history is from. It feels different than out here in Colorado, which is wide open and somewhat a young state. The town we played was established in 1703, so that’s old. Much older than say Washington, Mo. But it was really fun, and that’s the one that sticks out in my mind.
EB: Anything else you want to let your fans here know before the show?
JH: Playing Labadie Station is one of our most fun gigs of the year. We look forward to coming back every year because lots of friends and family. It’s a good party, lots of friend I don’t get to see often come out, and I get to put on a show for them with the kids running around the field at Labadie Station, and it’s just fun. When I was a kid I remember having events in Labadie and going to them, running, having fun playing and hearing music. It’s really nice for me to now be a part of creating memories for the kids who are there now.
It means a lot to me to be able to create a nice fun relaxing time for people to come to and enjoy music and let the worries of everyday life kind of go off and be in a moment of music and family. We’re very aware of our responsibility in providing entertainment and creating the backdrop and the scene for the kind of experience. We don’t take that lightly, and we’re very honored to be able to provide that to people.
EB: That’s so cool, I have similar memories from those events.
JH: Something great is that it is very non-exclusive, a very family oriented thing, and I really cherish those kind of memories from when I was a kid. Running around with kids my age, but also being there with grandparents and elders of the community that I grew up around. I like having that whole multi-generations together enjoying the same thing at the same time, and I think that in our society we have been getting away from that too much.
EB: It’s important to make family memories together. It’s neat that our area still tries to keep that traditional going.
JH: I’m happy and proud to be part of it. Its important for kids to be around the old timers in a community, or at least what I grew up calling them. Ha Ha. It was really fun for me.
EB: Anything else you’d like to say to your fans out here before the show?
JH: Just really looking forward to coming out, and looking forward to playing Labadie Station and seeing friends and family and putting on a good show. Hope people can come out and bring their kids and their friends and grandparents. It’s going to be a good time. Hopefully weather will be cooperative, bring your lawn chairs and drinks!
With their traditional harmonizing vocals and hard-driving instrumental proficiency, this high octane bluegrass band is a must hear.
The Blue Canyon Boys take the stage at 5 p.m. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, picnic baskets, coolers and bug-spray.
Tickets are available at Labadie Station, 128 Front St., Labadie.