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Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Waynewood Boys Proudly Present "Sawmill Sally" (A Bluegrass Opera)

The Waynewood Boys Perform "Sawmill Sally"
Six years ago I got bit by the bluegrass bug.  In search of people to pick with I ran a Craigslist ad looking for people who wanted to learn bluegrass and invited them over to my house (the first of what was to become my month SeMiBluegrass jams).  My friend Bill was just learning the Dobro.  Andy, an experienced electric blues guitarist showed up to learn bluegrass rhythm.  Rachel showed up with her ska piano background and a new upright bass.  And a soft-spoken banjo player named Hugh rounded out our first jam.  I've since listened to those tapes.  They're pretty brutal.  However, we have all gone on to find out place in the SeMiBluegrass music scene.  Hugh found his bluegrass muse writing and playing old-time flavored, traditional bluegrass with a local group of musicians.  In a world where pickers band together in pop-up bands that last a couple shows, the Waynewood Boys have managed to not only survive, but have thrived, searching out and playing small, esoteric venues--the kinds of places where creative, artistic and meaningful music is still performed, praised and valued; the places where the audience sings along in perfect harmony; the place where the pulse of live music still beats strongly.

Fader telling the Story of Sally
The Waynewood boys' latest--and most ambitious--work, co-written by  Fader (banjo), Tom Megli (guitar) and Keith Buchannan (bass) is a Bluegrass Opera, "Sawmill Sally".  Consisting of eleven original tunes that, taken together, tell a complex, funny and sometimes tragic story of love. loss and the consequences of rash action in late 19th century Virginia, this "concept album" may have exactly what roots music is missing today--a sense of meaning and purpose.  The band chose to premier their work at the "Live From the Living Room" event at Unity Church of Lake Orion.  This long-running concert series, hosted by local folk-music icon Maggie Ferguson and storyteller extraordinaire "Gypsy" Jack Ferguson is as close to a live taping of "A Prairie Home Companion" you will find.  The night started with a bit of a variety show with some fun covers and poignant original music (and some fine story telling) from Maggie, Jack and friends.  Following was a short set of original music from Sigrid Christensen off her newly released album "Little Vixen".  Her soft, high voice paired perfectly with the poetry of her works, her subtle guitar work and some killer accompaniment on guitar, harmonica and trumpet.

Megli on the High Tenor Vocal
The Waynewood Boys took the stage for the main event.  Clocking in at just over an hour, the songs were interspersed with short pieces of background and insight into the story.  A high quality program was included with story notes, and selected short passages from the lyrics to help guide the listener.  The band obviously enjoys what they do, launching into each song effortlessly and executing them flawlessly.  Eschewing the barn-burner, faster-is-better mentality of many modern bands, the Waynewood boys opt for a more thoughtful and methodical to many of their songs.  The first few numbers definitely have an old-fashioned sound to them and perfectly transport the listener back to late 1900s Virginia and set the mood for the story.  As the performance continues, the band mixes in some other influences including more progressive bluegrass sounds, some acoustic blues and folk, and even a bit of a modern rock vibe.  The band is polished, and easily sinks into the groove laid down on bass by Buchannan.  Megli's Carter-family influenced flatpicking gives the songs a lot of depth and drive, while Fader's banjo contributes both melodically and rhythmically.  Multi-instrumentalist Mike Francis fills out the songs with some tasty mandolin chops and some of the richest, most toneful fiddle work around.

Having some Fun on Stage with The Waynewood Boys
Sawmill Sally is both well-conceived and well-performed.  The story begins with Broken Window Blues where we meet Sally and  learn "don't be deceived by what you see...or what you don't see".  We meet Henry Johnson, love-scarred and driven to success in Virginia, and then follow the ups and downs of his courtship and marriage to Sally in Sally Barlow, For the Rest of Our Lives, and Starving at a Feast.  In the "disarming" song One Arm Jake we meet Jacob, the young, love-struck anti-hero of the story and the tragedy that effects all of them.  These consequences are explored in The Trial of Henry Johnson, Watch Over You and Prison in my Mind.  The story comes to it's tragic ending in Dead on the Ground.  Wrapping up the tale is How Can I Go On, which ends on a sorrow filled lament with just a ray of hope--only to launch into an upbeat chorus from Broken Window Blues bringing the story full circle and the night to an end.  This is a very enjoyable, and refreshing way to experience the finest in bluegras and good, old-fashioned story telling.  I hope the Waynewood boys (and many others) continue bringing this kind of thoughtful, intelligent songwriting to life and sharing it with the vibrant live music scene in SouthEast Michigan.  I will definitely keep going to see stuff like this.  And you should too.

Additional photos from the evening are shared in the Gallery below.  Please feel free to visit the public Facebook gallery and tag the people in the pictures.  You may also freely use and share these images with credit give the SemiBluegrass.com.  Like what you see here?  You can subscribe to this blog, or follow us on Facebook for more live, local music in SouthEast Michigan.

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