Well the prairie may be frozen, but inside the West End Cultural Centre it was anything but at the Frozen Prairie Bluegrass concert Feb. 4. The atmosphere was warm and inviting for a simply wonderful evening of bluegrass by four fantastic bands.
Jess Reimer told me the event came about when, “Tim Osmond had been talking about getting an annual bluegrass event going in Winnipeg for a while because, of course, there should be one! Rob Wrigley, Tim and I did some brainstorming and some recruiting and some marketing and Winnipeggers did the rest by showing up and being super receptive Saturday night. What a great turn out!”
What a great turnout indeed. I arrived half hour early and the place was already packed. Turns out I’m not the only bluegrass fan in Winnipeg.
At the start of the show Tim Osmond welcomed the audience. He joked there was going to be a “cluster pluck” (because of all the string instruments – three fiddles, two banjos, a bass, a few guitars and two mandolins).
First up was the Stonypoint Trio. Rob Wrigley sang and played banjo, Tim Longbottom plucked the bass, and Ken Kansas also provided vocals and played mandolin and guitar.
These three musicians had a great sound, showcasing some traditional bluegrass songs and some of their originals, like “Metis Party Hero”.
My favorite instrument is the banjo, so I was in bluegrass heaven right from that very first song of the evening.
Here’s a video of the Stonypoint Trio, sorry about the poor visual quality, but the sound is okay:
Next up was Jess Reimer with her powerful vocals and Jeremy Hamm on the mandolin who played some wonderful tunes, including their own gospel song that Jess explained she wrote at her home in La Rivière, MB, a place she loves.
It was touching when her dad, Doug Reimer, joined them and sang some melodies. Musical talent runs in the family.
For some songs Jess played along on the bass. Also joining them for a couple songs was TJ Blair with his fine singing and guitar playing, as you’ll hear in this video.
The Osmond Davis Band came out strong with Simon Davis’ deep, rich vocals and guitar, Tim Osmond who is amazing on the banjo, Jeremy Penner on the fiddle, Dan Simpson on mandolin and Karl Ratchinsky on bass – all accomplished musicians.
Here is the Osmond Davis Band playing “Old Home Place”, one of The Dillards songs.
Tim Osmond was gracious enough to answer my request for a bit of information about the band. He explained him and Simon had been playing together since 2005.
They were later joined by Anthony Kost (whose photos from the concert he generously shared with me). He left for other ventures, but that was the catalyst to start a band.
Jeremy Penner, who has worked with The Wailin’ Jennys, then joined the group. Tim referred to him as the ringer of the group.
Simon and Jeremy grew up together in the Wolseley neighbourhood. I didn’t make the connection while I was watching the concert, but I first saw Penner when he played at the WECC with Oliver Swain, and I remember thinking at that concert, wow, this guy is super talented.
With Simpson and Ratchinsky, they were now a complete bluegrass band. They like to keep their bluegrass light and their intent is to have fun.
All members have day jobs, so they play gigs only once in a while, usually at smaller venues like Times Change(d) or Bella Vista Restaurant. Tim explained keeping it local and sporadic keeps it fresh. It’s easy in Winnipeg to burn out an audience.
Double the Trouble were a real treat. The audience got a chuckle when they dimmed the lights to show off their glowing green neon ties.
Young teenage twin brothers Luc and Aiden are the sons of Rob Wrigley. They are very accomplished fiddlers.
Dad Rob joined them on stage with his guitar and vocals. They fiddled and sang the classic “Devil went Down to Georgia” as well as some of their own music. You may have seen them at the Festival du Voyageur playing some of their Metis style fiddle music.
My favorite was at the end of the night when all acts came together on stage and performed the classic bluegrass tune “Old Joe Clark” – see the video below. Every one of these musicians are so talented. I hope they do make this an annual event.
After the show I talked with two fellas while waiting to cross the street, and the one guy summed it up nicely, “There’s just something wholesome about roots music.” Good wholesome fun it was!