West Coast band brings bluegrass to Iowa City today


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mp3 sample: The Blackberry Bushes Stringband

"One Promise"

Upon hearing about nude beaches, organic farms, and the riot-girl movement, Kendl Winter quickly packed her bags in Arkansas and moved to Olympia, Wash.

"I had a lot of romances about Olympia," she said.

Playing banjo for a bluegrass band was an unexpected bonus. The Blackberry Bushes Stringband will perform its high-energy bluegrass music at 8 p.m. today at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. New Board of Education will open up the show. Admission is $6.

In Olympia, Winter attended a bluegrass circle and met Jes Raymond, a singer and songwriter from Vermont. The two had grown up around bluegrass but had never truly experimented with the genre on their own.

"I have always loved singing bluegrass," Raymond said. "It has something really raw and emotional."

While performing in Denver last week, the band members noticed a relatively large population of young bluegrass fans.

"I love bluegrass because it's transgenerational," Winter said. "It's neat to be able to go to a town and have people of all ages respond to it."

Tonight will be the third time for the Blackberry Bushes Stringband to perform in Iowa City.

"I look to my life. I look to experiences. I look to good stories," Raymond said, "Things that people can pour themselves into."

Each of the four members writes her or his own lyrics and brings them to rehearsals. Together, the group arranges music, incorporating the diverse ideas.

By reading poetry and listening to numerous singers and songwriters, Raymond noticed lyrics could be another meaningful way to speak out to others.

"I really love the idea that there is a common language with the genre," he said. "You can learn this repertoire of songs and go anywhere and have a way to communicate with people."

The twangy, rhythmic, Appalachian style of bluegrass was one factor that made it so appealing to Raymond. The band uses a four-part harmony and instruments such as a fiddle, banjo, and harmonica to exhibit a true old-time blend.

"When I hear old-time singers, it kind of sounds like they are imitating hounds on the hills," Raymond said. "I think it's a really beautiful singing style that cuts through."

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