The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

Featured locals of the month: The Local Group

By in Culture
The Local Group poses for a photograph with their instruments at the U of S on Nov. 25, 2019. | Riley Deacon

The term bluegrass is often not synonymous with youthful passion. This group of young people are determined to change the misrepresentations surrounding the genre of music that sparks their passion and they call themselves The Local Group. 

With three of the band’s four members attending high school together and playing together for about four years, it’s no wonder that the group is known for their on-stage chemistry and collective co-ordination. With Ethan Peters on double bass, Justin Vilchez on mandolin, Elliot Dillabough on guitar and Jaxon Lalonde on banjo, there is no limit to the talent of the individuals that compose the band.

“We’re not truly a bluegrass band, we’re sort of a folk, bluegrass old-time-country hybrid,”  Lalonde said.

The band itself walks the fine line between embracing the traditional significance and intention of the genre while also striving for innovation and connection with younger listeners as their audience tends to be older. 

The band seeks inspiration from many sources in terms of what they choose to play.

“Some of our original [songs] are kind of punk-influenced,” Lalonde stated when asked about their upcoming album release scheduled for early next year. 

While they respect the threads of traditional bluegrass culture, they also individually listen to many genres and take inspiration from them. 

“We like to take songs that are traditionally maybe not bluegrass tunes. You do a lot of covers and you put your own twist on it,” Vilchez said.

Sonically, the band offers a refreshingly modern “Beatles-esque” approach to the merger of lyricism and melody. The band is an advocate for any song that, in the traditional bluegrass fashion, matches seemingly sad lyrics with any form of an upbeat tempo. 

In regard to this phenomenon, Vilchez states that “the lyrics are kind of like voice tempted in some kind of sadness, but the music responding to the lyrics is always quite upbeat.” 

The band promises to keep this musical tradition very much alive on some of the tracks on their upcoming album. “Drive and energy” are the two most important factors in their creative processes. 

The Local Group has taken a more simplistic approach when recording their latest album, saying that they didn’t want to deviate too far from the sounds of their live shows. 

“It’s just like as we would play live… I mean, it’s professionally done, but it’s a recording of a show,”  Lalonde said.

In a genre so deeply dictated by traditional musical technicalities, it’s a wonder that the band remains so creative. They view the deeply technical lens of bluegrass as an accessory to creativity and not a hindrance.

“I think technicality and creativity go hand-in-hand,” Lalonde stated when describing this dilemma. He argued that the technically challenging aspect of bluegrass is what gives it a life of its own. 

Technical tools such as improvisation and complex rhythms act as tools to help create a larger artistic picture. 

One of their biggest goals is to reintroduce youth to bluegrass. The passion the band feels for the genre is inspiring in itself and they hope that young people see the applicability of bluegrass to their own lives.

The future of both bluegrass and The Local group looks very bright within Saskatoon’s increasingly varying community.

The Local Group will be playing at The Bassment on Jan. 24, 2020. For more information, find them on social media at The Local Group SK.

Jessica Mroske

Photo: Riley Deacon

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