Round the Bend Celebrates its 10th Year
Thursday, October 29, 5:30-8pm, $5
121 West Main Street, Madison, WI
By Fred Newmann, October, 2009
In June, 2000 a 1955 high school classmate invited me to bring a country music band to entertain members of his Rotary Club at a Buffalo ranch in northern Illinois. I hadn’t much experience performing in bands and none in organizing one. But, with three other “young” pickers, we played the gig. I played fiddle and Carolyn Hegeler played banjo. We met in 1989 at a Bluegrass workshop in West Virginia (she lived in Pennsylvania). She joined me in Madison in 1990 and soon began 15 years of volunteer work with the Southern Wisconsin Bluegrass Music Association as concert promoter, board member, newsletter editor and president. For several years Carolyn and I jammed with lots of friends around Madison, then, in hindsight, the Buffalo Ranch gig launched what became Round the Bend, www.roundbend.com.
Four members of the current band have stayed with the group since fall of 2000: myself, Carolyn, Don Engelhart (guitar), who all played at the Buffalo Ranch, and Sherry Crownhart. Sherry joined in fall, 2000 initially playing guitar, but later learned mandolin to enhance our bluegrass sound. We’ve enjoyed several bass players, beginning with Cathy Frey at the Buffalo Ranch and for the first 2 years; followed by Will Gray who played with us until 2005 and whose singing enriched our vocal repertoire. Doug Hodge and Mike Cunningham each played bass for a year, with Mike performing on the CD we released in 2007. And now, since November of 2007, Patrick Spaay’s bass and vocals round out the group. Over the years we’ve been lucky to have the occasional help of Dave Bacholl’s fine bass playing and voice.
By 2001 we had named ourselves Free Range Pickin’, but soon we learned that a band in the twin cities had the same name. After the other band played a gig in Madison that Carolyn and I attended, we abandoned the name, and in 2003 we became Round the Bend. The phrase crops up in songs we play – from Steel Rails, “Steel rails chasin sunshine round the bend….”, and I’m Movin: …”Maybe it’s that light I see up around the bend.” It can signify either the excitement and wonder about what’s coming next or the experience of having “been there, done that.”
We play a mix of bluegrass, old-timey, and Western swing, and like to feature all band members vocally and instrumentally – our web site has lots of sound clips. Sherry is the main lead singer, and most of the 3-part harmonies center around Don, Sherry and Carolyn. Patrick and I like to sing on the more hard drivin’ tunes. We create our own arrangements and solos, but we’re not ashamed of copying arrangements from recordings of musicians we admire…even take pride in doing it.
Although I manage the band, the process is democratic. Everyone’s input is welcome and we seek consensus in choosing new material, organizing sets, deciding on gigs. We try to practice once a week.
Our goals are to sound good, to have fun, and to please our audiences. While we want to perform as professionals we try not to take ourselves too seriously and to connect with the audience not just through the music, but also through down-home humor and a lighted-hearted stage presence.
We play about 12 gigs a year but have never traveled more than about 4 hours from Madison. Our audiences have varied from 4 to about 1000. The venues include over 50 music clubs, theatres, non-profit associations (nursing homes, senior centers, historical and environmental organizations), bluegrass festivals, private parties and weddings, in Madison and in Wisconsin outside of Madison. The web site has a full list.
Appreciation for Our Musical Heritage and Supportive Community
All of us feel privileged to be able to participate in, and hopefully to help carry on, the music we’ve inherited from past masters – from the unnamed dancers, players of fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, mandolin, both here and abroad who created old-time music to the well-known names of The Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Jimmie Rodgers, Ralph Stanley, Hank Williams, BobWills.
We are privileged as well to benefit from the Madison area’s amazingly vital acoustic community. The support for this music offered by WORT, The Isthmus, the music associations (Mad Folk Society, SWBMAI, Four Lakes Music Collective), local clubs, theatres and promoters, local bands, jammers, and, of course, the fans -- is truly exceptional. We appreciate it so much.
We hope that we’ll be able to continue to live up to the basic principles of bluegrass:
A) Play faster than you can and sing higher than you should.
B) Play slightly out of tune…you can hear yourself better that way.
C) Preserve the core of bluegrass music………better than it sounds.