Despite a lot of competition for places to be and people to see on Saturday night, fiddler April Verch and her band held a large crowd at the Miners’ Hall rapt with stunning displays of musicianship, dancing, and their good sense of down-home humour.
“There might be a roller derby, there might be fight night down the road, but it’s Ottawa Valley fiddle night here,” Verch said as she, Cody Walters on bass, and Clay Ross on guitar swung into their first number.
Rossland is the last stop on this tour and the last time the band will play in B.C. until November. “We’ve saved the best for last,” Verch said. “And today we’re in his home land,” she said, nodding towards Ross.
A fabulous multi-instrumentalist, Ross didn’t miss a beat, figuratively or literally: “I like it here in Ross Land,” he grinned. “Tomorrow when I wake up, I’m going to go down and get my photo taken in front of Ross Vegas.”
“They have T-shirts!” yelled a member of the audience. “T-shirts?” Ross said, “Well, I’m going to have to get my dad and my brother one.”
“[Rossland] really reminds me of home,” he said later, “not where i’m currently living in New York city, but the home I’m from in South Carolina. I grew up right in the foothills of Appalachia.”
He was introducing a set of Appalachian banjo-fiddle duets, with Kansas native Walters on clawhammer banjo. Included in the set was a piece Walters wrote in the old time hill style called Jimmy got a Lizard.
“Jimmy was a cat,” Walters explained. “The lizard is no longer with us.”
This is the April Verch Band’s fourth tour of B.C. since the beginning of January. “We’ve seen a lot of your province,” said Verch, a native of Pembroke, Ont., whose father was an old country guitrist and singer in the style of Hank Williams.
“When we’re in one place people are always asking us, Where are you going next?” she laughed. “And then they tell us, Oh, you’re going to love it there! Then we get to the next town and the same thing happens. Basically it’s just because British Columbia rocks!”
And the April Verch Band rocks too. Verch, for example, is not only a world-class fiddler in many styles, but also sings rich melodies and is a wickedly fast step dancer.
She explained that the Ottawa Valley style of dance was born in logging camps inhabited by Irish, Scots, French, Germans, and Poles, “so it’s a mixture. A little bit of tap dancing, a little bit of clogging, some Irish hard shoe, some French Canadian, all rolled into one.”
She had shared some of her fiddling skills in an afternoon workshop attended by about ten local fiddlers, and she appealed to them again in the concert, letting them in on “cross-tunings” she used, such as E-A-D-A and D-A-D-A instead of the usual E-A-D-G. The tunings create new overtones, drones, and double stops, making “the fiddle ring in a different way,” Verch explained.
The range of styles the band performed wasn’t just technical showmanship, but an evocative experience. Introducing one of the band’s compositions, Walters recalled a 40-acre farm in Virginia that the band travels to every June for a fiddle camp.
“Everything’s green, it smells good, you can see the stars at night, there’s fireflies,” he said, “That’s what this song is for us, we get to go there in our minds for a four minute vacation.”
But technical feats are fun too. Ross wowed the crowd with his mastery of the Kashakas, an African instrument that might be mistaken for a toy — two shaker-balls connected by a string — if it weren’t played with such dexterity as Ross displayed.
He has combined bluegrass and Brazilian rhythms in his own CD, Matuto — Brazilian slang for country bumpkin. Verch elucidated, “picture having Carnival in the Appalachian mountains.”
Walters also has gigs on the side, including a new CD, Strung, released with Verch, Scottish master guitarist Tony McManus, and Doug Cox on Dobro. It “leans towards the Celtic side,” Verch said.
With some 250 gigs per year as the April Verch Band, it’s hard to know how they fit in more on the side.
“We’re on the road a lot,” Ross said. And now they’re in the air too, having departed Rossland for Kelowna, and Kelowna for China for a month of music there.
“It’s a great way to end this tour,” Verch said about playing for the receptive Rossland audience. In closing, she added her thanks to the Rossland Council for Arts and Culture “for everything they do in support of live music, the time and effort they put in.”
For more about April Verch and her merry musicians, visit www.aprilverch.com.