For any country, bluegrass, Americana, or contemporary artist of most any kind, it’s a dream come true to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. And on November 11th, this one-of-a-kind moment will come to fruition for Canadian bluegrass band The Slocan Ramblers.
Their debut performance on “Country Music’s Biggest Stage” will go down this Saturday, as they share the stage with other musical stars like Bill Anderson, The Oak Ridge Boys, and more.
“Being a kid who started playing the banjo at the age of ten, playing on the Opry was something I literally daydreamed about,” said Frank Evans, The Ramblers’ banjo player and vocalist. “My dad had a record of all the Opry stars we used to listen to growing up that came with a square piece of the original curtain. I remember thinking that was the coolest thing. It’s hard to put into words the honor I feel being able to perform on that stage.”
Deeply entrenched in the roots of tradition, unapologetically innovative, and wielding a timeless sound, The Slocan Ramblers have emerged as a leading light of contemporary bluegrass music. Renowned for their spirited live performances and mastery of their instruments, the band has been enchanting audiences for years in Canada, The States, and beyond. In June of last year, the band put out their latest album, Up the Hill and Through the Fog.
Following their Opry debut, the band will remain in Nashville to record two new singles with 2024 release dates. The first single is a cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” in honor of the late legend who served as one of Canada’s biggest folk-centric songwriting influences. The second single, “Forever Has Come to an End,” written by Buddy and Julie Miller, serves as a complement to the band’s signature, “fast-ripping” bluegrass sound. Both tracks will feature 14-time GRAMMY Award-winning dobro legend Jerry Douglas.
We got to chat with Evans to learn more about what it means to them to be playing the Opry, their upcoming releases, and much more.
Can you give us a brief origin story of The Slocan Ramblers and how y’all got together? And why the band name?
The band started in 2011 in Toronto. Adrian (mandolin), Darryl (guitar) and Alastair (bass player at the time) were attending Humber College of Music. They had all been recently exposed to Tony Rice and were completely enthralled by the power of a bluegrass unit. Alastair and I worked as bike mechanics and he had heard through the grapevine that I played the banjo. We got together for one jam which quickly evolved into an opening slot for a friends band. Before we hit the stage, the MC asked what our band’s name was. Alastair, who grew up in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia, quickly said “The Slocan Ramblers”. The name was born.
So you’ve got your Grand Ole Opry debut coming up this Saturday, November 11th. How excited are you, and what does that mean to you?
It’s hard to put into words the level of excitement we have for this opportunity. I’ve been playing banjo since I was ten years old and have always dreamed of being on that stage. I remember growing up with a compilation album of all the Grand Ole Opry stars that my Dad had. It came with a little square piece of the original curtain. I must have listened to that album seventeen thousand times.
Are there any particular songs that you are excited about performing? Maybe some special covers?
We are so proud of our recent album, Up The Hill And Through The Fog, that we will definitely perform some songs from that. We also have an Uncle Dave Macon song on our second album called “The Hillbilly Blues.” It would be nice to honor one of the original Grand Ole Opry stars by performing that. To be honest, we might just have to choose the song we can best get through while having shaky hands.
Do you remember your first live performance together? Where was it? And did you ever suspect you’d take your music to a venue like the Opry?
Although our first performance was opening for a friends band in Toronto, our early career started at a bar downtown called The Cloak & Dagger. We played every Tuesday from 10 PM until 1 AM for two years. It was a pretty rough place that’s nick name to all the locals was The Puke & Stagger. If someone told us that that gig would eventually lead to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry, we would have laughed in your face.
What is the most fulfilling part about a live performance for you?
One of my favorite things about performing and touring as a band is the level of detail you can put into the show. We have all been side players in various bands and your job is to learn the material as best you can before you have to start learning someone else’s material for your next gig. With a band, you can really start to dissect each piece and work on how it fits into the whole show. We often tweak a song, try it out for a show or two, talk about it and keep that process going until it feels perfect. That’s a luxury only a touring act can have.
Do you have any pre-performance rituals or things you do to prepare? How might you get in the zone before performing or is it business as usual?
We all try to warm up on our instruments or sing together as much as possible before a show. Anyone who tours knows that that’s not always possible. Sometimes you get caught in traffic or the sound check doesn’t go as planned and you have to just hit the stage running. We’ll see if Gallatin Pike is kind to us on the 11th.
When reflecting back on your journey as musicians, what has been one or two pinnacle moments for you as a band?
Early on as a band we were given the opportunity to open for Steve Martin at the Toronto Jazz Festival. That was the first time any of us had performed in front of many thousands of people. Despite being extremely nervous, we all played really well and I think that was the moment we knew the band could grow into something larger than just a local bar band.
What else can fans of The Slocan Ramblers expect as we swiftly transition into the new year?
While in Nashville, we have plans to record two new singles that will be released in 2024. We will be joined by one of our all time heroes, Jerry Douglas. The first song is a Gordon Lightfoot song called “Sundown.” We lost Gordon this year, and being one of the biggest Canadian influences on bluegrass, we thought it was only appropriate to honor his legacy by recording one of his songs. The second one is a song called “Forever Has Come To An End” by two great Nashville songwriters, Buddy and Julie Miller. It has this beautiful chorus that lends itself perfectly to a fast ripping bluegrass sound.