I had the good fortune to hook-up with the members of Bearfoot on Friday when they performed here in Roanoke. The band let me crash their pre-sound check dinner for an interview, and I was able to catch the first part of their show that evening.
This group has come a mighty long way in the past ten years. What started as a bluegrass band among friends in Alaska has morphed into an alternative string music group based in Nashville, showcasing the original material of its members.
Fiddler Angela Oudean and mandolinist Jason Norris are the sole original members remaining from the Alaskan days, though fellow Last Frontiersman Todd Grebe also joined them when they made the move to Tennessee. It was a return of sorts for Angela, who had studied at East Tennessee State University in their bluegrass program.
Bearfoot (previously Bearfoot Bluegrass) reformed after she graduated from ETSU in 2006, and she explained a bit about how an Alaskan band ended up in Music City.
“As we began to grow an audience beyond Alaska, we had members all over the country. After a few years, we realized that much of the money we earned touring was going to the airlines, and that something had to change if we wanted to do this for a living. Not all of the band was ready to uproot, but the three of us decided to make the move.”
Norris said that though there was never a plan to do so, all five current members live within a five block radius in Nashville.
And it was in the neighborhood that they met and started jamming with current bassist PJ George and vocalist/guitarist Nora Jane Struthers. George is a native of our area, growing up in Salem, VA where he played with the Harwell Grice Band, and obtained a music education degree from Radford University. Struthers made her way to Nashville from her home in New Jersey, primarily to facilitate touring in support of her self-titled 2010 CD.
Now the five of them are Bearfoot, and have started the early planning stages for their second album on Compass Records. A debut single is expected this Spring, with a full release in November.
Their sound is heavily influenced by bluegrass, but without a banjo, it has a slightly different flavor. You also hear a strong old-time vibe, most prominently in Oudean’s fiddling. But their primary appeal is in the songwriting, and the variety that comes from having five strong vocalists in the group. Struthers has added a number of her original songs to the band’s show, as has Grebe from his recent CD, Until Tomorrow.
Instead of just throwing qualifiers around, let’s watch the music video from the upcoming single, When You’re Away.