The Bluegrass Unit are right up the road in Canada, but for most of those who reside south of our northern border, they remain relatively unknown. Regardless, the band — founding members Waylon Robicheau (mandolin/vocals), Jeff Nauss (guitar/vocals), and Justin Nauss (banjo/vocals), along with newer members Luke Teasdale (bass and vocals) and Andrew Sneddon (resophonic guitar) — are a prodigious bunch. Indeed, they’re festival favorites in their native Nova Scotia, having just completed appearances at the Galop Canal Bluegrass Festival and at the Tottenham Bluegrass Festival. Justin Naus notes that it’s the first time that the band has ever played in Ontario.
The group formed in 2015 following a series of jams. “The blend in harmonies and the dynamics with our rhythm section was way too noticeable not to focus on tightening those elements even more, and then sharing that sound with the public,” Justin recalls. The addition of Sneddon’s resonator guitar in August 2018 added what he calls a whole other element to their approach. Last November, when Teasdale was added to the fold, it provided a decidedly firm foundation to the band’s bottom line.
Drawing their influences from the usual bluegrass sources — Tony Rice, The Osborne Brothers, J.D. Crowe & The New South, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, The Darrell Webb Band, Jerry Douglas, and Blue Highway, among many others — the band has recorded two albums to date, Setlist Vol. 1 and Setlist Vol. 2. Justin says that the impetus behind both albums was to capture the feel of a live show and sample the setlist that they perform in concert.
“Andrew guested on some cuts on both albums on the resonator guitar,” he explains. “Both albums feature our original bass player Kenny Collins and both feature covers of well known and not such well known songs, as well as a few originals.”
The band has made an decided impression in their native Canada, and Justin says that the crowds they attract have been very attentive. “It’s almost as if the audience studies what you’re doing behind the microphone,” he muses. “That’s not a bad thing if we can bring something on stage that isn’t overplayed, give a different arrangement to a cover, or play an original that sticks. The reaction has most generally been positive for our sound. We offer lots of energy, and a style that’s totally dynamic and fresh.”
Being from Nova Scotia, The Bluegrass Unit has made Eastern Canada and the Maritimes their stomping grounds, although they have ventured to Maine in the past for the Thomas Point Beach showcase competitions in 2017 and 2018. This year, they’ll finish up their summer season at the New Richmond Bluegrass Festival in Quebec.
As one might expect Justin is a diehard devotee as far as bluegrass music is concerned, a fact reflected in an exhilarating sound that evolves out of a traditional template, and is then given a contemporary flourish. It’s little wonder then that the band believes that bluegrass has an absolute ability to sway and inspire audiences, a conviction that they’ve made inherent to their entire musical mission.
“I think bluegrass is a global music,” Justin insists. “For one thing, it’s just plain cool. For another, it’s pretty basic in terms of its form. Other than the electric amp for the electric bass, this music can be played anywhere and at anytime. In addition, the songs tell a story, whether it’s about heartbreak, love, sorrow or happiness. That means most people can relate to the material.”
More information about the band can be found on Facebook and on their website www.thebluegrassunit.ca. Check them out. Perhaps with a little coaxing, we can convince our Canadian neighbors to venture down south more often.