If you’re from New York City, someone from ‘upstate New York’ is basically like someone from ‘anywhere else.’ If you’re a bluegrass band from ‘Upstate New York,’ you’re not like anybody, from anywhere else.
Altamont, NY-based Fairview Avenue is a testament to this statement, as the 5-member band plays a style of bluegrass that so closely associates to traditional bluegrass, but makes its own unique twist on the music, taking the listener down several different paths. From members that have a history that was anything but bluegrass, this well rounded group from Upstate New York has taken a wealth of talent, and formed a unique musical style with differing influences that bring elements of traditional and progressive bluegrass together in an area not traditionally known for bluegrass music.
Rocks, Hills and Plains:
In the start of a music career that began at age 15, Fairview Avenue band leader and founder Scott Hopkins explored tuba, bass and banjo as instrument choices to develop. After high school, Hopkins entered Crane School of Music as a tuba major, and later developed a bluegrass group to continue has banjo development. Scott was a winner of the Crane Concerto Competition on tuba in ’95-’96 and graduated in 1996 with a degree in music education and a certificate of tuba performance. Shortly after graduating college, he joined the Vermont based bluegrass band, Breakaway, and his real bluegrass career began. During his five-year tenure with Breakaway, Hopkins contributed original banjo instrumentals on two recording projects and became an integral part of the band’s sound. After moving to the Albany, NY area in 2006 he decided he wanted to start his own band and the plan for Fairview Avenue was born.
Once Hopkins began searching for band members to make up his new group, he didn’t have far to reach before he had his first member; wife Elizabeth was already a trained musician, however with a focus on piano. Elizabeth had always wanted to play fiddle, and easily adapted to playing bass fiddle for Fairview Avenue. Scott Hopkins loved the idea of having his wife in the band, believing that, with practice, music would come into the house for their children to embrace. The band grew, originally adding a mandolin and a guitar to Scott Hopkins on banjo, and Elizabeth on bass.
Interestingly, Hopkins found both the mandolin and guitar player via a non-traditional source: Craigslist. Both players had a rock music background, complete with writing experience. Once prepared to start public performances, all that was missing was a name. Scott Hopkins noted in an interview with LocalGrass Radio that at the time he was forming the band, he was working on a house he had purchased in Altamont, and that house happened to be on Fairview Avenue.
Blue Mountain Whiskey:
The band began performing, with many engagements locally their first year, and the audiences grew. Elizabeth began to market the band, and developed social media presence as a means to promote their music. Fairview Avenue played several large bluegrass festivals in their first year together, including the Lake Champlain Bluegrass Festival, Grand Isle, Mohawk Valley Bluegrass Festival in Booneville, NY, and many local concert series in the capital region of Albany. The group fondly recalled that they played as a ‘traveling troubador group’ for 4 days at the Altamont Fair, using a garden wagon to transport their sound system from area to area in the fair, plugging in wherever they were to play.
The band’s first CD project, Fairview Avenue was released in 2010, and its cover featured the Ferris wheel from the Altamont Fair.
Since the release of the CD, the band has continued to gain fans of the unique style of music they deliver as they continue to function as a “well oiled 5 string instrument.” The varied backgrounds in music function seamlessly with the band’s bluegrass performances, lending a welcomed fresh approach in their music.
As with many bands, the group did experience some personnel changes in the past few years, and now works with a fiddle, and a new guitarist. Fairview Avenue consists of Scott Hopkins on banjo and vocal, Elizabeth Hopkins on bass and vocal, Tony Califano on mandolin and lead vocal, Brig McCutcheon on guitar and vocal, and Joe Gumpper on fiddle.
For more information, visit Fairview Avenue online at www.fairviewavenuebluegrass.com.