Back in the early days of the new century, there was a very popular group out west that was making waves in the bluegrass community. Composed of a quintet of veteran performers, Sawmill Road, thrilled audiences close to home, but were mostly just a legend back east, as various schedule commitments prevented them from touring at the many festivals and concert halls in the region.
Based largely around the singing and songwriting of bass player Steve Spurgin, their two albums won them fans across the country through regular radio play. They had a fresh bluegrass sound that was clearly contemporary, but with a solid traditional backbone.
Banjo was provided by Dick Brown, one of the southwest’s most noted pickers, with Mark Miracle on mandolin, another stalwart veteran of many California-based groups. Bruce Johnson was their first fiddler, eventually giving way to Doug Bartlett, with Charlie Edsall on guitar.
Sawmill Road had a very good run, but went their separate ways in 2010 when demand for shows was higher than the various members could commit to doing, and they decided to take a break.
But now they are regrouped, and performing together again with David Dickey now on guitar, and Johnson back on fiddle.
When I spoke with Steve this afternoon, he said that the final band is back.
“We’re in the opening throes of reorganizing ourselves,” said Steve. “We have a couple of festivals booked, and are talking about a new project.”
Just a few years back, Steve says they ran into each other unexpectedly at the Grass Valley Festival in California.
“We played some music together and realized how much fun it was! Just from that loose jam, we ended up getting booked at a couple of shows and started talking about not just doing reunions, but getting back together as a real band.
So… we had a break of about 7 years, and now we back out there again.”
That’s great news for fans of the band, many of whom are just discovering that Sawmill Road rides again. They performed at the Lake Havasu festival in Arizona earlier this month, and were warmly welcomed by fans old and new.
Spurgin says that the current plan is to get into the studio to record some new music, and possibly select a few tracks from the previous albums, and match them with a half dozen or so newly cut songs for a new project.
They still won’t be touring widely, because as Steve says, “We’re all involved in other projects, so it’s not like we are going to get a van and started touring the country.” Sorry east coasters… no Sawmill Road for you.
But as Spurgin also mentioned on the phone, “You know what? This wasn’t a bad band.”
True ‘dat. Welcome back, Sawmill Road!