The Spinney Brothers mark their 35th anniversary

The Spinney Brothers perform at the Festival Theatre in Wolfville, NS (5/25/24) – photo by Jean Smith

This review of The Spinney Brothers’ anniversary concert is a contribution from Wendy Elliott, a former reporter for the Valley Journal Advertiser and Register. She lives in Wolfville, NS.

A sold-out crowd at the Festival Theatre in Wolfville, NS applauded The Spinney Brothers throughout their 35th anniversary concert in late May. The hometown crowd had not heard Allan and Rick and their bluegrass band for eight long years. 

“It was truly a night that I am proud of, a night where seemingly everybody was there. All the people that paid to come see us, that supported us, taught us, and loved us,” Rick said later.

When MC Al White asked the audience who hadn’t heard the Spinneys before, there was only a smattering of hands in response. The band delivered timeless music, captivating storytelling, special guest performers, along with brand new tunes. 

Having played a prominent role in the Canadian bluegrass scene for decades, the band showed themselves just as strong as the last time I heard them at Horton High School. In fact, their harmonies sounded tighter than ever. 

Allan Spinney sang and played guitar, while Rick joined in on vocals and banjo. The energetic brothers were joined by long-time bandmates Gary Dalrymple on mandolin and Terry Mumford on bass.

The show, presented by Brookes Diamond Productions, featured Lucas Whitehead from Falmouth as opening act. Lucas is a 17-year-old rising bluegrass star with awards for his singing and playing. The lad started performing at age seven. An original band member, Steve Jackson, was a special guest. Steve is an award-winning tenor from the Kentville area.

Rick offered a loving tribute tune as a stepdad to his stepson, while Allan entertained with bluegrass classics like Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light and Tom T. Hall’s I Want My Dog Back.

Rick gave a poetic tribute to the man who taught him how to play the five-string banjo, Roy Thomson. Roy, who was Wolfville’s CAO, gave the young Rick a year’s worth of free lessons and then said, “I’ve taught you all I know.”

The Horton High class of 1988, along with former teachers Joyce Balfour, Peter Selig, and Gerald Giddens, were joyously on hand for the concert. After the music stopped, there were many selfies and hugs in the lobby.

The emerald-vested quartet has released 12 albums, including four successful releases on Mountain Fever Records. The brothers charted four number one hits, and have been honored with countless awards throughout their long career.

While they formed in 1989, and first performed on the stage of the old Horton High School, the Spinney Brothers didn’t become a full-time touring band till 2010. 

They were consistent award winners from the Eastern Canadian Bluegrass Music organization and, gradually, they gained international recognition as a very talented band.

They have performed in every province in Canada, and in over 40 American states. The band played on the prestigious stage at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards show in Raleigh, North Carolina, in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Indiana. Rick reflected, “As a Canadian band, we feel that we have been accepted with open arms and with the greatest of hospitality from our Southern neighbors, for that, we are overwhelmingly grateful.”

In a review of their 12th album, Tried and True, by David Morris in Bluegrass Today, he said, “album after album, show after show, the Canadian band stays faithful to the roots of bluegrass, not just in theory but in every single measure of every single song.”

According to Morris, what “sets this record apart from fine performances from other strictly traditional bluegrass acts are two songs that focus on issues that don’t get addressed every day.”

The Spinneys have always showcased a tight brother duet vocal style that was immediately recognized for its energetic and distinctive sound. The cornerstone of their musical identity is a thorough understanding of traditional, southern-flavored bluegrass music. They are believed to be the first Canadian band to hit the American bluegrass charts.

After touring something like 1.2 million miles, they decided in 2017, to take a break from performing for several years. Now the brothers are back. “Our goal is to always deliver the music that is in our hearts, music that has stood the test of time, music that is tried and true,” Rick says.

This summer the band is performing in Ontario and Alberta. On August 10, The Spinney Brothers will be on stage at the 22nd annual Clare Bluegrass Festival in Meteghan.