Prescott Bluegrass Festival relishes more organic melodies
PRESCOTT - Like most every other band in its genre, The Brombies, a foursome from Los Angeles, prefers the organic folk sound of bluegrass to the bolder, more popular grooves of blues, country and rock 'n' roll.
Over the weekend at the 28th annual Prescott Bluegrass Festival, thousands gathered on the Gurley Street side of the courthouse plaza lawn to soak in the calm, relaxed melodies streaming from the Brombies' and four other groups' acoustic guitars, mandolins, fiddles and banjos.
No drums or electric guitars required here - just plenty of "pickin' and grinnin'," as they say, among friends and families.
George Doering, 53, a longtime studio guitarist and the Brombies' mandolin player, switched over to bluegrass several years ago for its soulful grooves. He and his wife, Jo Ellen, 65, a guitarist who was in folk bands in the 1960s, brought the group together. Their band plays old standards and produces its own original tunes on compact disc.
"We had mutual friends from the studio and we said, 'Let's play,'" said Bill Bryson, the Brombies' 62-year-old bassist who played at a festival and the Palace in Prescott during the 1980s with the Desert Rose Band, a country rock group. "This is my first love and it's very user-friendly music."
The Doerings started jamming together 20 years ago in electric guitar-based bands. But once they started incorporating bluegrass melodies into their music, they inched closer to the acoustic scene.
"We got into bluegrass mainly because you can just start playing and everything kind of balances itself out," George said. "You don't necessarily need drums and big P.A. systems. The singing in this is more fun than pop music, with the three- or four-part harmonies."
The Doerings and Bryson later picked up Patrick Sauber, 26, who joined the Brombies a few years ago as the banjo player.
Sauber said he got into the group because he enjoys strumming straight traditional bluegrass of the mid-1940s and '50s, which is a focal point for the band, and meeting new people when its members travel.
"It is good, reliable work and good, reliable music. It's fun. Otherwise, I wouldn't do it," he said.
The Brombies typically play at clubs and restaurants in the L.A. area, but the group branches out occasionally on the road.
"We travel around Arizona, California and Nevada, but we also go to Nashville, Tenn., in September for the Bluegrass Convention," said Jo Ellen, the band's guitarist and promoter. "We enjoy listening to other groups."
Scott Currey, chairman of Prescott's 2009 festival, said the event's committee chooses participating bands, such as the Brombies, after reviewing résumés, listening to demos and reading promotional materials from acts across the country.
Bill Blackburn, who is on the festival's board of directors for entertainment, said that when scoping out talent, it's important to go to other bluegrass festivals taking place around the West during the winter months.
Some of the groups have come recommended by people who attend other festivals, Currey said. A mix of traditional and contemporary sounds is a must, as is luring one nationally known outfit. This year, Wayne Taylor and Appaloosa, which performed on Saturday night, was the headliner.
Each of the five bands performs two sets on Saturday and a finale on Sunday.
"We try to get a variety of bands. We don't want them all looking the same and sounding the same," Blackburn said. "We like to get family bands in, too, with the kids."
Currey added that the Prescott festival employs Old Blue Sound, one of the finest bluegrass sound companies in America, to produce its show.
The festival's non-profit committee generates about $25,000 to $27,000 each year from local sponsors to put on the event. It is the only bluegrass festival of its caliber in the Western U.S. that is free to the public.
Blackburn said the Brombies are a nice fit in Prescott because of the mix in their sound variety.
"They do a little of the traditional stuff and they do some novelty stuff, which is enjoyable," he said.
To learn more about the Brombies, log on to their website at www.thebrombies.com or call 323-874-0213.