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Waking Hazel kicks off Roots Music Festival

Ask any member of Waking Hazel how the bluegrass band got its name, and you’ll never get the same answer twice.

“We’re influenced by a goat named Hazel, old-time music artist Hazel Dickens, and one the members’ kids is named Hazel,” says Michael Lindgren, the band’s upright bass player.

Waking Hazel’s lineup — Jessie Monter on fiddle, Bekkah McAlvage on guitar, Dave Brendlinger on mandolin, Rachel Buklad on banjo, and Lindgren — evolved from musicians who met regularly at local bluegrass jams.

“Foxfire hosted jams at Caldera Tap House in Ashland, and there was an old-time jam at Pony Espresso,” Lindgren says. “A handful of us got together for a private jam on Wednesday nights in my living room. We designed it around traditional instruments. Rachel and I are the only remaining members of the earlier group. Others have come and gone.

“We started without any intention of becoming a real band, but as we progressed that is exactly what happened. We moved out of the living room and started playing small gigs here and there. We tried the bar scene, but realized it wasn’t for us because we’re parents of young children and have to get up early. We’re hard-working people with day jobs. Some of us are teachers. We have no time for doing such business, but here we are.”

Waking Hazel draws its inspiration from early bluegrass, and regularly performs songs by Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and other icons.

“We also play some modern bluegrass and old-time music,” Lindgren says, “and sing three- and four-part harmonies. We choose performances carefully and try to make them as family-friendly as possible, which allows us to bring our families and get the kids to bed at night.”

All that makes Waking Hazel the perfect band to kick off the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s 2018 Roots Music Festival and Bluegrass Promenade to be held Saturday, Sept. 8, at historic Hanley Farm, a 37-acre pioneer homestead at 1053 Hanley Road, Central Point.

Waking Hazel plays from 3 to 4 p.m. on the event’s main stage, followed by fiddle and mandolin duo Rainy and the Rattlesnakes from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., and Siskiyou Summit — Jeff Jones on mandolin, Glenn Freese on guitar, Rich Nelson on banjo, Crystal Reeves on fiddle and Chris Raymoure on upright bass — reunites from 6 to 7 p.m.

An old-fashioned hoedown, with music by Rainy and the Rattlesnakes and squares called by Denny Lantz, will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m.

Tickets are $20, $15 for kids 6 through 18, and can be purchased at sohs.org. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit historical society.

Acoustic bluegrass will be performed at other sites around the farm, and there will be an opportunity for kids to touch and play stringed instruments. Food, soft drinks, beer and wine will be available.

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Waking Hazel spends a lot of time creating the dynamic of its sound and the band’s appearance.

“We got a sound system as the shows and festivals we play became bigger and bigger,” Lindgren says. “But generally we don’t plug in, with the exception of the bass because it provides the band’s rhythm. We use condensor mics on our instruments, and we sing old-school style around a single mic. The visual is really nice as well as the sound. We’re able to mix our own harmonies, depending on who is singing or playing the lead.”

McAlvage, a teacher, is the newest member of the group and plays with various others. She performs with Sage Meadows as The Maybe Sometimes and with Mt. Shasta, California, band Runaway Truck Ramps.

“We were auditioning guitar players and singers, and Bekkah rose to the top,” Lindgren says. “She’s got the chops and is exactly what we need.”

Monter is another stand-out with the band. She’s classically trained and also knows Celtic music.

“She made the jump to old-time fiddle tunes easily, so we can play old-time music, Scottish and Irish reels, as well as bluegrass,” Lindgren adds.

Going back to the band’s moniker, singer and songwriter Hazel Jane Dickens is known for her high, lonesome singing style and provocative pro-union, feminist songs, but not Waking Hazel’s namesake.

“Probably one of the earliest American feminists through her music and style, and an amazing woman, she’s a presence in some of what we do,” Lindgren says. “The old-time tunes are passed down, as is the tradition, and make their way into our culture. We put our own spin on them. There’s a modern-day old-time band, Foghorn Stringband out of Portland, that impacts me personally. Those folks embrace the same old-time songs that we enjoy.

“It’s less about the musicians, and more about the culture and the songs. Take old-time traditional songs like ‘Cherokee Shuffle’ or ‘Billy in the Lowground’ that seem to have no authorship, and you can listen to 30 different interpretations by 30 different musicians,” he says.

“It goes back to early old-time music, he says. “It’s meant to be played by people in a manner that is approachable. In a manner that brings people together. That’s how the music was developed and passed from folk to folk, if you will. It developed as a way to bring people together and created an art form. It exists in that way.”

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