Siskiyou Summit bluegrass band, clockwise from front: Crystal Reeves, Jeff Jones, Rick Nelson, Bob Evoniuk, Glen Freese and Jim Calhoun. - Photo by Denise Baratta

Traditional and progressive bluegrass

Each early spring for the last five years the bluegrass band Siskiyou Summit has performed "O Brother, Siskiyou Summit Plays Bluegrass," a show built like an old-time Radio program, at the Roxy Ann Grange in Medford.

Not this year.

"After five years, we all figured that the 'O Brother' horse had run about as far as she was gonna go," says Jeff Jones, the group's mandolinist.

Siskiyou Summit will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29, at the Roxy Ann Grange, 1850 Spring St., Medford. Banjo player Rick Nelson says people had almost come to expect the "O Brother" show.

"Some folks wondered what happened to us," he says. "We haven't played around here since before Thanksgiving. We want to let people know we're still out here."

The band has been performing bluegrass music in the Rogue Valley and around the Pacific Northwest since 1999. Before that, three of the group's members performed in the 1980s and '90s in the progressive bluegrass band Foxfire, and Nelson was with the Rogue Valley Bluegrass Boys. All six members sing, play and write.

Nelson, 53, was raised in a bluegrass family with a banjo-playing father.

"I guess I got the gene," he says.

He says the grange show will introduce several new songs to fans.

"Johnny Nash, James Taylor and The Beatles are almost as likely to pop up in the band's set list as the Stanley Brothers or Bill Monroe. Violinist Crystal Reeves is classically trained, bassist Jim Calhoun plays with the Latin Jazz Trio, and so on.

I don't know that we qualify as a traditional bluegrass band," he says. "It's the most democratic band I've been in. If somebody brings a song from a different style and it works out, we'll say let's put it in the set list."

Siskiyou Summit formed in 1999. It had its beginnings when Glenn Freese asked Nelson if he wanted to play a wedding.

"It was so much fun, we thought 'let's do this'," Nelson says.

The band's 2006 CD "Breakdown" showcased the group's songwriting and arranging abilities on nine original songs. The CD also included music from a live show, testifying to the band's ability to connect with an audience. Siskiyou Summit's first CD release, "From the Top," showed the band's disparate taste, with tunes ranging from Ralph Stanley to original numbers.

After five years of playing at the grange you could be forgiven for taking the Summit as almost a house band. They routinely pack the place. Band members' wives take tickets and bake cookies to sell at the show.

"We get a good crowd there," Nelson says. "It's a family atmosphere.

"Acoustically, it's phenomenal with the log walls, the low ceiling and the wooden floor.

"We try to include the crowd. Come out and enjoy yourself, and if you know it, sing along."

The fact is, there are not many places to play and hear acoustic music around Southern Oregon these days.

"We've gone out to places where it looks like live music would be fun, and most of them it's karaoke or top 40," Nelson says. "It's hard in the Valley."

Which leads the band to present its own shows, such as this one, or to perform at festivals such as the Oregon State Bluegrass Festival, the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival, the American Music Festival, the Britt Festival, where they opened for Linda Ronstadt, and many others.

With gigs hard to come by and fame and fortune not in the picture, what keeps a bunch a middle-aged guys going?

"For me, it's love of the music," Nelson says.

Tickets to the March 29 show cost $10, $7 for ages 12 and younger, and are available at at Nelson's Brake and Alignment, 1303 N. Riverside Ave., Medford, and The Music Coop in the A Street Market Place in Ashland.

Visit siskiyousummit.com or call 488-0178.

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