Tuning Into The Past

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Old-time music and down-home charm are on the menu this Saturday evening at the Cayuga Vault in Santa Cruz, with a triple-bill that should have even the most reluctant toe tapping.

Topping the bill is the Sibling Brothers, a five-piece hillbilly band from the Santa Cruz Mountains which plays old-time country music in the traditional string band style.  With tight harmonies and fine musicianship, the Sibling Brothers combine traditional bluegrass and country songs with original material written in the traditional style. The Brothers take their inspiration, and some of their material, from groups such as the Monroe Brothers, the Stanley Brothers and the Blue Sky Boys, groups who enjoyed huge popularity in the 1920s and 30s. The band has played at many of California’s top acoustic music festival, and audiences love their shows, which recreate the entertainment of pre-television days with music, jokes and stories that all the family can enjoy.

The Sibling Brothers band was formed in 1999 by Mark Varner.  A board member of the Northern California Bluegrass Society, Varner is a vocalist and songwriter, as well as playing mandolin, tenor guitar and banjo.  He has played with a number of local bluegrass bands and produces the Otter Opry series of concerts in Santa Cruz, presenting shows by top bluegrass artists from around the country.

The other songwriter for the band is Page Brownton, a true veteran of the Santa Cruz bluegrass scene.  Singer and guitarist Brownton was a member of San Jose’s first old-time country band, the Fort Mudge Ramblers, from 1964 to 1967, and served as president of San Jose State College’s Folk Music Club.  He studied guitar with Rolf Cahn (a folk music pioneer and contemporary of Eric Von Schmidt and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) and was a professional guitar teacher for 25 years.

Patrick Weldon lends true hillbilly style to the Sibling Brothers with his musical saw and Dobro playing, and holds the distinction of sitting on the board of the International Musical Saw Association.  Standup bassist Mike Johnson and 5-string banjo player Dave Guarente complete the lineup of the Sibling Brothers.  Both are well-respected instrumental teachers in the Santa Cruz area.

Also appearing on Saturday are Roxie and Mona, a Santa Cruz based duo performing songs from the Swing era on ukulele and violin.  Said singer and ukulele player Mona Lott, “The ukulele is experiencing a renaissance in Santa Cruz.  It has a swingy sound that lends itself perfectly to these old standards.”  Violinist Roxie Galore’s jazzy playing combines with the ukulele to produce a unique and memorable sound.

Another instrument enjoying a resurgence of popularity at the moment is the Appalachian mountain dulcimer, and Saturday’s third act, the Dulcimer Girls, are doing much to promote the instrument in the local area.  Jayme Kelly Curtis and Laura Devine are singers and musicians from Boulder Creek who play folk ballads and spirituals as well as original and contemporary material.

With a line-up like this, for an escape from the stresses and strains of modern life and a return to an earlier, simpler time, Santa Cruz is your perfect musical destination this weekend.

First published in "411", The Salinas Californian, January 15, 2004

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