WHITE ROCK – It used to be that you had to take a trip down to Appalachia to see anyone plucking away at a banjo on their front porch. Up here in Canada, bluegrass was for straw-flossin’ hillbillies while hiphop, pop and rock ‘n’ roll took precedence in the 1990s and early ’00s.
In fact, Chris Coole of the Foggy Hogtown Boys – a five-piece bluegrass band from Ontario – remembers when he and some friends set up a weekly bluegrass show at Toronto’s Silver Dollar Room when there were fewer than 10 old-time players on the circuit.
“My friend Dan and I started (the gig), and it was like whoever was in town, we’d put together a band for that,” Coole, who plays guitar and clawhammer banjo, told the Now over the phone from Toronto. “There were a few different bands throughout the years, but if too many of us were out of town, there was literally no one who could fill in because there just wasn’t anyone else doing it – especially our age.”
More than half of the players in question are indeed the Foggy Hogtown Boys, which also features Andrew Collins on mandolin, Chris Quinn on banjo, Max Heineman on acoustic bass and John Showman on fiddle.
“In the ’90s, there was about six or seven of us in Toronto doing it – young guys. There was an old guard who hadn’t been active since the ’70s or ’80s,” he said.
These days, it’s not so rare, and thanks to films like O Brother, Where Art Thou? that old-time music is making new waves.
“What ended up happening, which was cool and very rewarding, that gig has been such an institution in Toronto (that) there was a new generation of people who sort of got turned on to the music,” Coole revealed.
“Now there’s about three or four really good, professional bluegrass bands in Toronto. And now, when one of us is out of town, there are people who can fill in.”
Now that the southern-inspired style of music is popular in Canada, Coole admits he struggles to bring the northern experience into his music.
“For some reason, I relate better to American folk music from the south, and I think it’s because of the blues influence. Maybe its because I grew up listening to rock and roll,” he said.
“There are a lot of great traditional songs from up here in Canada. On one of our earlier records, I actually took a Canadian folk song and set it to more of a bluegrass setting.”
The Foggy Hogtown Boys perform at White Rock’s Blue Frog Studios Friday (March 13), in support of their latest release, Animals, Insects, and People. Tickets are $35 at Bluefrogstudios.ca.