Chris Coole (right) and Max Heineman are two of the three members of Lonesome Ace Stringband, the fifth concert in the Highway 19 Concert Series held Tuesday night at Rivercity Stage. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror

Lonesome Ace Stringband a three-man powerhouse

Highway 19 Concert Series brings bluegrass to Campbell River

I somehow hadn’t managed to get to any of the Highway 19 Concert Series concerts until the fifth one.

But after heading to the Rivercity Stage on Tuesday night, I can tell you that is a ratio I will certainly be doing my best to change.

Series organizer Lucas Schuller introduced the Lonesome Ace Stringband, saying “while this is the fifth concert in the series, it was the first group I thought of when I formed it, and the first call I made was to John (Showman) to say, ‘when are you coming back to the Island? Because I need to get you guys in this space.’”

While I would never consider myself a “fan” of bluegrass music – and I certainly got my fill of country music on the radio growing up in Saskatchewan – I’ve been branching out a bit over the past year or so, looking for new sounds to binge on, and I fell hard upon Mandolin Orange, a folk duo from North Carolina. So I decided to check out the folk show at the Rivercity Stage on Tuesday to watch some banjo, fiddle and upright bass happening live.

Who would think such a sound could come from just three instruments – none of which are a drum? There’s a fullness to the Lonesome Ace Stringband that belies the fact that there are only three of them on stage, as they weave their individual efforts together into a tapestry of energy that flows from stark and sparse contemplative reflections on life to knee-slapping, toe-tapping energy that makes you want to get out of your seat and dance, even if you have no idea how you would do so, because you’ve never been to a hoedown.

Also, I’m not sure who their lead singer is.

With Showman on the fiddle, Chris Coole on the Banjo and Max Heineman on the bass, two microphones were set up to absorb and amplify the vocals from all three men at various times – and often all simultaneously to produce impeccable harmonies.

The band was in the middle of a 12-show tour in support of their newest album release, Modern Old-Time Sounds for the Bluegrass and Folksong Jamboree, which, as Coole says, “might not be catchy, but at least it’s also confusing.”

The album was just released to international audiences the week before, and the band played every song from the album on Tuesday night for their guests at the Rivercity Stage.

I say “their guests,” because that’s exactly how the show felt. It was as though these three guys just invited about 100 of their friends into their living room to have a get-together. The room, as Schuller told me when I first spoke with him about the concept of the concert series, is a perfect venue for a small show like this, and it sounds amazing in there.

The next show in the Highway 19 Concert Series will feature Kliffs, a duo from Montreal based in Berlin these days, along with a rhythm section from back home in Montreal.

So the series, as promised, will continue to bring diverse types of shows to town, and will move from bluegrass to indie-pop for its next performance, as Mark Bérubé and Kristina Koropecki and their friends take the same stage Lonesome Ace Band just walked off of.

Kliffs’ biography reads, in part, as follows:

“Kliffs write recycled tone poems for the perpetually bemused, and pop songs for shy dancers. They channel the quiet of early morning sun rays tickling cloud banks and mix it up with songs better suited to late-night inner city bicycle rides.”

I have no idea what that even means, but I’m planning on finding out on Dec. 14.

Tickets are on sale now through the Tidemark Theatre Box Office or online at tidemarktheatre.com.

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