Sweet Music from The Sweet Lowdown

Sweet Lowdown with John ReischmanThis past weekend, we islanders were treated to two nights of dancing and enjoying the beautiful songs of The Sweet Lowdown, a rapidly recognized trio of musicians from Victoria.  Mixing new folk songwriting with traditional old time and bluegrass rhythms and forms, Amanda Blied (guitar), Shanti Bremer (banjo) and Miriam Sonstenes (fiddle) have been gaining momentum since the release of their first EP “Live Off The Floor” in 2008, (when they were still a duo), followed by a self titled full length recording in 2011 (with the addition of Miriam), and most recently, “May”, released in 2012 and boosting them into a nomination for “Vocal Group of the Year” by the Canadian Folk Music Awards presented in Calgary this coming November.  The Sweet Lowdown recorded May after the VIA On-Board Musicians program had them play their way across Canada as the main entertainment in lounge and dining cars, bringing out, no doubt, the essence of their old time sound as the train tracks clicked away the kilometers.May- 2012

“We are definitely rooted in old-time music,” says Amanda.  “But then, we do quite a bit of bluegrass now, too- sort of hard-driving songs, pickers, and instrumentals.  And a lot of originals.”

square dance Friday night, The Sweet Lowdown arrived with a caller, Craig (Young Oldtime Music and Dance Association) and hosted a square dance!  Craig Marcuk directed us all through reels, mixing prominades, and squares while The Sweet Lowdown kept us in time and rhythm with their uplifting oldtime melodies.  Square dancing is one of my families most favorite things to do, and we were overjoyed to have the opportunity to swirl and swing with our friends.

Sweet Lowdown and the Pine SiskinsSaturday was the real concert though, as The Sweet Lowdown were paired with mandolin master John Reischman, and his trio, the Pine Siskins.  John is currently from Salt Spring Island, and has been playing on the top end of the bluegrass/folk music scene since the early 80’s when he was an original member of the Tony Rice Unit.  His list of experience is extensive, and so I will just say that it was an incredible honour to have him appearing at the Pender Community Hall with Eli West on guitar and Steve Charles playing stand up bass.  The Sweet Lowdown played an enchanting set, taking me from a sunny front porch to the outer reaches of the universe.  Their blend of original songwriting with three-part harmonies set into oldtimey instrumental grooves creates a unique and timeless sound that was further enhanced by the use of an outstanding microphone, Louise.  Recently acquired by the trio, this microphone was handmade in Portland, OR by Ear Trumpet Labs,  and demonstrates beauty, quality, and simplicity.  It’s design is a throwback to the 180 degree sound pick up that was used in the early days of recording, allowing the musicians to be cable and monitor free, moving themselves and their instruments around the microphone to control volume and dynamics.  It allowed for a crisp. clean look on stage, framing The Sweet Lowdown with a classic style that gave their music even more ease.  John Reischman used Louise for his own set, and there wasn’t anything more added when all six musicians came on stage for a final set of 5 collaborative songs that saw them all swinging organically and gracefully into and out of the range of the microphone during solos and vocals.

Both of these musical evening were presented by our own Islands’ non-profit group Ptarmigan Music and Theater Society,  a registered BC charity which has been providing educational arts programs for over 20 years.  Ptarmigan’s activities nurture both creative development and healthy relationships within our communities. Utilizing a variety of artistic disciplines, including storytelling, song-writing, animation, music (instrumental & vocal), Kodály music instruction, fiddle group, drumming, dance, pottery, film-making, painting, drawing, paper mâché, murals, music therapy, drama, environmental education, astronomy and local history, Ptarmigan develops its programs to meet the needs and interests of specific audiences such as children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Ptarmigan’s programs, workshops and performances are presented in broad range of accessible community venues, including schools, libraries, hospitals, day care facilities, seniors’ residences, community halls and summer camps. In the true spirit of community building, Ptarmigan collaborates with a broad range of community organizations that share similar interests, including the Gulf Islands School Board, Parks Canada, and the GIFTS centre on Salt Spring Island for special needs youth, amongst many others.

I wish all the best for the musical journey of Amanda, Shanti and Miriam… it has been wonderful to follow their growing talents, skills and expression in the past years.  It is an inspiration to hear, and a great reminder, that the basics of oldtime music can be fulfilling, moving, and fun in any capacity of living room, orchard, or stage.  Listen for The Sweet Lowdown as they continue with tours and festivals around the country and the continent.

(photo credits to Crystal Desharnais)

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Crystal Desharnais
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 01:41:13

    Fabulous write up Wendy! Thank you.. Glad you liked and could use the photos! 🙂
    We are indeed Blessed on this beautiful Island


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