Monday, April 24, 2006
In a cozy home at the end of a quiet Tualatin
cul-de-sac, a bold experiment in old-time music is unfolding. A
four-piece bluegrass band has made its home in a recording studio in a
hidden, soundproof room tucked into a nondescript garage.
However, the state-of-the-art cloaking isn't what is so remarkable in
this musical experiment. It's the band itself -- Kathy Boyd & Phoenix
Rising -- which actually was organized around a business plan. In just
one year, the quartet already has attracted sponsorships, played some
big festivals and established a following.
Having a business plan runs directly against the time-honored flow in
the arts, particularly music. Most bands are formed when like-minded
musicians pledge allegiance over a lot of beer or coffee. Phoenix
Rising, on the other hand, was conceived through Boyd's singular vision.
"My vision was to put together some great musicians and run the band as
a business," says Boyd, the acknowledged leader. "Everyone has a
specific function, and we all share a vision of taking our music as far
as we can."
It doesn't hurt that all the members are, well, mature. They're no
strangers to gray hair -- if they have hair at all. They've all
played in bands of note, and they all have rather impressive day jobs.
Guitarist Tom O'Connor produces a newsletter for RVers. Tom Tower, who
plays banjo and Dobro, is a mental health counselor. Tim Crosby, who
brings the voices of fiddle and mandolin to the band, sells musical
instruments. And Boyd, who plays string bass, is a hospice worker,
Alzheimer's lecturer and treasurer of the Oregon Bluegrass Association.
Boyd recruited the members after deciding to assemble the band. They all
had to audition. "Along the way, everyone found out that we all actually
like each other, which is a very nice side benefit," Boyd says.
Of course, the band's real driver is the music, the members' common
vocabulary. Through its pedigree, bluegrass taps America's musical
roots, reaching back to Celtic folk tunes brought by early European
immigrants. Except, in this country, the ancient bagpipe's drone was
translated into strings. And the instruments themselves reflect the
whole range of countries the immigrants came from.
So, let these tunes steep in the joys and agonies of the American
experience for a couple of centuries. Add some gospel harmonies and a
touch of blues, step up the tempos and you have a uniquely American
"Part of what speaks to me is the core content of the songs really talks
about the eternal truths in life," says Tower. "There's a reason
this music has persisted, with a loyal following." Crosby says he
is descended from 1,000 years of Irish fiddle players and poets. He says
the music helps him span his family's five-generation migration across
North America, with stops in Tennessee, the Ozarks and Colorado.
"I even play fiddle with my great-grandfather's bow," he says.
For such a new band, Kathy Boyd & Phoenix Rising already has cut a
swath. The band has played Portland's River City Bluegrass Festival, one
of the largest on the West Coast.
Meanwhile, the band is sponsored by Black Diamond Strings and is booked
for a series of performances in Oregon and Washington through the year.
A CD is in the works, and the band just videotaped a set for
broadcast on Tualatin Valley Community Television.
"More importantly," Boyd says, "we're having fun."
Who knows? With the band's rapid success, this business plan stuff just
might catch on.
Rick Bella: 503-294-5114
15495 S.W. Sequoia Parkway, Suite 190
Portland, OR 97224
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