Blackberry Bushes will pick and pull their strings at Park Silly
July 15, 2011
The bluegrass bug didn’t bite Blackberry Bushes singer/guitarist Jes Raymond until she was in college.
"My parents were big bluegrass fans and would go to bluegrass festivals all summer long, and still do," Raymond said during a phone interview with The Park Record from her home in Port Townsend, Wash. "At the time, I was not interested in bluegrass. I was more into finding kids to play with. When I got older and attended music school at Chapel Hill University in North Carolina, I met a lot of kids my own age who were string players and there were all these bands. There was a scene where people were just playing this roots and bluegrass music.
"It made sense to me in my own generational context once I went down into that part of the country for a while," she said with a laugh.
So, Raymond, who was enrolled in the classical-music program, dropped those classes to focus on becoming a roots-music singer, songwriter and guitar player.
"I had some pretty romantic ideas," she said. "I was going to busk and moved out to New Mexico to have some adventures. I played in cafes and places like that. I wasn’t very good at the time, but I loved doing it."
These days the Blackberry Bushes Raymond, banjoist Kendl Winter, upright bassist Joe Cappocia and fiddler Jakob Breitbach play music festivals and gigs all over the country.
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The band will perform in Park City during the Park Silly Sunday Market on July 17 at Miner’s Park at 3:30 p.m.
In the early 2000s, Raymond found herself at a crossroads.
"At that time, I had been involved in the climbing community in New Mexico and music, while still important to me, wasn’t my top priority," Raymond said. "Then I moved to Washington and felt that people out here are doing a little more in creating a lifestyle of making music."
Raymond enrolled at Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she met Winter and the others.
"Kendl influenced me in the independent, do-it-yourself music movement," she said. "That’s when we started playing together."
After solidifying the line-up in 2004, the band made a name playing throughout Washington.
Five years later, it found itself winning second place at the 2009 Telluride Bluegrass Band Competition.
"It made sense to us to make music our full-time job, then," Raymond said.
Of course, making that large of a leap of faith did come with challenges.
"The challenges were different for all of us, because we came from different places, but for me, the main concern was that I felt like I still needed musical development," she said. "On the other hand, it was hard to become a better musician unless you put both feet into it.
"So it was a catch 22, because I would put my best energy of the day into another job, and then come home to work on the craft I was trying to grow, only to find how tired I was," she said. "So there was a period of uncertainty for me, which I think a lot of musicians struggle with from time to time."
Even after two years of playing music professionally, the band still experiences some anxieties.
"We have to live pretty simply," Raymond said with a laugh. "There are a lot of things you decide to not have or pretend you don’t need so you can do this."
However, the sacrifices are starting to get some returns. Over Memorial Day weekend, the band played the Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite, Calif.
"That was really beautiful, because it was fun to be in front of an audience of music lovers that was already committed to have a high, wonderful time," Raymond said.
Just getting that gig was a miracle.
"We had sat through a really, really long open-mic session while in Berkeley one night and one of the people that saw us liked what he heard," Raymond said. "He brought a friend to our next show, and that friend booked us for the festival.
"It’s those little coincidences that are really great, and help us know we made the right decision," she said.
Another affirming factor is the fans.
"We’re starting to see their support and hear them ask for the music, which helps us and makes this whole thing a lot more easier to do," Raymond said. "There are so many places that welcome us to play in their homes and celebrations that I feel lucky to be a part of. I do feel since we’ve made the transition from semi-professional musicians to a full time band, we’ve all grown by leaps, That’s exciting, because we want to be a band we can all grow in and we’d like to get to a point where it’s more sustainable."
The Blackberry Bushes will play Miner’s Park on Sunday, July 17, during the Park Silly Sunday Market at 3:30 p.m. Admission is free.