Park City’s Motherlode Canyon Band celebrates 25th anniversary
Motherlode Canyon Band will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a free concert that will start at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at City Park Bandstand. For information, visit http://motherlodecanyonband.com.
Dana Williams, Dan Hall and Wendy Fisher had no idea of the impact their acoustic trio would have on Park City when they began playing local coffee shops in 1993.
From those humble beginnings, Motherlode Canyon Band has performed at hundreds of events, from fundraisers and weddings to the 2002 Olympics, Hall said.
The band has also been voted Park City’s Best Local Musician or Group by Park Record readers for three years in a row.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, Motherlode Canyon Band will perform at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, at the City Park Bandstand.
In addition to its current lineup — guitarist and mandolinist Williams, guitarist Hall, vocalist and percussionist Nina Oyler, bassist Robert Down and drummer Mark Schumacher — the concert will also feature past band members Fisher, vocalist Erica Stroem, drummer Mark Towner Williams along with bassists Doug Willey and Scott “Dude” Dudevoir — who will join the throng for a few songs, according to Hall.
“We want to first celebrate the 10 years our current lineup has been together, and then we’ll have others who have played with us come and do four or five songs,” Hall said.
“Then we’ll have the others come up in the order they joined the band and we’ll tell our story through music,” Williams said.
Three of the musicians are coming from out of state, Hall said. Stroem will fly in from Vermont and Dudevoir from Connecticut while Towner Williams, the son of soundtrack composing legend John Williams, will represent the West Coast by way of California.
With the number of people onstage, Hall said Mountain Town Music, the show’s producers, would have a big task in monitoring the audio channels.
Sketching things out
While 15 musicians have passed through Motherlode’s door in the past quarter century, Hall and Williams are the constants.
“Except for my marriage, the band is the longest relationship I’ve been in,” said Williams.
If the name Dana Williams sounds familiar, it’s because he had another high-profile gig: he served as Park City’s mayor from 2002 to 2014 over a period of three terms. He said being the city’s chief executive and leading a local musical staple wasn’t easy.
“We’ve been through some very tough things, including my being in office,” Williams said.
Through thick and thin, though, Hall, who is also in another local band, Mister Sister, said the past 25 years have been “the ride of my lifetime.”
“I’ve spent most of my adult life doing this,” he said. “We’ve seen the best and worst of times. We’ve played clubs, houses and fundraisers — thousands of shows we’ve done together. I wish we would have kept a diary.”
Fisher, who is looking forward to singing with the band again on Tuesday, said a recent rehearsal took her back to the family-like dynamic she felt during her seven year tenure with the band.
“There is still that ability to be brutally honest with someone who is trying to be vulnerable, and that takes a unique relationship,” she said. “It was there when we first started and it’s still there now. It’s great to be part of this again.”
According to Hall, the reason the original trio started playing coffee shops together wasn’t complicated. It was because they were looking for something to do.
“We went down to a jam and went every week, and we ended up finding people who liked the same kind of music we did,” he said. “We just kind of attracted characters we related to and formed a band.”
Laying a foundation
The three played some local jams for a while before landing a gig at Deer Valley.
“Once we got that gig, our motivation changed to learning enough songs to fill in that time,” Hall said with a laugh.
The criteria for the songs were simple — they needed to focus on vocals, according to Williams.
“We always wanted to have singers,” he said. “Dan wanted to make this band different by showcasing strong vocals.”
That goal resonated with Fisher, who, Williams said, has an operatically trained singing style.
“That’s what I think was part of what was really fun about jamming,” Fisher said. “Even if you didn’t know the song, there was always rich harmonies we’d build around.”
Motherlode was also unique in that all three founders were songwriters, Williams said.
“From the beginning, we focused on playing original music, which was fun and super creative,” he said.
The fact that the band was composed of scribes led to a feeling they could be more open in their collaborations, said Fisher.
“What was amazing from a songwriter’s perspective is to come into this group of people you could be vulnerable with in terms of the messages you wanted to convey,” Fisher said. “Sometimes they would laugh, but most of the time they wouldn’t.”
Audiences loved the songs, she said.
“They also liked how we would add our unique harmonies in tunes that they knew,” Fisher said.
Into the groove
Motherlode recorded its self-titled debut album in 1997 at A*Ha! Studios in Salt Lake City with engineer Scott Bailey.
“We didn’t have a drummer or bassist at the time, so we created those parts in the studio,” Williams said.
While adding percussion on the CDs worked well, both Williams and Hall knew going forward that they needed to add a rhythm section to the band for the string of upcoming live appearances.
“People wanted to dance,” Hall said. “So we added drums and bass. To this day, we still have a drummer and bassist.”
Fisher departed the group in 2000, and that’s when Williams and Hall met Stroem as they held auditions.
“She was a New Jersey slash Vermont gal who could really belt it out, which was different than Wendy,” Williams said.
Stroem was in the lineup when the band opened for Sheryl Crow during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
“The gigs during that time really brought us into the public’s eye,” Hall said.
A few weeks later, a German television station invited them to tape a show in Georgetown during an all expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C.
“We played on the banks of the Potomac River,” Hall said. “It was crazy.”
After the band returned to Park City, it continued playing as many gigs as it could, Hall said.
“We played a lot of weddings and fundraisers, and we still play a lot of fundraisers,” he said. “What surprised me was that people came to see us. After seeing us, they would hire us. And that’s what it kept going.”
Stroem made her exit in 2006, and Motherlode held another audition.
“That’s when we met Nina Oyler, who was then Nina Daley,” Hall said. “She was really young, in her 20s, and I wasn’t too sure about having someone so young in the band.”
Oyler landed the job after a few measures, and she has been with the band ever since.
“To watch her blossom over the past 12 years from a doe-in-the-headlights to someone who is comfortable on stage has been great,” Williams said.
Williams is also amazed that he and Hall have managed to stay together in the band for so long.
“Dan came from a structured ‘folkie background, and I came from a jam band background,” he said. “But we love what we do first and foremost, and that has made it possible for us to get through some of the hard and crazy stuff.”
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