Whitewater Ramble’s winding evolution leads band to Park City
Bluegrass band will play O.P. Rockwell
July 25, 2017
Exposure to music at an early age is priceless if you ask Patrick Sites, mandolinist, vocalist and founder of Whitewater Ramble, the bluegrass band that will play O.P. Rockwell on Friday.
"I wasn’t a very musical kid growing up, but my house was musical," Sites said during a Park Record telephone interview from his home in Ft. Collins, Colorado. "I grew up amidst guitars, fiddles and mandolins."
Sites added his home environment eventually led him to find interest in attending concerts.
"One weekend in particular, I saw three bands that were all fronted by mandolinists, and that seemed like the thing I wanted to do," Sites said. "I had a lot of time on my hands at that time. I just got laid off from a tech job during the tech-company bubble burst."
He went on eBay and used $100 of his severance package to buy a mandolin, and the rest, he said, is history.
"I was never about me wanting to start a band," Sites confessed. "I just wanted to play music."
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Once he started, however, things began to snowball.
"I started meeting other musicians, which was fun, and we decided to write songs together," Sites said. "It was like campfire pickings that led to bluegrass jams and open mics."
After playing a variety of gigs, Sites was smitten.
"Of course that was fun, because it’s a huge thrill to play in front of people," he said. "I love writing and creating music and playing with other musicians."
Since then, Whitewater Ramble, who officially formed in the early 2000s, has performed and headlined on almost every major stage across the Rocky Mountain Region.
In addition, a diverse festival resume has helped bring the band to a string of stages, including the Northwest String Summit, Yonder Mountain's Harvest Festival, Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival, 80/35 Festival, Nedfest, Bohemian Nights NewWestFest, The Wildflower Pavilion at RockyGrass, Copper Mountain Sunsation, Desert Rocks Music Festival, Love Your Mother Earth Music Festival, Keystone Bluegrass and Brews, The Denver People's Fair, South Park Music Festival, Westword's Music Showcase, and the band's own annual two-day music and camping festival, Ramble on the River.
In addition, Whitewater Ramble — comprised of Sites, guitarist Damon Wood, upright bassist Howard Montgomery, fiddle player Andy Reiner and drummer Paul Kemp — still enjoys playing small venues such as O.P. Rockwell.
"There are small adjustments we make for the different-sized venues," Sites said. "The audience is different and a little more detached when we play a large outdoor stage, and I like the intimacy of small clubs, because you feel very connected with the audience."
While Sites enjoys playing live and making new music, it took him a while to get used to the recording-studio environment.
"I was always a live musician where you could jam and put out your emotion in a fleeting moment," he said. "The studio, on the other hand, is a very sterile environment."
Whitewater Ramble's first studio album, “All Night Drive,” released in 2010, was a challenge for Sites.
"I didn't feel like it was able to capture the vibe as well as I liked," he said.
The follow-up release, 2013's "Roots & Groove," felt better.
"I think that's because the more we did in the studio, the more comfortable I became," Sites said.
Tim Carbone, who many acoustic-music aficionados recognize as the fiddle player for Railroad Earth, produced both albums.
"It also helps to work with a good producer," Sites said. "Tim is a great producer and fiddle player and great guy."
Sites added that Carbone's experience was invaluable during the recording sessions.
"He’s done a lot as a performer and as a producer and really gets to know the bands he works with," Sites said. "He also doesn’t just sign up with anyone who calls him, because he likes to take on projects he feels he can lead and mold.
"He gets the best out of you by helping you relax, but also inspiring you. In fact, he’s also going to work with us on our third studio album later this year."
Whitewater Ramble's current tour, which will lead them to O.P. Rockwell this week, is a shift from what the band has done in the past three years.
"We have toured less, but performed artist tributes, which have been widely popular," Sites said. "One month we would play the songs of Paul Simon. The next month we would play songs of The Beatles or The Police and things like that."
Every four weeks or so, the artist changed.
"We basically had a month to learn 20 to 25 tunes and put in our own style," Sites said. "Sometimes we would play the songs close to their original arrangements. Sometimes we would make them more bluegrass. And there were other times we would make the song more swing and jazz, and sometimes we would just go and jam it."
Playing other people's music was a learning opportunity.
"It’s always challenging learning other people’s music, and it’s more challenging to do the music justice," Sites said. "The amount of personal growth we took as a band by doing this is amazing."
In the past three years, Whitewater Ramble had learned more than 200 songs.
"While that was fun, it did put a stunt on our creating original music," Sites said. "On the flipside, we learned so much by learning other artists’ music. So now, the writing and creating original music is exciting to us."
"What's more is that we can use all of those different influences that have been thrust upon us by learning these covers and let those infuse into our own new ideas."
Whitewater Ramble will play at 9 p.m. on Friday, July 28, at O.P Rockwell, 268 Main St. Tickets are $10. For information, visit www.oprockwell.com.
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