Q: What do you say to a banjo player in a three-piece suit?
A: Will the defendant please rise?
That’s just one of the several banjo player jokes in the repertoire of Dave Kramer, who is, naturally, a banjo player. Actually, Kramer plays a lot of instruments, but he’s been working with his banjo a lot since getting involved in bluegrass, and a band, Bluegrace, also known as “Amazing Grass.”
Kramer’s involvement with that traditional American music is mostly Steve DeGroat’s fault. DeGroat, who plays mandolin – “an Italian word for ‘out of tune,'” he says – is a longtime fan of bluegrass, and got Kramer and his wife, Julee – who plays stand-up bass – involved through their participation in a music team at First Lutheran Church in Gypsum.
Guitarist Bill Britt landed in the band through the church, but kind of by accident. “They needed a guitar player one morning,” he said. “I said I didn’t want to, but they made me.”
From that somewhat humble start a couple of years ago, Bluegrace was born. In the months since the quartet started playing together, the group has found more and more gigs outside the church, including weddings, parties, and the most recent New Year’s Eve party at the Golden Eagle Senior Center in Eagle.
The first gig was the trickiest, Dave recalled. After playing a few songs on Sundays at the church, “We were asked to do a wedding and reception afterward,” he said. “We had a lot of songs we could play, so we worked up about an hour’s worth of material, and we went from there.”
The parties and other events have led Bluegrace to a standing engagement at the Main Street Grill in Edwards. As befits a group comprised of people who have kids in school and all hold steady jobs, the band plays from 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. Sundays. Those evenings are now billed as Family Bluegrass Night.
“It works really well,” said Julee. “People can come, stay for the first set and have their kids home and in bed by 8:30 p.m.”
The Main Street Grill gig came through a lucky break: the restaurant’s owners have a child in Julee’s home day care center in Eagle. The first time slot offered was a Wednesday from 9 p.m. to midnight, a kind of standard for bands in bars. However, standard set time just wouldn’t work for the family-oriented group. The Sunday engagement rose from there.
People who make the trip to Edwards on Sundays will hear a combination of gospel tunes, bluegrass standards, and a few twists. One of the songs in the Bluegrace set list is “Shine,” a tune covered by Dolly Parton on a recent album, but originally written and recorded by the rock group Collective Soul. “We may work more rock tunes into the set,” said DeGroat.
Julee is also threatening to start a side project, Auntie Em and the Twisters, which would do bluegrass arrangements of show tunes.
Those who attend First Lutheran can attest to the band’s growth since the quartet was set.
Like a shower singer, Britt was a stay-at-home guitar player who had never played in public until he was pressed into service that Sunday morning.
DeGroat had played mandolin for years, sometimes at home, sometimes in public, so he was used to that. But he said, “I hadn’t sung in public since I was in fifth grade.” Now he sings a couple of songs every set. He’s also started building instruments.
“I couldn’t afford the mandolin I wanted, so I built this one,” DeGroat said. That started him building both guitars and mandolins under the name of Storm King Mandolin Works.
The Kramers have been involved in music for years. Dave is the music teacher at Eagle Valley Elementary School, and he and Julee have both sung with the Dickens Carolers for several years. They hadn’t played much bluegrass before though, but have gotten a feel for it.
While the band and its members continue to grow, don’t expect them to buy a bus and hit the road. “Our spouses have been incredibly supportive of this,” said Britt. But, said Julee Kramer quickly, “They’re just not ready to give up everything and move into a big trailer just yet.”
Bluegrace is available for parties, weddings and other events. For booking information, call 328-2533.