Bringing Bearfoot to life
Vail CO Colorado
When a band changes its lineup, sometimes its to the detriment of both fans and members alike. But in the case of Bearfoot, adding new members has revitalized the group, inspiring everyone to make music again. The new and improved Bearfoot will perform as part of Underground Sound series Sunday at the Vilar Center.
The current incarnation of the band includes Angela Oudean (fiddle), Jason Norris (mandolin, violin, viola), Nora Jane Struthers (vocals and guitar), PJ George (upright bass, banjo, drums, and percussion), and Todd Grebe (vocals and guitar). Oudean and Norris formed the band as teenagers in Alaska 12 years ago. Bearfoot relocated to Nashville in 2008. Two years later the band suffered a setback when the lead singer and other members decided to leave the group and move back to Alaska. That’s when Oudean and Norris asked Struthers, George and Grebe to join the band.
For lead singer Struthers, playing in Bearfoot felt like a natural fit.
“We all have very similar tastes,” Struthers said. “The music that we are creating sounds the way we want it to sound. We all really love traditional bluegrass, honky-tonk, Cajun music, and are all influenced by contemporary artists like Gillian Welch and Tim O’Brien.”
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Bearfoot is known as a bluegrass band, but they also incorporate other styles, such as folk, country, and blues into the songs. Each member is multi-talented, with the ability to sing, play more than one instrument and write songs. Every person in the quintet contributes something special to the ensemble.
“Angela is one of the best fiddler players around, I have such a good time playing on stage with her,” Struthers said. “Jason’s energy on stage is really infectious. He brings an intensity to his performance that kicks everybody up a notch. PJ has a really amazing musical mind, he brings a lot of great ideas to the arrangements of the song. Todd is like the heart of the band, he’s the kind of guy who can make everyone agree with him. I think I’m sort of the big picture person, I’m always trying to help us plan for things in the future.”
Bearfoot just released a new album in September called “American Story.” The record features many new songs, mostly contributed by Struthers and Grebe. Struthers said that each song is a “vignette” that tells a story. In a video interview with the band’s label, Compass Records, Grebe said the band decided to title the album “American Story” because it speaks to both the narratives in the songs and the band’s own journey.
“[On the album] there is this theme of freedom, of choice, and the ability that you have in America to decide your destiny and do what you want to do,” Grebe said. “The band is living that dream right now. We all wanted to live in Nashville and we all wanted to be professional musicians, and that’s occurring. It’s a choice that we made and that is reflected in pretty much all the songs.”
Bearfoot currently calls Nashville home. Although none of the members are from Tennessee, they all gravitated towards Nashville because the city provides so many professional and artistic opportunities for young musicians.
“For the original members, they thought Nashville would be a great place,” Struthers said. “Touring out of Alaska, it’s impossible to make money. There are so many people doing music professionally here [in Nashville] it seems like the right place to be. But there’s also an amazing acoustic community here. The industry attracted us to the town, but it’s the community that keeps us wanting to stay here.”
It’s that sense of friendship and community that helps the band get along when on the road. Bearfoot has been touring across the U.S. in support of “American Story.” Performing the new songs to fans has brought about unexpected reactions.
“The feedback we’ve gotten has been so varied,” Struthers said. “Normally there are one or two songs on an album that are crowd favorites. This time everyone has two favorite songs, but they’re all different … I think it speaks to the quality of the material.”
Despite their relaxed and peaceful attitude towards traveling in a van together across the country, Bearfoot likes to crank it up when it’s time to go on stage. The band plans to bring a high-energy show to the Vilar Sunday.
“We’re going to rage,” Struthers said. “We’re going to totally rock out.”
Rosanna Turner is a Vail Daily intern. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.