Winnipeg quintet wows crowd at barn dance

What was billed simply as a barn dance last Friday turned into one of the truly great musical events in the district this year.
At least that was the unanimous opinion garnered from an informal exit poll taken after the annual barn dance held at the Cornell farm in Devlin.
For several years, the Cornell shindig has marked the end of summer in the district and has featured various musical acts, but what transpired last weekend was of another order altogether.
The D. Rangers are a five-man string ensemble out of Winnipeg who brought a unique brand of bluegrass, mixed with a little humour that left the crowd of about 160 wanting more.
Kim Cornell said he first heard about the D. Rangers after his wife and son returned from the Winnipeg Folk Festival earlier this summer, bearing tales of this new group who absolutely blew away the crowd there.
“People were just raving about these guys,” Cornell recalled.
The D. Rangers consist of Chris Saywell on acoustic guitar, Aaron Goss on mandolin and vocals, Tom Fodey on stand-up bass, Don Zueff on the fiddle and front man Jaxon Haldane on banjo and saw. (That’s right. He plays the saw with a violin bow.)
The five come from a varied musical background and three of them hail from Winnipeg, which has been the source of talented musicians for over 40 years. The D. Rangers are merely the latest of a long line that runs all the way from Neil Young and Joni Mitchell through the Guess Who, Chantal Kreviazuk, and the Crash Test Dummies.
During a break between sets, they talked about where they came from and where they’re headed.
“We’ve been together about five years—we’ve been serious for three years,” recalled Goss, who hails originally from Kenora.
Although their sound is primarily bluegrass, it seems their origins are anything but.
“We’re all pretty much from a rock ‘n’ roll background,” Goss explained. “Mostly punk, heavy metal and blues.”
So how did a bunch of rockers wind up playing a folk festivals and barn dances?
“It was a pretty organic process and somehow we evolved up here. It’s been a lot of fun,” noted Goss.
And a lot of success. The group released it’s self-titled debut CD in December, 2001 to positive reviews. Their latest effort, “We Stay High and Lonesome,” was released last year and been equally well-received.
Their music has been variously described as “mutant bluegrass,” “un-country,” and “arm-swinging hillbilly stomp.” Their live shows, as the crowd Friday can attest, consists of a blend of traditional classics (such as the Guess Who standard “Running Back to Saskatoon”), original material, and off-the-wall covers.
Their music has such a rich texture, it is difficult to believe all you are hearing is strings. There are times when you’d swear you could hear percussion and keyboards in the background.
All of them have made a full-time commitment to the band and only two (Saywell and Zueff) have other jobs on the side. Saywell teaches guitar and Zueff is a piano tuner.
“We’ve reconciled ourselves to the fact we’re not going to get rich doing this,” Goss continued. “We’ve figured out we make about as much as we would if had really, really bad jobs, except we have really great jobs,” he joked.
So, what is it about Winnipeg that consistently produces so many great and successful musicians?
Goss shrugged. “The fact that it is really cold in the winter so there are a lot of opportunities to pack yourself into a warm room and try to make some magic happen,” he suggested.
“It’s not just music. There’s something about the city promotes creativity. It’s a really nurturing environment.”
“A huge part of it is the isolation,” suggested Haldane. “Nobody brings us art. We have to do it ourselves.”
Haldane also attributed much of Winnipeg’s music scene to the large number of Mennonites there and in the surrounding rural communities.
“Another unappreciated factor is the Mennonites,” he explained. “They’re very musical people.
“All of the counterculture-oriented ones wind up leaving the rural areas and moving to Winnipeg. I know tons of bands that are made up exclusively of Mennonites,” he added, noting a former member of D. Rangers was a Mennonite.
For more information on the D. Rangers and where to catch their next gig, go their website at www.drangers.ca

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