Bluegrass music is alive and flourishing in the Northwest, courtesy of the Desert Sun String Band.
The five-man band is led by organizer and mandolin-tenor guitar player Charlie Sides, with Bill Paul on the banjo, San Brown on the fiddle, Bill DeVinney on rhythm guitar and Reid Griffin on bass fiddle.
"Our musical spectrum starts with hard-driving traditional type bluegrass music and extends to slow dancing country and western songs, plus everything in between," said Sides.
The group has been playing together for nearly a year now, and has had two successful recent performances — one at South 40 RV Ranch, the other at Heritage Highlands.
Members of the band also hold a twice-monthly Bluegrass Music Jam at Vero Amore in Dove Mountain. The jams are held the first Thursday of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. and the third Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.
"The jams are open to the public and there have been times where the crowds were out to the sidewalk along the street," Sides pointed out. "The last jam we had at Vero Amore, 11 pickers showed up to play."
Sides, who also serves as vice president of the Desert Bluegrass Association, is singlehandedly responsible for the reintroduction of the Northwest jams.
"I used to attend jam sessions held by the association all over the east side of town, which is a long drive for me, so I told our president that I wanted to start bluegrass jams in Northwest," Sides said. "He told me it had been tried before, but failed. Well, I got after it and stuck with it, and the jams have turned out to be popular and successful."
The bluegrass jams started in the Heritage Highlands clubhouse, where they were held for one season before moving to the Vero Amore patio.
Sides has been playing stringed instruments since he was in junior high school, first taking up the baritone ukulele. He joined his first bluegrass band, the Union Hill Bluegrass Boys, in 1972 when he worked for Boeing in Seattle, Wash. Later he had his own bluegrass band, followed by a short-lived country and western band. After moving to Tucson, he spent his musical energy jamming with the Desert Bluegrass Association.
Bill Paul serves as the musical director for the Desert Sun String Band, Sides said.
"When I first heard him play banjo, I was immediately taken by his skills," Sides noted. "He has demonstrated singing talents and an easygoing nature that fits nicely in the band."
Fiddler Sam Brown, at 86, is the elder statesman of the group. Brown plays with only three fingers on his left hand, having lost a finger as a youngster. Sides calls Brown "a crowd pleaser and true showman."
Bill DeVinney plays a strong rhythm guitar that matches up with the strong lead instrument players and has what Sides called "top notch vocals."
Besides his ability on the bass fiddle, Reid Griffin "brings the combined ability to sing both lead and harmony, as well as play the electric bass and acoustical guitar," Sides added.
Sides pointed out the band's music focuses on hard-driving bluegrass, but also includes country and western tunes to whatever extent the crowd desires.