If you are a fan of bluegrass, close vocal harmonies and spot-on instrumental chops do I have a group for you — the Sandy River Ramblers. Their latest CD “Cry of the Loon” came out in 2012 and they will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, June 10, at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts. To that end, a phone interview was arranged that found frontman/co-lead singer/guitarist and songwriter Stan Keach calling from his home in Rome to talk about the upcoming show as well as what’s happening with his band. I should also mention that he’s a gifted artist as the two paintings (of a loon and a moose) used in the CD case prove.

Q: You’re coming into the UCCPA, correct?

Keach: Yeah, we’re playing there.

Q: Have you ever performed there before?

Keach: No, we haven’t and we’re really looking forward to it.

Q: I want to thank you because “Cry of the Loon” arrived yesterday and I’ve had a chance to listen to it before chatting with you today. How many albums do you have out now?

Keach: Well, you know, the Sandy River Ramblers are the second oldest running bluegrass band in Maine — we started back in ’84 or so — and we recorded three cassette albums. We have sort of a sister band — the Maranacook String Band — that came out of me teaching high school and middle school and starting a kids’ band. Those bands have been kind of interchangeable recently but the Maranacook String Band has put a CD out but it’s out-of-print now, we sold them all. “Cry of the Loon” is the latest album we’ve done, but we’ll have another one out sometime early this summer, I hope. It’s also all songs about Maine.

Q: Where do you get all of these Maine-based songs, do you write them?

Keach: Yeah, I write them. For a long time the Sandy River Ramblers was like a standard, very traditional bluegrass band but we’ve become a niche band and the songs about Maine is a big part of our niche. It’s going very well for us, we find that tourists and Mainers alike are glad to hear songs about Maine, you know.

Q: That’s neat.

Keach: It’s a love of mine to write those songs. I had sort of a side career writing songs for bluegrass bands and have had a few songs recorded by famous bands, and one song that made it into the national bluegrass Top 10 singles charts. So I like to write but what I like to write more than anything else is songs about Maine.

Q: What can folks expect from your band’s debut appearance at the Unity College Center for the Performing Arts?

Keach: Well, we’ll do songs from our “Cry of the Loon” CD and we’ll also do quite a few of the new songs that are going on the new CD. We won’t have them to sell by then, I believe, but we’ll be doing the new songs so people can look forward to it. We do a lot of comedy stuff, Maine humor and that kind of thing, and I play the musical saw, so we have a lot of variety in our show. We have three lead singers, one of them is twenty-two and has been in bands with me since she was a sophomore in high school and is just wonderful; then we have another singer who is 14 years old and she is just terrific and has the stage poise of a much older person, too. So we’ve got a lot of variety in our singing and we work very hard on our vocal harmonies, that’s another hallmark of our show. And we’ve got some just terrific instrumentalists, too, with Bud Godsoe, the banjo player, and Dan Simons, the mandolin player. We’ve had a rotation of terrific young, teenage fiddlers, one of them is now working in Nashville and one is off to Bluegrass College, but we’ve got a new one: a 17-year-old kid from Brunswick whose just a wonderful fiddler, Finn Woodruff. We have Julie Davenport on bass — she was Julie Churchill when she sand on “Cry of the Loon” — then there’s Dana Reynolds whose our 14-year-old singer. That’s the band’s line-up.

Q: Let’s go back to the songwriting. Does it take you a while to get songs together or are you a fairly prolific writer?

Keach: I’m very prolific but some of these songs took me a long time to write.

Q: For example?

Keach: Well, I’ve been trying to write a song about Donn Fendler since I was 10, and I finally got it done.

Q: Oh, that’s the last track on “Cry of the Loon” I believe.

Keach: Yeah. I’m recently retired from school teaching and I write all the time now. I’ve got a book of poetry out, too. So we’ve got this new album coming out and then I have half enough songs for a third album of all Maine songs after that, I think.

Q: Where did you teach?

Keach: I taught at Maranacook in Readfield for 23 years, before that I ran a couple of little private schools for severely handicapped kids.

Q: And that was in music?

Keach: No, I taught Special Ed, then Alternative Ed, and then Gifted & Talented which is when I started the kids’ band (the Maranacook String Band).

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Keach: Gee, I think we’ve covered most of it. We have a lot of variety: songs to make you laugh, songs to make you cry, a lot of three-part harmony and four-part harmony, too. We have three lead singers, great instrumentalists, original songs about Maine—that’s not all we do but that’s a big part of what people will hear.

Lucky Clark has spent more than 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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