A few years back, I had the chance to interview Stanley Keach about his band, the Sandy River Ramblers, and a show they had scheduled at the UCCPA. It was a fun chat, and when I found out that they were heading for a performance at Jewett Auditorium on March 10, I figured it was time to reconnect and see what’s been happening with Keach and crew since 2016.

Q: Have you performed at Jewett before?

Keach: Yeah, we’ve played there a couple of times. It’s a wonderful hall; we really like it.

Q: I haven’t been there in a long time, but I remember that there’s not a bad seat in the house.

Keach: No, it’s good. It’s really good.

Q: Oh, before I forget it, does the band have a website?

Keach: Our website’s gone south. But we have a YouTube channel, and we have a Facebook page — that’s what we usually use. We’ve got a lot of good videos because I’ve been taking a lot of video classes. So that’s what I usually send to people: links to the YouTube channel.

Q: Now, do I remember correctly that you have a CD out of original material?

Keach: Yeah, we made an album in 2012 — “Cry of the Loon & other original songs about Maine” — and we’re just finishing up a sequel album of more songs about Maine. This one’s to be called “Home in the Heart of Maine.” So we have a repertoire now of about 30 original songs about Maine topics.

Q: Oh, nice!

Keach: … that’s really our niche, sort of. Stylistically, we’re bluegrass or bluegrass/Americana, but we really specialize in songs about Maine. I don’t think our new album will be out by March 10, but it’ll be out shortly after that. We’ll feature a lot of the new songs at the show anyway — yeah, absolutely.

Q: Could you talk a bit about some of those new songs?

Keach: Sure. We’ve got, for example, a song called “Down Went Sonny Liston” about the (Muhammad) Ali/Liston fight in Lewiston — probably the biggest sporting event in Maine’s history, you know — and we have a song that Julie Davenport sings just beautifully called “The Knife Edge” about a woman and a Baxter Park Ranger that died in a disastrous hike on Mount Katahdin in 1963.

Q: Are you the songwriter, or are the others involved?

Keach: I’m the main songwriter — other people write a little bit, but I’m the main songwriter. I’ve had a lot of my songs that we don’t do in the band recorded by some of the biggest names in bluegrass, and I won the Maine Songwriters Association’s Song of the Year contest in 2017 with a song called “On Boot Hill” —which we probably will do — that was also recorded by Ralph Stanley II. He’s the son of the legendary Ralph Stanley. That was a co-written song, but I wrote half of it. It was recorded last year.

Q: Wow, that must make you feel pretty good — talk about validation.

Keach: Oh, yeah. It’s so much work to pitch songs that I don’t really do it that much anymore, but it’s great to have your songs done at a really, really high level and have it be on the radio and stuff — it’s great.

Q: Just out of curiosity, what’s your take on the future of bluegrass in today’s musical climate?

Keach: I think it’s pretty strong. It’s changing a lot, and I’m kind of an ultra-traditionalist. So some of it irritates me, but I love that it is strong. There’s tons of bluegrass festivals, and I think it’s got a very strong presence and future right now. And then this category called Americana, I think we kind of fit into that. But it’s more Maine-icana not Americana, if you will. (Laughter).

Q: Well, it is important to keep the stories and heritage of Maine alive as far as the music goes.

Keach: Yeah, we’ve done pretty well with that. One of the band members, Dan Simons, and I had a video out of our “North Pond Hermit” song, which has 30,000 views on YouTube and many more views on “Bill Green’s Maine” and on the New York Times online video. We got more fame out of that than we have out of anything for a long time. I’m really big on that: celebrating things about Maine in our songs. Some of them are funny, like “Boots from L.L. Bean” and “Slow Down (You’ll Hit A Moose),” but there are a lot of serious ones, too.

Q: Speaking of band members, could you run through the line-up in the Sandy River Ramblers nowadays?

Keach: Sure. Dan Simons, he’s our mandolin player, and he’s the brother of TV star Tim Simons on “VEEP.” He’s the younger brother, and he’s a mandolin virtuoso. Then there’s Bud Godsoe. He’s our spectacular, driving banjo player who learned to play while working on the Alaska pipeline. And Julie Davenport, a few years out of college, is just a stunningly good lead singer who plays upright bass with us. We also have a 17-year-old singer Dana Reynolds, a high school student; she’s terrific. And our go-to fiddler right now is Finn Woodruff, a 20-year-old from Brunswick and a great fiddler. Those are the core members of our band. And besides having great instrumentalists, I believe we have really, really good vocal harmonies. We work hard at it and have great singers in the band.

Q: Is there anything, Stan, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article about your Jewett Auditorium performance?

Keach: I don’t know. I think we’ve covered most of it, but like I said, we’ll do a lot of the songs that are going to come out on a CD this spring.

Q: Oh, there’s one more thing I was going to ask. Do you do old bluegrass standards as well as original material?

Keach: You know, in a two-set concert, we will do a few standards, but we’ll have a big concentration on songs about Maine that we wrote.

 

Lucky Clark has spent a half-century 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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