History repeats itself in a many ways. Peter Feldmann and the Very Lonesome Boys echo the past through their music, which they will perform for the Pasadena Folk Music Society's concert series at Caltech on Saturday.
“Peter and the Very Lonesome Boys personify the tradition of bluegrass and old-time music wonderfully. And though they are a California band, they very seldom get down to the L.A. area, so we're delighted to present them here,” said Rex Mayreis, secretary of the Pasadena Folk Music Society.
“They have that classic bluegrass traditional sound, yet each of the members has a unique talent and presence that makes them distinctive. They truly honor the heroes of bluegrass, introducing many people to their music for the first time.”
Feldmann, who lives near Los Olivos in the Santa Inez Valley, plays mandolin, guitar, fiddle and banjo. His band is rounded out by banjo and guitar player David West, Tom Lee on upright bass and fiddler Blaine Sprouse. With Sprouse being unavailable for the Caltech show, Oakland-area fiddler Ray Bierl (Hillbillies from Mars) will be sitting in.
“We're all looking forward to performing down there,” Feldmann said.
Feldmann's path to a music career began at age 10 when his parents made him take clarinet lessons. After three years, he was bored. So he decided to pick up his sister's guitar, which paved the way to his other instruments and now he's been playing bluegrass for more than 50 years.
“When I first got into music, I listened to a lot of cowboy songs. They were in the early cowboy films shown on TV in L.A. in the 1950s. I'm an immigrant from Switzerland and this was one of my introductions to this country,” Feldmann said. “I thought this is one way to learn a little bit about this country, looking at these guys with their outfits, oftentimes singing songs to their horses because they were too embarrassed to sing to their sweethearts. They were very shy, those early singing cowboys.”
Feldmann began collecting books and recordings of cowboy music, which led to Appalachian and old-time music and then bluegrass. Feldmann and the Very Lonesome Boys perform a mix of it all.
“I tend to like to go backward in time and reinterpret some of those older folk songs or old-time pieces into bluegrass style,” Feldmann said. “But the music is always evolving, so it depends on what strikes as interesting and that's how we tend to select the tunes and songs.”
Feldmann notes that the music of the past is experiencing a renaissance of sorts with musicians and listeners willing to cross musical genres and people who play music as a hobby.
“I am still thrilled and excited with the music. Nowadays more attention is being paid to it, but in many ways it's still sort of a hidden music in this country. Bluegrass and old-time music was never mainstream pop music and you have to work a little to find it,” Feldmann said.
Old-time and bluegrass have also received a boost by the many virtuoso-level musicians who perform the genres today, Feldman said. But perhaps the key to the music's staying power is its historical connection.
“This country is so diverse, we're a nation of immigrants and we're all looking for some sort of a national identity and this type of music allows us to look back at our past and re-identify with what this country at one time was and get a little grasp of who we are,” Feldmann said.
Feldman said that performing is one of the things in his life that keeps him going, especially when it means he can share the music he treasures with others. He adds that this is similar to the goal of the Pasadena Folk Music Society.
“The Pasadena area has always been a rich environment for performers. People there tend to enjoy and pay attention to that music,” Feldmann said. “A performer gets paid, yes we get ticket money, but the main thing is, here are people who are coming and pay attention to the performer and the performer gets energy from that. I would much rather perform in front of an audience like that than sit in a recording studio.”