Each one of the performers in Siskiyou Summit has a stand-alone reputation in the Northwest bluegrass scene, but together they form a masterful group of pickers that seeks to honor the bluegrass tradition — no matter what it takes.
"In this band we'll sit down and our goal here is to present the song in the best way possible — it doesn't mean everyone gets a solo," says Bob Evoniuk, a Dobro player who joined the band in 2003. "And everyone understands that and goes along with that."
"There is a lot of responsibility in playing bluegrass very well, and how to be creative," says Siskiyou Summit upright bass player Sam Cuenca. "There's a lot of devotion for us on meeting that objective, to keep that purity."
It's that level of devotion that keeps Siskiyou Summit one of the most popular bands in the valley.
"One of our real strengths is the professionalism," says Jeff Jones, mandolin player. "Every individual has been a performer for 20 to 30 years in different bands throughout their adult life, so that brings a lot to the table as far as just how you act in a band, how you act around rehearsals and being to gigs on time."
The six-piece ensemble will perform from 8 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Avalon Bar and Grill, 105 W. Valley View Road, Talent.
Siskiyou Summit has opened for Linda Ronstadt and LeAnn Rimes at The Britt Festivals and played at the Wintergrass Festival in Bellevue, Wash., Oregon State Bluegrass Festival, Oregon Coast Music Festival, the American Music Festival, the Scott Valley Bluegrass Festival and many other events and community concerts.
Siskiyou Summit also gained popularity for a live, staged radio show the troupe performed for about five years based on all the music from the film "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" complete with costume changes and special guests.
Evoniuk says everyone in the band can sing lead, giving Siskiyou Summit the ability to build different vocal combinations.
"Because there is such a variety of vocal texture, it's much more interesting, in my opinion, than to just see one vocalist doing everything," says Crystal Reeves, who plays fiddle.
Playing mostly covers on its first album, the band focused on originals for its second CD.
"We do a lot of out-of-bluegrass material, like Tom Petty, James Taylor, the Beatles, and at the same time we'll play a great Ralph Stanley fiddle tune," says Evoniuk. "I mean, not taking advantage of Crystal on fiddle would be a bad thing to do; she's one of the best fiddler players around."
For the Tidings Cafe, Siskiyou Summit performed a bluegrass version of Rod Stewart's "Maggie May" at Evoniuk's house, where the group meets to practice.
This arrangement of musicians got together in 1999 after Evoniuk, guitarist Glenn Freese and banjo player Rick Nelson took a hiatus from their trio Foxfire. Freese was contacted by someone who had heard Foxfire and wanted to hire the band for a wedding.
"Since there wasn't a Foxfire anymore, I gathered some of my favorite musicians around the valley and put together a group to play for them in June. So I called all these folks and said, 'Hey let's make a band!' It wasn't exactly this formation, but that was the beginning," Freese says.
Reeves and Freese knew each other from working at Cripple Creek Music, and Nelson knew members of the band from jamming with them at bluegrass festivals. "It was so much fun we just decided to keep doing it," Reeves says.
To keep up their chops and help up-and-coming musicians, the group hosts a monthly bluegrass jam at Caldera Tap House in Ashland.
"It's actually a really cool opportunity because all of the members of these bands can meet and play together," says Cuenca. "A lot of this music is not just playing in bands, but being able to jam and share with other people."
Here musicians have the opportunity to sit down and ask each other about their instruments or learn songs. "It's sort of an oral tradition of sorts," Evoniuk says.
With the exception of Cuenca, who lives in Yreka, all of the members are rooted in the Rogue Valley and plan to continue performing locally and regionally.
"Each one of us has found probably the best people we could play with," says Evoniuk.
Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.