Band du Pays

Although they range in age from 20 to 50 and come from a variety of musical backgrounds, members of Band du Pays have a common thread holding them all together — an appreciation for 1940s, '50s and '60s swing music.

"It's a mixture of swing and blues — melodic swing vocal tunes with some blues thrown in for spice," said Stephen Gagné, who plays alto and soprano saxophone and different types of clarinets.

"It's more '40, '50 and '60s sound, where it's easy to listen to and easy to dance to."

The five and a half-member band consists of Gagné, bassist and harmonica player Merrill Smith, guitarist Tony Brussat, drummer Lance Hilt, vocalist Sarah Petty and vocalist Lindsay Erdman, "Holler," who performs with the band during summers and some holidays.

"This core group emerged out of years of playing together," Gagné said.

The Ashland group will be play together for the following three dates this month: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, and 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at Liquid Assets, 96 N. Main St., Ashland; and at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, at Tease, 303 E. Main St., Ashland.

Holler, a Toronto-based blues and jazz singer, will be accompanying Band du Pays for the second Liquid Assets show as well as at Tease. She currently is performing with well-known jazz, blues organ player John T. Davis.

The "house band," as Band du Pays loosely means in French, started as exactly that.

The group began playing together informally at La Baguette, also known as the Hardware Cafe, in Ashland, which Smith owns.

"(Smith) had a dream of having a live coffee house band," Gagné said.

About two years ago, the band became a more legitimate entity and began performing regularly at La Baguette as well as Tease, Liquid Assets and during the First Friday art walk.

"We've just enjoyed gigging together here recently in this sort of relaxed, melodic swing tradition," said Gagné.

Each musician found an individual avenue into Ashland's music scene.

Petty, the youngest member of the band and native Ashlander, studied voice under Bob Miner. She also often performs locally with Jeff Pevar, Inger Jorgensen of Bohemian Soul and Joe Diehl.

Besides owning La Baguette, Smith is an avid instrumentalist and developed musical proficiency in several instruments, including guitar, bass, harp, piano and vocals. He also is involved in musical theater, appearing in local plays as a singer and actor.

Hilt, a jazz aficionado, has been studying drumming for about 10 years ago. Over the past few years, he has played with Back Porch Swing, Melangé and other eclectic ensembles.

More than five years ago, Brussat was actively involved in the Austin, Texas, music scene. He formed and led the band, Jazz Pharaohs, and toured with Asylum Street Spankers. He also played with 81/2; Souvenirs.

Gagné's professional music career began after college when he began handling concert mixes for bands including Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

"I had a lot of experience putting together good music for other people," he said.

In the 1970s and '80s, Gagné's childhood love of dolphins and his musical career intertwined when he invented an underwater piano. He followed John Lilly's research on dolphin communication and created the piano in which vibrating reeds form the notes.

"I came up with the idea of an underwater piano as a way of communicating musically with (dolphins)," he said.

He experimented with his piano in Hawaii, the Bahamas and in other dolphin pods. His underwater performances were aired on several PBS specials.

Gagné settled in Ashland, where he works as a filmmaker for Westwood Creek Productions and plays above water with local musicians.

Although Band du Pays has not created an album, it may consider it in the future, Gagné said.

Admission to the band's first show at Liquid Assets is $3. Call 482-9463.

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