Bitterroot Blend 

Homespun skill takes center stage at Victor’s Bluegrass Festival

Let’s face it. There’s a lot of bluegrass talent out there, both in western Montana and out in the great wide world. You can see where it would be a little daunting for anyone just starting to pick up an instrument with the likes of Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers casting such long shadows

But a couple of aphorisms seem appropriate here: It’s never too late to learn, and the longest journey begins with a single step. For Peter and Lori Silcher, it happened six years ago after an especially memorable Bitterroot Bluegrass Festival—an event they’d always enjoyed attending—when Lori mentioned to her husband that she’d like to pick up the guitar again. That was agreeable enough, and Peter matched her pledge by picking up a bass fiddle, even though he’d never put a hand to an instrument in his life.

“Lori started getting back into music and meeting some of the people in the local music scene,” says Peter from the couple’s Hamilton home. “And I just thought, ‘This looks like way too much fun.’ I didn’t want to be left out.”

Peter began plinking on a bass that had been collecting dust, and as diligence gradually blossomed into skill, it wasn’t long before the Silchers were putting together simple arrangements of traditionals and personal favorites. They were soon joined by Lori Skyrud, a friend with a similar love of traditional Appalachian music whom Lori Silcher first heard sing at the Ravalli County Fair.

The Silchers are quick to credit others for encouraging their progress and gently nudging them along on their musical journey. Mike and Tari Conroy, the Silchers explain, are the “bluegrass guidance counselors” of the Bitterroot: former state fiddle champions whose abiding love for traditional music seems to grow in the sharing.

“Mike could play the spots off the bass, the guitar, the mandolin,” says Lori Silcher, “but both he and Tari are both so tasteful in their playing. Very restrained, which is definitely a skill.”

Indeed, to listen to the Silchers’ fond words for the Conroys and virtuoso flatpicker Steve Ralston, all of whom contributed their talents to the trio’s debut CD, Bitterroot Blend, is to come away with a renewed appreciation for the Bitterroot music scene as something of an extended family—one that includes Richard Paup and Mary Byers, whose photographs and artwork, respectively, put the finishing Bitterroot touches on a thoroughly homespun gem.

Rather too modestly, Lori Silcher explains that the group is still in its infancy—although you’d never know it to hear Bitterroot Blend; the instrumentation is appealingly minimalist, but the delicate weft and warp of Lori Silcher and Lori Skyrud’s intertwining harmonies roundly assert themselves as the group’s real strength.

And, not surprisingly, the CD has been warmly received in the valley, which Lori Silcher describes as the icing on the cake.

“It’s nice to have people stop and listen to you,” she says, “But it’s another thing for them to choose to bring you home.”

Silcher and Skyrud are among 19 bluegrass acts from across the state converging for the spring’s first Bluegrass Festival, an all-day event starting at noon on Saturday, April 15 at the Victor High School. Tickets are $4.

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