By Ed Tutwiler – I had the good fortune recently to sit in on the making of the annual Christmas album that National Media Services releases every year as its Christmas card. The featured performers for this year are the Circa Blue Bluegrass Band. During a break in the recording session, I sat down for a short chat with Mr. Steve Harris, founder, guitarist, lead and harmony vocals for the group. “This is a great opportunity for us,” Steve injected.
Circa Blue is based in Martinsburg, WVA, and hosts their own festival every spring. The additional members of the band consist of Malia Furtado (Fiddle, Lead and Harmony Vocals); Ashley Stewart (Bass, Lead & Harmony Vocals); Garrett Wren (Mandolin, Lead and Harmony Vocals); and Matt Hickman (Banjo). The group records for the Orange Blossom Records label and is currently performing in support of its latest release titled, Once Upon A Time.
I asked Steve how they got the band together. He replied, “I put together the original band about five years ago but it did not have the current lineup. Matt Hickman, the banjo player has been with us from the beginning.”
Steve said that he came up with the name. “As you know, the term Circa is used to denote a general era or time so we just combined it with the Blue for bluegrass. The term is a Latin word for around or about and I thought it fit us because we are around or about bluegrass. We are not traditional and do not claim to be. We are not afraid to branch out not to be disrespectable but rather to be unique. We believe that good music is good music.”
I asked Steve if he was a life-long player and was surprised when he said that he was not. Steve said, “It’s a weird story. I played a lot when I was younger. My dad had a family band. We were young children at the time and he bought instruments for all us kids (four boys and a girl). Mom was musically inclined, and when I was in my teens I played with the family band. When I got married, my work career took me down a different path. I completely dropped music for 20-some years. My brother started going to the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival and he kept urging me to attend with him. I finally went with him one year and while sitting there in the audience, I had an emotional experience. To this day I wonder why I ever walked away from the music. Had I stayed with it, where would I be today? So that is what got me back into music about five years ago. I had to relearn and the guitar is not my first instrument. I’m really a banjo player”
We wondered when songwriting came into his life. Steve replied, “Way back I wrote a bit and we actually recently cut one song that I wrote when I about 14 years old. I didn’t write a lot but when I got back into the music it struck me to do more. I’m an impulsive writer. There has to be something that spurs the impulse. I can not just set down and write a song. However, it is good to be able to write and perform your own music.”
I asked Steve (with a tongue in cheek approach) if this music endeavor was a full time gig or did he still have a day job (actually, Steve is a successful contractor). Steve chuckled and replied, “It is full time but it is not full time; however, I think it would be the greatest thing in the world if I could make a living doing this full time. It would just be incredible, but will that happen, maybe when I’m older.” We pressed him to see if that was his goal as a band, and Harris came back with, “You know, you must marry that dream with reality given the genre of music we play. You know the folks that do make a living doing this have a haggard look on their faces. I think we have the best of both worlds right now.”
Update: The National Media / Circa Blue Christmas is currently up for four separate Spirit awards.
For more on the band and the CD, or their festival, visit www.circa-blue.com