The Garden Family band rocks the Bonanza. Katie Emmets
on the Skagway Music Scene
By JOSEPH STEPHENSON
The members of Garden Family Singalong have at least three things in common. They’re all musicians, obviously. They all work together at Jewell Gardens. And they all feel much like a family when they make music together. They entertained the Bonanza Bar & Grill for the second time this summer on Thursday, August 16.
“Family was kind of the feeling we were trying to create in general around the garden last summer. With music in particular. We’d play music around the campfire and it just started to groove. People would jump in,” said vocalist and ukulele player Aaron Schmidt.
The other members of Garden Family Singalong include Jessica Callies - vocals, auxiliary percussion; Juan Pedro Castaneda-Gonzales - vocals, rhythm guitar; Mark Walker - tambourine, wash board, ukulele, mri-donga; and Russ Bacon - harmonica.
Perhaps a fourth thing they have in common is that they all seem to be quite proficient on the kazoo. Not only the kazoo, but the tambourine, the washboard, and Mark’s mri-donga. The band seemed to trade instruments with ease and often swapped lead and backup vocals. Such versatility allows Garden Family Singalong to make songs like “Major Tom” by David Bowie, “Quinn the Eskimo” by Bob Dylan, and “Help” by the Beatles very much their own. Their own unique cover of Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” really got the Bonanza rockin’.
I visited with Garden Family Singalong out at Jewell Gardens the night before their Bonanza show:
How would you describe your music?
Juan: A lot of influences. There’s some jazz in there, there’s some blues in there, there’s some old timey feel in there. We mainly listen to something and then make each song our own the best we can.
Aaron: There’s the simplicity of folk and the inclusive nature of it. It’s music made for anybody and everybody to join in in some way. So often music can be intimidating, but we prefer more for it to be inclusive and to make people want to be a part of it.
Who do you guys cover?
Mark: The Band, Neil Diamond, the White Stripes.
Jessica: The Box Tops, Commodores, and most recently the Lemon Pipers.
How do you decide which songs you’ll play?
Juan: We suggest it. We give it a shot. If it sticks, we’ll go through with it. If it doesn’t, we squash it.
Aaron: We have a few songs with just one person singing, but we try to go for the things where a lot of people can join in with harmonies and background vocals.
Tell me about your musical backgrounds.
Jessica: I play washboard, sometimes a kazoo, sometimes a tambourine. I’ve been singing my whole life. I dabble in guitar, and I play the trumpet.
Aaron: I’ve been playing ukulele for three years or so. Piano was my first instrument taking lessons as a child. I’ve been singing all along, at church and things like that. Played trumpet in junior high band. Then, I got into choir in high school and college. I picked up the guitar about ten years ago.
Juan: I started playing my grandmother’s electric organ when I was six. I never was able to follow through with it. My dad played the guitar for the longest time, so that inspired me to want to pick up the guitar in middle school and see what I could do. But like that Dire Straits song says, man I don’t want to make it cry or sing I’m doing all right, ya know. Rhythm’s okay. I’ll leave the solo work to these guys.
Mark: Bass was my first instrument. I played it in high school, but I never really honed that craft, just tinkered. I play the tambourine, maybe the washboard, maybe the uke if the opportunity presents itself. And I also play the mri-donga.
Russ: I grew up with a lot of blues. My father is a blues musician, and he’s who I learned the harmonica from.
Biggest musical influence?
Juan: My dad. He’s the guy that inspired me to play music. He was a journeyman electrician with gnarly hands but he could still play the guitar. No matter how messed up his hands are he can still play, and that’s a major inspiration for me. Whatever sound I get is just an amalgamation of everything I’ve heard over the years from Neil Young to Neil Diamond, to the Ban to the Beatles, to Led Zeppelin all the way up to Radiohead. Even stuff that’s off the wall, like the Dirty Projectors.
Mark: Chip tunes. Video game music. Bleeps and bloops. That’s where I’m coming from. That’s why they gave me a tambourine.
Jessica: My family. There’s ten of us. It’s like a pastime for us to break into harmonious song at any given moment. Band-wise I’d say maybe The Mamas and the Papas and Peter Paul and Mary. I’m very influenced by very raw female voices like Mama Cass, Patsy Cline and Melanie. And The Band. This is all after the Beatles mind you.
How much fun is it playing together?
Aaron: It just feels real good by this point. We know where each other are coming from. I was telling Jess the other day that our harmonies feel physically good, vibrating on the inside. And it’s profound to be a part of something that you know others are contributing to.
Jessica: It really does feel like a family. My pinnacle moment was playing at the Bonanza earlier this year. I felt like I was singing with my family, and I hadn’t felt that before. That was an amazing experience.
Russ: It’s a lot of fun. I just joined the band like a week ago and I’m loving it. I haven’t had the chance to play harmonica in any serious situation in almost ten years. There was no real expectation it was just throw down what you want to, which makes it easy.
Garden Family Singalong’s first gig occurred at the Jewell Gardens’ 2011 Solstice Party. They knew about five songs then, but now have up to four hours of material. This year they’ve played at Jewell Gardens’ Rhubarb Fest and Discovery Days, the Elks Solstice Party, and the Bonanza Bar & Grill, where you can catch them play at least once more before the season’s end.