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The Bagboys: Bgrass, swing, humor add up

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 1997

It's another Saturday at the Plough & Stars, the small, bowling alley-type club in the Harvard Square area of Cambridge, Mass.

And that means, it's time for music courtesy of The Bagboys doing their regular two-hour, late afternoon gig.

Families with young kids show up. So do neighborhood folks and people interested in hearing a potpourri of bluegrass, Old Timey, folk and a few other genres thrown into the mix by the quintet, who just put out their CD "Sensible Music For Troubled Times."

Bob Chabot, one of the founders of the band and guitarist/vocalist (also known as Bobby Bag. Every band member has the surname "Bag." None, of course, are related), decided the Plough & Stars "was one of the coolest bars in town. I wanted to take my band there."

Eight years ago, Chabot proposed bringing in the band gratis to play at the bar at off-hours.

"We did it, and it went over pretty well," Chabot says.

After trying different nights, the band returned to the Saturday afternoon gigs.

They've been there ever since, taking summers off.

"It's comfortable," Chabot says. "It's gotten comfortable. After eight years, of course, it's comfortable. I like the crowd. The room is terrible to play. Sound-wise, it's the worst play to play, but we love it."

"It's kind of like our own little private party almost," Chabot says.

Banjo player Gretchen Browder says, "It's friendly too because people can bring their kids."

While liking kids and having one of her own, Browder acknowledges, "It does get real noisy in there."

"It can be frustrating," Bowder says.

But the show goes on.

While that remains constant, one change for the band was the recent release of their debut CD. The band previously put out a few tapes, but Chabot wanted to get serious. The general thinking is that a CD gains a band more notoriety.

The 17-song disc incorporates the different sounds of the band with most written by Chabot and Harvey Bag, aka Paul Jost, who plays bass and sings. Arthor Ray Bag on mandolin and vocals and Spider Mike Bag on fiddle round out the band.

But don't think the idea of a CD has gone to their heads. To wit, the title.

"It sort of says something about us - that we don't take ourselves too seriously," says Chabot, who runs the horticulture and grounds departments for two Boston area zoos in his day gig.

Chabot and Jost first met in Attleboro, Mass. in grade school. "I sort of remember meeting him on the playground playing dodge ball or something," says Chabot. "He was the new kid in town." The two remained friends through high school.

Chabot played in local rock bands in high school, but Jost did not have much experience. "He could play, I could play. I said 'let's start up a duo," he says. "We called it Bobby Bag and the Bagboys."

"It's a silly reason we have the name," Chabot says, alluding to childhood names which stuck.

"We tell people different stories wherever we go, but this is actually the truth," Chabot says.

Chabot moved north to Boston in about 1983. Both attended colleges in Boston and shared an apartment.

The duo were street performers, playing country rock covers weekly on Saturday mornings for two years at the Park Station subway station, the main station of the T system. "We met some interesting people. We had a lot of homeless folks sit in with us."

The duo soon moved up to a trio, adding a mandolin and fiddle player, called Grandpa Bag, Tom Sullivan. "He was about 10 years older than us," he says, explaining the nickname.

At one point, Paul Burch (Billy Joe Bag) joined. He now is trying to eke out his own career as a country musician in Nashville, having just released his second CD.

At that juncture, the band played psychedelic country, according to Chabot. "We did just a lot of extended Grateful Dead like jamming," Chabot says. "Although we were doing country stuff, a lot of it was sort of this real spacy stuff."

Following Burch's departure and that of an electric guitarist, the sound changed.

The band even contemplated adding a drummer during the transition. "We thought after trying out a few drummers, we didn't want a drummer," Chabot says.

Bowder got her break because Jost could not make a company Christmas party gig four years ago. A mutual friend put Bowder in touch. "I had never played it professionally," says Bowder, whose parents played classical music professionally. "I messed around with it at home. I actually didn't know bluegrass music at all. I had never heard Western swing before. I had a blast. It was a great time."

"We really liked her, but we didn't need two bass players," Chabot says.

Bowder subsequently rehearsed with the band, but did not play live.

"Their attitude at the time was that if you showed up for rehearsals, you were in the band," Bowder says. She played clawhammer for them starting almost four years ago.

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