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Kane's River: the name changes, but the music remains the same

By George Hauenstein, January 2001

What was once Deep River is Kane's River. No matter what moniker is put on the band from Montana, the music is bluegrass.

Kane's River - John Lowell on guitar, David Thompson on bass, Julie Elkins on banjo and Jerry Nettuno on mandolin - decided, at the urging of Dobbie Records label head Tim Austin, to come up with another name in time to release their self-titled debut last fall.

As Thompson explains, "There was a duo in Nashville named Deep River. They had the name longer than we had. Tim Austin suggested that we come up with a name that would be completely original and that wouldn't be close to anything else."

"The name problem could hold up the album."

"We were faced with staying with Deep River and getting caught up in time consuming disputes or thinking up a new name that would assure the album's release for IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association event held each October), which was clearly important."

So they came up with the name, Kane's River, which Thompson says is "a combination of a guy Julie knows named Kane Fisher and Deep River."

The Bozeman-based band first came together in 1994. The current line-up has been together two years.

As Thompson, one of the band's remaining members along with Lowell, puts it, the band came together "not with a mind to do more than play around town. To have a good time. It was pretty straight forward."

Thompson says, "I had just moved to Montana and was looking for something to do. There was a sign in local music store for a bass player. I said 'bluegrass bass, how hard can that be?' It was a lot harder than I thought."

"Jerry moved to town a couple of years ago. John knew him from the band, Wheel Hoss, and was familiar with his work in the band High Strung. We all hooked up."

"Jerry jumped on board. Soon, Julie came back from her travels." (Elkins is a former member of the North Carolina band, New Vintage).

"Her playing fit well with the music and the direction we were heading in."

Elkins calls Kane's River "not your typical bluegrass band."

"We have a lot of different influences. We're all influenced by different people...The band is different but still stays within the boundary of bluegrass...A lot of people have described us as fresh."

"Out in Montana, we're considered traditional, but back east we're considered much more contemporary," she says.

Though the band had been playing together for some time, when Elkins joined the group, the band decided they were ready to take their music to the next level.

She says, "When I joined the band things got serious. It took a turn for broadening horizons as far as what the band was going to do."

Thompson adds, "(By now) the lineup was solid. We had lot of contacts from the new band members. The lineup was working, and we thought we gotta have an album out."

Kane's River's album came about when Austin came to Montana and listened to the band.

Elkins says, "I knew Tim. Jerry knew him also. We had worked with him. Jerry worked with him on High Strung stuff. Tim came out and stayed with Jerry and said he'd listen to the band. He heard us and ask if like to record with Doobie Shea."

"We said sure."

Of the 11 songs, all but two are originals. The band opted to include their version of Steve Earle's "Billy Austin" and the instrumental "Cole Younger" as the sole covers.

Each member of Kane's River has at least one song. Elkins says the band has no problem deciding who's songs to sing and who's songs they would ultimately record.

"It was really easy. We've always got so many songs to choose from. We pick the ones we do the best. We all write songs that work and don't work for the band."

Thompson further says, "The writers know the best (which songs will and will not work)...they are the most sensitive. (As songwriters), we all just know."

"I think many of the songs reflect our desire to stretch things a bit when it comes to subject matter or arrangement or whatever. I feel like we try to catch your ear with a new chord progression or unique subject matter or new way of thinking about something."

As for the future, Elkins says, "We travel as much as we can given we have families. We're not full-time musicians but we play as much as possible while keeping our other lives going."

Thompson adds, "A lot of people seem interested in having us come out. We're in process of working on more out-of-region stuff. We're hampered a bit by not being on a bus, but we are getting a lot of (radio) airplay. Things are getting easier."

Elkins says, "None of us looks to bluegrass to provide a living but we do look to bluegrass to provide a creative outlet."

"We want to play the cool festivals and cool theatres, but we go for the experiences rather than the life."

"We want have our cake and eat it too."