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Open Road hits the road with changes

By Jeffrey B. Remz, June 2004

Page 2...

"We were getting together on my back porch and singing things and working things out. It took us six months to get a five-piece band and settle. We kind of tried a couple of guys and tried a couple of more."

Open Road (the name comes from a type of Stetson hat with small brims and short crowns the group wears in concert along with suits and ties in the old bluegrass style) soon hit the festival circuit.

About three years ago, Open Road played the Wolf Mountain Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, Cal.

"I got home, and I had this email there waiting from Ken Irwin. There's this internet discussion list, and people were typing stuff about (us), how much they liked us after the festival."

Irwin also heard good things about the band about the same time from a Salt Lake City promoter and musician Tony Furtado.

An appearance at 2001's International Bluegrass Music Association awards solidified Irwin's interest in the band.

With finances already in place to record an album (the group previously released "Bluegrass Music" on their own in 2000), Open Road was not in a rush to sign up with a label.

After hearing the final product, Rounder licensed the album.

Since "Cold Wind" came out, banjo man Jim Runnels, bassist Ben O'Connor and fiddler Dan Mitchell have left the fold.

Roberts is a bit reticent about stating the reasons, although musical differences and time commitments were cited.

"There have been a couple of cases where we were at the crossroads musically," he says.

Replacing them were Keith Reed on banjo, Eric Thorin on bass and Bobby Britt on fiddle. Britt, the youngster in the group, moved to Colorado from his native North Carolina after finishing high school and hooked up as the friend of a friend of Folk two years ago.

Thorin's background is varied, having played in salsa bands, rock and a flamenco/Indian group and toured with the Tony Furtado Band for four years.

Idaho native Reed, influenced by Earle Scruggs' banjo playing, joined in January 2003 after playing with bluegrass bands in Idaho and Colorado.

"We've achieved something that we've been really striving for a long time, a rhythm section and a rhythm groove such as that that is really solid, that we're really excited about," says Roberts. "Singing is really the most important to us, but we'd also like to have a really solid rhythm feel."

Roberts says the changes are "part of (us) coming into our own sound."

"It's a good unit to move forward with for sure. That's the way things always are, doing our best to keep it doing. It's a hard business."

Roberts, of course, has high hopes for " the life," but knows nothing is certain in the music industry.

"I, of course, hope it would live up to the expectations of a second album," says Roberts. "I'm not sure how to gauge that. If it doesn't, we'll probably find out."

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