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Foxfire to reprise at Wintergrass Music Fest

When Foxfire was popular in the '90s, the Rogue Valley bluegrass band was a regular at the annual Wintergrass Music Festival in Bellevue, Washington.

"We eventually were asked to become the festival's house band," says mandolin player Jeff Jones. "That meant we got prime spots in the lineup even though we were regional. Once we performed right after Bill Monroe. He came backstage and said 'You gotta come to my Bean Blossom Festival back in Kentucky. You know where that is, right?'

"Yes, Mr. Monroe. Of course," they answered.

Foxfire Trio — Jones, Glenn Freese on guitar and Bob Evoniuk on Dobro — evolved from the full band. Banjo player Larry Bulich now works as a musician in Portland, and bassist and songwriter Leonard Sutton died in 1996 in a motorcycle accident.

The trio will perform at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 14, at Paschal Winery, 1122 Suncrest Road, Talent. Soprano Jeffri Lynn and guitarist and singer Jeff Stanley will share the bill. Admission is $10. A buffet-style dinner will be available for $15. Call 541-261-8631 by noon Friday to make a reservation for the dinner.

"Back in the '90s, we played festivals up and down the West Coast," Jones says. "Not just in the realm of regional bluegrass, but at all kinds of festivals."

The band independently released a cassette tape album, "Gone at Last," named after a bluegrass arrangement of the Paul Simon song, in 1987, and a CD titled "Carry Me Home," which included several of Sutton's originals, in 1989.

In '93, Foxfire entered Pizza Hut's International Bluegrass Showdown. After winning the Northwest regional contest, the band was sent to Kentucky to compete in the final.

"We didn't win," Jones says, "but we were noticed by Pinecastle Records, who offered us a contract on the spot."

That contract resulted with 1993's "Starting Today," a collection of mostly originals, and 1995's "Where the Heart Is," a set of originals and covers. Foxfire also toured the U.S. twice, in 1994 and 1995, and in 1997, embarked on a European tour.

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of Wintergrass Music Festival, Jones says, and its organizers have asked for a reprisal performance by Foxfire, the full band. In February, with Bulich on banjo and Peter Koerella on bass, Foxfire returns to Wintergrass.

"It's exciting," Jones says. "I feel that same verve as 30 years ago. We've performed this material hundreds of times. We might be a little rusty, but when we rehearsed on Sunday, it was like 'Wow.' It's like the mind can just walk back in, like 'Oh yeah, I remember exactly what I played.' It makes me think I've still got it."

The material chosen for performances is what differentiates the trio from the full band, Jones says. The Paschal show will include songs from Foxfire's last two albums (sans the banjo and bass parts), including bluegrass arrangements of select cover songs such as Gerry O'Beirne's "Western Highway," "Swing Down," by a cappella Golden Gate Quartet, and "Moondance" by Van Morrison, to name a few.

"Our shows are vocally driven. There are lots of three-part harmonies. We'll also do our uptempo, bluegrass version of Willie Dixon's '29 Ways,' that old blues song. And we still do some of Leonard's songs. He was a great songwriter."

Bob Evoniuk, left, Jeff Jones and Glenn Freese are Foxfire Trio. [Photo by Tina Bolling]