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Bluegrass festival at Alex's in Ashland

A li'l bluegrass has been added to the bill at Alex's Plaza Restaurant in Ashland. The popular music venue will host its first-ever bluegrass festival, happening at 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 21, and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at Alex's, 35 N. Main St., Ashland.

Friday's lineup includes Hamfist and the Flat Five String Band, while Saturday features Siskiyou Summit and Eight Dollar Mountain.

While all the bands participating in this weekend's festival use traditional bluegrass instrumentation, not all are true to the American roots-music form.

"I use the word 'bluegrass' because from a very layman point of view, there's a banjo; there's a violin; there's a guitar," says Charles Tobey, owner of Alex's.

Hamfist is composed of Jesse Baldwin (banjo), Stephany Smith-Pearson (mandolin), Ezra Severin (ukulele), James F. Dean (mandolin), Jon Bates (guitar), Sequoia Pearson (guitar) and Joe Porto (bass). While the band tends toward Americana, its sets don't exclude bluegrass.

"We love bluegrass, but if you define it as a song from a traditional canon, featuring a lot of hot picking and breaks ... we're not that band," says Baldwin.

Likewise, the Flat Five String Band features bluegrass instrumentation, but plays gypsy jazz and acoustic swing (they will, however, be throwing a few bluegrass teasers into the mix Friday night). The band is Michael Hodgin and Bryan Miller on guitar, Bryon Harris on standup bass and Linda Powers on violin.

On Saturday, Siskiyou Summit opens with a more progressive bluegrass set, featuring both older standards and more contemporary songs by U2, Tom Petty and The Rolling Stones.

"It sounds more bluegrass than it does rock 'n' roll," says dobro player Bob Evoniuk.

Besides Evoniuk, Siskiyou Summit includes Crystal Reeves on fiddle, Jeff Jones on mandolin, Rick Nelson on banjo, Sam Cuenca on bass and Glenn Freese on guitar.

Eight Dollar Mountain remains dedicated to the traditional bluegrass style. The high-energy group is made up of Peter Koelsch on upright bass, Stu Green on banjo, Phil Johnson on mandolin, Mark Lackey on dobro and Darren Campbell on guitar. While covers by The Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin are part of the band's repertoire, they prefer to play their original bluegrass tunes, several of which were featured on their October 2010 release, "Wild River Country."

Cover to the bluegrass festival is $5 per night. Call 541-482-8818.

Eight Dollar Mountain will play hard-drivin' bluegrass originals and covers by The Stanley Brothers, Earl Scruggs and Jimmy Martin at the festival. - Photo courtesy of Eight Dollar Mountain