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Band du Pays

They range in age from 20 to 50 and come from a wide range of musical backgrounds, but the members of Band du Pays all share an appreciation for swing music of the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

"It's a mixture of swing and blues — melodic swing vocal tunes with some blues thrown in for spice," said Stephen Gagné, who plays alto and soprano saxophone and several styles of clarinets.

"It's more '40, '50 and '60s sound, where it's easy to listen to and easy to dance to," he said.

The five and a half-member band includes Gagné, bassist and harmonica player Merrill Smith, guitarist Tony Brussat, drummer Lance Hilt, vocalist Sarah Petty and vocalist Lindsay Erdman, also known as "Holler," who performs during summers and some holidays.

"This core group emerged out of years of playing together," Gagné said.

The Ashland group will be play together for three shows over the next two weeks: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 19, and 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 31, at Liquid Assets, 96 N. Main St., Ashland and at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 24, at Tease, 303 E. Main St., Ashland.

Holler, a Toronto-based blues and jazz singer, will be accompanying Band du Pays for the second Liquid Assets show as well as at Tease. She currently is performing with well-known jazz and blues organ player John T. Davis.

Band du Pays started playing together informally at La Baguette, also known as the Hardware Cafe, in Ashland, which Smith owns.

"(Smith) had a dream of having a live coffee house band," Gagné said.

About two years ago, the band became a more structured entity and began performing regularly at La Baguette, as well as Tease, Liquid Assets and Ashland's First Friday art walk.

"We've just enjoyed gigging together here recently in this sort of relaxed, melodic swing tradition," said Gagné.

Each musician found an individual avenue into Ashland's music scene.

Petty, the youngest member of the band and a native Ashlander, studied voice under Bob Miner. She also often performs locally with Jeff Pevar and Inger Jorgensen of Bohemian Soul and Joe Diehl.

Smith is an avid instrumentalist who developed musical proficiency in several instruments including guitar, bass, harp, piano and vocals. He is also involved in musical theater, appearing in local plays as a singer and actor.

Hilt, a jazz aficionado, has been studying drumming for about 10 years. Over the past few years, he has played with Back Porch Swing, Melangé and other eclectic ensembles.

Brussat was formerly involved in the Austin, Texas, music scene. He formed and led the band, Jazz Pharaohs, and toured with Asylum Street Spankers. He also played with 81/2; Souvenirs.

Gagné's professional music career began after college, when he began handling concert mixes for a list of performers that included Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

"I had a lot of experience putting together good music for other people," he said.

In the 1970s and '80s, Gagné's childhood love of dolphins and his musical career intertwined when he invented an underwater piano. He followed John Lilly's research on dolphin communication and created a piano that used vibrating reeds form the notes.

"I came up with the idea of an underwater piano as a way of communicating musically with (dolphins)," he said.

He experimented with his piano with dolphins in Hawaii and the Bahamas, and his underwater performances were aired on PBS.

Gagné settled in Ashland, where he works as a filmmaker for Westwood Creek Productions, and plays above water with local musicians.

Although Band du Pays has not created an album, Gagné said the band may consider it in the future.

Admission to the band's show at Liquid Assets is $3.

Call 482-9463 for information.

Clockwise from top right: Tony Brussat, Lance Hilt, Sarah Petty, Merrill Smith and Stephen Gagné are Band du Pays. - Debra Thornton Photography