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Ashland band Borderline reunites for one show

It was a chance meeting in 1990 during an early morning lap swim at Ashland's Daniel Meyer Pool that led Emy Phelps and Bob Evoniuk to form a musical partnership that would span nearly two decades — one that would also prefigure alt-country music and culminate with one of the region's favorite bands, Borderline.

Phelps and Evoniuk began a guitar and Dobro duo and shared an appreciation for such artists as Emmylou Harris, Graham Parsons, the Louvin Brothers, Johnny Cash and others.

"Our first gig was at a place called Winter Cafe down by Lithia Park," Evoniuk recalls. "We played what would become known as Americana, drawing from Hank Williams, Bill Monroe, Gillian Welsh, anything from the bluegrass and country rock catalog.

"There was a sort of sibling harmony between us that was too good to pass up," he says. "We didn't have to chart our music. It was more like a mind meld. The harmonies just came naturally."

Their style of harmonies and instrumentals eventually caught the ear of bassist Leonard Sutton — a former member of Ashland bluegrass band Foxfire — and Borderline was born.

The band's fan base and local popularity grew over the next several years, then it was tragically interrupted in 1996 when Sutton died in a motorcycle accident. 

Borderline persevered with the addition of Sam Cuenca, who brought mandolin, octave mandolin and a third vocal harmony to the group.

"Sam is one of those singers, too," Evoniuk says. "He knows all of the right spots."

When bassist Bob DiChiro relocated to Ashland from Southern California, Borderline added his rhythms as a final missing ingredient and found a musical niche which they built their sound around for the next decade. Eventually, the band took a break so its members could pursue other local projects such as The Emy Phelps Band — Phelps recorded her first solo album of original music — alt-country band One Horse Shy, bluegrass ensemble Siskiyou Summit and rock band L.E.F.T.

Now based in Boston, Phelps returns to Ashland with her partner, fiddler Darol Anger, to perform Wednesday, July 22, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Green Show.

The OSF gig created the perfect opportunity for a Borderline reunion concert — featuring Phelps, Evoniuk, Cuenca, DiChiro — with the addition of Anger.

"I am really excited about this show," Evoniuk says. "Having Darol play with us is like a big, thick slice of icing on the cake. He's an incredible musician and extremely accomodating considering his stature in the music world."

Anger is among the handful of musicians — David Grisman, Tony Rice, Mike Marshall — who are pioneers of new Americana music. Anger has helped drive the evolution of contemporary string music with involvement in his Republic Of Strings, the Turtle Island String Quartet, the David Grisman Quintet, Montreux, The Duo and other groups. He is an associate professor at Berklee College of Music.

"He's totally cool," Evoniuk says. "Not only as a performer, but also as an educator."

The reunion show is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 23, a Belle Fiore Winery, 100 Belle Fiore Lane (off Dead Indian Memorial Road). Admission is free, but reservations are recommended. See www.bellefiorewine.com or call 541-552-4900.

Early members of Borderline, Sam Cuenca (left), Emy Phelps and Bob Evoniuk, will be joined by Bob DiChiro and Darol Anger.