Banjo picker finds bluegrass bent

The True North Fraser Bluegrass Festival takes place this weekend at the Albion Fairgrounds in Maple Ridge.

Gordie Sadler and his band 5 on a String return to the True North Fraser Bluegrass Festival this weekend in Maple Ridge.

Gordie Sadler and his band 5 on a String return to the True North Fraser Bluegrass Festival this weekend in Maple Ridge.

Banjo picker Gordie Sadler did not always favor bluegrass over other musical styles.

When Beatles mania was at its height, Sadler was plunking organ keys, keeping rhythm with his rock and roll high school band at the time.

But when he heard the sounds of legendary bluegrass artist Bill Monroe, Sadler picked up his banjo and never put it down.

Since the age of 20, the father of two daughters and grandfather can recall practicing his banjo, which these days is a featured instrument in his bluegrass band, 5 on a String.

The quintet from Belcarra is back at Maple Ridge’s True North Fraser Bluegrass Festival this year, Aug. 29-31 at the Albion Fairgrounds.

For the second straight year, the festival is back with a new slate of bluegrass artists, who this year come from as far away as Xenia, San Francisco, Seattle, Victoria and Powell River.

Sadler emphasizes organizers are strict about their policy of only new acts, and because of that, was hesitant to play the event again.

“We were convinced, however, to come back,” he says.

Fans of the band will be grateful for its return on the Albion main stage, as 5 on a String plans to unveil some of its newest renderings from its 25-year anniversary and fifth CD, which has yet to be released.

Faster-paced, toe-tapping cover tunes, including the Monroe-classic Big Mon, Little Girl in Tennessee, by Lester Flatts, and Foggy Mountain Top, by the Carter family, are just some of the album’s songs.

Five on a String fan favorites, like the four-part harmonies it is known for, will still be part of the set, Sadler adds.

Other event favorites that allow organizers to call their show a “wholesome family affair” will be back, as well.

Sadler expects the campfire singing circles and unplanned musical jams again. He recalls having the opportunity to play with Monroe, a headliner at a Seattle festival at the time, because of an impromptu parking lot jam.

“Headliners coming down into the parking lot – when do you ever hear of that happening at the bigger festivals?” Sadler asks.

Free nightly corn roasts are back, too.

A truck full of approximately 120 dozen cobs of corn are brought to the fairgrounds to feed the more than 120 RVs and 150 tents filled with campers.

Brought in from Chilliwack, the corn is the only remaining connection to the event’s 25-year history there.

“When the festival came to Maple Ridge, there was a goal to rebrand the event and make Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows a destination for bluegrass fans,” he explains.

The new location and organizers’ efforts may be paying off as festival organizers say feedback at the inaugural event last year was highly positive. Fans preferred the green outdoor ambience of Maple Ridge compared to the flat farm land of Chilliwack, says Sadler.

As a result, and the fact the festival marks the end of the bluegrass summer season, organizers are expecting similar camper counts to what they saw in years before it came to Maple Ridge.

“We had 120 RVs in Maple Ridge last year compared to some where between 150-175 in Chilliwack, and this year we expect to get the full complement.”

Bluegrass festival

True North Fraser Bluegrass Festival starting 6 p.m., Aug. 29 and running until 10 p.m., Aug. 31 at the Albion Fairgrounds.