Juno Award-winning Canadian fiddler April Verch brings her band and step dancing to Caltech Saturday night
By Bliss Bowen 03/25/2014
Growing up in Canada’s Ottowa Valley, April Verch absorbed an abundance of music, courtesy of supportive parents who took her with them to country shows and old-time dances. At age 3, she started step dancing; at 6, she took up the fiddle. Seeing her determination to make music, her parents introduced her to local country artists who counseled her on the near impossibility of establishing a career in music. But instead of dissuading her, their advice inspired Verch to double down and become even better at plying her chosen instrument.
By the time Verch earned her high school diploma, she was already an award-winning fiddle champ with two albums to her credit. After a brief stint at Berklee School of Music in Boston, she recorded her fourth album, 2001’s “Verchuosity,” for Rounder Records, which was nominated for a Juno Award (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Best Roots/Traditional Album. She’s currently touring behind her ninth album, last year’s “Bright Like Gold,” which brings her to Caltech Saturday night.
Verch’s precocious mastery of the fiddle and the traditional fiddle tune repertoire has earned her the respect of old-time veterans like Bruce Molsky and Dirk Powell, as well as bluegrass elder statesman Mac Wiseman, whose cheery tenor graces two songs on “Bright Like Gold.” It has also elicited numerous comparisons to Alison Krauss, who likewise made a teenage name for herself in bluegrass and folk circles thanks to her precise fiddle playing and melodic singing. But comparing Verch to Krauss is akin to sizing up the proverbial apples and oranges. Krauss’ silky, perfectly intonated soprano and pop sensibility eased her way to mainstream success, while her fiddle playing is too tightly controlled for any spontaneous emotion to burst through. In contrast, Verch’s quavering soprano is better suited to old-time tunes than pop; her prize card is her robust fiddle playing — and dancing.
To see her dance and fiddle at the same time, while twirling around in circles, is to marvel at the human body’s capacity for coordination. Between vigorously bowed, lighthearted instrumental passages, she creates percussive solos with her feet, spiritedly tap and step dancing before resuming her fiddling with nary a dropped beat. It all harks back to the traditional music and dance she experienced as a child. But when Verch hits the stage with guitarist Hayes Griffin and clawhammer banjoist Cody Walterson, it isn’t an exercise in rote nostalgia. It’s a party.
Pasadena Folk Music Society presents the April Verch Band at Caltech’s Beckman Institute’s auditorium, 400 S. Wilson Ave., Pasadena, at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 29. Tickets are $20/adults, $5/children under 12 and Caltech students. Info: (626) 395-4652. Aprilverch.com, folkmusic.caltech.edu