When Bearfoot Bluegrass guitarist Mike Mickelson decided in March to take the summer off to heal his tendonitis, it seemed at the time that the temporary absence of him and his 1948 Martin D-18 would irrevocably change the basic Bearfoot sound.
Fortunately, the band had a backup plan.
Megan McCormick, a friend from Anchorage, a classmate of fiddler Angela Oudean in the country and bluegrass program at East Tennessee State University and one of the most renowned young guitar players in Alaska, joined the band May 28. She's rounding out the group of five throughout the summer.
McCormick grew up in Idaho and moved to Alaska three years ago. Juneau audiences may remember McCormick from her local shows in late 2002 and early 2003 with her cousin, former local player Frank Solivan II, who now plays in Country Current, a Navy bluegrass/country band based out of Bethesda, Md. McCormick and Solivan traveled through Alaska and California for his month-long CD release tour.
"It was the smoothest any transition could go," bass player Kate Hamre said. "It just seemed like a good fit."
"We started jamming with her, me and Angela and Jason, when we were living in Anchorage, and we had a band with her for an offseason. We played a couple of gigs just to jam and have fun."
Bearfoot plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 6, at the ANB Hall. Tickets are on sale at Hearthside and Rainy Day Books. The band will also be hosting its third annual bluegrass camp Saturday-Monday, Aug. 7-9, at Holy Trinity Church, 325 Gold St. The camp is open to kids 5-17 of all abilities. Call the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council at 586-ARTS for more information.
Bearfoot's second CD, "Back Home," was released a few days after last August's show at the ANB Hall. The band is still playing a lot of the same songs, and trying to broaden its repertoire. Recent sets have includes more blues, jazz and instrumentals. The band has turned the bluegrass standard "I'd Rather Be Alone" into a swing tune.
Fiddler Annalisa Woodlee released her second album in May. McCormick hopes to have copies of her new CD available at the Juneau show.
Originally from Anchorage and Cordova, all five members of Bearfoot are considering moving to Johnson City, Tenn., to attend East Tennessee State with Oudean and McCormick. Woodlee currently lives in Portland. Hamre is attending the University of Idaho in Moscow. Mandolin and guitar player Jason Norris lives in Fairbanks. Mickelson lives in Anchorage.
"We could go to school and take classes and work on the weekends to get our East Coast recognition," Hamre said. "We're pretty well-known on the West Coast now. We can come back in the summer and work with the kids."
This summer is Bearfoot's third bluegrass camp in Juneau. For more information, check out www.bearfootbluegrass.com.
"Most of the kids pick things up pretty fast, partly because we throw a lot of information at them at once," Hamre said. "The kids are sponges. You can't stop them. We just finished a camp (Sunday in Jackson Hole, Wyo.) and I had about eight kids in my guitar class. In three days, they learned five chords, a flat-picking tune and some harmony parts."
Erika Rothchild, an incoming junior at Juneau-Douglas High School and a friend of Bearfoot Bluegrass, will be teaching at the camp for the second straight year.
Rothchild met the band a few years ago at the Cordova 4-H Bluegrass Old-Time Music & Dance Camp. She moved to Juneau from Cordova in 2002. This is her third summer in town. She's been playing guitar for five years.
"I just had that one beginning guitar class, but it was really cool," Rothchild said. "If the kids want to learn, then they're really easy to teach. If they don't, then you have to think of a way to make them want to be there. But usually, they're like, 'Yeah, let's learn guitar.'"