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Family affair: Montana band makes musical connection

For a Montana father-sons acoustic band called Watercarvers Guild, concerts in Casper and Worland this week are as much about the connections live music brings, as about the music itself.

It's about making music together -- father Darrell Casey and now-grown sons David, 29, and Nathan, turning 20 Saturday -- and sharing that with others.

Watercarvers -- the name itself hints of what they're about. "Watercarvers is sort of an analogy to making music," said Darrell Casey. "That's something that's very transient, very ephemeral. You do it and it's really gone. ... Unless you put it on CD. ... And that's not the same."

What they'll share is an array of musical styles -- a little early folk, maybe some Simon and Garfunkel and Crosby, Stills and Nash, some old swing, traditional Irish music -- to vocals and an array of musical instruments -- guitars, piano, bass, mandolin, bouzouki, recorder and harmonica.
"You know people who show up for a performance, go out and see the arts on stage, they have a whole different take on it than those that watch it on TV and listen to it on their stereos," Darrell Casey said, "and what's really nice ... for all of us is to really be making that connection, maybe showing people that there is a difference. And, it's great to see people who appreciate that there is a difference."

For the Helena, Mont., Caseys -- there are five kids in all -- making music has just always been a natural part of family life.

Darrell, a professional musician since the '60s, grew up with music, picking one of his father's guitars off the wall when he was 8. He went through an electric phase before acoustic inspirations like Paul Simon and James Taylor changed his style. Always there was a band, as well as musical tech work, repairs and music instruction. Two successful finger-style guitar CDs in the 1990s led to full-time performing.

"I think it's a little bit different the way that you view music or the way that you hear and understand music if it's something you hear happening around you all the time, especially something as accessible as all the stuff I play," he said. "I play ... a lot of popular and folk and jazz and country and classical. These are things the kids have heard me playing since they were babies in the living room or with any particular band I might be play with in those days. David would come out and see the band, and what we were doing, playing at a wedding reception or something like that."

He calls his musical interaction with son David, "a pretty long-standing relationship. I would accompany him in some of his grade school performances and he's been sitting in with different bands of mine." David, he said, began "picking at the piano" at age 4, and switched to guitar only because he couldn't have a piano in his room at college. By his teens he was composing his own music and performing.

They're all self-taught, with a little help from whoever already had the ability. Darrell explained, for instance, "I'm not a great piano player, but back when David was not a great piano player either, I was at least able to help him out a bit."

The two started Watercarvers Guild together in 1996 as a duo. Nathan joined them on bass and vocals in 2000.

On tour most of the time now, their stops have included a lot of festivals, such as the Big Sky Americana Music Festival with Tim O'Brien and his band last July. Showcasing at the Wyoming Arts Alliance and the Arts Northwest Booking Conference in Oregon has led to numerous bookings, and they've been featured on regional public radio stations.

Darrell said it's a sore point with Nathan that the Watercarvers Guild released its first CD shortly before Nathan joined them. His older brother, Jeremy, now in the Air Force, did a couple of tracks on that album. They expect to release another CD this year. Darrell may also release a solo guitar album soon.

Much of their recorded work is original material, but concerts tend toward a lot of different, often familiar music, he said.

Small concerts are preferred over festivals, Darrell said. "Festivals are fun, but it's not normally like it's your own show. People are not there to see you specifically. ... Sure, you'd rather be playing for the people who came to see you."

Darrell said the image of father and sons performing together brings to more than a few minds the nostalgia of Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band," a tribute to his father's influence on his music.

Watercarvers Guild doesn't play "Leader of the Band," he said, but there's something very special about a dad and his kids playing music together.

"It's a lot of fun, for one thing," he said. "Sometimes I look around me and I say, and I think other people do, too, 'Boy, that's got to be great out there playing with your kids.' Or, 'That's really something nice you can do with your boys.' And, yeah, I certainly feel that way."

However it also makes for a complex relationship, "because you're relying on each other out there when you're performing and it might be that I'm the leader of the band in a certain way, but David is a very charismatic personality and has such a stage presence. And, we're in business together, where you have to have some sort of shared artistic vision. And all those different aspects of the relationship kind of all come to a head sometimes. Those things don't always mesh when you underlay that whole thing with one of us is supposed to be the father."

Darrell said he sometimes has to remember that he may be the father, but it's way past that stage. "To put things on an equal footing is sometimes difficult, but it is also very gratifying."

Judy Hamilton, Casper Star-Tribune, January 23, 2003


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