Sun Times staff
If they weren’t making music around the microphone, it would be a kitchen table, or a campfire.
A family band by birth and by marriage, Moonshiner’s Daughter plays bluegrass music, with a twist of folk and more than a hint of old-time country.
Sisters Trish Schnurr and Cara Croll do most of the singing, playing guitar and bass. Their husbands, Adam Croll, five-string banjo, and Mark Schnurr, mandolin, do the picking.
“This is our enjoyment,” Trish said this week.
In the almost four years since the two couples moved to Durham and Flesherton to work and raise families – two kids each – word has spread about their lively music.
Most weekends, the four musicians get together on a Friday or a Saturday night to share a meal and make music once the kids are asleep, she said. That led to formalizing things, and, once Cara learned to play the bass violin, they formed the band not long after the move.
Moonshiner’s Daughter’s opening slot next Thursday, April 26, ahead of West Virginia’s Nothin’ Fancy at the Owen Sound Legion, will be the group’s second Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club show. They’re also booked for The Hosltein Bluegrass Celebration in August, Durham’s Fall Fair and the town’s homecoming, along with shows coming up for the Massie Hall and Eugenia’s Flying Chestnut Restaurant concert series.
With jobs and raising kids, that’s busy enough, Cara said.
Growing up near Maryhill and Breslau in the Kitchener area, the girls were raised with music. Their dad liked to sing and play guitar, mom played fiddle.
They took their daughters at a young age to a few bluegrass shows and, although neither pursued that music until later, something stuck, Cara Croll said.
At university, she was inspired to sing and learn guitar when she first heard Sarah Harmer’s music, and eventually got back to those early roots.
“Once we got past those early years, we weren’t really immersed in bluegrass, but it was kind of something we came back to once we met musician husbands,” said Cara, who also plays piano.
Adam Croll got a start on banjo and guitar from his father Jim and early inspiration from his uncle Tex Smith, who lived up the road form their rural home near Acton.
“Once you hear the banjo, it captures you,” Croll said. “It’s just something you have to do.”
He sticks pretty close to a traditional Scruggs banjo style, with a few flourishes of his own.
“Every banjo player really wants to play like Earl Scruggs, or most of us do,” he said.
Croll played some blues through high school and at 18 met old-time fiddler Wally Jackson, from Lanark County. The played music regularly, and Jackson solidified Croll’s interest in old-time and country music.
“He just taught me so much about rhythm and about driving (the music) just to get that bluegrass sound,” he said. “It kept me there. There was no way you could change courses playing with a fellow like that.”
Mark Schnurr’s interests in Mandolin range beyond bluegrass into jazz and toward mandolinist David Grisman’s so-called Dawg music, a mix of bluegrass rhythms and adventurous, jazz-inluenced melodies.
His mandolin pursuit led to his profession as a violin maker. While “hoboing” across the country a few years ago, he bought a book about building mandolins, then made his own instrument and others before turning to making violins, in part through studies with luthier John Newton who had a studio near Desboro for many years.
Accessibility and relative simplicity is bluegrass music’s appeal, along with the sound of acoustic instruments together, Schnurr said.
“It’s really earthy sounding. As a violin maker I just love acoustic music and acoustic instruments all around,” he said. “And anyone can do it. There’s a huge repertoire of traditional music and you can get together with people you’ve never met before and throw out these tunes and everyone can catch some of it.”
“It’s fun music to play,” added Cara, who said her interest in the music is genuine, not based on trends.
“I like that bluegrass is sort of unpopular, a bit. I like that I like it because I like it. No one is influencing that.”
Her husband agreed.
“There is an aspect of that. You’re kind of against the grain,” he said. “It’s a demanding music. Not everyone does it or can do it, so there is a badge that you wear.”
Moonshiner’s Daughter blends the Croll focus on traditional bluegrass and old-time country with the Schnurr leanings towards folk, especially through the new, folk-influenced bluegrass songs Trish has been writing.
“She’s been just pumping out the songs in the last year or two,” Cara said.
“I guess I have been on a bit of a songwriting kick for the past two years, I guess,” said Trish, who also adds occasional fiddle to the band’s mix.
She said writing new songs is both her creative outlet and her contribution to the band, since she’s “not a lead guitar player.”
Her daily diet of CBC radio during drive to Owen Sound from Flesherton for work provides plenty of true life stories for inspiration, as do the people and moments in her own life. The songs “can also be quite fictional.”
Working the new material into the set list can be challenging as well as rewarding, while singing, even on new songs, just comes natural, Trish said.
“I think you can hear the family connection in our harmonies,” she said. “That’s just simple for us. We don’t work at that. We just get to sing with each other. The harmonies come pretty quick.”
That the four are family also shows in their comfort together on stage, she added.
As much as 50 per cent of some Moonshiner’s Daughter sets is now original and, while the band remains essentially a bluegrass unit, they tailor shows to suit the crowd, Cara said.
“One of the things about bluegrass is you’re always paying tribute to the originals. It’s built into bluegrass music,” he said.
So the Queen’s Bush Bluegrass Club audience can expect a mix of new songs and some bluegrass and old-time standards Thursday, the final show in this year’s Wintergrass concert series.
Doors open at the Owen Sound Royal Canadian Legion at 6:30. Show time is 7:30, with Moonshiner’s Daughter up first with a 40-minute set. Nothin’ Fancy, winners of the 2012 most entertaining group award from the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America, will play two sets.
Tickets are $22, or $20 for club members, $10 if you are 16 to 18, and free for people 15 and under with an adult.