By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Now in its fourth month, The American Roots Project is giving Rio music fans a taste of American-style tunes through monthly live performances of blues, gospel, early country music, bluegrass, rockabilly, country jazz, folk, folk-rock and more at Botafogo’s Saloon 79.
The idea for the project originated when members of the bluegrass band River Country performed during the 2011 edition of Rock in Rio as part of the Rock Street stage.
Members Peter Warner (rhythm guitar and vocals); Steve Yolen (five-string banjo and vocals); Bruce McBee (dobro, five-string banjo) and Tony Lupidi (mandolin, vocals) wanted to continue the experience they had while playing and sharing American roots music in Rio.
During the festival they played for seven days alongside the likes of Alan Pratt, a 1960s, 70s-style folk and folk rock and country performer; and Brazilians Tony Roqueiro, Claudia and Hann Sette of The Rock Family, a 60s and 70s-style American and country rock influenced band.
After the festival, River Country Trio wanted a fixed venue, preferably a “honky-tonk style setting”. They chose the location of Saloon 79 in Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhood of Botafogo. There owner Tony Rocker had turned his establishment into an American-style bar and grill which features American influenced music five nights a week.
“We’ve found a terrific venue at Saloon 79,” said Steve Yolen. “They have a great sound system, the best grilled cheeseburgers in the Zona Sul and some of the best American-style live music you’ll hear in South America,” added Yolen a New York born but longtime Rio resident.
The American Roots shows, featuring the River Country band and guests, are steadily gaining a fanbase among Cariocas, expatriates and visiting fans in the city eager for more musical variety in their live shows.
Saloon 79 owner Tony Rocker, said of the most recent program; “Whether you like country, bluegrass, blues, folk, gospel, rockabilly, country rock, do not think about missing tonight!” and fan Carlos Jorge F. Amaral added, “Good music and good drinks… I’m sure you’re going to like [it]!”
Of the previous shows River Country’s Yolen, who may be the “granddady of the five-string banjo players in Brazil” said; “Boy, do these folks know their American roots stuff, they sing and dance along to it. Requests typically are for Willie Nelson, John Denver, Bill Monroe, and Johnny Cash.”
“Saloon 79’s regulars love the authentic music we and our invited guest performers and their bands play,” River Country’s guitarist and vocalist Peter Warner said. “It’s becoming a real alternative for people who want roots music on the Rio music scene.” Warner, Washington D.C. born and a longtime Rio resident added, “Now it’s time for non-regulars to ‘discover’ this event.”
The next American Roots Project will take place on Thursday, October 10th at Saloon 79 in Botafogo at Rua Pinheiro Guimarães, 79. Beginning at 9PM River Country and an invited guest or band will play until midnight. Tickets are R$15. For more information or reservations call (21)7544-5151 or see the Saloon 79’s website.