Fair Black Rose is a six-piece bluegrass and old-time string band of young folks from the southwestern U.S. The group grew out of Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band, a community and after school program founded by Anni and Vincent Beach in Chandler, Arizona. Anni Beach continues the program to this day, teaching kids about bluegrass, blues, old-time, and the importance of these musics while passing along these folk traditions to a diverse and representative up-and-coming generation of pickers. The impact of Jam Pak has been well known to southwestern bluegrassers now for more than two decades, but its reputation as a first-rate educational program and bluegrass ambassador has garnered national recognition as well; in 2019 Beach won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Momentum Award for Mentor of the Year.
Jam Pak has had hundreds of children and young adults come through its ranks, many of which have coalesced into different groups and bands within the greater program. Fair Black Rose is just one of those bands, but this year they’re making their debut on the national stage – and rising to that occasion and then some. The lineup of talented teenagers includes Lucy Tanyi on banjo, Carlos Parra, on fiddle, Maxwell Klett on mandolin, Rosy Lopez on guitar, Alasya Zelweldi on mountain dulcimer, and Justin Mizer on bass. Though still cutting their teeth, the group members have a mature sense of self well beyond their ages and are clearly at home within the many stalwart idioms of roots music.
In lieu of our annual Shout & Shine showcase held at IBMA’s conference and festival we’re dedicating two of our Shout & Shine columns to artists appearing during World of Bluegrass and IBMA Bluegrass Live! who represent often-marginalized identities in bluegrass. So, ahead of Fair Black Rose’s Official Showcases and Bluegrass Live! performance in Raleigh this week, we spoke to two of their members, Zelweldi and Mizer, about their music and repertoire, their blossoming band dynamic, what they hope to get out of their cross-country trip to IBMA, and more. Look for an upcoming interview with banjoist Tray Wellington to complete this Shout & Shine IBMA mini-series.
BGS: What are you looking forward to most at IBMA? Is it your first music conference? I know you’ve been to festivals plenty, but have you been to a music conference before?
Justin Mizer: No, this is definitely going to be the biggest conference/music festival/showcase thing that we’ve ever attended. It’s a really big deal for us and we’re really excited.
Alasya Zelweldi: We’re really looking forward to meeting new people, going out there — we’ve never traveled this far for a festival. We’re really excited for what’s to come!
As a band, what are you hoping to achieve at IBMA? Not only showcasing, but also being part of the conference, the hang — everybody being in the same space and pickin’ — but also the festival. I wonder what you’re hoping to get out of the experience?
JM: Something that has been on my mind about the trip is that I really want us to make our mark, to let people see who we are — we are a really diverse band. This trip is a huge opportunity to network, get to know people, and to get Fair Black Rose’s name out there. We are a part of Jam Pak, Jam Pak was the start for us and we’re hoping to keep going with that, too.
AZ: Hopefully we can make people happy with our music.
JM: We will! We definitely will! [Laughs]
AZ: Yeah! Overall, we want to show that bluegrass is for anyone. Like Justin said, we are a very diverse band and we hope to meet the youth out there and show that bluegrass is for anyone.
I feel like that has been the entire point of this showcase and column, to shout, “This can be for everyone!”
Y’all just performed at the Pickin’ in the Pines festival in Flagstaff, Arizona, how was that?
AZ: That was so fun, we got some really great reactions from the audience. That makes us so happy, as musicians. It just makes you want to play. We’re excited for North Carolina and to hear what they have to say to us. It was a lot of fun [in Flagstaff], it’s a great festival.
One thing I wanted to ask you is about your collaboration process as a band, because you aren’t just a traditional bluegrass five-piece. You’re a six-piece band so there is a slightly different dynamic. What does the process look like when you’re taking a song and turning it into something you perform?
JM: If we hear a song we like or we take a song that Jam Pak does or something we already know, we kind of always want to put our Fair Black Rose stamp on it. We basically share ideas and will go around in a circle, like, “Let’s add on to this,” or “Adding onto your idea, let’s do this!” We’ll play it or rehearse it until it sounds good to us. We come up with our arrangements that way. We don’t fight over the songs — but we do fight over who gets to sing lead. [Laughs] That’s one of our issues. Because we all like to sing. We love coming up with our arrangements. That’s what I’d say is really unique about Fair Black Rose, our arrangements for our songs and our covers are unique and different. You won’t always hear it performed that way.
AZ: It’s very much a collaborative effort. We all work together to come up with something. This person will say, “I think we should do this” and this person will say, “I think we should do that” and we’ll go out there and try it out. It’s awesome.
What do bluegrass and old-time and string band music mean to you — not only as a band, but you individually? I know that’s kind of a big question!
AZ: One thing I love about bluegrass is that you don’t need to have anything fancy to play it. You don’t need to have some kind of technology. You just need to bring your voice, your instrument, and a passion for music. You can just go out there and play. I just love that. It’s accessible. You can go anywhere and play bluegrass. You can be in the middle of nowhere.
Another one of my favorite things about bluegrass is the harmonies. The vocals are so beautiful to me. The songs in bluegrass have such touching lyrics and vocals, I think those elements can really make a song.
JM: For me, one thing Ms. Beach has always said is, “You could have nothing, but you will always have your music.” That’s always something you can turn to and you can have, your music. Whether you lose your job or you lose a family member, or you lose this or that, you will always always always have your music. That has really stuck with me for a long time. I could be doing anything in the world and I will always have my music, I’ll always be able to turn to my music and to perform.
Music is a language. It’s a love language. You can play a song and it will make someone’s day. It can put a smile on someone’s face just to hear music. Somebody can not speak the language of the song you’re playing or singing, but they love it! Like with Latin music — I don’t speak Spanish, but I love the music. Music is just a really good way to express who you are. It’s such a good thing for the both of us and for our band.
Photo courtesy of Anni Beach and Jam Pak Blues ‘N’ Grass Neighborhood Band