ELLENBURG — It’s creeping up on two years since Tom Venne retired, and he’s loving it.
He drinks java, reads the newspaper and plays guitar for a spell. Then, he lifts weights and does whatever he wants.
Last year, Beartracks was in flux. Junior Barber (Dobro) was sidelined by health issues and didn’t come north from Florida.
Venne and his sister/bassist, Julie Venne Hogan, performed with different configurations. They toured a bit of the summer with Kevin Maul, a Dobro and pedal-steel guitar player.
When Maul couldn’t do certain gigs, Scott Hopkins, a banjo player, stepped in.
“He’s originally from Harkness and went to AuSable (Valley Central School),” Venne said. “He’s a music teacher in Duanesburg. He was tutored by Doug Knight. He’s an incredible banjo player and a really good guy. We had to get the right fit for our group.”
Hopkins was such a match that he’s joined Beartracks officially.
“He came on board last fall,” Venne said. “He lives in Albany. We drive back and forth for practice. His folks live up here, so he drives up more than we go down.”
Hopkins adds not only a five-string banjo but also a third vocal harmony.
“It’s really nice to have three-part harmony,” Venne said. “A lot of times when I listen to our CDs, I sing the third part. I felt it was missing. Now, we have it. He’s just a great guy.”
For fans who were missing Barber something awful, he’s back.
“He and Scott work well together,” Venne said.
Friday’s show at Northern Adirondack Central School is only one of two local performances scheduled this summer. But Beartracks is busy elsewhere honing their new sound.
“The more shows we play, each time it’s getting better,” Venne said. “It’s a much more traditional bluegrass sound now because bluegrass uses banjo a lot. We’re much more authentic sounding. We still do Hank Williams and Merle Haggard. Junior’s Dobro gives us the latitude to do that, and Scott doesn’t bluegrass it up. He does the right, very nice stuff behind it. It gives us the option to do both.”