BackYard Devils bring bluegrass to new generation

Irish author Brendan Behan once said, “There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.” This mantra has been repeated ad nauseum in the entertainment business but has proven to be accurate on hundreds of occasions. Sometimes the bad publicity is intentionally sought out, other times it is merely the product of forces beyond your control. The latter reasoning could soundly apply to Moncton bluegrass band The BackYard Devils.

This past November, the band had been scheduled to open for bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs at Moncton Wesleyan Church, having been booked to play the show by the promoters approximately five months before.

“Because of the venue that the show was being held in, our band name had come up in discussion but the promoter decided to move forward with us playing the show anyway,” BackYard Devils guitarist-vocalist Erik Arsenault begins. “The minister from the church was aware and did raise some concerns but the promoter worked to reassure him that we knew exactly where we were playing, who we were playing for and that we had no intention of disrespecting the venue.”

In the weeks leading up to the Skaggs show, Arsenault says that a number of parishioners had expressed their concerns over the band performing at the venue. At that point, Arsenault says that his brother and band mate Remi Arsenault met with the minister of Moncton Wesleyan and ended up having a very productive meeting where once again, the band succeeded at reassuring the church that their performances would be suitable for the venue. From what the band could tell at the conclusion of Remi’s meeting with the church, it seemed as though all would proceed without any other obstacles. But in the end, the voice of the parishioners was ultimately heard and honored and the BackYard Devils were taken off the bill.

Even though the band was taken off the official show, The BackYard Devils were given the opportunity to play the promoter’s after-party where the band had a chance to jam with Skaggs guitarist Cody Kilby.

“We got to meet Ricky Skaggs as well and he was very cool. He had heard about the situation and apologized, stating that he had been pulling for us to play the show but even he acknowledged that ‘Sometimes religion can blind you’,” Arsenault says.

Erik Arsenault is no stranger to the world of bluegrass and country music. Coming from a musical family, he was exposed to the genres at a fairly early age but jokes that since he considered it music that his parents enjoyed, he had a natural inclination to reject it. It was when he was living in Western Canada that a friend played him musician Scott Biram covering Jimmy Martin’s “Oceans of Diamonds”. It was that moment that reawakened Arsenault to his “parent’s music”.

Arsenault would eventually find his way back to New Brunswick, driving across the country with Remi, sharing details along their travels on how they envisioned their band evolving. Approximately one year after Erik was back in Moncton, he and Remi enlisted Chris Belliveau to be the band’s picker while it was mutual friends that would introduce the trio to Dillon Robicheau, the band’s banjo and mandolin player.

Recorded with George Belliveau at Studio Belivo in Barachois this past January, The BackYard Devils self-titled debut effort was cut in a relatively short three-day period. Arsenault says that capturing the band live off the floor, overdubbing parts as minimally as possible was of utmost importance to help ensure that the relatively raw essence of the band’s songs live carried over onto the album.

But coming from a city that is perhaps more renowned for its heavy metal, punk and indie musical acts, some might say that The BackYard Devils arguably have their work cut out for them to build their name. Though traditional bluegrass fans have been quick to embrace the quartet, Arsenault says that fans from many different musical genres have come to appreciate and embrace the group.

“Our crowds have been growing at every show, a mix of both old and new faces. In fact, I feel that we probably have one of the most diverse audiences in Moncton right now. We’ve seen punks in all their leather and spikes rocking out right next to 50 year olds on the dance floor next to them. It seems a little unreal at times but I think people ultimately connect to it because the lyrical content speaks to a lot of people.”

Article published in May 27, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript