Vermilion Express, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s very own bluegrass ensemble, showcased their talents in front of a very supportive crowd for their spring performance on Wednesday, April 10.
The program was made possible by the Tommy Comeaux Endowed Chair in Traditional Music, a foundational gift from the South Louisiana Bluegrass Association.
The student musicians involved in the evening spring concert were Ailee Pardi, a graduating senior on vocals and fiddle, Emily Ortego on vocals and guitar and Benjamin Richey, a graduating senior on vocals, guitar and banjo.
These student musicians were able to show off their jaw-dropping talents and apply what they have learned about traditional bluegrass music throughout the spring semester under the instruction of Len Springer, Ph.D.
Springer admits that in order to put on an educational and entertaining concert, teamwork and a multistep process is required even outside of the classroom setting.
“We learn about bluegrass history and style so each instrumentalist and singer understands how to create an authentic sound,” Springer said. “We also coordinate our efforts with the venue manager, promoters and sound crew to put on the best show we possibly can.”
Their combined efforts helped to create a performance that was dynamic, expressive and included a lot of personal touches along the way that supplemented the unique sound of bluegrass.
Springer added he and the student musicians want to stop the stereotypes of bluegrass.
“One of our challenges is to help overcome some inaccurate stereotypes and to demonstrate how varied, fresh and exciting bluegrass music can be,” Springer said.
As their recent concert proves, these student musicians are very well capable of overcoming any adversity and using their imagination to create an entirely new sound.
The crowd cheered in excitement and awe as each student was given the opportunity to take the spotlight and unravel their abilities as musicians as well as prove how varied bluegrass music can be.
Ortego, who wrote a few of the songs for the concert, made the biggest stereotype break of the night by performing “Perfectly,” a very powerful worship song written by Ortego herself, bringing the entire audience to tears.
Springer confesses that his main motivation to continue teaching and learning has been seeing his students develop musically and as young adults.
Though she never imagined herself performing for an audience on stage, Pardi said that her decision to join Vermilion Express was a wonderful one.
“This group has helped me grow as a musician more than I can explain,” Pardi said. “It has challenged me in the most wonderful ways and I learned more than I could’ve ever expected during this semester.”
Pardi also admits that the ensemble has taught her how to work with different groups than the groups she has worked with in the past.
Though each musician gave a strong performance individually, when they worked together, their sounds engulfed the attention of the audience.
Overall, Vermilion Express was successful in breaking stereotypes and showcasing the wonderful, complex talent at UL Lafayette.