bluegrassband

Vermilion Express 2019 spring concert in Burke-Hawthorne Hall. Pictured from left to right:

Benjamin Richey, banjo; Leonard Springer, bass; Emily Ortego, guitar.

Vermilion Express, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s bluegrass band, will hold its first concert of the semester in Burke-Hawthorne Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 13, to bring the class’s semester to a close.

The concert is a regular performance; the band does one concluding concert every semester. Something a little different about this concert, however, is the fact that this will be the band’s first performance of the semester — in the past, they’ve done three, four or even up to nine performances in one semester.

According to Leonard Springer, Ph.D., the reason why the band hasn’t been performing any concerts this semester is he’s been spending a lot of their practice time rebuilding the band, as half of their members are in it for their first time and might not be familiar with bluegrass music.

“So, we have two new members and they just happen to be kind of both not familiar with bluegrass and not as familiar with their instruments as some students in previous semesters have been,” Springer said, adding “so it’s a rebuilding process — we kind of have to rebuild the sound and rebuild our repertoire.”

“I tried to, at the beginning of the semester, find out what everyone’s strengths are and whether we have a viable band just based on everybody’s strengths,” Springer added. “And then, I start to talk with the students about what they’d like to work on, how they’d like the build on their weaknesses.”

Springer also explained how, as he was deciding the setlist for the concert, he included more than just traditional bluegrass songs. He said he wanted to showcase the individual talents of all of the musicians, and, for the students new to bluegrass and their instruments, he would do so by giving them songs more in their element.

Another thing special to this semester’s concert is they will be debuting two tracks from guitar player and songwriter Emily Ortego’s upcoming album, “Love Drought,” set to release in December.

The junior music business major said the songs, as well as the album itself, contain elements from different music genres, from country and bluegrass to pop. Ortego has been a part of the band since her freshman year, and she described what kind of impact it has had on her as a musician.

“I think it’s been about two years I’ve been a part of the band, and every year there’s new people and there’s new challenges to face and conquer,” Ortego said. “And I think, throughout my time with the band, I’ve really noticed that I’ve become a better musician the longer I’ve been with the band, and I’ve become a better songwriter and just a better performer in general.”

Alternatively, 40-year-old international graduate student Dror Arussi is one of the newer members of the band. Arussi came to Lafayette from Israel to pursue his master’s in music performance, and this semester is the classical guitarist’s first at UL Lafayette as well as his introduction to bluegrass music.

“The music is very fun,” Arussi said. “It’s simple, very folky, it’s got simple but moving text, and just the sound of it — the sound of all of the instruments, all the string instruments together — there’s something very raw about it.”

As for the performance on the Wednesday, Arussi said he is both excited and nervous because he does not know what to expect, adding he thinks they did a decent job of putting together a lineup with the time they had.

The concert will be at 7:30 p.m.; general admission is $5, but any student with their ID or person under the age of 18 can get in for free.

Springer later commented on what kind of value he sees the concert having for UL Lafayette students:

“It’s very intimate; you kind of feel, I think, that you get to know the students who are on stage, you get to see what kind of talent they bring to the stage from their past experience either at the university or outside the university, and it’s really a very creative feeling that it’s not a dead form of music on display it’s very much an alive, kind of vibrant feeling that the students bring to the stage.”

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