When lifelong musician Jef Ramsey was looking to leave his home of 20 years in Olympia, Wash., he decided on Ashland because of the vibrant local music scene.
Ramsey, who led his own swing band for 17 years, was familiar with some of the popular bluegrass bands of Southern Oregon and knew that he would find inspiration here.
"Foxfire is one of the reasons I came here, even though I haven't had a chance to play with them yet," said Ramsey. "I've been playing a lot as a sideman on the mandolin for people who are doing folky, bluegrassy stuff."
Arriving in Ashland last spring, Ramsey has reunited with some of his friends from the Foxfire Trio and has been jamming with bluegrass ensemble Siskiyou Summit as well.
"I especially love playing with Bob (Evoniuk) — he's one of my favorite musicians in the world," said Ramsey. "What he does acoustically is phenomenal. He just knows how to set himself up in any situation and knows what other people are doing, too."
At noon on Wednesday, Nov. 23, Ramsey will play a set at Grilla Bites, 47 N. Main St., Ashland. For the Tidings Café, Ramsey performed Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" at Bangkok's Atchara in Talent.
Ramsey's early influences come from Cat Stevens, Neil Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival and, of course, the Beatles. After a three-year stay in Austin, Texas, Ramsey added some country to his repertoire.
"Austin really kind of rattled my cage from being in the Cat Stevens stuff," said Ramsey. "I like country music. I love George Strait, I think he's great. I like Dolly Parton, she's great — she did a really great bluegrass album."
But Ramsey's biggest influence was yet to come when he moved from Austin to Olympia. "Then in 1991, I met a woman named Barbara Collins who is a phenomenal violinist and fiddler," he said.
"She was my biggest influence in music. My bluegrass band needed a fiddler, and hers needed a mandolin player, so we joined each other's bands, fell in love and lived together for 20 years."
It was Ramsey's breakup with his longtime partner that prompted his move to Ashland, but what better place to start fresh and reconnect with old musician friends?
"If you look at the bluegrass scene here, there's these people that are just redefining it completely and bringing in jazz and blues sensibilities," said Ramsey.
"I like the music scene a lot, I like the people in it. I still feel like I'm a blind person; people say I'm getting familiar really fast, but it's not fast enough because I'm barely getting by. I love teaching."
Ramsey teaches guitar, vocals, mandolin and, most importantly, listening. "A lot of musicians never learn that. They have all the licks and chops, but they don't have a sense of how to blend with other people."
Ramsey is looking for work, either performing or teaching, and would like to have his own band again. "I have to find people who can pay a band, and so far I haven't found situations where I could," said Ramsey.
"I don't know that people see musicians as deserving the kind of money it takes to make an acoustic band."
Ramsey would like to incorporate a hand percussionist into his next band, maybe a conga or a djembe, and a high-hat. "I like all the different textures and somebody who's really got the touch so they don't drown out the other acoustic instruments," Ramsey said. The rest of his dream band would have a guitar, mandolin, Dobro, fiddle and stand-up bass.
Ramsey plays from 6 top 8 p.m. Thursdays at Bangkok's Atchara, 203 E. Main St., Talent, and from 6 to 9 p.m. Fridays at the Rogue River Lodge, 24904 Highway 62, Shady Cove.
Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4486 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.