When was the last time you heard a bluegrass-ragtime band playing souped-up versions of old gospel tunes? Never? If that sounds like your cup of tea, then you’re in luck. Because a band like that not only exists and is currently active, but is based in the Fort Wayne-Columbia City area.Blue Bird Revival are a relatively new band, having formed about a year ago out of the previously existing traditional country/bluegrass band Huckleberry Blue. Huckleberry Blue played bluegrass country in a style somewhat akin to Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard. Five of the members of that outfit now form a big part of Bluebird’s sound, with four additional members joining to transform the band’s sound and add the New Orleans-style ragtime element to it.
Part of the reason for the band’s formation came from multi-instrumentalist Josh Copp’s (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, piano) realization that he wanted to take his music in a different direction than the trajectory Huckleberry Blue had been following.
“We love to play music, and I played music in bars for 15 years, and that wears on you after awhile,” says Copp, whose father is a reverend in the Brethren Church. “For the last two or three years, I’ve really been feeling like I needed to play music with a little more of a purpose.”
Out of that epiphany from Copp was borne what would eventually become Bluebird Revival. The band’s name, however, is another story. It comes from two places, the first being the name of the style of bus that Copp purchased to haul the band around in (a Bluebird, which can be seen on the Copp Music website). The word “revival” comes from the Christian tradition, referring to revival meetings aimed to inspire church members to gain new converts to their faith as well as to general periods of renewed religious interest.
The band, whose members all continue to hold day jobs, currently play about four shows a month at both churches and festivals. The church services they play can be as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia, and road shows are something they intend to place an increased emphasis on. As a band, they maintain their focus on gospel music, but whether or not they include any of their secular music into their set depends on the particular booking.
“We go to a church and we play an hour, hour and 15 minutes of all gospel songs. Then if we go to a festival, it’s generally a two-hour show, and we play all the gospel songs and then add a few old country and bluegrass songs as well.”
In addition to having a decidedly religious leaning, the band itself is also something of a family affair, with two pairs of husband and wife players. Copp’s wife Anna sings and plays mandolin and bass, and spouses Brandon and Sarah Marshall play percussion/guitar and keyboards/vocals, respectively. The remaining members include Duane Alexander (percussion), Gary Martin (steel guitar and dobro), Cale Reese (bass, vocals), Brian Koser (guitar, mandolin and vocals) and Brandon Rentfrow (saxophone, guitar).
Beyond their live shows, the band and its members plan to release a series of albums in the coming year, including an as-yet-untitled group album of their variants of traditional gospel songs such as “The Old Rugged Cross” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Not unlike New York-based hip-hop outfit Wu-Tang Clan did in the 90s (counter-intuitively), Blue Bird Revival function as something of a collective that plays music as a group, but individual members are also in the process of releasing their own solo recordings. For his part, Josh Copp has already recorded a solo album, God Loves Chicken Pickin’, which is available for streaming and download via the Copp Music website, and for sale as a physical CD at Blue Bird Revival shows.
The Chicken Pickin’ album was recorded at Copp’s home, an Amish-built farmhouse in South Whitley, which is where the band plans to record and produce their debut CD. Once the band and a few of the other members have produced their recordings, Copp also hopes to add a store to the website to make physical copies of the albums available for sale to the public. As to what type of material the planned solo releases by other band members will feature, that is uncertain, with each band member being free to pursue his or her own interests.
While Copp’s solo album may give listeners an insight into some of the foundations of Blue Bird’s sound, its subject matter leans towards traditional secular country music, and the band itself and its nine members have a more expansive sound. Live recordings are available of some of the band’s shows on YouTube to satiate those interested until they release their initial studio offering.
In the meantime, the band is playing shows and attempting to increase the amount of road shows they play in the hopes of maybe someday being able to pursue the band full-time.
“Our ultimate goal is to travel as much as we can and get to as many different churches and as many different cities and states as possible,” says Copp. “The nice part about gospel music is there’s so much, I don’t want to call it demand, but there are so many different churches that are looking for that kind of thing, more or less. I’d like to work it into a full time thing over the next few years if possible.”
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