One of the newer names on the local stage is not only prick up ears for their style of music but also for their altruistic goals. Chopped Liver —featuring Andrew Ivens (guitar, vocals), Ryan Barwin (dobro, Weissenborn, pedal steel, vocals), Adam Vrankulj (double bass, vocals) and Victor Vrankulj (banjo, accordion, vocals) — recently released their debut eponymously titled full length bluegrass album, produced, engineered and mixed by Barwin at Hazy Grove Recording Studio in Hamilton.
“My brother and I have always played music together — we started with jazz but sort of ventured outward but the story of Chopped Liver is kind of interesting,” says Adam Vrankulj. “We were all playing in other projects but my brother went to high school with Ryan a hundred years ago and he ran into us and somehow we all decided that we liked the idea of playing bluegrass and we’ve been going ever since. We’ve been doing this for a little over a year but it’s such a special time to be a band in Hamilton.
“We do push boundaries and stretch the envelope but we have a hard time painting ourselves into a corner,” adds Vrankulj. “We fit into a few different buckets but bluegrass is the most relatable to our community. We see ourselves as the new face of bluegrass and think that we're doing something a little more unique and put our stamp on things. We don’t consider ourselves too regular. Ginger St. James and other people are really promoting roots music so it’s really interesting to be a string band making bluegrass music in Hamilton. A few years ago, we may have just gotten eye rolls but 2019 is an awesome time to be a bluegrass band. It’s the kind of music people may have heard as a kid and they can connect to it in a new way. A lot of people like bluegrass but don't even know they do and we’re excited to be able to help point people in the right direction.”
While music is normally conversation fodder, this time out Vrankulj has a special connection to the Wesley Centre and since their landlord is not continuing their lease, Chopped Liver takes their normal Sunday showcase at the Casbah and turns it into a special fundraiser.
“It’s a very visible thing in Hamilton — people are saddled with the effects of poverty from a number of different issues and it seems so unfair that an important service is being taken away from the most marginalized and vulnerable people,” says Vrankulj. “I work for Wesley and I mentioned the issue at one of our gigs to the audience. The band discussed the situation after the show and the whole band has become attached to the cause.
“We’re shocked to find that this organization that helps the homeless is now going to find itself homeless,” says Vrankulj. “This is the only place in the city where people can see a doctor without a health card, do laundry, take a shower, have a hot meal, socialize, engage with housing supports and so much more. Without the day centre, many of these crucial services will be lost and social services would be fragmented across the city. The Wesley Day Centre is being pushed out by a landlord.”
While still finding their footing as a band in Hamilton, Vrankulj and Chopped Liver find it important to take their musicality and the presence they've built and give it back to the community.
“We want to stand up and make our position to this community really clear,” says Vrankulj. “If we have a platform, it’d be irresponsible not to use it. We want to be on the side of progress and advocating for marginalized people. It felt like we couldn't let this happen without doing something about it.
“We do the third weekend every month — three sets of glorious bluegrass originals, standards and covers but a hundred percent of ticket sales from this weekend’s show will be going to the Wesley Day Center to help them stay up and running,” adds Vrankulj. “We want to help spread awareness and raise some money to support the Day Centre and safe injection in Hamilton. We're really hoping to make a splash with this event and generate some meaningful donations of hygiene items or cash. Entry to this show is by donation, and 100% of these donations will be sent to Wesley Urban Ministries but I don’t want anyone to feel they can’t come if they can’t make a minimum donation. We want people to be there and make a donation if they can but feel the message, just to be a part of it by being in the room. Bluegrass is the music of the people and there is a human relatable nature of the music but if we were a hip hop band we'd be doing this. People in Hamilton need to know about this and this a great opportunity to mobilize some community. We expect a high energy show and a great event that can bring the community together for this important cause. There are going to be more good vibes than anyone will know what to do with.”
Chopped Liver's Save the Wesley Day Centre Bluegrass Benefit Concert happens Sunday July 21 at the Casbah from 2 to 5pm. It's a pay-what-you-can donation to get in with all proceeds going to Wesley Urban Ministries. Click on choppedliver.bandcamp.com