By Matt Wickstrom, Kentucky.com
A lot of area events and traditions have had to be canceled or postponed this year due to COVID-19, but Wook-O-Ween, the annual Halloween gathering by local bluegrass music troupe The Wooks, isn’t one of them.
Despite the pandemic and welcoming two new members to the band in recent months, the band is set this weekend to return to action for the first time since March 7 in Charleston, South Carolina, with a run of shows that includes two performances from the Burl’s parking lot on Oct. 31.
While the band’s sound on both their upcoming album and revitalized live show will be noticeably different from the their past stylings, Cain assured longtime fans that the band’s inspiration remains in the same place it’s been from the group’s founding rooted in writing stories authentic to those them and others in the community have experienced themselves.
“We’re just thrilled to be back in front of fans performing for the first time in nearly eight months and giving them a taste of our new sound,” said guitarist C.J. Cain. “For a long time we didn’t know where or when our next show would be, so for some of our first gigs back to be at the Burl is heartwarming, especially due to how well they’ve adapted to doing safe outdoor shows and continuing to serve their community.”
The new-look Wooks lineup, which first started coming together in June, welcomes in new faces Johnny Calamari on bass and Allen Cooke on dobro to go along with Cain on guitar, Harry Clark on mandolin and George Guthrie on banjo. The shake-up isn’t the first for the Wooks, whose only remaining founding member is Cain.
For Cain, the addition of Cooke was a reunion of sorts, with the guitarist considering him a life-long friend that he first connected with while attending Rockygrass Festival in Lyons, Colorado, where The Wooks in 2016 won the band competition after earning their spot in the contest after another group dropped out. In trips back to The Centennial State since the group has often bunked with Cooke and even welcomed him to the stage as a guest performer during their shows there, over that time building up even more of a camaraderie with him.
Much like Cain, Guthrie has long established ties to Cooke as well, having previously played for years with him in Colorado-based bluegrass outfit Caribou Mountain Collective.
“I’ve been playing with Allen in other projects longer than I’ve been playing with The Wooks, so it’s very exciting for me to see the musical forces coming together in a new context,” said George Guthrie.
While the marriage of Cooke with The Wooks fit like a glove, the group’s courting of the Johnson City, Tennessee, based Calamari took a bit longer due to the group not having a previously established musical relationship with him aside from a couple of random encounters at the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Raleigh, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Despite the unknowns, the band was encouraged to reach out to Calamari by Thomas Cassell, the current mandolinist for Nashville-based group Circus No. 9 and a former fill-in for The Wooks prior to Clark joining who highly recommended the bassist.
“We were familiar with Allen due to him having played with The Wooks before so we already knew he’d be a great fit for the band, but with Johnny we didn’t know him as well other than from us individually crossing paths with him here and there,” said Guthrie. “We were aware of his playing and liked it, but you never know how things are going to work out until you get someone in the room playing with you. With the songs we’re currently writing being new to all of us it’s made it easy for everyone to get on the same page quickly, and when that happened it became clear that Johnny would be a great fit for the band.”
Around the same time that the new lineup was coming together the band rented a cabin on a lake in Tennessee and took some time to get away as a group to fish, write and workshop new material. The opportunity is one silver lining that wouldn’t have been possible without mass cancellations stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic that has provided the group ample time to gell with it’s new faces and dive into their own material than ever before.
During those cabin sessions the group not only grew closer together but also compiled a bunch of new material, 11 songs of which they’ve since recorded with Jake Stargel in Nashville and plan to release in the spring of 2021. The album features the band’s first songs written by Clark and Guthrie along with additional stories penned by Cain and co-writes from Eric Cummins of Marble Creek Rangers and Ray Smith of the Kentucky Hoss Cats.
This story was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader and at Kentucky.com
WOOK-O-WEEN AT THE BURL
What: Live music with The Wooks and Marble Creek Rangers, costumes encouraged
When: 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Oct. 31; 7 p.m. sold out
Tickets: $80 for a table of six
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd.