To the seniors’ set, the Cariboo Country Ramblers are the ultimate boy band.
Ron Boehm on guitar, his brother Bob on bass and Jim McLean on the accordion with Willy Giesbrecht doing double duty on guitar and vocals and Earl Erickson, on harmonica, spelling him off. The five-member band even has a regular gig: playing to seniors at the local care homes in 100 Mile House and regularly at the Pioneer Centre in Lac La Hache, although their performances have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The members, who are all in their late 70s and early 80s, meet every week to practice at Boehm’s house in Lac La Hache, where they spread out to ensure physical distancing. They used to have a female piano player in their band – Mary Huber – but she dropped out when she hit her mid-80s.
“It’s a fun thing and it keeps our fingers nimble and our brains active,” said Boehm, one of the original members from 15 years ago. “You start playing and it doesn’t take long – they’re all tapping their toes.”
It’s so fun the group wanted to start its own monthly ‘Arizona Country Jam,’ in which musicians sit around in a circle and take turns doing a number, but it was derailed this year because of COVID-19. Boehm and Giesbrecht, who previously travelled together to Arizona in the winters, got the idea for one here because they enjoyed jamming with strangers three or four times a week.
“It’s just a bunch of individual musicians getting together and you take your turn at the mic. It’s kind of nice,” Giesbrecht said, adding they still hope to get the jam going “if things ever settle down and we get back to doing things normally.”
The Pioneer Centre already has a Bluegrass jam that, pre-pandemic, would happen on the third Sunday of every month, but they have a different line-up of music, Boehm said. In the old days, it didn’t matter because they knew every song. But as they get older, it’s getting harder to remember.
“We used to be able to play 100 songs and never looked at the sheet,” he said. “Now you need a sheet in front of you or you forget the words.”
At a recent practice, only three of them showed up – Boehm, Giesbrecht and McLean – but that didn’t stop them from their jam. McLean, a former bagpiper-turned-accordion player, is the latest addition to the group, having joined them about a year ago after they poached him from the Carefree Manor to replace their late fiddle player.
“We thought we’d give him a listen,” Boehm said. “Since we couldn’t get a fiddle, we thought ‘why not an accordion’?”
Boehm, who used to play guitar when he was 17 and only got back into it about 25 years ago, said despite the pandemic, the Ramblers intend to keep playing as long as they can, although they are taking precautions.
“With this thing (COVID) starting up again, it’s harder to get out,” he said. “We’re keeping our circle a little smaller. We’re more careful than we used to be.”