Patrick Ross: Fifth generation Vermont fiddler
By Janelle Faigant
Arts Correspondent | March 06,2014
Provided photo: Fiddler Patrick Ross and his band Hot Flannel perform in Rutland Saturday.
“Music was a huge part of my family growing up,” Fiddler Patrick Ross said in a recent interview. “I took to it naturally.”Ross is a fifth-generation fiddle player whose father and grandfather both played, and taught him at a very young age. He grew up in Canaan, near the Canadian border, and his grandparents came from Quebec, where there’s a strong tradition of fiddling.
The 32 year-old is making a name for himself with his band Hot Flannel, which will perform at the West Rutland Town Hall at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8, to celebrate the release of their album, “Live at the Rialto.”
Ross’s grandfather taught him to fiddle, until he passed away when Ross was just 7 years old.
“He saw me in the beginning stages of my fiddling,” he said.
Ross’s father continued to teach him, and had the biggest influence on him, until he, too, passed away while Ross was still young.
“I found him dead of a heart attack when I was 11,” Ross said. “In a backhanded way it inspired me to carry the torch.”
While Ross was young, to keep him focused on practicing his father came up with inventive ways to keep Ross interested the fiddle, “because at 7 or 8 or 9 years old a lot of kids just want to go outside and ride their bikes and play in the dirt.”
“He had me try different things,” Ross explained. “For example, a wooden baseball bat. Just drawing the bat across the strings. Or a wooden coat hanger. You don’t necessarily have to have the hair of the bow to draw across the strings. You can draw anything across the strings and it’ll make a sound.”
While the sound is not the same as horsehair, which is what a violin bow uses, the creative technique stuck with him. Ross recently invented a power bow for his fiddle – a battery operated reciprocating bow.
“So that I don’t have to move my arm,” he said. “I pull a trigger on this battery operated power tool and the bow moves back and forth.”
The invention came about after a skiing accident that inhibited movement in his elbow and shoulder, and prompted him to find a way to attach a fiddle bow to a reciprocating saw.
The enthusiasm for fiddling his father instilled in him began to pay off as Ross caught the attention of Smithsonian Folkway Records, who came to Canaan, documenting regional folk music when Ross was 12. They recorded him on the front porch of his family’s home. The local press attention it garnered caught the eye of members of Vermont band Smokin’ Grass, and when they felt that Ross was old enough, they invited him to play with them.
“For years I wasn’t even old enough to be in bars but I was playing music in them,” Ross said. “Often times I would have to hide out where they stored all the liquor so that the liquor commissioner wouldn’t see that I was there.”
Recently Vermont actor Rusty DeWees found Ross through his performances at the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center, when DeWees was looking for a fellow Vermonter to fill out “The Logger Holiday Variety Show” tour.
“One of the things that he encouraged me from the get go, was that I put together a band,” Ross said. “Now we’re doing all sorts of shows as a follow up to the tour with Rusty.”
With the release of their live album at the upcoming show at West Rutland Town Hall and several songs available on iTunes now, the band is getting busier.
“If I feel myself losing track of something or not being able to figure something out,” Ross said, “I sit back and close my eyes and really think about why it is I’m doing what I’m doing. And I know that my dad would be pretty damn proud of me.”
West Rutland Town Hall
Patrick Ross and Hot Flannel will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8, at West Rutland Town Hall. To reserve tickets, call 802-866-3324; for information, go online to www.patrickrossmusic.com. A free CD will be given to the first 10 people who wear flannel to the concert.