Fork in the boulevard
Popular folk rockers Blvd Park moved Northwest
Sacramento, CA 95816
Sacramento, CA 95814
Blvd Park, an eight-piece ensemble who coined its music as “spaghetti western desert folk,” invented a sound that was widely embraced by the Sacramento music scene over the past couple of years. But a recording opportunity, and free housing with the Walkabouts’ vocalist Carla Torgerson, recently split the band, as four members moved to Seattle.
This fork-in-the-road presented itself during Blvd Park’s first Northwest tour: a chance to make an album in Seattle. The decision to move the crew away from Sacramento proved band-altering, as Blvd Park went from eight members to four.
“We’re just going down different paths in our lives,” says singer Tekla Waterfield of Blvd Park’s recent transition. “We’re doing a leap of faith here [in Seattle]—and we’re barely making it financially.” She accepts that the rest of the band couldn’t leave their jobs and security in Sacramento, though, calling the move “such a big risk.”
Blvd Park’s current lineup in Seattle is Brian Ballentine, Waterfield, Timothy Conroy on trumpet and Jarrett Mason on stand-up bass. The crew recently added Banton Foster to the band—and not a minute too soon, as Foster was headed to New Zealand but opted to stay in Seattle, adding banjo and clarinet to the mix.
Still in Sacramento are Elise Suttie and fiddle player Guinness Harley—also a couple—who plan on moving to Vermont in the near future, while mandolin player and new father Mick Stevenson, who co-owns Dad’s Sandwich Shop on S and 13th streets, stayed behind with part-time snare drummers Beau James Brown and Shea Trumbauer.
As an eight piece, Blvd Park gigged relentlessly and endeared Sacramento with its classic, warm bluegrass and folk style. And at times, the band adds a lively bit of swing and gospel soul, courtesy the vocal tag-team of Suttie and Waterfield. Vocalist and guitarist Ballentine’s raspy voice often crackles with emotion, expressing his lyrics like an old storyteller as banjo, mandolin and trumpet function as the main characters.
Blvd Park is a complete, unique band.
“Everybody’s on good terms,” says Ballentine, who will be getting the band back together Thursday for two shows. Still, he says the core remains and will keep the band alive on a forthcoming West Coast tour. “We are the songwriters. We are what keeps the heart beating.”
Ballentine, Mason and Waterfield moved to Seattle this past July, while Conroy stayed behind to continue working before the big move. “Brian packed up his room in one day,” Waterfield remembers, “and we each took, like, one bag with three pairs of pants and a couple of dresses for me.
“And the dog”—called Knucklehead—she adds.
Next, Blvd Park was introduced to Torgerson, who was a female vocalist for ’80s rock band the Walkabouts. Torgerson’s house in Seattle is where the four call home while recording in her studio.
“We’re trying to form something acoustic, organic and natural, so we can just play anywhere,” Ballentine says. “I’ve always have envisioned a big, circus kind of style, gypsy-type of band that stands out more than anything else.”
Soon, the band was learning the venues and faces of Seattle, realizing that they are but one band amid a crowd of aspiring musicians that congregate daily at Pike Place Market to showcase their talents.
“Today we made a hundred dollars just playing the streets,” Ballentine says. “It’s kind of neat being new again.”
While the excitement of a new city, a new album and a new start has Blvd Park glowing, the band, which began as an idea at a barbecue campfire in the eponymous old Victorian neighborhood, will always be of Sacramento. And songs like “Swerve on,” with lyrics about Old Tavern Bar and Grill and Downtown James Brown, will always be this city’s little secrets.
“Blvd Park embodies a family kind of vibe,” Conroy says. “I’ve never been in a band where everybody’s aligned with their vision … just having a group of people that you trust and that you love so much.”