Bluegrass sounds will fill Niles’ Riverfront Cafe

Published 8:03 am Saturday, December 3, 2005

By Staff
NILES - The sounds of bluegrass will be drifting from the Riverfront Cafe, in downtown Niles this Sunday, Dec. 4, as the band, Wood n' Nickel takes the stage as the Bluegrass and Americana Roots concert series continues.
The band will take the stage from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
The Riverfront Cafe, is located at 219 N. Front St., in downtown Niles.
Wood n' Nickel has performed as a band since 2002 and is a band born of adversity. Three of the members were going through significant career changes when the band first got together. The feel good style of bluegrass, rock, folk and gospel was just the cure for job search blues. The band started in concept years ago with lead singer Fred Fernau of St. Joseph and his guitarist brother in law, John “Mack” McElligott of Berrien Springs learning to play the tunes of Neil Young and James Taylor.
Most of the music was heavily invested in vocal harmonies, which remains the core of the group's sound. Instrumentation started becoming more important with the addition of Niles' own Jim Fruk, a coworker of Fred at SBC and a very talented guitar player.
Basement jams got more interesting after a telephone service call introduced Jim to Jim Benson of Eau Claire, who added a bass and critical third harmony to the vocal mix.
After a trip to the Festival of the Bluegrass, the musical focus and instrumentation shift from mostly guitars and rock music to traditional bluegrass instruments and a desire to learn more American roots music. Jim Fruk and Fred worked very hard at learning to play the mandolin and banjo respectively, giving the sound more depth. After a few weeks of jamming in the basement, it was time to hit some open mics and see if Berrien County was ready for bluegrass the way Wood does it. Along the way, the band met a longtime Southwest Michigan musician Fiddlin' Phil Wolf, and the sound was complete.
Wood n' Nickel is not a traditional bluegrass group. Tunes from Ricky Skaggs and Del McCroury are frequently mixed with arrangements by the Beatles, Grateful Dead, Bob Seger and other rock groups.
In the right or wrong environment, Wood n' Nickel has been known to take on Guns N Roses and Jimi Hendrix. The repertoire also includes a fair amount of gospel music, and all of the music is focused on acoustic instrumentation and heavy emphasis on three part harmonies.
The band prefers working in festivals, parties and other family friendly venues, and is hoping to get some exposure outside Berrien County in 2006.