Open mic regulars form Boro Bluegrass

Categories:  The Arts    Music
Friday, February 28th, 2020 at 3:10 PM
Open mic regulars form Boro Bluegrass by Rhiannon Pushchak & Hazel Modlin
Matt Capoun and Christian O' Stafy are in the local bluegrass band Boro Bluegrass. | Contributed Photo

Frequent Pogue Student Center open mic night goers would most likely recognize the duo of Matt Capoun and Christian O'Stafy, who have joined up to form local band Boro Bluegrass. O’Stafy, whose stage name is Christian James, attends Edinboro University as a junior nursing major. Capoun, while not an EU student, works in the area and daylights as a missionary through a Catholic group called Focus. Despite only meeting last semester, they immediately felt a connection through their musical tastes, and decided to form a band of their own.

Most of the songs that Boro Bluegrass plays are actually covers reworked in a bluegrass style. “We’re kind of in the process of writing our first original, but we do mostly covers of older bluegrass, like original fiddle tunes and such,” said O'Stafy. “We really try to play everything, and one thing we do a lot is we’ll take modern rock, and/or '90s-2000s rock, and we’ll convert them into bluegrass. It’s kinda cool.”

In order to give their audience the full bluegrass experience, Capoun and O'Stafy utilize several different instruments. O'Stafy said that he plays “the guitar, the mandolin, the banjo, the dobro, and the piano…but I only usually bring the guitar and mandolin to our performances.” Capoun added that he “mainly [plays] guitar, but I play bass guitar as well.” A fun fact that O’Stafy shared is that the guitar he plays for shows comes from Scotland.

The process of turning songs into bluegrass is one the duo does on their own.

“The guitar is the easiest way to start. With mandolin, you can pick the melody of the song, and with guitar you can do the behind-the-rhythm chords, or you could also do the lead solo or something,” O'Stafy explained. “Pretty much what I do is take the same strumming patterns that go into bluegrass and kind of apply them to these modern rock and folk songs…we’ll play the entire song more or less the way it was written, but just at a much faster pace and [with] a little bit more of our own bluegrass flare.”

Though both Capoun and O'Stafy have remained steadfast in their commitment to the band, they have had several other revolving members.

“At one point, there were four different positions. It was me, a guitar player, a banjo player, and a cello player," said O’Stafy. "The guitar player went to IUP, the cello player stopped playing with us, and the banjo player was just learning how to play…it was really about finding people to jam with at the time.”

However, once O'Stafy met Capoun, their band took on a more serious note. “We would sit down and look over these songs and analyze them to try to put our own spin on them.”

O'Stafy noted, “I just needed to find people to play music here at Edinboro because the music scene is so dead, and I kinda want to just bring it back to life.”

Even now, students on campus are feeling the lasting effects of the university’s cut to the music major around two and a half years ago. For Boro Bluegrass, it means having difficulty finding other people to play with, even in a fun, care-free setting. According to the band, their guitar player who went to IUP was a music major, and he left Edinboro because his program was cut. O'Stafy also considered being a music major at one point in time, although his reasoning doesn't relate to a university decision. “The problem was, how would I make money? I don’t want to teach.”

He chose nursing because he believes he will be able to make enough money to fuel his passion for music — plus, he genuinely likes people. “I’m going through nursing school because I enjoy taking care of people, and I enjoy talking to people and getting to know them.” This being said, O'Stafy said he would quit if he ever got a contract to make music. He smiled as he compared his situation to the famous British rock band, Queen. “Brain May is an astrophysicist — the guy’s super intelligent — but you know Queen for their music, you don’t know them for all their backgrounds.”

Boro Bluegrass is still in the process of finding opportunities to play.

“We’re at every single open mic night," O'Stafy clarified. "If Matt’s not there, I’m always there, or vice versa.” The duo has tried to get into different places such as Crossroads, but they are experiencing difficulty because they haven’t had any past gigs yet, and are mainly looking to get off the ground. O'Stafy said they have all the equipment and recordings necessary, but they are having a hard time getting local businesses to respond. He confessed that he was slightly confused by the lack of communication because, “we cover a lot of songs people know while putting our own spin on it, so I feel like people would enjoy it…we’re a valid duo.”

Sounding good as a group requires a lot of time and effort, as any talent does. While both O'Stafy and Capoun have busy schedules, they still dedicate countless hours a week to practicing. “I practice probably around an hour and a half to two hours every single day, no matter what day it is…I’ve been doing that for the past five or six years, give or take," stated O’Stafy. "Everybody has some form of stress relief — like playing video games and such — and that’s what it is for me.” The duo commented that they practice together at least two or three times a week, regardless of their busy schedules.

Both O'Stafy and Capoun started the band because of their shared taste in music, so it is only natural that they drew inspiration from some of the very groups that inspired them. “There’s a band that we both like called Mandolin Orange, and actually the first song that I ever played was a piece called ‘Old Ties and Companions’ by Mandolin Orange, and that’s kind of like a staple," said O'Stafy. "I will never play a show or gig where I don’t play that song.”

Other bands that have influenced the duo include Billy Strings and Tony Rice, both American guitar players, and a folk duo called The Milk Carton Kids. “Kenneth Pattengale (a member of The Milk Carton Kids) is my inspiration,” O'Stafy confided.

Boro Bluegrass attempts to pick their favorite elements of these bands and implement them into their performances. They especially focus on vocal harmony and intense string picking.

Something Boro Bluegrass really values in their music is the authenticity that comes with the use of more acoustic instruments over electric. “When you hear all of these, you’re not hearing auto-tune. With electric, you can have all these different pedals — and I say this because I also play electric guitar — and you can add 17,000 delay pedals, so that all of the sudden it makes you sound really good," said O'Stafy. "With acoustic guitar, if you can’t play it, it’s obvious.”

The art of the acoustic guitar requires more exactness, which is difficult to achieve. “What you see us do up there, whether it’s your cup of tea or not, is not easy,” he stated.

Even though Boro Bluegrass has been doing well during its first year of existence, the future is uncertain. Capoun is from Omaha, Nebraska, and O'Stafy hails from Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While O'Stafy is definitely coming back to Edinboro to finish his senior year of nursing, Capoun’s line of work might take him elsewhere. “I don’t know [if I’m coming back] yet. I should be finding that out in the next month or two," he said.

O’Stafy is hoping that Focus will send Capoun back to Edinboro next year, and he’s planning on writing them a letter to help his case. “I want to tell the Focus group how much he’s impacted me in my life, and a lot of other people, just to stick around here.” If the two musicians are split up, both do plan to continue on their own, but they agree that it would not be quite the same. “To find someone else like Matt would be very difficult. You don’t click with everybody," said O'Stafy.

Boro Bluegrass is currently working on their first album, and they hope they get to continue working together in the future. However, they’re always looking for new members and gigs. Either way, the number one reason they play is because they enjoy it.

“Music is my passion…and [we] come out here during open mic nights to support everybody," concluded O'Stafy.

Tags: local music

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