Chattanooga Now Americana ensemble draws style from Music City, Last Frontier

Chattanooga Now Americana ensemble draws style from Music City, Last Frontier

July 15th, 2011 by Casey Phillips in Chattnow Music

Bearfoot is, from left, Angela Oudean (vocals and fiddle), PJ George (bass), Todd Grebe (guitar), Nora Jane Struthers (vocals) and Jason Norris (mandolin).


Q&A with Nora Jane Struthers, lead singer of Bearfoot


What: Bearfoot in concert.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.

Admission: $13 in advance, $15 at the door.

Phone: 624-5347.

Venue website:


2009: "Doors and Windows"

2006: "Follow Me"

2003: "Back Home"

2001: "Only Time Knows"


With the exception of track sequencing, "American Story," Bearfoot's fifth album and second release for Compass Records, is scheduled to be shipped to the manufacturer Monday. The album consists primarily of hard-driving ssongs and should be released by early October, said lead vocalist Nora Jane Struthers.

As the crow flies, Anchorage, Alaska, is 3,200 miles shy of Nashville, but in listening to the wild instrumental runs and mournful harmonies of Bearfoot, they sound like they share a border.

During the band's 10-year existence, the lineup has gradually developed a healthy representation from the lower 48. Nevertheless, the acoustic wizardry that earned the musicians a reputation in their native state is still a priority, said lead singer Nora Jane Struthers, who joined the band in September.

"We're having a blast," she said. "I feel like I've grown a lot as a performer since I've been in the band.

"I've learned a lot from touring with them and performing with this new group. That has helped me expand my repertoire as a performer and songwriter and singer."

Now based in Music City, Bearfoot was founded in 2000 by a group of Alaska teens at the bluegrass camp from which they derived their name. At the time, their impromptu group was an experiment, but the musical chemistry they shared was so strong they continued playing after the camp ended.

In 2001, Bearfoot won the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition (an honor shared by Nickel Creek and The Dixie Chicks) and performed there the following year. The band has since taken the stage at other noteworthy festivals, including Wintergrass and Merlefest.

Of the original quintet, only vocalist/fiddler Angela Oudean and mandolinist Jason Norris remain. Last year, Struthers, a Nashville-based solo singer/songwriter and her bassist, PJ George, joined the new Bearfoot lineup rounded out by guitarist Todd Grebe, also of Alaska.

Earlier this year, Struthers said, she experienced a three-month period of prolific creativity, during which she and Grebe wrote plenty of new material for the band's upcoming fifth album.

When they play Barking Legs Theater on Thursday, Bearfoot's set will touch on old and new alike, but longtime fans will notice a faster pace and a broader sound that reflects the band's growing identity with Americana as opposed to traditional bluegrass, Struthers said.

"I think we tried to keep some of the essential elements of Bearfoot, which include a sort of sexy playfulness in certain tracks and also a focus on the two women in the band," she said. "I think the song choices are, in a lot of ways, just more rocking."