Jeannette’s early musical influences were from her mother. She was raised on country music in a small community in northern Alberta. Her mom would gather her siblings together when they were small children and make popcorn and sing country music to them—some of them ‘hurtin’ tunes (a kind of ‘captive’ audience!). Music was and still is a huge part of our lives. Her mother is 89 and still plays guitar and sings as lovely as she did when she was young. Like most young people, Jeannette discovered other genres of music in her teens and early twenties. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that she got the bluegrass ‘bug’ after her late sister talked her into going to a small bluegrass festival at the Blueberry community hall. She was immediately drawn in by the amazing musicianship & beautiful harmonies of the performers, the late night parking lot picking, campfire singing and the friendliness of everyone there—a true sense of community spirit that she’d longed for after too many years of urban life.
In the mid-1990s she discovered a mutual love of bluegrass music with her new friend Sheila which led to them playing music together since then. Eventually, with a few female friends in bluegrass, they formed a band called Sweetgrass. Years later, drawing on some local bluegrass talent, they formed Wildwood Flower” and now Prairie Sky. Jeannette considers herself blessed to play music that she loves with her ‘sweetie’ Ken, and great friends, Sheila and Alex. Although there is very little spare time to play music, she makes time for music that lifts her spirits and inspires her to keep learning and growing as a musician. And as her mom says “never give up—keep practicing and carry on the tradition”.
Sheila Hallett took up the banjo in the mid-1990s with encouragement from her former work colleague, Jeannette Sinclair. A visit to the Blueberry Bluegrass and Country Music Festival with Jeannette and an introduction to the Northern Bluegrass Circle Music Society, presented her with a perfect opportunity to honor her love of music. The banjo just seemed the right instrument to learn. She settled into the bluegrass community, along with her children, and has become a committed volunteer for both the weekly bluegrass jamming circle and the annual Blueberry Bluegrass Festival. She has played in various Edmonton bluegrass bands over the years with Jeannette. She says ‘fortune shined’ when she, along with Jeannette and partner Kenny Mak formed Prairie Sky several years ago. Sheila’s banjo playing has expanded with lead playing in a four-person bluegrass configuration. She is inspired by the band’s harmonies and the opportunity for every member to step up to the mic and sing lead. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Sheila works to come up with tasty back-up and breaks for the many varied songs that members bring to the band. Maybe it’s the autograph of Earl Scruggs inside her banjo’s resonator that keeps her striving to improve as a player. A deep respect for bluegrass and great instrumentalists of any genre, Sheila pulls inspiration from a wide swath, including band members and the local music community.
Kenny started banging on bongo drums with chopsticks at an early age to Hank Williams "Cawliga". That started an interest in drums & percussion through high school, until he picked up the electric bass at 15 years old and never looked back.
He grew up with music in the house all the time. Family friends would come and play and sing in the living room, and that had a huge influence on him. He wanted to join in, and he even one time hauled his drum set to the living room. He decided that he should play an instrument more portable and appropriate, and naturally moved from drums to bass in the mid 1980's, then picked up a Ricky Skaggs album to learn from. Kenny was hooked on bluegrass from the first note.
After many years of honing his skills in the "closet", he finally found his way to Fiddler's Roost in Edmonton, and discovered a warm & welcoming music community that provided the opportunity to perform. Kenny met his sweetheart Jeannette at Fiddler's Roost and even sang his first song with her (awww!). "I'm very blessed to have a partner that loves music like I do, and that we play in a band together."
Kenny's listened and learned from many different bass players over the years. Geddy Lee from Rush is amazing. "His finger work and dexterity compare to no one else." James Jamerson of the Funk Brothers is a legend of the Motown sound. "I tried (and love) flat wound strings because of him." Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones has incredible chops and is a really great teacher. Lee Rocker from the Stray Cats is a rockabilly wonder and his showmanship is a big influence on Kenny. "Mike Bub from the Del McCoury Band and Nashville super group 18 South, is my mentor for slapping." A great, solid double bass player. And of course, the legend, Marshall Grant of Johnny Cash's "Tennessee Two", who was a huge part of Cash's famous "boom-chicka-boom" sound.
In 2015, Kenny produced and played numerous instruments on the CD project "Three for the Show" for local Edmonton country artist Chuck Porter.
When Marty was 11, his brother brought home an electric bass. It was a complete surprise and a defining moment, especially after his brother allowed him free access to the new instrument. Using the Hal Leonard instruction booklet that came with it, Marty soon taught himself some simple tunes. His brother, who had an eclectic music collection, provided the material and the method for how to listen to music and analyze its components, Marty further developed his ear by teaching himself guitar and learning how to solo. He joined a local wedding band at the age of 15 and later performed with various rock bands in pubs and halls. He became fascinated with Bluegrass and Folk music later in life upon hearing bands like The Tony Rice Unit and The Seldom Scene, and he developed his acoustic style while a member of a Calgary-based band, Deliverance. He started playing mandolin about 10 years ago, inspired by Adam Steffey, Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, and John Reischman. Over the last few years, he has continued to explore different acoustic music genres, while writing and jamming at home with his daughter. He recently discovered the wonderful bluegrass community in Edmonton, which has exposed him to new tunes, new styles, and great people, including his band-mates in Prairie Sky.