Creating ‘Another Shade of Bluegrass’

Washougal woman entertains in area band

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Mari Stephenson, Cheryl Waldemer and Sherian Wright (from left to right) recently performed at the Pythian Retirement Center, in Vancouver. "Another Shade of Bluegrass" performs at several retirement and assisted living facilities, as well as farmers markets and festivals.

The dreamcatcher attached to Sherian Wright’s banjo could be symbolic of her accomplishments and aspirations — musical and otherwise.

She said the dreamcatcher is a reminder of her roots since she is one-sixteenth Cherokee.

Wright, of Washougal, is a member of “Another Shade of Bluegrass,” — a band that performs at retirement and assisted living facilities as well as farmers markets and festivals.

“I dreamed of playing the banjo, and after eight years of practice, practice, practice, I’ve become a strong intermediate player,” she said.

Wright’s style of playing is called “three-finger picking” or “Scruggs’ style,” since it was made famous by Earl Scruggs.

She taught herself how to play using beginning banjo books with CDs.

“I also participated in numerous bluegrass jams, which expanded my ability to play with others,” Wright said.

“Another Shade of Bluegrass” was founded in March 2010, by Rich Perkins, of Vancouver.

He chose Wright to be part of the band after they had performed together informally.

“Sherian and I jammed together for years,” Perkins said. “Everybody loves her. She has a winning personality. Some of the folks call her ‘mama.’

“With Malcolm [Wright’s husband], we get a two-for-one deal,” Perkins added. “He comes along every time and sets up the sound.”

Malcolm Wright, 67, also created and maintains the band’s webpage.

He and Sherian are retired engineers.

“He’s my own personal genius, but I do share him on occasion,” she said. “We both have a desire to help people and put a smile on their face, and playing bluegrass at the various senior facilities has become a sort of mission of ours.

“We’ve been married 17 years, and each day is always our day together,” Sherian added.

The band is not paid to perform. Sometimes the members receive a “token amount” for gasoline expenses or they get fed, according to Wright, 66.

“We note the ones who feed us ice cream,” she said.

Perkins, 69, performs vocals, plays guitar and is the band manager.

He came up with the group’s name after consulting with band members.

“It means we don’t play strictly ‘pure’ bluegrass but venture into other areas such as old time classics, some country, sometimes even pop tunes,” Perkins said.

He enjoys playing ballads and songs that tell stories.

“We try to do some Stephen Foster and Charlie Pride stuff too — not just bluegrass,” Perkins said. “We involve the group for two or three songs. ‘Good Night Irene’ — all the seniors remember that song. Some of them remember dancing with their sweetheart.”

He referred to “Will the Circle be Unbroken” and “Dear Friends and Gentle Hearts” as among his favorite tunes to play.

In addition to Wright and Perkins, “Another Shade of Bluegrass” consists of Gordon “Gordy” Franklin, bass; Erv Beard, dobro; and Mari Stephenson and Cheryl Waldemer, vocals.

Wright said she enjoys making people laugh.

“I like to kind of be the instigator,” she said. “Erv and I can ‘argue.’ He is hard of hearing. I tell him to sit up straight. He might make a crack back at me. We enjoy teasing each other. We’re like a family. It’s all in humor. I don’t have a microphone. If a song is too slow, I yawn.

“I kind of have a fan club,” Wright added. “The people who like the banjo, they like me the best. When I get a solo on the banjo, I raise my hands for greater applause.”

Another Shade of Bluegrass has performed more than 30 gigs so far this year.

“Some people say ‘my grandpa used to play the banjo,'” Wright said. “It brings back memories for the people, which is good. We do songs they are familiar with and they can sing along with. They usually want us back.”

After the performance, band members visit with the audience.

“I give all the ladies a hug,” Perkins said. “My wife and I are both huggers. Those senior ladies really enjoy the hugs.”

He said the musicians also interact with audience members who show up to watch the band set up 30 minutes before the performances.

“Most ‘bluegrassers’ are not in it for the money,” Perkins added. “We’re in it for the sheer joy of it.”

For more information, call Perkins at 521-3957 or visit