By Emily J. Weitz
The Bankesters are a good old-fashioned family band. The parents, Phil and Dorene, started their three daughters on music lessons before they were in kindergarten, and Emily, who plays the clawhammer banjo and the fiddle in the band, has been told she used to sing herself to sleep as a baby. Harmonizing comes second nature to them, and making music is a joy they love to share.
The band will share their sound with music lovers this Saturday when Sylvester Manor presents The Bankesters bringing some of the finest bluegrass harmonies to The Shelter Island School at 7:30 p.m. The show will open with local band, Large Print Edition.
“Music was always important to my parents,” said Emily Bankester, “and they passed their love down to each one of us girls.”
The house was always alight with music, from their parents’ own harmonies to the sounds of the Cox Family, Allison Krauss, and Union Station.
“As a bass player,” said Melissa Triplett, whose husband also plays in the band. “Missy Raines was probably one of my biggest inspirations, especially because there weren’t as many female bass players on the scene yet.”
Ms. Triplett was drawn to the bass for practicality as well as musicality.
“Initially I started playing the bass because I was the tallest,” she said. “So it made sense. But I loved it right away. The bass really grounds the entire band. Without it, there’s not the fullness or drive that the music needs.”
She loves playing songs with a strong rhythmic groove, because you can change the whole feel of the song with a change of the bass line.
Emily was attracted to her instruments of choice for her own reasons.
“I always had a love for the fiddle,” she said, “from a very early age. “I think back then it was just because it’s such a beautiful, elegant instrument.”
She and her sister, Alysha, enjoy playing twin fiddles together.
“Clawhammer banjo is a newer instrument to me,” said Ms. Bankester, “and I have just fallen in love with the old time sound of it. Also, unlike the fiddle, it’s an instrument that I can play to accompany myself while I sing, which I love.”
Emily Bankester was selected as the recipient of the International Bluegrass Music Association award for Vocalist of the Year in 2012. The family followed up with the award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2014 for “Love Has Wheels”.
When the Bankesters come together, each instrument brings its own sound, and they all combine to form a full experience.
“Each instrument is a layer in the sound of the band,” said Ms. Triplett. “The bass and mandolin create a rhythmic foundation, and the other instruments fill out around them.”
When the Bankesters start working on a song, they work hard to find the right arrangement so all the instruments can shine. They don’t improvise as much as one might think, given the free-slowing sound of their music.
“We usually stick with our arrangement,” said Ms. Triplett, “so that there’s consistency in our performances. People can listen to the album, and for the most part, know what to expect when they come to a show.”
Ms. Bankester echoes this sentiment.
“We spend a lot of time working stuff out in the studio, along with our producer, who helps figure out who will play what parts and where,” she said. “With the stuff we’ve recorded, especially our songs that are on the radio, we try to stay close to what is on the record when we play to our live audiences.”
Performing for live audiences is a joy for this family band. Their foremost concern is that the audience has a good time, and walks away uplifted.
“We try to provide musical variety,” said Ms. Triplett, “and our material ranges from traditional bluegrass to Americana, to a more country feel. We sing songs about life, but we like to focus on the positive. Hopefully when they leave, they’ll leave happy and feel like something we did that night spoke to their hearts.”
Sylvester Manor on Shelter Island promotes an evening of bluegrass each year, and even in the dead of winter the Shelter Island School gets packed to the rafters with foot-stomping audiences. The Bankester family will play one night only: Saturday, January 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 to $35 and available online at http://sylvestermanor.org/event/sylvester-manor-presents-the-bankesters/.