Robert Cornelius used to listen to rock radio. But then one day he was driving around, a typical ’70s teenager singing along to the Tubes’ “White Punks On Dope,” when it struck him: he wasn’t that into it.
“This music has nothing to do with me as a person, and it’s not very good. I know all the words. Why do I listen to this?” Cornelius remembers thinking.
That day he made the decision to check out what was on the other radio stations. He discovered KFAT, and bluegrass music. His life was forever changed.
“I really love bluegrass and Americana music,” Cornelius says. “I’m doing my best to spread that everywhere. I really find it interesting musically, but it makes me feel good, it touches me in a very emotional way.”
It wasn’t until he was 30 that he started playing music. He was particularly attracted to the banjo. He started the Wildcat Mountain Ramblers in 2001, after he and Susanne Suwanda were prodded into playing the school fundraiser event at Cornelius’ kids’ school. Someone who saw that performance invited them to play at the Frog’s Tooth Vineyard in Murphys.
Initially, the music was all bluegrass, all the time, but eventually, the traditional bluegrass tunes were tempered by Beatles, Clapton, Grateful Dead and Johnny Cash tunes.
“The instrumentation is definitely traditional bluegrass, but we try to be true to the sound that the song was written in. People like to hear songs they know,” Cornelius says.
They will even let audience members hop up on stage and sing songs if they are so inclined—because, really how much more fun can you have than singing a song with a real band.
“I say it’s like karaoke with real live Okies. Come on up and let us know, and we’ll try to figure it out,” Cornelius says. “It’s all about having fun, everyone having a good time.”
INFO: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, Michael’s on Main, 2591 South Main St., Soquel. $17/adv, $20/door. 479-9777.