Carhartts: Three Bobs and a Banjo

by  Gail West

Group sings across Alaska, entertaining locals and visitors

  Courtesy Carhartt Brothers
   

Alaska bluegrass music, as thumped out by a band of brothers of different mothers, sports a distinctive look—Carhartts, the Alaska-casual dress of choice. Also called Prudhoe pajamas, these bib overalls come in handy for winter gigs lined, as some are, with warm and comfy quilted material.

Carhartts were obviously an inspiration for the band’s name. Several years ago, two of the band members were scheduled to perform at an eatery in Seward and the establishment’s host wanted the band’s name so he could introduce them. They hadn’t come up with one, but quickly looked down at what they were wearing—it was a cold winter day, so they were dressed in Alaska’s special trousers—and said they were the “Carhartt Brothers.”

One of the two looked at the other and said: “You’ll be Bob, and I’ll be Bob.

Our folks were very creative in naming us.”

Then There’s Bob the Dog

The band today is composed of three Bobs and a four-legged, tag-along Bob: Billy Bob, Regular Bob and Banjo Bob play the bass, guitar, and banjo, respectively. Bob the Dog accompanies the trio to its venues and sits at Banjo Bob’s side during performances. Banjo Bob is sight-impaired, and Bob the Dog is his right-hand man, so to speak. In real life Banjo Bob is Bryan Gearry, Regular Bob is Pat Ryan and Billy Bob is Bill Yeagle. The current trio has performed together for about three years, according to Gearry. “Pat and I have been together for about 25 years and we’ve had a couple of base players in that time,” he said. “Then Bill joined us three years ago.”

While bluegrass is a significant part of the band’s repertoire, their range is far wider and includes an eclectic selection of Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, as well as songs from several Alaska composers. “We like to take a perfectly good song and twist it up,” Gearry said. “If we can mutilate it, we will. Pat and I sort of work out a ham-it-up routine for the pieces we play.”

‘Ham” a La Cart

The “ham” routine works well for many of the venues the Carhartt Brothers play—Alaska State Fair, the Festival of Flowers in Visit Anchorage, the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired and for other organizations.

“In January, we played at an Anchorage museum event,” Gearry said. In the museum’s enormous cargo elevator, the band entertained attendees with a live concert as they rose or descended from floor to floor. “We redefined elevator music,” Gearry said.

The Bobs have also played venues ranging from the Alaska Railroad to remote lodges and cruise ships.

“Last year,” Gearry said, “we rode the train to Seward and played for a group of visiting world ambassadors. The Chilean ambassador borrowed Pat’s guitar and joined us for several numbers—some classic rock songs—and then he sang a couple of Spanish pieces.”

With summer on the horizon, the Carhartt Brothers are preparing for another season of entertaining visitors and residents alike. You can see and hear them June 1, at the Festival of Flowers in downtown Anchorage, and look for them at Music in the Park all summer long.

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