EUGENE, Ore. - Illuminated under a stream of yellow and blue stage lights, the acoustic guitar begins to play like a slow operatic movement.
And then come the strings, which enter into the melody one after the other, the bass, the cello, the violin and the mandolin all gracefully flowing together to create a harmony that engulfs the room.
And then, after only a few moments, the acoustic operetta of Betty and the Boy welcomes its most treasured guest; a voice that echoes across the W.O.W hall with amazing force and beauty.
It isn’t until the final strings are plucked and when Betty’s voice grows increasingly faint that the audience is finally able to collect their thoughts and return back to the reality that they had so recently and easily vacated.
Bettreena “Betty” Jaeger and Josh “the boy” Harvey first met in Montana on myspace.com back in 2008. At the time, Josh was a singer/songwriter/musician who was looking for an addition to his one-man band. And then he heard Betty’s voice. From that point on, he couldn’t rest until they met. He was resilient in his pursuits, sending a variety of off the wall messages and comments in an attempt to get her attention. Until one day, fed up and exhausted but also a little bit curious and intrigued, she responded.
Once together, they soon began to realize that there were a series of other sounds and instruments that could accompany them which could amplify their music. They began to recruit other musicians. Soon they had their bassist, Jon Conlon, their cellist, Nanci McDonald, and their violinist, Michelle Whitlock.
Betty and the Boy have a unique way of expressing themselves. Some call them a Bluegrass band; others, Americana or perhaps classical with operatic leanings. But to classify them as anything except uncommon and rare would be off target. And that’s because they simply cannot be categorized.
The precision and the finesse of Betty’s voice might lead someone to assume that she’s classically trained, but she’s not. And the delicate powers of the strings that accompany her add an even deeper and ethereal feeling to it all.
“I feel like a lot of the time, when I first starting playing music, I was confused on what kind of style I was,” Josh explains. “I think for me, it was a lot about letting go of that… I don’t really like thinking about what kind of genre I am. It’s whatever people hear, I guess… but it’s all types of music. And for me it’s just what I do.”
And it hasn’t gone unappreciated. In 2011, the Eugene Weekly named Betty and the Boy The Next Big Thing in Eugene. On top of that Betty and the Boy has garnered praise and reviews from some of Eugene’s most notable newspapers. The Register Guard called their music “Darkness amid beauty” and the Eugene Weekly wrote that they were “Nothing short of entrancing.”
Just this past year Betty and the Boy submitted a video for a competition to join an annual Bluegrass cruise with the Grammy award-winning band The Steep Canyon Rangers. Woody Platt, the lead singer and guitarist, described his reaction to hearing their tape among a sea of others. “It was just so different. Her voice and the texture of her voice along with the instrumentation which was kind of like this mini classical thing on one side and a mandolin and bass, more of a bluegrassey thing, on the other side, and then her. She was sitting on a stool in a dark theater and it was just striking. You can’t really describe what they are. It’s just really different. It’s not bluegrass. It’s just good music.”
And this is the very thing that Betty and the Boy strive to be. Honest musicians who want nothing more than to entertain and play good music.
“Music, to me, is something that I understand really well,” Betty said. “It’s like people who are good at math. I get music. And the only other thing I know that I get as well is poetry and writing. It just clicks for me.”
Betty and the Boy play for themselves as much as they play for their audience. For them, it’s an opportunity to not only pursue art for art’s sake, but to seize upon their own innate abilities to create something beautiful and worthy and true.
The JAM Workshop — Journalism Arts Multimedia — is a brand new class taught at the University of Oregon’s School Of Journalism and Communication. Conceived by Prof. Tom Wheeler, the JAM Workshop brings together student writers, photographers and videographers to profile local artists — musicians, painters, dancers, sculptors, art photographers, and more.
Watch for Oregon JAM features at 7:30 p.m. PDT weeknights in July on KVAL.com