Slack Press

Marietta Ohio Times, Sept 2003

Band not slack in musical quality

By Brad Bauer

This year's Ohio River Sternwheel Festival was made special for at least two families.

Former Mariettan Joe Wharff and his bluegrass band, "The Slack Family," of Richmond, Va., returned to the Ohio River levee to perform for the second time in three years. The group played two toe-tapping sets Sunday.

"It's always great to come back home and visit with my family," Wharff said. "But it is even better when I can come back home and play for everyone with my new family."

Wharff, lead vocalist and guitarist, said his band began to take form in 1995 on the streets of Richmond. Since, the group has produced two albums, including their recently released "Pickin' up the Slack," which is gaining national attention.

"We started playing in an alleyway in "The Fan," a section of Richmond, late on Friday and Saturday nights after the bars closed down," Wharff said. "At first, a few people would stop and listen ... And then the word got out. By the third or fourth weekend, we had 40 or 50 people out in that alleyway jamming to our music."

Wharff said soon a few bar owners began asking them to play their bars. It meant the group of friends needed a name.

"We called ourselves "The Slack Boys" because we didn't want to do anything but eat, sleep and pick bluegrass music," he said.

"Some people would consider that as being slack, so we just beat them to the punch."

Eventually, Wharff said the group of close friends decided on The Slack Family in 1997 when they produced their first album.

Wharff said it did very well in the Richmond area.

Over the next few years, the group evolved and a few new members joined, including upright bassist Brian Sulser and fiddle player Jim Skelding, who played with Martina McBride for three years before joining The Slacks.

Sulser said he enjoyed playing in Marietta.

"I know Joe really enjoyed this ... But we all loved it," Sulser said. "This was a lot of fun."

Wharff said other than the opportunity to play before his family and friends in Marietta, a highlight of his musical career came in 1999, when he was invited to the International Bluegrass Music Association Music Awards to showcase two of his original songs.

Wharff said The Slack Family hopes to continue to play to a wide audience across the country, gaining national exposure.

"We would love to play Telluride and, of course, The Grand Ole Opry," Wharff said. "We'll see what happens."

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