Keeping It Going on a Fiddler's Farm
by Stephen Pitalo
Although a lifelong train enthusiast, Washington-native Nick Dumas was introduced to bluegrass music at a very young age by his dobro-playing grandfather. Listening to Grandad’s country-gospel band rehearse — especially the fiddler player — so inspired Nick that he started learning to play the violin in his school orchestra class at age 12.
“I grew up in a mostly musical family in Seattle, WA. My dobro/steel guitar-playing grandfather Harold Christensen lived right across the street from me as I was growing up. A few years later, I started dabbling at the mandolin and started picking it up pretty fast. The mandolin has since been my main instrument and I still strive to get better at it.”
After taking private fiddle lessons, Dumas joined the family band The Three Generations, formed by his grandfather, his mother, and his aunt. After learning to play mandolin, guitar, and banjo and to sing lead and harmony vocals, Nick became a co-founder of the popular Northwest-based bluegrass band Northern Departure. After gaining some notoriety, he co-founded North Country Bluegrass, touring both regionally and nationally.
On the mandolin, Dumas takes inspiration from stalwarts Adam Steffey, Sierra Hull, John Reischman, & Mark Stoffel. Vocally, he looks to Dan Tyminski, Shawn Lane & Kenny Smith.
“I’ve been getting more and more into the swing world these days as well,” Dumas said of his varied musical palette. “Don Sterinberg is one of my favorite jazz mandolinists and is always inspiring to me!”
Then, in 2015, Nick became the new Special Consensus mandolin player, making his recording debut with that band on the 2016 Compass Records release “Long I Ride,” which
received the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year Award for the tune “Fireball.” Nick also appeared on their 2018 release “Rivers and Roads” which won two IBMA awards (one for Album of the Year) and a GRAMMY nomination for Best Bluegrass Album.
“I knew I wanted to play professionally on the road for quite some time and was just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself,” Dumas said. “In the meantime, I was applying for jobs on various railroads (my other passion) but got nowhere with it. Not long after that, I got the call from Greg Cahill to come tour on the road with Special Consensus, full time! I knew then that music was indeed what I was meant to do.”
“After joining Special Consensus, I feel I got the most out of the time with those guys,” Dumas explained. “Vocally, I feel they helped me become a smoother, stronger singer and a stronger, more dynamic player than what I was when I joined. I still am not a huge fan of what I sound like, but I am also my own worst critic… Being patient and keeping humble is one of the biggest things I took from the road as well. There are a lot of people out there that do not have either of those, and I try to make sure I don’t ever become that way.”
Dumas said some of his career highlights so far include performing on the IBMA Awards Show with Special Consensus right after winning the 2018 Album of The Year and performing at the Darrington Bluegrass Festival in Washington State in 2017.
“I’ve grown up going to and performing at that festival since 2005,” he said of Darrington. “It was always a dream of mine to perform with a headline band on that stage one day. Then it happened when they hired Special C to be one of the headliners! I will never forget that feeling!”
Dumas said his favorite original tune is one without words, an instrumental composition called “Sunset Falls.”
“I wrote that years ago and recently included it on my solo record Story of a Beautiful Life,” he said of the tune, released on his solo debut in 2019. “I don’t get to play it often, but I’ll never turn down the opportunity when it presents itself! As far as cover songs are concerned, I would say “Green Light on the Southern!” A fantastic train song written by Norman Blake. I also included this song on my solo record. Being the railroad enthusiast that I am, I have not found a better, or more accurate railroad song out there. I love it!”
Dumas hasn’t played a whole lot of shows since the pandemic started. “I decided to get off the road with Special C in December of 2019, not knowing what was ahead of us all. I have mainly been teaching online mandolin lessons full-time since then. I am so thankful for all my students that help keep me going by letting me teach them how to play! It is so rewarding for me in many ways to help people achieve their goals of learning an instrument! As far as touring is concerned, I am pretty much freelancing it. Filling in with other bands like Kenny & Amanda Smith from time to time, as well as my own shows here and there, or if anyone else needs a fill-in.
“The biggest thing I’ve been focused on is my home venue The Fiddler’s Farm,” Dumas explained. “It is a century-old barn that my family and I have restored into a music venue in Sturgeon Bay, WI, where I’m living now. We are open seasonally and I play with the house band, which consists of my wife, Hana Dumas, on fiddle, my father-in-law, Dan Rass, on guitar, and my mother-in-law Teri Rass on bass, and Steve Nothem on the dobro & steel guitar. It is so much fun to walk out to the backyard to the gig! I feel very blessed!”