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The Fretless play St. Albert's Arden Theatre

The high-energy foursome mixes classical craftsmanship with traditional Irish, Scottish, folk, roots, and bluegrass
The Fretless plays its Arden Theatre debut concert on Friday, April 5.

All bands need a gimmick — something that makes them stand out from the crowd. When The Fretless was created in 2012, its classically trained members set a goal to expand the boundaries of a string quartet. 

The four musicians share a love of Irish, Scottish, Celtic, American and Canadian roots and a bit of bluegrass. The top-drawer string quartet reimaged fiddle styles into a jazzier instrumental sound. Over a decade their sound would expand the rhythmic, harmonic and structured arrangements of folk and roots genres. 

Their beautiful, high-energy arrangements have won multiple Canadian Folk Music Awards and the 2017 Juno Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. A major force in North America’s roots music circuit, the band’s live performances have been equated to playing like “flawless musical acrobats.” 

As the string quartet’s reputation spread, the consummate performers toured Canada multiple times, and on Friday, April 7, the foursome make their Arden Theatre debut. 

The Fretless is Trent Freeman (fiddle-viola), Karrnnel Sawitsky (fiddle-viola), Ben Plotnick (fiddle-viola) and Eric Wright (cello). 

When the band released its debut album, Waterbound, in 2012 it focused on traditional Irish and Scottish tunes. By the third CD, Bird’s Nest released in 2016, the nine tracks blended trad tunes with original compositions. 

“At that time, we felt ‘OK. Yeah. This is our sound. We see a future in an untapped way,” said Plotnick who replaced Ivonne Hernandez in 2016. 

In 2021, the band took a dramatic turn. The formerly instrumental band released Open House, their fifth studio album featuring numerous vocalists including Celeigh Cardinal, Dan Mangan, Nuela Chalres and The Bros. Landreth. Open House was nominated at the Juno Awards 2022 for Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. 

Building on past successes, the foursome is producing a sixth unnamed album slated for a fall release. Each single receives the classic Fretless treatment, while stamping the band’s identity on the material. 

“The specific concept for the new album is we’ve decided to write everything from top to bottom – something we haven’t done before. We wanted to have an album created from nothing,” Plotnick said. 

He noted several new unreleased songs will be added to their touring set list which contain music from all their albums. 

Touring with the band is vocalist Madelein Roger, a folk singer-songwriter from Winnipeg. She has toured extensively across Canada and Europe playing at prominent events such as Vancouver Island Music Festival, Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Newfoundland &B Labrador Folk Festival and Calgary Folk Festival. 

“Aside from being a better friend and such a force for good, Madelein has lots of parallels to the fiddle in the way she articulates. She blends in really well with the other instruments.” 

In addition to St. Albert, the band is playing three other Alberta concerts in Red Deer, Calgary and Canmore. 

“We’re excited about our new music and it’s a part of why we wanted to come to St. Albert. We’re hoping to reach out beyond people who have heard of us and interest them in fiddle music.” 

The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $40.22. Call 780-459-1542 or online at 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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