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Hank English plays violin in his backyard on a sunny September day. English, Peggy Buchanan and Len Kalakian get together during the slow times of the week to play bluegrass music. Their group doesn't have a name, but they have a distinct sound and a list of stories to tell. Photo by Dain Sullivan

The band without a name; local group lives to play traditional bluegrass

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Some might argue that the first order of business when establishing a musical group is coming up with a band name. A few Wadena performers would beg to differ.

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"There's no name," said Len Kalakian, as he fiddled with his custom-made acoustic guitar in a tiny southwest Wadena kitchen.

As Kalakian reached to switch his sheet music, a small, white house dog scurried across the kitchen floor toward Hank English, who sat in a nearby corner, trying to decide what song to play next. Opposite of English, Peggy Buchanan hooked up her bass guitar to a small box amplifier.

Normally, the trio would have taken advantage of the wider spaces in the garage. But on this particular day, they decided to ditch the cold and set up shop at the nearest convenient area, which just so happened to be confined among a scattered collection of dirty dishes, hanging kitchenware and a main entrance door.

But location isn't important for this group. All that matters is bluegrass.

"Traditional bluegrass is in fairly short supply, unless you know where to find it," Kalakian said shortly before the group started playing "Little Mountain Church".

A couple of them play multiple instruments, and the group isn't interested in getting gigs. They're also not inclined to call themselves a band.

The musicians frequently refer to their music sessions as "jams," "almost rehearsed" and "cheaper than psychiatry." When they have instruments in hand, a place to sit and a slow afternoon when they can meet up, all is right with the world.

They recently performed on the sidelines of the TRAM bike race that took place in Wadena during the summer. No matter how many people are listening or where the music is flowing, the group is happiest when they're performing.

"It' a fun thing to do," said English, the 80-year-old with an unmistakable southern drawl who was the common denominator for the group of musicians.

As they tell it, the trio shared a mutual friend - a mandolin player - who later brought them together. While the mutual friend story may come across as one of the group's greatest, they have plenty of other tales to tell between songs.

English spoke of how he used to love attending gospel jams that featured bluegrass in Arizona. Kalakian smiled as he recalled his days as an adapted physical education professor at what is now Minnesota State University, Mankato. And Buchanan shared the story of how her love for bluegrass sparked from watching others play.

"I used to just go to the festivals and listen to everybody play and I thought, 'Gee, wouldn't it be nice to play something,'" said Buchanan, who ended up purchasing her bass guitar at one of the festivals.

Buchanan has also posted some of the group's music on YouTube. It can be found by searching with the key phrase, "peggybassplayer."

As the group members sit and talk together, it's as if all the worries of life melt away.

"This isn't a means to an end; it's just an end in itself," Kalakian said with a smile.

The performers often talk about the different directions they could have taken during past years, but are utterly convinced their meeting was inevitable. While they embrace the phrase, "life is good-bye, life is hello," the group can't help but beam at the idea that they found one another.

"It's hard not to smile when you're sitting with your friends and doing what you enjoy doing," Kalakian said.

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