Boys are Back in Town: The Hackensaw Boys have dates in Raleigh, Richmond, and Washington, D.C., next month.
There’s one thing you can count on at a Hackensaw Boys show—nobody will be standing still. The band’s rowdy old-time sound has been making crowds move for more than a decade. It’s a hybrid of Appalachian front porch simplicity delivered with edgy punk rock power.
The band formed at the onset of the aughts, at first piling 12 grizzled young string slingers into the iconic Blue Moon Diner in their hometown of Charlottesville, Va. Soon after, the group hit the road and audience sizes started to swell across the country and eventually across the pond in Europe. While rooted in the continually expanding youth-charged string band revival movement, the outfit’s good-time energy landed them on stages with the diverse likes of Cake, Phish’s Trey Anastasio, and the Flaming Lips.
While the band has consistently endured on the grassroots touring circuit, personnel has often changed throughout the years. Since inception, there have been 20 different members of the Hackensaw Boys, and currently the band tours with six.
“At first we kept adding members and figuring out how to make it sound better,” says founding member David Sickmen, who left the band in 2005 and rejoined at the beginning of last year. “When certain members started to leave, we often wondered if we should continue. As people have come and gone, there’s always been a core group that wants to keep playing. It’s more like a music collective than a band, but it continues to thrive.”
Indeed, when key members have moved on—like co-founder Tom Peloso, now in Modest Mouse—it’s stifled the band’s progress. When the band released 2005’s “Love What You Do,” an acclaimed album in Americana circles, they seemed bound for bigger success, similar to fellow former street buskers Old Crow Medicine Show. But it’s not too late. These days, new management and a consistent crew—featuring Sickmen (guitar), Ward Harrison (guitar), Ferd Moyse (fiddle), John Miller (bass), Brian Gorby (percussion), and newest member Ben Townsend (fiddle and banjo)—have provided revitalized momentum.
“I’ve played in many different incarnations of the band, and I can say that all of them stay true to what makes the band good,” adds Sickmen. “We give people an outlet to get rowdy and have a good time.”
The band just finished a huge run of shows in Europe back in January to mark the release of a new live DVD, “For the Love of a Friend: Live in Kinderdijk.” The effort documented the band’s trip to the small town in the Netherlands, where friends of a miller who died in an accident requested the group come provide grief relief through song. As the tragically departed man’s favorite band, the Hackensaw Boys spent a week in the quaint community, staying in a windmill while they made friends with locals. At the end of the week they played a tribute show at a small town pub.
It’s an apt symbol of new beginnings for a band that’s preparing to take the festival circuit by storm this summer and currently working on material for their first proper full-length album since 2007’s “Look Out!”
“We’re ready to work hard and see what happens,” says Sickmen. “This year we’re going to see how far we can take this thing.”
High on Rocks
Outfitter By Day, Music Venue By Night
In the unsuspecting North Carolina piedmont town of Lexington—located about halfway between Greensboro and Charlotte—a cool combination of outdoor gear and music can be found at High Rock Outfitters. By day, shop owner Chris Phelps slings outdoor equipment, mainly paddling gear including Liquidlogic and Wilderness Systems boats. By nights, though, the shop on Main Street becomes a roots music venue, hosting an impressive line-up of regional heroes like Larry Keel, Steve McMurry of Acoustic Syndicate, and Americana icon Jim Lauderdale. Mainly throwing shows on the weekends, Phelps is taking the endeavor seriously, going as far as to become zoned as a nightclub so he can serve drinks during shows. In addition to a regular show schedule, High Rock also hosts Songcraft Live, a monthly series hosted by singer-songwriter Daniel Justin Smith, where fellow tunesmiths play intimate shows and engage the audience with workshop-style discussions and conversational interviews. The series has already hosted Lauderdale, Malcolm Holcombe, David Childers, and Jim Avett. highrockoutfitters.com