Hamilton (OH) – There’s more to the music than meets the ear.
And the Wayfarers bring plenty to the ear.
The five-man band – formed in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2010 and seen nationally on the PBS program “Song of the Mountains” – brings its blend of pre-bluegrass, folk and roots music to the Fitton Center for Creative Arts Saturday, January 20.
Mandolin player, founding member and band leader Brandon Bankes said the Wayfarers put their own stamp on music as old or older than the country itself, while also making new music in that timeless style.
“The music is such an American thing,” he said. “It’s woven into the fabric of who we are. We find people of all types in our audience – people who listen to heavy metal – who can still appreciate our music because it’s such a fundamental piece of our history.
“In my mind it’s like a ’57 Chevy or something. It’s just that American.”
Bankes studied music production at Ohio University in Athens, where he took a course on American folk music that changed his trajectory.
“I’m a huge history fan, too, so the story of how that music got here, how it evolved, that was appealing to me,” he said. “The merger of the Irish/Scottish music to Appalachia, to the south, to folk, the history and the music go hand in hand.”
So at age 23, he teamed up with Josh Hartman (guitar), Matt Opachick (fiddle), Justin Rayner (banjo) and Nathan Zangmeister (washtub bass) to form the band.
“There weren’t a lot of people doing this kind of music,” Bankes said. “Young guys playing this music that’s hundreds of years old in some cases, that was unheard of. We were kind of different.”
Many of the band members came up playing punk rock, actually.
“They both have this kind of DIY sensibility about them, a looseness,” Bankes said. “They aren’t as far apart as people might think. There’s an infectious quality they share.”
Bankes said a pair of numbers epitomize the band, its sound and its reverence for the history of both the music and their home. The first is an instrumental medley of “Angline the Baker/Sal’s Got Mud Between Her Toes.”
“Angeline…” evolved from an 1850 Stephen Foster tune originally written for the Christy Minstrels, while “Sal’s Got Mud…” is a traditional Irish reel first recorded in 1922 by a Texan, Eck Robertson.
The other is an original piece called "Old Muskingum,” the band’s ode to its hometown of Zanesville.
“That’s who we are in a nutshell,” Bankes said.
The Wayfarers have four acclaimed albums – The Wayfarers, Fire on the Hillside, Breaking Old Ground and Wild Bacon. Fourteen years in, they still enjoy exploring and sharing the foundational musical language of Appalachia.
“A lot of our music, or our style of music, is learned in the oral tradition,” Bankes said. “But now people are learning these versions of songs that we got from the National Archives and Library of Congress and telling us they learned them from seeing us on YouTube. It’s pretty cool to be part of that tradition of handing down the music organically like that.”
Tickets to The Wayfarers are $35 for Fitton Center members and $43 for non-members, and are available online by clicking here, calling 513-863-8873, ext. 110 or visiting the Fitton Center box office in person.
The Fitton Center for Creative Arts is located at 101 S. Monument Avenue on the Riverfront in downtown Hamilton, Ohio.
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