Music News & Reviews

Foghorn Stringband deeply connected to old-time music traditions

Foghorn Stringband, from left, Nadine Landry, Caleb Klauder, Reeb Willms and Stephen “Sammy” Lind.
Foghorn Stringband, from left, Nadine Landry, Caleb Klauder, Reeb Willms and Stephen “Sammy” Lind. Courtesy

Foghorn Stringband believes in keeping old-time music pure and simple.

The quartet, playing Friday (Dec. 9) in Olympia, has earned much critical praise for its blazing fiddles, beautiful harmonies, and authentic interpretations of traditional tunes and songs.

“Foghorn Stringband proves once again that they are still the chosen ones when it comes to down-home, foot-stomping, ass-kickin’ old-time music,” Fiddle Freak’s Stuart Mason wrote in a review of last year’s “Devil in the Seat.”

But no acclaim has sounded sweeter than the words of an older woman who heard Foghorn play in Ireland.

“She was like, ‘Your music reminds me of the old-time cèilidh dance bands,’ ” founding member Caleb Klauder said in a phone interview this week. “That was a major compliment. I don’t think she was even trying to compliment us. She was just so excited.”

America’s old-time music is closely related to Irish tunes played for dancing at cèilidh or social gatherings, said Klauder of Portland. Sometimes only the names differ.

The British Isles is just one of many places Foghorn Stringband has taken its traditional tunes and songs, drawn from country, bluegrass, folk and Cajun traditions. The band has also toured in Germany and Scandinavia and was the first American band invited to play at a world music festival in Malaysia.

Foghorn does play the occasional original penned by Klauder, who also has a thriving solo country music career.

But respecting, upholding and transmitting tradition is key for Klauder (who plays mandolin and fiddle) and bandmates Reeb Willms (guitar) of Portland, Nadine Landry (upright bass) and Stephen “Sammy” Lind (banjo and fiddle). Landry and Lind recently moved to Pointe-à-la-Croix, on the Gaspé Peninsula in eastern Quebec. All four share singing duties, with harmony singing a specialty.

In 15 years and thousands of shows, the band has developed quite a repertoire. The musicians sat down awhile back to try to list all the songs they knew and came up with something more than 700.

“We’ve been scheming for a while to have a pickathon, like a walkathon or a bikeathon,” said Klauder, who grew up on Orcas Island. “We’d get sponsors to pay us a nickel a song, and we’d play every song we can and give the money to a charity.”

If and when they do that, he estimates it would take 2  1/2 days.

“We thought if someone could come and listen to every song, without missing one, we’d give a gold membership card, with free admission for life to every Foghorn show.”

The band’s repertoire keeps growing, broadening as the players travel and deepening as they listen to old recordings. They make a point to share their knowledge in workshops such as the one they’ll lead Saturday in Olympia.

Arbutus Folk School is presenting the concert and workshop, both of which will be held in the 200-seat auditorium at Nova Middle School. The multiuse Arbutus space, by contrast, holds about 65.

Arbutus first used the Nova space last month — for a concert and workshop by fiddler Alasdair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas — and plans to continue to hold events there.

“It’s a fantastic option for an all-ages venue,” said Arbutus vice president Emily Teachout. “There is plenty of seating and good acoustics, plus there is a small dance floor.”

Foghorn has already inspired new generations of old-time musicians, Teachout said.

A local example is The Bow Weevils, who’ll open for Foghorn on Friday. Band members are Nova students Ellie Davis, 13, and Hatcher Cox, 13, along with Annie Davis, 11, a student at Lincoln Elementary; Rizley Cox, 15, who attends Olympia High School; and Ruby Neatherlin, 12, a student at Reeves Middle School and Teachout’s daughter.

“Seeing these kids so excited about traditional music is something to behold,” said Teachout, herself a fiddler.

Foghorn Stringband

What: The internationally acclaimed quartet, which has played a big role in the Northwest revival of old-time music, is coming to Olympia fresh from a recording session for a new album.

When: 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 9).

Where: Nova School, 2020 22nd Ave. SE, Olympia.

Tickets: $18, $12 for ages 17 and younger.

Information: 360-867-8815, bit.ly/2h6WNg4, bit.ly/2gVlX3t.

Workshop with Foghorn Stringband

What: The band members will also lead a two-hour workshop for singers and musicians who play acoustic instruments.

When: 10 a.m. Saturday.

Tickets: $30.

Information: 360-867-8815, bit.ly/2gVlX3t.

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