Old-time bands seem to be of two types (unless, of course, they’re somewhere in the middle, or something else). On the one side, there are those who are archivists, constantly searching out obscure songs and musicians and filling their liner notes full of tunings and sources. Their recordings are both product and historical document, as well as fun. On the other side are the entertainers. They know what they’re about and often choose material that will please the crowd. Their recordings are generally produced to sell or to meet the demand when someone comes up after a show and asks, “Do you have a recording?”
That brings us to the Indian Run Stringband, out of Blacksburg, Virginia. Three of the members – fiddler / mandolinist / vocalist Paul Herling, banjoist / vocalist Ginger Wagner, and guitarist Mark Barbour – have long pedigrees in the music, dating back to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Bassist Kristie Dorfler is more of a newcomer, coming from the classical world. Together, they are on the entertainer end of the spectrum, and that is reflected in their debut CD.
Yes, they include a brief mention of where they found some of the tunes, citing such folks as Uncle Dave Macon for “Hold the Woodpile Down”, the Mississippi Sheiks for “Bootlegger’s Blues” and Fred Price for “Lee Highway Blues.” There it ends. No tunings. No long origin stories. Moreover, the material they’ve chosen is predominately standards. The aforementioned “Bootlegger’s Blues” would qualify as the most obscure of the 15 tracks. The rest, from “Billy in the Lowground” to “Hello Stranger” and “Rain and Snow” (done here as a pensive banjo and droning bowed bass duet, with Wagner on the vocals) everyone has heard and, whether they’d admit it or not, enjoys. After all, there is a reason those tunes are popular, and that is because they are pleasing.
The band is at their best on the instrumental tunes. “Garfield’s Blackberry Blossom” gets a nice airing, pushed along by some long, Puckett-like guitar runs from Barbour. Herling also gives a good kick to “Texas Gals”, “Billy in the Lowground”, and “Big Scioty,” throwing in a few twists here and there. His standout tracks, indeed the standout tracks of the recording, are, however, “East Tennessee Blues” and “If the River Was Whiskey.” Those come together best, probably because of the infectious, swingy beat and good feeling. Herling is also at his most inventive, creating some very good lines and variation. “If the River Was Whiskey” features his best singing here, though Dixie Darling” is a close second, with “Up On the Blue Ridge Mountain” just behind that.
Both sides of the coin, archivist and entertainer, are needed, but the name of the game is still entertainment. The Indian Run Stringband gives us a good bit of that with this debut.
– Bill Wagner, Old Time Herald, July 2014 issue
The Indian Run Stringband brings a fresh new sound to old-time music. It is a sound that is both exciting and fun. It will move both your foot and your soul. They play a variety of styles which is one of the strong points of old-time music. Each musician is talented in their own right and they blend that talent to produce a superb sound. I highly recommend them.
– Kinney Rorrer, Host of BACK TO THE BLUE RIDGE WVTF 89.1 FM
(Your CD has) a bunch of songs I've really liked for a long time – Dixie Darling…Hello Stranger; but the absolute best is (Ginger) singing and playing on Rain and Snow. That's a terrific song and (she) sang it wonderfully. It's been a favorite of mine for a while and you really nailed it. Congratulations on a wonderful record.
– Tom Sherman, Blacksburg Museum
(Indian Run Stringband) is definitely an old-time band, but what I like most about their music is their song selection. They don’t just stick to the same songs that everybody plays. They play different songs.
– Tim Pakledinaz, reknown musician and sound engineer
"Possibly you somehow picked up on my vibe from last night and the night before when I listened to your Smithfield Sessions CD for about
six ( really !) hours straight and was so filled with joy at such Lovely Music. To me it's a masterpiece! The singing , the playing,
the choice of songs. It's like food to my heart/ soul ! No, I'm not crazy ! I just know GOOD when I hear it!"
– Henry Aitchison, probably our best fan
Indian Run Stringband is an incredibly talented group of musicians with a contagious passion for old time music.
– Heather Browning, Community Relations Manager, Town of Blacksburg
I highly recommend Indian Run String Band to anyone hosting a celebratory gathering. You are such talented musicians and all around great folks! Your professionalism, versatility and kindness exceeded all of my expectations. You were the highlight of our celebration and I hope lots more people are so lucky as to get to have you play for their special event!
– Amanda Jordan, Very happy bride
Indian Run Stringband plays old-time music the way it ought to be played – as a living, breathing art form that is still as vibrant and relevant in the 21st century as it was a century ago. Indian Run doesn’t play music meant for museum preservation, this four-piece band from Blacksburg, Va., plays old-time in new ways. They sing and swing, fiddle and flatfoot, harmonize and howl.
Paul Herling is one of the most multifaceted fiddlers drawing a bow today, a fellow as comfortable playing bluegrass and swing fiddle as he sawing old-time tunes such as “Billy in the Lowground” and “Texas Gals.” He and banjoist-vocalist Ginger Wagner harmonize on “Dixie Darling” like they’re the A.P. and Sarah Carter of the new millennium. “Hesitation Blues” not only harks back to the likes of Charlie Poole, but has inspired a new generation of old-timers such as Old Crow Medicine Show. Ginger’s treatment of the bluegrass standard “Cold Rain and Snow,” backed only by her own banjo and bassist Kristie Dorfler’s haunting bowed notes, is as stark as a cold January day and just as sublime.
The locked-in rhythm section of Mark Barbour on guitar and Dorfler on bass can hold their own at any square dance, when fiddle instrumentals are strung together like charms on a bracelet. From dance tunes to the blues, the Indian Run Stringband plays with love and abandon. They make old-time music fresh and new.
– Ralph Berrier, Columnist for The Roanoke Times