Hackensaw Boys – REVIEW

The Thunderbird – Pittsburgh, PA – 11/1/12

by Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich

Photos by Ryan Neeley*

There are bands that play for the crowd and bands that don’t – But there are a select few bands that  actually make the FANS part of the show, and The Hackensaw Boys, without a doubt, fall into this category.  Thursday night’s show, put on by our friends Grey Area Productions at the Thunderbird Café in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh, will be one of those events that many attendees will be raving about for weeks.  The energy put out by this Charlottesville, VA based string band was contagious, and the crowd willingly caught the Hackensaw fever – symptoms of which include spontaneous stomping, shuffling and clogging, a bit of shouting, the strong desire for whiskey guzzling, and a permagrin that can’t be erased.

Originally formed in 1999, the Hackensaw Boys have seen numerous lineup changes throughout the years, but their longevity is something that cannot be ignored.  It seems that the Hackensaw magic happens no matter who joins the band – they are tight and loose at the same time, something that most bands can’t  pull off no matter how hard they try.  And watching these boys, you get the sense that they aren’t really trying at all, they’re just doing.   And boy, are they doing it right.

The group currently consists of original member David Sickmen, formerly of The Bellweather States, on strings and improvised straps, Fred Moyse (stings and horsehair), Ward Harrison (strings and thumb picks), Brian “Nugget” Gorby (traps, sticks and charismo, a homemade percussion contraption consisting of tin cans, a hubcap and more.), Ben Townsend (strings, horsehair, thumb picks) and the newest member, John Miller (stand up bass), who surprisingly has  only been with the band since September.   “His first show was at 123 Pleasant Street (in Morgantown, WV), and he had never played a note with us – no rehearsal or anything – he jumped right in and picked up it.   It was definitely Aunt Mae (Sickmen’s aunt) approved,” Sickmen said in an interview with AJ.

The Hackensaw Boys are currently touring the U.S. in support of their new releases, The Old Sound of Music, Vol. 1 and The Old Sound of Music, Vol. 2, which deliver original material that draws upon the songwriting talents of its members.   Following the show, they were headed to Amish country – Lancaster , PA to play a show Friday evening, and although they were hesitant to accept any praise, the boys were going to a school in Lancaster to teach children about old time Appalachian music.   “We always do well in Amish country.  We’ve played some crazy venues in that region, but always have a good turnout.  They really like the old time string band sound there,” said banjo virtuoso Ben Townsend, a former member of the band Fox Hunt (Upright bassist Miller was also in the band).  They recently returned from a European tour, and are heading back to the continent in January 2013 after they put on a much anticipated 5 day New Years run throughout the south, making stops in Virginia and Georgia before hosting a New Year’s show at the Grey Eagle in the musical hotbed of Asheville, North Carolina.  Appearing with the boys at a show or two during this run will be banjo/guitarist Danny Barnes of Bad Livers fame.

Some of the highlights of Thursday’s show included a rousing version of their song Alabama and the fan favorite Kiss you Down ThereKeep It Simple was another favorite, with Gorby, formerly of the Trainjumpers and from Wellsburg, WV, a city close to my hometown, stealing the show with the charismo.    But the moment that most fans will hold a special place in their heart was when the entire band came off the stage and played in the middle of the crowd for their final few selections, which is something they do at many shows.  Watching the joy they brought to the masses was downright inspiring, and I made it a point to watch the crowd at times instead of the band to gauge the performance and how it affected the audience.  And everyone I spoke to said that it was definitely worth the ticket price to see this group get it in.  Sickmen and Moyse have a stage presence that reflects the dedication they have to the craft, and the harmonies they create, at times a capella and extremely challenging, are simply divine.   Harrison has a style that is difficult to pinpoint, with a humble yet humorous persona and chops that would impress the Stanley Brothers.

The Hackensaw Boys are a true string band in every sense of the word.  There are no keyboards, sampling, or fancy electronics to make their unique, organic sound.   It’s the instruments and their voices that do all the work, and you get the feeling that they just like to play music together, and are damn good at it.   Leaving the Thunderbird after the show, I had definitely come down with The Hackensaw fever along with everyone else in attendance.   And to borrow a lyric from the Grateful Dead’s song Throwing Stones (changing a few words) “need those boys to feed that jones”.  Go see these boys next chance you get – I promise that you, too, will catch the Hackensaw fever, and gladly so.


November 2nd – Chameleon Club – Lancaster, PA

November 9th – Kirk Ave. Music Hall – Roanoke, VA

November 10th – The Shindig – Clayton, NC

November 24th – Jefferson Theatre – Charlottesville, VA

NEW YEARS RUN – Dec. 27th – State Theatre – Falls Church, VA

December 28th – The Cats Cradle – Carrboro, NC

December 29th – TBD (Athens, GA)

December 30th – Smiths Olde Bar – Atlanta, GA – WITH DANNY BARNES

December 31st – The Grey Eagle – Asheville, NC

January 13th, 2013 – 013 – Tilburg, Netherlands

January 22nd, 2013 – Cafe Steinbruch – Duisburg, Germany

January 24th 2013 – Luxor Live – Arnhem, Netherlands – WITH Qeaux Qeaux Joans and Small Time Crooks


Click HERE for the boy’s website

* additional photos provided by publicist – Additional photos and video will be posted by 11/4