By Britt Myers | Keys Weekly
Long before the hipster invasion took stride in mainstream America, the Hackensaw Boys string band pioneered a bluegrass crusade that has since become the mainstay modern muse. The interchanging ensemble of four have been finger picking Appalachian blends of bluegrass-fused melodies with jam band rhythms for the better part of two decades. Couple that with a bravura display of “rockabilly” styled live performances — and this weekend’s shows are a can’t miss in Key West.
After two years, the nationally acclaimed Hackensaw Boys will return to the Southernmost City for two eclectic gigs in two unique settings. The first show will take place this Friday, Dec. 4 at the Key West Theater, while a second performance goes down at COAST (6404 Front St., Stock Island) this Saturday, Dec. 5. Check out www.coastprojects.com for tickets and info on Saturday’s music festival.
The Keys Weekly caught up the Hackensaw Boys’ Ferd “Four” Moyse, who plays the fiddle beside his percussion, guitar and banjo counterparts.
Keys Weekly: The Hackensaw Boys band have played some of the largest outdoor music festivals in the world. Why is playing at a location like COAST so special for you?
Ferd Moyse: I think COAST embodies what a band like Hackensaw Boys wanted to be. You go there and your like, “Oh my God. There’s art and there’s music and there’s guys building boats” and its just an awesome place to do artistic stuff. It’s not often you get to play at a venue and walk away inspired to do what you do better.
KW: It’s often been said that the difference between a fiddle and a violin has to do with the color of your neck. As a fiddle player, can you describe the difference?
Ferd: [laughing] I’ve heard a lot of funny differences, but one I always liked is, “You never spill beer on a violin.” And I guess that’s true. I’ve never been to a symphony and seen the violinist drinking a PBR. But then again, I don’t go to a lot of symphonies.
KW: The Hackensaw Boys have been an interchanging cast for more than two decades. How did you get started with the band?
Ferd: I was playing the fiddle at a bar and I guess it’s just one of those “be careful what you wish for” kind of things. They would play at my bar and I remember thinking, “Man, I wish I could play with those guys.”
KW: But your fiddle roots were traditionally bluegrass at a time when bluegrass wasn’t mainstream. Did you foresee the band pioneering a movement?
Ferd: When I joined, my traditional bluegrass friends sort of rolled their eyes. But the Hackensaw Boys had a vibrancy of freshness that was already relevant. I didn’t really know or think about how the string movement would become mainstream — I just know how it moved me on a personal level and I guess it did the same for a lot of others.
KW: A former band member described Hackensaw Boys as “old-time Appalachian punk rock.” Does this label still encapsulate your band?
Ferd: We’ve had over 13 guys in the band at one time and now we have four. I would like to think the spirit of that comment is living on. Music others have never heard is what punk rock is. We’ve never tried to do or be just one thing.
KW: So how would you describe Hackensaw Boys today?
Ferd: In some ways, when there’s no space to fit into, you just have to create your own space and that is what we do. Sometimes we are fiddle-driven and sometimes it’s very rhythmic. When you play with four people the song can take over and you just ride it. It gives you that Allman Brothers or [Grateful] Dead kind of vibe and it’s fun.
KW: You are self-admittedly drawn to old-time bands and bluegrass. Who is someone you listen to or that inspires you?
Ferd: I would have to say Allen Toussaint. He’s another New Orleans dude that died a few weeks back. But he’s so cool because he’s been behind so many awesome parts of music for so long — and always kind of in the shadows. But here’s a black man from New Orleans that wrote “Working in the Coal Mine.” But my band mates all listen to different stuff and I think that’s the coolest thing about us — we were brought together for the love of music. Not because we loved one genre, but a love of music.
KW: What are you guys working on today?
Ferd: We are wrapping up our current album that Larry Campbell produced. How cool is that? Here’s a guy that was in Dylan’s band for 10 years and produced Levon Helm’s records and suddenly he’s taking time away from major shows to play with us at a brewery in Pennsylvania one night. But that is what makes music so cool. I’ll probably never run into Bob Dylan at the punch bowl at the Christmas party, but music does make the world smaller. And it doesn’t always give you gold-backed currency, but it does give you a different currency that feels pretty good.