Call them the Six Dollar String “D-I-Y” Band. The Durango band, who on paper are an “old-time” band, performs the music that pre-dates bluegrass with a repertoire of songs going back hundreds of years. They’re a history book of the genre, but they also carry a punk-rock and simplistic mentality to their approach. The Six Dollar String Band will perform Friday,Sept. 1 at the Balcony Backstage.
There’s visual beauty when you catch The Six Dollar String Band on stage. Tony Holmquist hunched over, playing the fiddle while sweat beads and drops off his nose. The over-6-foot bass player Stephen Sellers, whose excited leaps while playing place him in danger of putting a hole in the ceiling with his head. Brendan Shafer furiously playing claw hammer banjo, and guitar player Robin Davis, who is gold when he picks up anything with strings.
Their do-it-yourself approach is perhaps dictated by the style of music they play along with geographic location. Let Durango be a place full of musicians who don’t give a crap about the popularity contest of the music business. It’s been their mode of business from booking shows to the recording of their 7-inch vinyl “Mayday,” which is a short collection of tunes and ambient, natural sound.
“To me, it’s really important to not do things in a mainstream way. I don’t want to speak for the whole band, but, to me, we shouldn’t try go get a Kickstarter to make a record. We’re trying go create art. It’s not about mainstream success,” said Shafer. “In my mind, it’s about celebrating the music and presenting it in a way that’s our own. When we made a 7-inch, that was the most DIY thing we could do. It was recorded in La Plata Canyon, so it was all about space: Music, and space, and sound. We pressed it on vinyl. I think the thing about vinyl and why that’s popular in punk music is because it’s analog. Collecting tapes and records, that’s analog technology and that’s a DIY thing. There’s moving parts and you can make stuff yourself and distribute it yourself, and that’s why vinyl is cool.”
Shafer’s always had an affinity for honest music made in a single, simplistic mindset. It goes back to a concert his parents brought him to as a kid where he witnessed a solo accordion player performing “Oh Shenandoah.” That was followed by an interest in the late, one-eyed junkie New Orleans pianist James Booker, and eventually he caught fiddle player John Specker; those three musical “mind-blowing” events led him to a path of old-time music via punk rock.
“Around high school, my friends were in punk bands and I ran with the punk crowd and I got into that pretty heavily,” Shafer said. “But when you’re in high school you really can’t admit that the stuff your parents like is cool, so you have to find a subculture and figure out who you are that way.”
Shafer’s early musical recollections, punk rock and old-time are all present in his, and the band’s, ideology. It’s the making of music that can top out at 140 beats per minute that’s straight-forward aggressive instrumentally, and has a story to tell. Shafer keeps his own analogy that connects the dots between old-time and punk rock and their parent genres of bluegrass and heavy metal. It’s an analogy that makes sense.
“To me, old-time is to bluegrass as punk is to heavy metal. It’s totally analogous,” said Shafer. “If you know music at all, that will make sense. Punk presents an emotion and its one sound. Heavy metal is instrumentation and showmanship. It’s the same thing for old-time and bluegrass. To me, they really dovetail.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected]