The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers: “Appalachian Bluegrass”

JFS-(1)During the 1600s, Irish, Scottish, and English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, brought with them musical influences from their respective countries, typically played with passion and skill on stringed instruments.

As the New World began to grow and these settlers expanded their borders, stories about their travels, or their rural farming way of life, peppered their lyrics, painting verbal pictures of life in a pre-United States landscape. And with the advent of high technology in the 1900s, viz, records and radio, “mountain music,” as bluegrass was formerly known, could finally debut to a national audience.

However, it wasn’t until 1948 when Kentucky native, Bill Monroe, assembled his Blue Grass Boys that this musical style solidified as a genre. Named after Kentucky’s state motto, the Bluegrass State, Monroe’s bluegrass band formulation of acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and upright bass, would set the standard for generations to come. Though the mid-1940s saw the Dobro introduced into the genre – thanks to The Foggy Mountain Boys, formed by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs – Monroe’s instrumental assemblage most commonly forms the instrumental basis of today’s bluegrass music.

Those seeking traditional “country” inspired music will not be disappointed by the powerful sound and lyrical purity of today’s bluegrass artists. Still, there is one band, The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, who are redefining just what bluegrass music is by combining both the tradition of writing about their own experiences on the road, and in life, but with more intricate and hard-edged twists on the typical bluegrass playing style.

Gary Antol, 2014 co-founder of The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, along with Libby Eddy, describes the band’s sound as “Appalachian Bluegrass.” According to Antol, an audience member once said, “You guys sound great, but do you have to be so aggressive?” “Have you ever been to Appalachia?” Antol asked, “You’ll find the people there are pretty aggressive and pretty hard. Guys walked out of coal mines and wrote fiddle tunes, and they were pretty hard guys.”

While two prior releases from the band reflect life and times on the road – Lane Change, 2014, and White Lightning Road, 2016 – it is their new release, Poison River, where the Appalachian Bluegrass sound rings most clear.

Lyrical inspiration for Poison River developed through the band’s extensive cross-country touring schedule, meaning they are in disparate geographic, and cultural, locations on an almost day-to-day basis.

Poison River is “just the experience of playing all the time and fitting in on a cultural level with different people,” Antol said. “Being in Pennsylvania one day, North Carolina another, people are completely different with different views and outlooks on things. It’s made me listen more, and so it’s been a learning experience.”

PoisonRiverCoverWith Poison River, The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers lyrically echo a more global view of life. Antol describes the CD’s overall timber as reflecting a “sadness about the way the world is going. I wrote four (songs), Libby and I co-wrote, our mandolin player co-wrote, and three songs were written by friends we’re covering.”

“It’s a dark but pretty album. On this one, we went for a little more intricacy on the arrangements,” Antol said of the production process. “This one was different and neat because it really was a collaborative effort in how it was arranged. That’s because we had the time this time. I think we got it, actually, and I’m really happy about it.”

Though The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers only formed in 2014, Antol has realized his long-time goal of seeing the Stragglers perform at the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Bluegrass Ramble showcase, coming up in Raleigh North Carolina, September 25 – 29, 2018.

“It’s good for a career move, and I only had one goal for the year, and that was to get into that,” Antol enthused, adding “I wanted to make a new record (Poison River) that would get us into that.” However, Antol notes that ego wasn’t part of his motivation; instead, his desire to “reflect all aspects of Americana with original sounding material” was the underlying goal.

The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers are: Gary Antol, guitar and vocals; Libby Eddy, fiddle and vocals; Evan Bell, upright bass; Ray Bruckman, mandolin, fiddle, and vocals; and part-time member Jody Mosser, Dobro.

Step into the world of Appalachian Bluegrass by visiting The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers at jakobsferry.comfacebook.com/Jakobsferrystragglers/; twitter.com/jakobsferry15; and instagram.com/thejakobsferrystragglers/.

Find Poison River, tour information, videos, & more at jakobsferry.com/store

Photo: (from left) Evan Bell, bass; Libby Eddy, fiddle & vocals; Gary Antol, guitar & vocals; Ray Bruckman, mandolin, fiddle, & vocals, & Jody Mosser, Dobro (part-time member)

Photo of The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers by Ed Dewitt. Cover design for Poison River by Chelsea Elliot.

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges