The Ventucky String Band
By Chris Jay 04/12/2012
When people hear the term “folk music” they’re often reminded of the watered-down Kingston Trio-ized version that was all the rage on college campuses in the early 1960s. Folk music, however, by definition, is much broader and more interesting than many people realize, encompassing traditional music from all around the world. It’s that type of folk that the Ventucky String Band does all sorts of justice to. The VSB was initially a duo started by Matt Sayles, a recent transplant from Northern California who had previous success on the Midwestern bluegrass folk festival circuit where he grew up and lived, and fellow Midwesterner but longtime local mandolin/banjo player Dave White. When the two teamed up with bassist Rick Clemens and multi-instrumentalist David Roine last year, they completed the quartet; and they’ve been creating a truly original sound ever since. It’s not uncommon at a Ventucky String Band show to hear the following genres back-to-back in the set: swing jazz, Celtic, zydeco, bluegrass and even Mexican polka. If it can be played on a stringed instrument, and it is slightly off the beaten path, VSB will take it on.
One can’t discuss these middle-aged international folk enthusiasts without asking about the name. Ventucky is either an insulting or endearing term — depending on who you ask — to describe the Ventura area, and the band is quick to insist it’s the latter. “Ventura is paradise to me,” says Sayles, who is no stranger to freezing winters. “I think Ventucky is just a loving ribbing on the town name. I got a kick out of it when I first heard it, when I moved out here and saw it on bumper stickers and trucker hats. Thought it’d be a great name for a band playing roots music. Ventura is undoubtedly a beautiful place to live, so we’re in no way using the name as a slam against its redneck roots.”
What’s in a name?
Where the band really sowed its live seeds hasn’t been in Ventura proper. It’s been in the very unlikely but perhaps appropriate town of OakView at the Big Buddha Lounge. Very quietly, the bamboo-covered Big Buddha Lounge is fast becoming one of the coolest venues in the county. Some of Ojai’s finest players have made it their new home, and now even touring acts are starting to stop through. The Ventucky String Band has made it home every first Wednesday of the month, and the band credits its residency there with helping to fine-tune originals that will now see the light of day in recorded form.
The sound of Oakview
With Sayles having his own label, Philville Records, and being a vinyl enthusiast who marvels at the number of actual record stores in Ventura, he decided that the group’s self-titled debut release should coincide with Record Store Day, Saturday, April 21. The group will be playing on the eve of Record Store Day at Salzer’s, and on the actual day at Big Buddha. The 12-song debut, which features historically themed tracks such as “Wreck of the Yankee Blade,” will be available not only digitally and on CD, but also on recycled vinyl.
In the vinyl tradition
Going forward, The Ventucky String Band, which recently put together an all-Celtic music set to play Garman’s in Santa Paula (leaving a few frat boy types shaking their heads), is mostly focused on releasing the record and building an area following. “Optimistically, we’d love to play more in California,” explains Sayles, “hopefully some more event-type performances, but really we’re just enjoying playing with each other and being able to release a record. Folk music, bluegrass, whatever you want to call it, is more about hanging out and playing together with your friends then being a featured performer on the main stage at a festival.”
The Ventucky String Band celebrates its CD release with an in-store performance at Salzer’s Records, 5777 Valentine Road, Ventura, on Friday, April 20, at 8 p.m.; and a CD release party at the Big Buddha Lounge, 530 Ventura Ave., OakView, on Saturday, April 21, at 8 p.m. To preview tracks from the new album, visit www.philvillerecords.com.