In the far northwest corner of mainland U.S., on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, amongst the farms, mountains, trees, lakes and rivers, a band of musicians is emerging. FarmStrong brings together four extremely talented and experienced bluegrass musicians and singers to form a musical project that reaches well outside the traditional territory of bluegrass music. A strange and powerful chemistry has brought them together, though they all have ties to other musical projects, and no pressing need to start a new one. And yet the fire burns brightly in the FarmStrong camp, as each member has become inexplicably attached to the new direction this band is taking them. Exquisite harmony singing and tasteful instrumentation is at the heart of the band’s sound, which draws inspiration from music spanning the past century…country, blues and bluegrass music from the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, as well as folk, rock, gospel and soul music from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and beyond. It is all tied together by a cohesive band sound rooted in music from the mountains.
After a couple of years performing as a country singing duo, Jim Faddis and Cort Armstrong developed a very distinctive harmony-singing blend. Their common interest in the songs of the Stanley Brothers drew them together, but they added other dimensions to their repertoire, with country music and blues… yet always having that sound of the brother singing duets of the first half of the 20th century. While the Travis-style guitar picking of Armstrong complimented Faddis’ solid rhythm guitar, the two considered putting a band together. Rick Meade came into the picture in early 2013, relocating to Sequim from Port Orchard, and an immediate vocal and instrumental chemistry arose. The original duo had been seeking another lead instrumentalist that could sing, and Meade significantly exceeded their expectations on both counts, with a perfectly complementary baritone voice, and virtuosity on dobro, banjo and guitar. John Pyles came to the group in April of 2013, and his involvement in the band’s song arranging made an immediate impact, as did his exceptional bass playing.
While the band’s musical common ground is certainly bluegrass, each member brings his own diverse influences to the band. Faddis’ earliest performance experience was with a rock band in the 60’s, and that music still drives his musical sensibilities. Armstrong started out performing songs of the folk-rock movement of the Sixties and Seventies, but would become deeply rooted in country blues before the bluegrass bug got him. The country blues guitar style is very prevalent in all of the musical genres he plays. Meade sang in choirs early in his musical life, which comes though in the strength of his harmony vocal arrangement skills. His deep love of the country-influenced folk singers and rock bands of the Seventies directly influences many of the songs he brings to the band. What is perhaps most intriguing about each of the band members’ musical paths is how much they have in common. Much of this common ground comes up in the band’s repertoire, with music from Neil Young, Merle Haggard, Pure Prairie League, the Eagles, Emmylou Harris and the Desert Rose Band, and other non-bluegrass influences.
The band members’ experience with bluegrass music cannot be overlooked, however. Faddis’ band Prairie Flyer was one of the biggest Washington State bluegrass bands east of the Cascade Mountains, playing most of the major Northwest bluegrass festivals. Meade is currently playing in three bluegrass bands, including one of the oldest in the state of Washington, Rural Delivery. John Pyles has been performing bluegrass since the early 60’s. Armstrong has taken a slightly less traditional path with bluegrass, but has played in some major festivals on the east coast with his band Blue Rooster, and has been accompanied by some of the finest pickers in the genre. The difference between a good bluegrass band and a great bluegrass band is the chemistry of the musicians and the tightness of the band’s sound, and though FarmStrong might not be strictly categorized as a bluegrass band, it certainly reflects the characteristics of a great bluegrass band, especially with their vocal arrangements. While the instrumentation is not as hot and flashy as some of the top-level bluegrass bands, it is extremely tasteful, and always serves the vocals. As Faddis says, “You play for show. You sing for dough.”
While members of FarmStrong have many years of performance with numerous bands under their belt, the fire to perform burns hot and bright. They have a keen focus on the music and a deep enjoyment for playing with each other, and a vision for where their band can go. While focused on playing in the Pacific Northwest region, the members occasionally hit the road and bring their music to areas outside of the Puget Sound area. A growing fan base at home and substantial interest in their music in newer venues has inspired the group to look out to wider audiences. They’ve sold out numerous small theaters and community centers at home, and look toward finer listening rooms, community concert halls and festivals all over… anywhere that an audience can really hear and enjoy FarmStrong’s distinctive sound.