In a generation that considers the genres of pop and electronic as the pinnacles of mainstream music, Big City Folk Band, consisting of University of Miami student musicians, aims to step out of the norm by performing and writing songs that combine elements of folk, Americana and Celtic music in an unorthodox fashion using classical instruments.
Led by sophomore Samuel Feinstein, the band’s bassist, Big City Folk Band currently features senior Matthew Clinkenbeard on banjo and guitar, lead vocalist junior Katherine Evans on fiddle, junior Garrett Smith on mandolin and lead vocalist sophomore Trish Vega on guitar. Nick Chouard, a past member and vocalist, came up with the name of the band, which reflects the members’ profound appreciation of folk music despite the fact that each member comes from predominantly urban backgrounds.
The group formed in the spring of 2015 when Samuel wrote “Call to the Wind” in his Anglo-American Ensemble class and decided to form a band with members he knew personally, each of whom gravitated toward folk music. Since then, they’ve played at on and off-campus locations, including the Lakeside Patio Stage, the Sylvester Cancer Center and the UM Arboretum. As the band continues to evolve, its members hope to entertain crowds at bigger venues.
“We’re also planning some Florida shows, along with one in Nashville,” Clinkenbeard said. “So we’d definitely like to branch out on the local level, and perhaps even national. Probably a little more than just on campus.”
Big City Folk Band’s next performance will be at the Granary, slated for Feb. 26.
During their performances, the band plays a variety of songs from covers to originals that touch upon different facets of the human condition. One of the band’s more recent songs is “Undone,” a somber ballad that deals with loss and loneliness.
“We’ve each written a song at some point,” Evans said. “When I started writing folk, I was really into eerie, dark ballads, so songs like ‘Undone’ are just what came out. It’s a creepy, sad song, but there’s a hopeful message that reaches out to the audience and whatever they’re going through.”
Having different musicians help with songwriting allows the band to produce a wider scope of songs, she explained.
“Sometimes our songs will be melancholy, but other times they can also be really bubbly. We’re different people with different ideas, so we don’t want to stick to just one particular mood,” she said.
While the band primarily boasts a traditional folk sound, Big City Folk Band also occasionally performs country covers of well-known songs from other genres like Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River.” The musicians cited the Punch Brothers as one of their biggest inspirations among other folk and bluegrass bands. Although both genres aren’t mainstream, the band doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.
“I’m under the impression that although the crowd that listens to folk might be a bit smaller, they’re a very loyal crowd,” Feinstein said.
Vega agreed that the band’s style is another way to set them apart.
“I don’t think folk ever really went away because by definition, it’s the people’s music,” she said. “I think it’s evolved to mean different things, but I would take it as an advantage because doing mainstream pop all the time would be boring. Anything that makes us unique is cool.”
Aside from Punch Brothers, the band members also cited Mumford & Sons and Bob Dylan as huge inspirations, along with other artists and Southern musicians who have shaped the ubiquitous world of folk music.
“I grew up listening to country and bluegrass,” Clinkenbeard said. “I think the rest of us are more into the folkier side of it, but I do like the redneck side of it.”
Big City Folk Band currently has a studio EP in the works and their songs and videos can be found on their official Facebook and SoundCloud pages.
Listen to Big City Folk Band’s music on SoundCloud at soundcloud.com/bigcityfolkband or visit the band’s Facebook page at facebook.com/thebigcityfolkband.