The Wiyos from left, Ted Weber, Kenny Siegal, Michael Farkas, Sauerkraut Seth Travins and Brian Geltner will showcase material from their forthcoming album, "Twist," at 7 p.m., Saturday at Heartwood in Abingdon, Va.
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In 2002, Michael Farkas walked into a bar in the old Five-Points district of lower Manhattan. Sitting in the corner was Parrish Ellis with a guitar. Farkas pulled out a harmonica, and 24 hours later a band was born.
The pair enlisted Joseph “Joebass” Dejarnette on dog house bass and later, Teddy Weber on everything else. The band took its name from an old Irish street gang that roamed the Five Points — The Why’os — circa 1890.
The Wiyos will perform Saturday, Oct. 15 at Heartwood in Abingdon, Va. Show time is 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 and will be available at the door.
In the beginning, The Wiyos built an audience the old-fashioned way, by touring from town to town. If the band couldn’t get a gig, the street would have to do, often rallying large crowds and even the law.
On The Wiyos’ first outing, the band drove south in a dilapidated school bus. After numerous breakdowns and two fires, one of which nearly ended the inaugural tour for the entire band, the four guys finally arrived in New Orleans where they cut their teeth busking on the streets.
While the early Wiyos’ masterfully embodied the performance styles of the 1920s and 1930s, the members approached touring life with the attitude of the rock and punk music they grew up with. They threw down through polished sets at bar gigs, parties, street fairs, coffee houses, side show tents and even strip clubs. They were known for crashing booking conferences instead of applying for official showcases, playing in the halls and in hotel lobbies.
From 2003 to 2008, The Wiyos’ shows — over 200 a year — were entirely acoustic, typically gathered around one mic. The band’s reputation for “taking the room” made it a darling of the folk circuit, a must-see act, and led to tours in England, the South of France, Holland and Sweden.
The buzz of these high paced Vaudeville-esque performances reached its zenith in 2009 when The Wiyos were featured in the BBC television documentary, “Folk America — Hollerers, Stompers and Old-Time Ramblers.”
Later that same year, Bob Dylan hand picked the band to be the openers for his 28-date minor league baseball stadium summer tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.
While it was their mastery of vintage acoustic performances that drew the attention of many in the folk music scene, by late 2008 the members of The Wiyos had begun work on “Broken Land Bell,” a contemporary studio production with half the band plugged in and guest beat boxer Adam Matta laying rock and trip-hop beats under syncopated swing and New Orleans based rhythms.
By July of 2009, with “Broken Land Bell” buzzing on the Americana charts, The Wiyos hit the road with The Bob Dylan show, laying down opening set after set of grungy harp, crazed steel guitar, rockabilly bass, human beat box and three-part harmonies.
The band perched in front of Willie Nelson’s backline while tens of thousands of people watched in bewilderment.
In 2010, Ellis and Dejarnette left the band. Farkas and Weber regrouped with bassist Sauerkraut Seth Travins. The trio holed up in Hudson Valley, N.Y. for several months, only emerging for the occasional short tour, and released one EP, “Foxtrots, Polkas and a Waltz.”
Weber and Farkas, inspired by a recent run as the pit band to a modern dance production of “The Wiyos of Oz” at Wichita State in Kansas, began fleshing out the concept of a new album. The band commenced work at Old Soul Studios in Catskill, N.Y. in the fall of 2010. Adam Matta sat in for the early sessions. Later, Kenny Siegal and Brian Geltner of Johnny Society joined the recording and are now members of the touring band.
The new album, “Twist,” loosely based on Frank Baum’s, “The Wizard of Oz,” is slated to be released in the fall/winter of 2011/2012.
For more information on The Wiyos, or Heartwood, visit www.heartwoodvirginia.org .
Courtesy of Brian Geltner