Manhattan Valley Ramblers

Manhattan Valley Ramblers


The Manhattan Valley Ramblers (John Saroyan and Bill Christophersen) is an acoustic duo that plays old-time and bluegrass music. Their music combines fiddle/banjo instrumentals with the harmony singing that is a staple of country and bluegrass.


The Manhattan Valley Ramblers began in 2006 as a fiddle-banjo duo. Both John and Bill had played old-time music for years, so it wasn’t hard to find tunes in common. When local gigs started coming in, songs were added to round out the sets. As the harmonies were worked up and and the mandolin integrated into their sound, the wealth of ballad material by the likes of the Carter Family, the Blue Sky Boys, the Stanley Brothers and the Louvin Brothers lured them further into the realms of bluegrass and country.

California-born multi-instrumentalist John Saroyan (“Live and Pickin’ in New Orleans”) spent several years in New Orleans playing with Hazel and the Delta Ramblers and making forays into Appalachia, where he met, and later guested with, Wayne Henderson and the pickers who recently toured the Northeast as the Crooked Road. New Yorker Bill Christophersen (“Hell & High Water,” “The Mysterious Redbirds: 1992-1998,” “The Lazy Aces: Still Lazy After All These Years,” “The Fly-By-Night String Band”) has recorded and performed with John Cohen and Tom Paley of the New Lost City Ramblers; his Rock-House Gamblers recently opened for Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.

In Ballads and Barnburners (November 2009), the band's independently produced debut CD, Saroyan and Christophersen blend songs culled from the classic “brothers duets” of early country music – the Blue Sky Boys, the Stanley Brothers, the Louvin Brothers – with fiddle-banjo tunes of an older stamp. Ballads and Barnburners and the MVR repertoire in general, Bill admits, is a nervy endeavor. “Not many voices, after all, can compare with the likes of the Louvin Brothers'. We’re definitely punching above our weight. But we’ve tried to stay close to the spirit of the original songs and to keep the production simple so that the songs remain front and center. We’ve also resisted the temptation to bring in slick-picking guest musicians. There are no additives here.” Says John, “We think listeners will be struck by the material and by the straightforwardness of our approach, and we hope hard-core genre purists will recall that, once upon a time, old-time and bluegrass weren’t armed camps facing off against each other.”

Past gigs in the New York Area include: Hudson River Museum, Bronx Botanical Gardens, Postcrypt Coffeehouse, P&W Sandwich Shop, unWined at Symphony Space, Orchard House Cafe, The Good Coffeehouse Music Parlor at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian and many house concerts.


Radio appearances include WKCR's Moonshine and Honky Tonkin' Shows.

Set List

Sets are usually 45 minutes long but will be tailored to the venue. We can also play 3-4 hours of instrumental bluegrass, old-time and waltz music, if that is needed.

Wayside Tavern
Railroading on the Great Divide
Forked Deer
Childish Love
Midnight on the Stormy Deep
Brokedown Gambler
Fiddle Solo
Banjo Solo
A Year Ago Today
Poison Lies
My Baby's Gone


Flood of 57
Why don't you shovel
Blue Mountain
You'll Forget
Hell broke loose in Georgia
Florida Blues
Fiddle Solo
Banjo Solo
You're here today and gone tomorrow
You'll forget