The AM String Band
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The AM String Band

Band Folk Americana


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"The AM String Band, Take Root!"

The AM String Band
Take Root!

By: Alex Sakariassen
Posted: 07/17/2008

There’s nothing low-key or lacking in The AM String Band’s emphatically titled Take Root! The Helena-based trio takes off with as much energy as a folk band can muster and keeps the pace through 11 tracks that often have you asking, “Why haven’t I ever visited Appalachia?”

And what’s not to love about two fiddles and a guitar? Or one fiddle, one guitar and a banjo? Throw a little bass into the mix as well, on occasion. There is seemingly nothing in the world of traditional music—from old-timey English tunes to classic French Canadian fiddling—that this trio can’t do.

Blame the album’s irresistible energy on three rich musical backgrounds. Johanna Davis, whose voice tingles with the taste of bluegrass in “Say Darlin’ Say,” grew up fiddling in Maine's contradance country. Michael Willing and Adam Nordell, both Helena natives, started stringing with school orchestras early on. Now they dabble in sending listeners to a new world—or, rather, an old one.

Or, blame it on the Montana Arts Council for awarding Willing and Nordell a grant to study folk music. Whoever is responsible, thank ’em. The AM String Band proves one thing through all the whooping and toe-tapping: Great music never gets old.

The AM String Band plays Sean Kelly’s Friday, July 18 at 9 PM. Free.
- Missoula Indpendent

"Concert to feature AM String Band April 20"

Concert to feature AM String Band April 20

Published on Tuesday, April 8, 2008 4:21 PM MDT

The Missouri-Yellowstone Confluence Interpretive Center near Williston, N.D., will feature the AM String Band on April 20 beginning at 2 p.m. Central Time.

This Concert at the Confluence will feature this outstanding string band from Helena. Due to the immense popularity of the AM String Band’s visit to the Confluence Center last November, it was only fitting to bring the band back for a special repeat performance.

The event is free and open to the public. Free refreshments will also be available.

The AM String Band is a young and exciting string band that is working hard with a full-slate of concert performances and quickly establishing themselves as one of the finest string bands to emerge from this region in quite some time. The band is fresh from a special month-long residency at the Montana Artists Refuge where they were able to intensely focus on their music. The band was also recently awarded a grant from the Montana Arts Council. This grant enabled them to dedicate more time to enhancing their already well-established skills.

The concert will be held outdoors on the Confluence Center’s patio overlooking the beautiful confluence. Please dress appropriately.
- Sydney Herald

"Old tunes, new time"

Old tunes, new time

BY EMILY DONAHOE - Independent Record - 01/17/08

Ginny Emery IR Staff Photographer - The AM String Band are, from left, Michael Willing, Nate Pope, Adam Nordell, Johanna Davis and Zack Davis.
When Helena viola player Michael Willing and guitarist-singer Adam Nordell traveled to Sidney to perform some old-time string music, they didn’t expect anybody to show up.

But the place was packed, says Nordell, mostly with older folks who came to hear the familiar tunes they know and love.

Nordell and Willing, along with Zack Davis, Johanna Davis and Nate Pope, are hoping to bring that music to an audience as young as they are with their new collaboration, the AM String Band.

The group has been granted a monthlong residency at the Montana Artists Refuge and also awarded a grant from the Montana Arts Council.

As many bands do, the AM String Band evolved naturally from a collaboration between two Helena musicians, who, along with Will Boland and Andrea Cross-Guns, were performing locally for a while as The Third Wheels.

The group disbanded, but Willing says playing with Nordell was “too much fun to quit.” Instead, the duo decided to take its music to another level by applying for the MAR residency and bringing in a few more collaborators (and friends of Nordell): fiddle, banjo and mandolin player Zack Davis; fiddle and five-string banjo player Johanna Davis and five-string banjo and guitar player Pope.
“We’re not folks who grew up in the same place in the same musical tradition,” said Pope, whose own musical history revolves around early blues music and ragtime.

Neither Willing nor Nordell started out playing old-time string music, either.

A stand-up bass player to begin with, Nordell graduated to electric bass and guitar as a young musician and was into jazz and reggae, among other things. But when he arrived in Maine to attend college, there was no music scene like that for him to become a part of, so he began playing with folk musicians Zack Davis and Pope instead.

When he returned to Montana and started The Third Wheels, Nordell found himself playing with another unlikely folk-music convert. Viola player Willing, who also performs with the Great Falls and Glacier Symphonies, as well as Bozeman’s Brandhout Ensemble, is steeped in a classical music tradition.

Although he sees similarities between the baroque music he loves and folk music, Willing says old-time fiddle tunes require a whole different approach.

“I had never played any kind of folk music at all,” says Willing. “I had to totally untwist my mind from the rigidities of music formality.”

Originally from Maine, brother and sister Zack and Johanna grew up with old time music and the contra dance tradition. Contra dance is just simple line dancing that’s led by a caller — you know, swing your partner, do-si-do.

“There’s a lot of fiddle music in Maine,” said Zack. “The contra dance itself is very much New England.”

For all five of the group’s members, this is the first time they’ve had the luxury of getting to sit around and play music all day long. One of their main projects is to integrate Nordell’s original songs with traditional tunes.

“It’s incredibly productive,” said Nordell. “Just within a single day, we make an incredible amount of progress.”

Overall, the musicians say they’re simply enjoying learning from each other’s playing styles and sensibilities.

“There’s huge room for musical exchange,” said Nordell.

In addition, the group has a jam-packed calendar of concerts and contra dances to perfom in the next month. Nordell hopes the younger set in Helena will catch on to contra dance the way he hears it has in Bozeman.

“People just don’t realize that it’s happening,” says Nordell. “It’s a great time.”
- Helena Independent Record


Take Root! released in May 2008. All have been played on radio stations across the country. They are all available for download from our website:

1 North Carolina Breakdown; Seneca Square Dance
2 Horace Hanesworth; Liza Jane
3 Farmer Song; Bay of Fundy
4 Flying Home to Shelley; Silver Spear
5 The Snow Day Waltz
6 Dough Boy; Angeline the Baker
7 Gravel Walk; Elzic’s Farewell
8 Radio Free Basin
9 Say Darlin’ Say
10 Scollay’s Reel
11 Meet Me in the Moonlight



A tall woman picks up her fiddle, and without ado or introduction revs the thing up; bow hairs sliding fast across the strings like the needle on an old gramophone. The dark eyed fellow with the guitar kicks his feet into a galloping rhythm, cowboy boots booming and clacking on an old piece of oak while a banjo player with wild hair plunks the first chord.
On stage right, a mysterious looking man in a fancy shirt leans into his microphone, his viola swells with course baritone, and then with a shout, they’re into the song, an old fiddle tune on pumped up on caffeine and re-imagined with fiery energy of youth.

This is the AM String Band from Helena, Montana: a hard driving dance-band and a melting pot of folk music traditions. A typical performance includes tight vocal harmonies, clever lyrics and a diverse, revolving instrumentation including fiddles, viola, banjo, guitar, bass, kazoos, French Canadian and High Plains Native American foot percussion. The string band’s set list includes a slough of original songs along side New
England and Appalachian fiddle tunes and ballads, all set to strong, up-tempo rhythmic accompaniment.

The band formed January ’08 during a Montana Arts Council sponsored residency at the Montana Artist Refuge in the small, former silver-mining town of Basin, MT. There, Johanna Davis, Nate Pope, Michael Willing, Adam Nordell and friends spent eight hours
a day at pulling fiddle tunes and ballads out of the recesses of old American music, re- crafting and polishing them into high caliber dance numbers. After a month whooping and stomping late into the night in the old Masonic Hall-turned- artists’ refuge, the new
band hit the road and the studio, producing their debut CD, “Take Root!” and touring the northwest before spring was over. And while they have kept a busy schedule of gigs and nearly doubled the mileage on their old Dodge Caravan, they’ve also committed
themselves to cultivating the local music scene, playing for community dances across their mountainous home state.