The Reedy River String Band is, technically speaking, a new group. They’ve only been together full-time for a year or so. But in terms of experience, they’re all veterans of the Upstate music scene. Fiddle player Sterling Waite (who also plays mandolin and harmonica occasionally), guitarist Rush Morgan and upright bassist Mark Dye have decades of experience combined playing all kinds of music, from pop covers to jam-rock to folk.
But as the Reedy River String Band, the trio dives into acoustic bluegrass-style music, delighting their growing fan base with sturdy tunes that showcase more than a bit of humor. Take “Up On Blocks” for instance, the leadoff track on their self-titled 2022 EP. It’s a catchy proclamation of love that climaxes with Waite singing “Can I put my car up on blocks in your yard?” Burnished by the band’s tight, sparkling three-part harmonies, all six of the songs on their debut EP breeze by, full of pumping bass, quicksilver acoustic guitar and soaring fiddle.
Interestingly enough, the band formed because all three men were looking for an opportunity to play string-band and bluegrass music.
“Funny enough, I was looking to start a string band at the same time that Mark was looking for a fiddle player to start a string band,” Sterling Waite says. “We were in the same boat, all three of us and through the scene, reaching out to musician friends and asking around, we all figured out we were all looking at doing the same thing at the same time.”
Waite adds that between the three of them, they had enough original music in the string-band and bluegrass styles to make a go of it.
“I’d been doing that kind of new grassy stuff for many years,” he says. “I was wanting to get a band together around a bunch of originals I had in that space and it was just an absolutely awesome bonus that Rush and Mark both had their own material that fits really well in this space. So all three of us bring originals; it’s really fun.”
That’s an important distinction: Given that there’s so much old-time acoustic music out there, the band had plenty of cover material to choose from. But from the beginning of the project, all three of them knew they wanted to focus largely on their own songs. Waite estimates that about 70% of their material is original.
“We’ve all been playing the scene for many years,” he says, “and we’ve done a lot of cover-band stuff. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But we did purposely from the beginning say we wanted this to be an original-focused act. So yeah, this is pretty intentional.”
As for the band’s impeccable three-part harmonies, Waite says they take perhaps a more unusual approach than other acoustic acts.
“We’re a band with three lead singers,” he says. “And so the way we approach harmony may be a little different than other bands, where you’ve got a lead singer and then the other people are dedicated harmony singers. So sometimes I feel like all three of us are singing lead while we’re singing harmony.”
Waite adds that the group’s harmonies serve a practical purpose as well, especially in a three-piece band.
“We’ve got three people,” he says. “How can we fill this space up as much as possible? And we thought, ‘Well, we just need three-part harmony everywhere that it makes sense. It was just about how can we get as big of a sound as we can out of three people.”
The Reedy River String Band played around 100 gigs last year, and they’ve got even more scheduled this year, including a show at Golden Grove Farm & Brew in Piedmont on March 29. Waite says he’s been pleasantly surprised by the Upstate music scene’s response to the band. It has drawn consistently solid crowds and the band is a finalist in two categories in this year’s Upstate Music Awards: Best New Artist and Best Live Act.
“We’ve been humbled and so encouraged by all the support,” he says. “It’s far exceeded any expectations. I had. The amount of people that we see come out to show after show after show, it’s been a big blessing and very encouraging for us.”
Want to go?
Reedy River String Band
Golden Grove Farm & Brew
Wednesday, March 29