Aviva, could you tell us a bit more about each member of your band? How did you meet and for how long have you been performing together?
Although we had met each other previously, we didn’t really start playing music together as a band until May 2014. Roy and Aviva had just moved back to Fayetteville and went to busk at the farmer’s market. Just as they were getting ready to find a spot and start playing, they spotted Seth and Clarke intending to do the same thing. It was either with them or against them so we joined forces and had a grand time. It was clear from the beginning that we should remain a band and thus began the Ozark Highballers.
Aviva Steigmeyer was born in Washington State and lived several years in Virginia before recently moving to Arkansas. She plays guitar, cello, sings and sometimes fiddles in the band, and is also a printmaker, gardener, and builder of early 1900s-style parlor guitars.
Clarke Buehling is a well-respected and renowned banjo player. His forte is classic banjo and he has file cabinets full of sheet music from the late 1800s to prove it. His previous band, the “Skirtlifters,” has been a staple of Ozark string band music since the 1980s.
Seth Shumate is a versatile harmonica player who applies techniques of the pre-WWII harmonica masters to complement, often note for note, the melody of the fiddle as well as performing a well-developed rhythmic style of backup playing drawing on the old-time expertise of players like Dave Rice and Mark Graham. Seth’s grandfather and great-grandmother both played harmonica in the Arkansas Ozarks of Stone County.
Roy Pilgrim is Fayetteville native who began playing music with neighbors at the age of eight. He is an avid student of early American fiddle music, and he also works as carpenter. He and Aviva live, garden and raise chickens on his family farm just east of Fayetteville.
How did you come up with the idea of performing music that “reflects the spirit and drive of strings bands of the 1920s and ‘30s particularly those of the Arkansas Ozarks”?
It wasn’t so much that we “came up with the idea” as that we gravitated to it naturally. We love old music and find great fulfillment in doing our part to help carry on important musical traditions. We are particularly interested in recorded string band music from the 20s and ‘30s because that is the first era in which it was recorded, and it hadn’t had much time to become commercialized and polished. Arkansas is an often overlooked state – but it has a lot of treasures, including its music, and it feels natural to play music that grew from the landscape that we inhabit.
What are some of the best shows where you have performed so far?
We love playing at square dances and the vibrant Fayetteville farmer’s market. As for the most attentive audience, our performance at the Brooklyn Folk Festival was really fun and very well received. The audience went wild when we broke out of our mold with the 1908 hit “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
Can you describe us in a few words the artistic scene Fayetteville, Arkansas? Why is it a cool place to make and perform music?
We have a really great dance community in Fayetteville. There is a square or contra dance every weekend. There’s also an old-time jam once a week with a focus on playing regional tunes. There are several musicians around this area that we really admire and learn a lot from including members of the “Old 78s” and Pete Howard.
What about your experience at the Brooklyn Folk Festival? Do you have other plans to go on the road and perform in other events? We shared the stage with a lot of exceptional musicians at the Brooklyn Folk Festival. It was nice to know that people enjoy our particular style of old-time music. We also have some short weekend tours planned for this spring and summer including the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, Focal Point in St. Louis, and the Old-Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival in West Plains opening for Dr. Ralph Stanley.
Who are some of your biggest supporters? Who inspire you to keep making music and sharing it with the world?
Eli Smith of the “Downhill Strugglers” has been very supportive. Also Bob Bovee in Spring Grove, Minnesota and Dwight Rodgers and Gail Gillespie in Chapel Hill, NC as well; as many other kind friends and musicians across the country. Too many to mention. All have been incredibly encouraging and inspiring.