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High Strung String Band breathes new life into an old tradition. In some ways, the band pays homage to straight-ahead, traditional bluegrass: They flat-pick the guitar, play three-finger-style banjo, and belt out high vocal harmonies. But in other ways, High Strung String Band trades in tradition for surprise. Their bluegrass is part improvisation, part experimentation -- a form that thrives on original songs and unique arrangements. This makes High Strung String Band a reliable, yet unpredictable musical force. They deliver the foot-stomping, high-and-lonesome, storytelling songs you’d expect from a bluegrass band, but with a spirit and style all their own.
The band formed in 2009 in Athens, Georgia, when John Parmer, the band’s guitarist and songwriter, met Rubing Yen, the mandolin player. The two bonded over a mutual love of music and revelry. Parmer started writing songs; Yen worked out arrangements. The two played open mic nights and in friends’ backyards. Before they knew it, their musical outfit grew to include a host of other instruments and full-fledged bluegrass band was born. Today, in addition to Parmer and Yen, High Strung String Band features Ian Blanton on the upright bass, Ben Jordan on banjo, and John Mickelson on the guitar and lap steel.
In 2010, High Strung String Band released a self-titled EP. A year later, they released a live CD titled 29 String Fling. With 2013 came the band’s first full-length album: Rise and Shine. High Strung String Band performs regularly in Atlanta and Athens and occasionally tours the Southeast. They have opened for musical superstars such as Jerry Douglas, Railroad Earth, and Greensky Bluegrass.
High Strung String Band’s sound is melodic but driving. The addition of the electric lap steel guitar gives certain songs an almost haunting feel, a honky-tonk tinged eeriness. Parmer’s lyrics, like those preserved in bluegrass from the past, tell the everyday stories of everyday people, but do so with a little more poignancy, a little more vulnerability. Songs oscillate between fast-tempo breakdowns and spacious jams, but all stay rooted in the five-piece bluegrass tradition. The band brings a youthful enthusiasm to their shows, but don’t expect matching vintage suits or a showboating front man. Their performances have an unassuming, honest feel.
High Strung String Band stands somewhere between the bluegrass of the past and the bluegrass of the future. They bring the traditional cast of musical characters to the stage -- the banjo, the mandolin, the upright bass, the guitar -- but add modernity to the genre with their original songs and unique sound. High Strung String Band does progressive bluegrass with a nod to the traditionalists, but all eyes squarely on musical creativity and experimentation. Expect everything you’d demand from a bluegrass band -- and then some.