DATE: MARCH 19, 2013

By Roland Sturm

Run Boy Run - So Sang the WhippoorwillRun Boy Run is an exciting young band from Tucson, Arizona, who last year released its first full length CD So Sang the Whippoorwill. The album name is inspired by the Mexican Whippoorwill, a nocturnal "nightjar" bird found in Tucson and the southwestern US.

Run Boy Run was formed in 2009 and won the band contest at Pickin’ in the Pines a few weeks later. In 2012, they played on stage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as band contest winners in 2012. Since then, they have been featured twice on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion who said about them: “Hot instruments and beautiful, sweet harmony singing. That's all you need in the world today.”

The core of the band is two pairs of siblings. Brother and sister, Matt (fiddle, guitar) and Grace Rolland (cello, vocals), were raised with bow and rosin on every bedside table. Sisters, Bekah (fiddle, vocals, guitar) and Jen Sandoval (mandolin, vocals), grew up at Bluegrass festivals of Arizona. Jesse Allen (bass) was brought up on opera and western swing and grew to love the natural fusion inherent in American music. All members of the band are songwriters and penned at least one of the original songs on the album.

Run Boy Run ~ So Sang The Whippoorwill ~ The Goat Head Saloon

The group exceeds the sum of the parts as touches of classical, jazz, and folk express themselves through the old-time core of Run Boy Run’s sound. There are several young musicians and bands with similar sensibilities, many of them having grown up at Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon Fiddle Camp, including Crooked Still, Alex Hargreaves, Brittany Haas, Tristan Clarridge. In fact, the instrumental music sounds very similar to Brittany Haas’ first CD.

Run Boy RunHowever, where Run Boy Run stands out is singing. They have several strong vocalists and terrific harmonies. Even though I personally like instrumentals, I have to say that Run Boy Run really shines when it comes to vocal numbers.

The album features twelve songs total (run time 43:23). This includes three traditional songs (Down in the Willow Garden, Red Rocking Chair, Silver Dagger), one cover (Get Up Jake), and eight original songs. They are good songwriters and capture the essence of old-time songs: Many of the originals sound older and more traditional than, say, Silver Dagger. The title track is brilliant as well and the band says about it:

“The song of the whippoorwill, once heard in the still desert night, is not easily forgotten, even well into the morning after the night has faded away. It is unexpected, beautiful, haunting, giving comfort even on the darkest night. That, in a small and symbolic way, is what we hope to accomplish with our music.”

The band has only been in the LA area once, but they will come back in May and play on the main stage at the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Festival, May 18.

Roland Sturm is Professor of Policy Analysis at the RAND Graduate School and usually writes on health policy, not music. He is the talent coordinator of the Topanga Banjo Fiddle Contest. These days he mainly plays upright bass and mandolin.