Broken Bow Stringband: True to traditional bluegrass

by Lindsay Hilton

If authenticity is the gold standard in music, then the Broken Bow Stringband is mining its riches. Formed in 2013, Broken Bow’s music stays fiercely true to traditional bluegrass, a form of music defined by traditional chord progressions using acoustic instruments. The genre is deeply rooted in music brought to the farms and hills of the Appalachian region by Irish, English, and Scottish settlers in the 1600s. “Mountain music,” as it was sometimes called, offered a sincere glimpse into the daily toils of life in a new frontier.

Many contemporary bluegrass bands incorporate electronic elements and borrow from other genres to varying degrees. Broken Bow prefers to play without the  bells and whistles, instead winning over fans with the simple yet complex sounds of a fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin, and upright bass.

“We got to talking about how all the bluegrass bands had either become rock and roll country bands or old timey, with added drums or horns,” recalled Mary Liz von Krusenstiern, who plays guitar and sings in the group.

So von Krusenstiern got together with Bruce Shaw, who plays the mandolin, and bass player Arron Harmonson, the band was born.

“I had jammed with those guys in picking circles at parties before, and when we got together for our first rehearsal everything just clicked,” von Krusenstiern said.

Like all great things, the band has grown and changed shape, adding a few additional members, including Katie Weed, who plays the fiddle and sings, and Kevin Fazio, who also sings and plays the banjo. Along the way Broken Bow also enjoyed the ephemeral company of other musicians, including Josie Tourney and Kat Bula. Renowned PNW troubadour Daddy Treetops came on board with his upright bass when Harmonson moved away, steadying the group at five members strong.

Broken Bow Stringband gets its name from Broken Bow, a tiny town of 3,500 cradled in the heart of Nebraska. “I was passing through on a road trip and thought that it would be the perfect name for our newly formed stringband,” von Krusenstiern explained. That same road trip was the impetus behind the group’s popular song, “State Highway,” after an unpaved section of road in western Nebraska.

The group plays a healthy mix of bluegrass standards, both well known and obscure, as well as original songs written by von Krusenstiern.

“My original tunes each tell a different story and I grab bits and pieces of my life experiences to string together a good tune,” she said. “One of the things I love about songwriting is the process of telling a story and bringing that story to life, and most of all, using all those bits of memories and experiences flying around to create something coherent that’s easy to grab onto.”

Broken Bow plays a monthly gig on the first Wednesday of the month at Kulshan Brewing Co.’s James Street location. This month the Kulshan gig falls on Feb. 7. Broken Bow is also also playing Feb. 9 at the Honey Moon Mead & Cider, and Feb. 14 at Graham’s Restaurant in Glacier.

The band doesn’t have an album out yet, but they have hinted at recording one in the near future. In the meantime, fans can check out a few of their original songs on their Facebook page: