As a part of the sixth annual Porch Stomp season, we're working with Beehive Productions, NYC Ferry and Blue Point Brewery to bring you a series of videos featuring artists spanning the gamut of NYC folk scene (and then some). Check out our blog every month for new videos and interviews with artists, and be sure to follow us on instagram: @porchstomp and Facebook: Porch Stomp
We are fortunate to have captured Yates Webb, Cesar Moreno and Kensuke Shoji performing for our cameras on Governors Island this past June. While the whole trio serve as stalwarts within the realm of NYC bluegrass and old-time, I particularly recall first meeting Yates as a volunteer for our fifth annual festival in summer of 2018. His apparent charisma and (as I would later hear) keen ear for melody stood out, both signs of future leadership within the folk community. Likewise, his cohorts are also among the finest in New York. Both Moreno and Shoji are frequent calls amongst the NYC gigging scene-sters as sidemen as well as regulars within the Porch Stomp world (Cesar first appeared in our purview as a part of Dave McKeon’s “Irish Whiskey Bar” bluegrass jam in 2016, and Ken has been an important presence within our bluegrass program [hosted with Brooklyn Conservatory of music] since it’s conception in the spring of 2018). These players continue to be important figures within the local folk scene, injecting both passion and musicality as far as the subway lines will take them.
Check out Moreno, Shoji and Webb performing “C-Suite Medley” (Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase, Cash on the Barrelhead and Ashland Breakdown) live on Governors Island as a part of our sixth annual festival this past June. Continue Reading for a Q&A with Yates and Cesar.
Tell us about your musical journey and what brought you to NYC?
YW: I moved to NYC about 5 years ago. My sister already lived here, I was living in Athens, GA at the time, and really digging into the music scene there- particularly the amazing, weird indie/rock vibes at clubs like 40 Watt and Caledonia. But for whatever reason, I moved here after visiting my sister during a blizzard in 2014.
Musically, we grew up singing in church and playing in the church choir. My dad was the band leader for a lot of events in our community, and so music was always around. I sang more seriously in high school chorale, played trumpet too. But sorta took a break once I got to college (University of Georgia). But I still did a ton of playing and listening, just more privately. About 3 years ago, I started taking some workshops with Michael Daves and immediately fell in love with the larger "folk/roots/bluegrass/old time" scene here. I sorta just stumbled into it, but always knew I wanted to make music my full time thing. It just took community and events like Porch Stomp, jams, and group classes to get me out of that bedroom.
CM: I was born and raised in the Bronx. My family all appreciates music, but I am the only musician in my immediate family. My mother and father love listening to bachata and salsa and my sister is big into hip hop and R&B. I was a black sheep and grew up listening to rock and metal. My parents gave me a guitar for my twelfth birthday but I couldn't figure it out on my own and we couldn't afford lessons, so I put it away for a while. I got back into playing music in college with a friend that I met in a music theory 101 class. He encouraged me to get a bass and we would sit around and play Led Zeppelin tunes in our dorms. I got a mandolin to play tunes like Going to California and Battle of Evermore. I took a break from school, and really missed playing with other people.
How did you find old-time music and what was your first experience playing old time?
CM: I found bluegrass and old time music through instructional DVDs that I had bought to learn the mandolin. I didn't know anything about the music at the time, but really enjoyed playing and listening to fiddle tunes. I discovered the Bluegrass Slow Jam at Paddy Reilly's through meetup.com and after attending for the first time I was hooked.
YW: Strangely, Old Time was always in my family but I just didn't know where to look. My uncle is a fiddler and banjo player. He used to go to fiddle conventions and play in Bluegrass bands. I always thought that was cool. My dad was also always involved in some kind of musical project (be it Willie Nelson impersonation, or playing in the band for local Patsy Cline musicals).
I found Old Time a lot more recently though. I knew a few people in the scene here, and would join at Bad Seed tap room from time to time. But it wasn't until the Ashokan Old Time Rollick where everything, like, immediately clicked. I can pin it to one jam I had with fiddler Jake Blount, banjo player Maggie Shar, and my buddy Casey Davidson on bass. It was so groovy. We probably played for 4 hours straight, each tune probably lasted about 30min. That was like nothing I'd ever experienced.
How did this trio meet? Where did the idea to collaborate begin?
Both: NYC Bluegrass jams! We met at Irish Whiskey Bar in Astoria. We had crossed paths a bit, but never met. The jam often kind of spills over after it "officially ends" and we were all running tunes out back. We met Ken through Sunny's bar, and man can he play a fiddle. The three of us have collaborated a lot in some capacity or another around the city, from shows at Shrine to jams at Sunny's. It'll be fun to see where these collaborations go in the future!
When did you first get involved with Porch Stomp, and what’s your favorite event that you’ve been a part of?
YW: Theo was one of the first people I met in the scene here, after hanging out at Michael Dave's first Monday Bluegrass jam. I volunteered and first went to Porch Stomp in 2018. And then came back this year as an artist with a few of the projects I'm involved in.
CM: I got involved in Porch Stomp through another band, Moonshine Falls. We hosted an open jam a few years back. Govenors Island is a wonderful festival.
What is one piece of advice you’d offer to musicians hoping to explore old-time music in NYC?
CM: Listen as much as possible to old time and bluegrass. It's evolved so much over the years and as a result there are many different "sounds" that characterize bluegrass. Don't be afraid to bring your instrument to a jam. I fell in love with the scene here because it isn't about how well you can play. To me it's more about having fun, being a part of a close community, and sharing your appreciation for the music.
YW: Be eager and get involved! "Music scenes" can be scary if you're not used to playing with other people, but everyone had to join a "scene" at some point! Make friends and listen, go out to shows to support your friends, ask questions and go to workshops and classes! There's so much to learn and so many amazing musicians with valuable info to share.
Re: old time specifically, Old Time is just like dancing to me. Go out and play with folks and listen to the roll each instrument plays. Listen to the groove, and where the beat falls. People often ask why Old Time musicians play tunes so many times through. Well, in dancing, you don't have to get every step right at first. But the longer the song goes, the more in synch you and your partner become. You stop thinking, and you start moving as a unit. There's a sort of threshold in Old Time music where all the conscious decisions fall away and you just collectively play. Its incredibly rhythmic music, that's why you gotta be sitting close! My friend, fiddler Harry Bollick, once said something to the effect of "we're all just a bunch of drummers playing drums." You gotta feel it!
Special thanks to Jeff, Sue and Redia of Beehive Productions as well as the fine folks at Blue Point Brewery for making this video happen.