The Wiyos roll from the street to Edgefield
Modern men play old-time music to the delight of all
He seems like a nice enough guy on the phone, but he notes that someone once found him cocky enough to put him in his place.
Michael Farkas was busking - performing on the street - in Barcelona, Spain, years ago but didn't know that he was trespassing on another sidewalk entertainer's turf.
'I was held at knifepoint in an alley and told not to take that place. My faltering Spanish got me out of the situation. I swore in Spanish never to play there again!'
Spain's loss is America's gain, however, as Farkas has long since joined the Wiyos, a New York City-based quartet in which he sings as well as plays harmonica, kazoo and washboard.
The band has become one of the most critically acclaimed acoustic groups in the country and plays old-timey American music or 'vaudevillian ragtime-jugband-blues and hillbilly swing.'
The Wiyos will make a stop in McMenamins Edgefield at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24.
The acoustic group features harmonized vocals, guitars, banjo, ukulele and upright bass. The band - named for a notorious Irish gang, the Whyos, from 19th century New York - incorporates elements of physical comedy and theatricality as well. Part of the group's appeal comes from the playful sounds it makes, including the ones that come out of Farkas' washboard, which includes the standard bells-and-whistles.
'I think it's an element of the kid in me that just enjoys playing it and putting it on,' Farkas says.
The Wiyos have played at such festivals as Newport Folk, The Kennedy Center Arts, The Lincoln Center Out-Of-Doors and The Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert Series. They have also toured throughout Canada, Great Britain, Netherlands, France and Sweden.
The band is touring in support of its third recording, 'The Wiyos,' which is mainly comprised of original songs inspired by the old-time stringband, country blues, jugband and hot jazz musical idioms of the 1920s and '30s.
Farkas, 43, says he's always been interested in such music, having grown up in Brooklyn with a father who played piano and tickled many old tunes out of the ivories.
'I kind of got hooked on those melodies and rhythms,' he says.
In the late 1980s, after graduating from Syracuse University, he hightailed it to New Orleans, where he worked as a street performer, incorporating miming and clowning into his music. He's been honing his craft ever since and says he's tried his hand at conventional modern music bands, but got tired of 'losing my hearing in clubs with bad amps.'
He met his band-mates Joebass and Parrish Ellis about five years ago through the New York City old-time music scene. The trio's members quickly took to each other, he says.
'Within 48 hours we had our first gig.'
He adds that the band has recently added Teddy Weber, of the Hunger Mountain Boys, on lap steel and archtop guitar, and is still more than willing to take their music to the streets.
'There's just an immediacy to the street that we enjoy,' he says, adding that some days, the group has made more playing for folks outside than in. Part of that may be because the group presents music that appeals to all generations, from young hipsters to nostalgic grandparents.
'If you can make people smile and kind of touch their heart, that's great.'
What's up with the Wiyos
What: The Wiyos, a four-piece band from New York City playing a mix of originals and old-time music from the 1920s and '30s, consisting of blues, country, ragtime, gospel, swing and hillbilly.
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, April 24.
Where: McMenamins Edgefield, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale.
Admission: Free, all ages welcome.
For more information on The Wiyos: Visit truthface recordings.com/wiyos.
For more information on Edgefield: Visit www.mcmenamins.com, then click on 'Hotels' and then 'Edgefield.'