About the Band

Origin Story by Bruce Ling

It was the fall 1997, and in came an unexpected phone call from a man I didn’t know. The unfamiliar voice said, “The Kalamazoo Folklife Organization is having their annual fundraiser – would you like to bring your band down and participate?” “Of course,” I said, even though I didn’t have a band, or was regularly playing with one at the time. “Bruce, what’s the name of your band?” was the next question, and my immediate improvised response was “Hawks and Owls String Band,” my way of honoring the many birds of prey that have crossed my path since I was a child. I had always been the kid everyone brought the injured wild things to for rehabilitation, and I had spent a few years volunteering in the animal hospital at Blandford Nature Center, focusing on the care and healing of raptors.

The line-up for that first show was Bill VanVugt on guitar, Andy Urquhart on bass, and me on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. We played an hour set of Bluegrass, Irish, Appalachian, and Country Blues. The crowd went wild, and a band was born.

Shortly after this show I met Nick Kroes at the monthly Wheatland Music Co-Op jam session at Remus, Michigan. He was looking for a working fiddler to play with, and his frailin’ style banjo was without compare, so I promptly inducted him into our group. He brought his vast catalog of great tunes and songs to the group.

Beginnings

For Bruce, it was when he started playing country tunes on his father’s archtop Kay guitar when he was 4 years old. Becca started on a ten year journey of music lessons when she was 8 years old. Jesse watched her mother play stand-up bass since she was born. These musicians bring together their influences and talents and express them joyously and jointly as Hawks and Owls String Band.

Hawks and Owls String Band

As a singer/songwriter and an award-winning musician, Bruce is a student and keeper of the history of the timeless musical genre of time-savored traditional folk music, and paints musical portraits celebrating the colorful history of the music through an extraordinary repertoire of tunes, songs, and stories. He performs with equal flair and skill on fiddle, mandolin, guitar, cello, and slide guitar. He is backed by his wife, world class old-time rhythm guitarist Becca, and by Jesse Mae Stokes, a dynamic stand-up bass player with a powerful, riveting voice. Be prepared to take an enjoyable ride through a river of music and stories as presented by this band of skilled musicians.

Influences

Bruce – Born into a family of musicians and performers, music was a part of Bruce’s life from day one. At the age of four his father put his 1930s Kay archtop guitar into his hands and taught him how to play. When he was 8 years old he had his first paid performance and he was hooked. His music has been shaped by listening to The Horseflies, David Grisman and Tony Rice.

Becca – She grew up listening to a family collection of albums ranging from Mozart and Beethoven to Pattsy Kline and Johnny Cash. Her old time “soul” was fed with music from Charlie Poole, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Doc Watson, and scratchy old recordings of various blues, country, and old time performers. Playing piano gave her an ear for music and solidified the need to listen to the music and pay attention to composition and dynamics which she transferred to guitar. “Music should ‘breathe’ – we are creating a living, listening experience for the audience, and for each other.”

Jesse – She was raised in a family full of music and her father, Robert Sayers, is a well-known Michigan luthier. Channeling memories of her mother playing stand-up bass, Jesse had an understanding of the instrument from a young age but didn’t begin playing in earnest until she was 20. She started out playing hard-driving bluegrass listing Barry Bales of Alison Krauss and Union Station as her idol. Singing at an early age with her mom and dad at jams, in choir, and theater in high school, she is into “anyone with killer harmony!” These days she loves being immersed in the old-time culture playing music full of tradition and texture; it’s never a dull moment.

Venues

Hawks and Owls String Band has performed at various venues as a performance band or a dance band, or both – Wheatland Music Festival, the Ark (located in Ann Arbor, Michigan), Blissfest, Festival of the Wild Rose Moon, Harvest Gathering, Farmfest, musical and literary clubs, museum and library programs, Folklife societies, corporate functions, and weddings – to name a few. For booking, contact Bruce Ling at bruce@hawksandowls.com or (616) 299-8843.

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