Sunday, March 10, ArtRat Gallery hosts the latest in its roots music series curated by The Stableford AgencyAmericana Sundays: An Afternoon With Round Creek String Band runs 3-5pm at 46 Division Ave. S in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. (Admission $20; tickets available from Eventbrite.)

Round Creek String Band (RCSB) is a high-energy five-piece outfit from West Michigan that delivers a variety of old-time and folk music steeped in the old-time tradition. The band has been described as "tune bearers for the next generation of old-time music" and continues to evolve its sound to both stay rooted in traditional material balanced by the curiosity and propensity to push the boundaries of traditional fiddle performance. 

Ahead of the show, RCSB mandolinist Jason Wheeler spoke with ArtRat about the ingredients that go into the band’s sound.

When you started in 2021, RCSB emerged from the annual Great Lakes Music Camp on the shore of Lake Michigan. Can you tell us about the camp and the collaboration that first brought the members together?

Sure thing! Great Lakes Music Camp and Wheatland Music Festival (which are three weeks apart) both served as creative spaces for us to connect and get inspired. In 2021, countless hours of late-night jams in September and October at those two events led to discussions about taking our musical connection to the next level. 

The camp itself is a great place to develop skills and network with a lot of other musicians, and it served as a hub for our band to coalesce and develop a strong relationship with each other that has been the foundation of our band's positive experiences and "success."

Are the members all veterans of the West Michigan Americana scene? What different influences go into RCSB? 

Round Creek String Band poses in front of a banner for Blue Lake Public Radio.

Yes, all members of RCSB have long been members of the West Michigan music scene. We live between Kalamazoo, Rockford, Grand Rapids and Grand Haven and have all played in various outfits over the years. 

There are a lot of influences that inspire our sound, material and approach as a whole. Everything from Foghorn String Band to Bill Monroe to traditional music of other cultures have added flavor to what we do. 

We do try to offer something specific: a Midwest old-time sound. We think of our sound as a high-energy, fluid, living tradition. We approach performance material and dance material a little differently, and we are often leading jams, teaching workshops or giving individual lessons, and those different pieces all contribute to the way we honor this musical tradition. We hope these influences and individual voices contribute to a cohesive sound that feels like a celebration of traditional American music.

The band formed at the height of the COVID pandemic. How did social distancing and venue closures influence the way RCSB collaborates? 

Round Creek performs under red stage lights.

Forming a band during the period of time when there weren’t live gigs was a great thing for us. We found that we all just loved playing this kind of music and while many other musicians were pivoting to try and find a way to continue a musical career, or to monetize their musical services, we just researched tunes and played together a lot. 

We really put a lot of hours into practicing, jamming and developing a strong relationship with each other during that time. We worked on album content, built the business and website, and just made good use of the time we had. While they didn’t affect the way we collaborate per se, those factors allowed us time to build the band from both business and performance perspectives.

You released your first album in September 2023. What was that experience like? Did your pandemic woodshedding help prepare RCSB for the studio? 

Round Creek String Band poses outdoors.

We were pretty committed to releasing an album last fall and had a lot of discussions before getting into the studio so we could agree on our approach. 

The material itself wasn't as much a concern as to how we'd go about the recording process. It was important to us to have our live, energetic sound be the focal point as a new band so anyone booking us, or interested in us, knew what to expect at a show, festival, performance, et al. 

The album was recorded live at Second Story Sound in one session in July, we had one day of some minor edits in August, and that was it! It was a simple process and we wanted it to feel like an old-time jam because that's where our hearts are, that's how we've connected as friends, and that is the most important element to what we do as band currently — having an authentic and unique sound that could resonate with the purist and the casual acoustic music fan.

What do you like best about performing in Grand Rapids?

I think we just love to share this music with others, and we love to play it together. It's that simple. Playing in Grand Rapids is always a treat, and we appreciate the opportunity to share our music with our friends and families who have supported us.