Born Andrew Heisser in Bloomington, Illinois, Pokey LaFarge earned his nickname from his mother, who was always trying to hurry him along. Hurry him along she did, somehow pushing him from one century to the next, taking the ambience of the past, its rootsy sway and swagger, and picking up playful confidence that works with his modern-day clarity and detail. Growing up, LaFarge showed great interest in history, music, and literature, with the help of his grandfathers, one a member of St. Louis Banjo Club who handed LaFarge his first guitar and banjo, and the other a historian, teaching LaFarge about the Civil War and World War II. Influenced also by Steinbeck, Hemingway, and Keroua, LaFarge dreamed of becoming a writer, and after discovering blues music in a local pizza parlor, hearing Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and later Skip Jones, Sleepy John Estes, and Bill Monroe, he combined all his passions and learned how to play the mandolin, leaving town right after graduation, LaFarge, added an array of other instruments to his resume including guitar, guitjo, bass, kazoo, banjo, washboard, snare drum, cornet, trombone, piano, lab steel guitar, fiddle, upright bass, and harmonica, and hitchhiked to the west coast, playing on sidewalks and pedestrian malls, reaching to the past for inspiration and influence, making something old but new, music that was fresh and alive.
Over the years he picked up The South City Three consisting of Ryan Koenig (harmonica, washboard, and snare drum), Joey Glynn (upright bass), and Adam Hoskins (guitar), followed by the later addition of Matthew Meyer (drums), T.J. Muller (cornet, trombone, trumpet), and Chloe Feoranzo (clarinet, saxonphone) to form his 6-piece mixture of Americana, early jazz, ragtime, country blues, western swing, Vaudeville, and Appalachian folk roots band, taking his love history and literature, turning sounds of the past, to form songs of the present, flowing naturally and honestly, full of energy, preserving old-time music one song at a time.
With seven studio albums under his belt, LaFarge has maintained his Midwestern work ethic, creating music from the books of deep American musical traditions, creating timeless music beginning with his first grass-roots splash with self-released album in 2006 with Marmalade. Following by Beat, Move, and Shaketwo years later, LaFarge continued to showcase his ability to tell his openhearted stories full of attitude and musical vision. Becoming the first record with The South City Three, in 2010 Riverboat Soul was recorded over a three-day period using vintage instruments and microphones, later winning the band’s first Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album. A year later, Middle of Everywhere won the second. With the release of Pokey LaFarge in 2013, LaFarge continued winning hearts across the nation and began touring for their international fans, reaching music lovers and a loyal fan base at festivals and shows in Canada, UK, Ireland, the Netherlands, India, Australia, and New Zealand, earning a reputations of a tireless, charismatic live performer. One Town at a Time describes just how he would travel for fans, “Give me a van or a passenger train. I’ll cross the ocean in a big airplane in any style, I’m making miles just the same,” while Home Away from Home describes his experience in Louisville, “Where there’s a big little city where the bluegrass grows. It’s got some small town charm just like the bourbon flows.”
LaFarge went full throttle with his creative strengths with deep rooted Midwestern attitude at the heart of his newest album released last year, Something in the Water, showcasing where LaFarge and his bandmates originate, how they think, and who they honestly are, making music that LaFarge has always wanting to make for himself, while making drums and vocal harmonies more prominent than before.The album title song and one of my favorites is full of wit, wrangled with vintage country and traditional jazz, speaking of LaFarge’s Midwestern gal, “My Hoosiergirl is so fine, shake the watermelon off the vine. She’ll blow you a fist, throw you a kiss, and you’ll thank her every time.”
With a plethora of well-rounded talents, Lafarge is a historian, writer, musician, bandleader, entertainer, innovator, preservationist, and most prominently a hard-working Midwestern, transcending genres and breaking the confines of traditions to push musical boundaries, to make fans everywhere relive, rethink, and continue to celebrate music traditions.
Help Pokey LaFarge keep music alive this Saturday on the Mast Stage at 1:45 at Forecastle Music Festival!