When she borrowed a banjo from a shop owner in Blacksburg in the 70s, Ginger Wagner was just trying something new. Over time, Wagner learned how to play the instrument and is now a vital member and developer of the local band Indian Run Stringband.
“I wanted to learn to play by ear and I wanted to play with other people,” Wagner said.
The Indian Run Stringband, which is made up of four members including Wagner, has been together since 2010. They have played at a variety of places such as Oddfellow’s, the Floyd Country Store, and most recently Blacksburg Brewdo.
On Wednesday, Sept. 25, the band will be hosting Blacksburg’s Market Square Jam from 8 to 11 p.m. at the local farmer’s market. The jam is now a stop on the Crooked Road, which is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail that winds through the southwestern region of the state.
Two years ago, Heather Browning, the community relations manager for the town of Blacksburg, helped organize the weekly old time jams through the Community Relations Office of the Montgomery County Tourism department.
“Our goal was to introduce the community to old time music, provide quality family entertainment in the new park and give the musicians a dedicated venue to meet up weekly and do what they do best. Play,” Browning said.
According to Browning, the town of Blacksburg applied for the Crooked Road recognition, which was then voted on by its Board of Directors.
“I appreciate the simplicity of old time music and the stories it conveys,” Browning said. “I love to see the young learning from the old and the tradition that continues to be passed down through generations.”
Browning said that she believes the Indian Run Stringband is an incredibly talented group of musicians with a contagious passion for old time music.
“Hopefully people can taste authentic old-time music,” Wagner said. “We will be playing tunes that people in this area play and tunes we know people would know.”
Wagner and the band will be singing and exemplifying their unique sound, which she describes as cohesive and rhythmic.
“People who don’t play can also hear and be exposed to (old-time music),” Wagner said. “We often have some dancing such as free form dancing where they stand around and flatfoot.”
At any gig or event, Wagner said that the band loves seeing dancers. It not only gives them a rush, but it reassures them they are doing something right.
Kristie Dorfler, the bass player in the band, met Wagner in 2010 at a weekly jam session, where she expressed interest in old time music and asked Wagner and fiddler player, Paul Herling, to teach her.
Dorfler began playing the bass at ten years old, but did not continue playing through college. When she came to graduate school at Virginia Tech she saved up to buy herself a bass.
“With bass, you have to keep the rhythm,” Dorfler said. “I love being able to keep the rhythm and be the background.”
Ecstatic that the Market Square Jam is now part of Crooked Road, Dorfler hopes the weekly event will attract younger people to get more involved with old-time music.
“I think this music is fantastic,” Dorfler said. “I would love to have more students and younger people. This is real music, it makes you feel good.”
According to Wagner, most of the music that Indian Run Stringband plays originates from Uncle Dave Macon, a banjo player known for singing funny and colorful old-time songs.
Indian Run Stringband differentiates itself from other bands by developing different tunes, singing and harmonizing. In particular, Indian Run Stringband learns several ballads, or stories as songs, whereas other old time bands might only do one or two ballads.
“I don’t know if our guitarist or bass player does it, but they have this kind of rocking beat and they really punch it,” Wagner said. “I don’t know where it came from, how it started or how we do it, but it has a real punch to it. It’s exciting for me when we play it.”
In April the band released its first CD with several songs from the public domain, which gives anyone access to play the music.
Tim Pak, a musician and soundman, mastered the CD for the band. Pak has also hosted the band three times to perform at the Side Door Coffeehouse in Radford.
“(Indian Run Stringband) is definitely an old-time band, but what I like most about their music is their song selection,” Pak said. “They don’t just stick to the same songs that everybody plays. They play different songs.”
The band is named after a creek that runs behind Wagner’s home, which shows her appreciation for Blacksburg, she said.
“(Blacksburg) really is home to me since I have lived here 38 years and for 33 in the same old farmhouse outside of town,” Wagner said. “Also, my own career and the community of musicians and friends I have here make it a great place to live.”