Scott Moore of The 23 String Band had to delay the interview for this article. He had lost track of time and was in an antiques mall getting a few items for his new place. What a perfect explanation for this 27-year-old fiddle player—a little lost in time and getting vintage items in an antiques mall, not at a big box store or shopping mall.
Moore and his friends in the band are from their mid-20s to mid-30s, but they all love old music. The band’s sound can be a little hard to pin down because it’s roots music, old-time music, a touch of bluegrass and a whole lot of original. Moore doesn’t consider the band traditional bluegrass because it plays a little too fast and loose with the genre. The band had a steady gig at Rye restaurant in Louisville in 2012, where it gave one free concert a month for four months. September “was a bluegrass meets hip-hop theme,” he said. “It was fun and unusual.” From its inception to the live stage acts, The 23 String Band does not believe in being rigid.
Currently four of the five band members live in Louisville. “Louisville is our home base,” Moore said, but “we have a lot of hometowns, really.” Chris Shouse (guitar) is from Owsley County, Curtis Wilson (banjo) is from London in Laurel County, Dave Howard (mandolin) is from Owensboro in Daviess County, Moore (fiddle) is from Westview in Breckinridge County, and T. Martin Stam (bass) is an honorary Kentuckian since he’s originally from Chapel Hill, N.C.
The band started around five or six years ago when Shouse and Wilson met at a party, started picking and singing and realized they appreciated each other’s style. Next, Wilson found out his downstairs neighbor in the duplex he was renting was a mandolin player and a bluegrass fan, so Howard joined the band. Eventually, Moore and Stam joined in as well to create the current incarnation of The 23 String Band. It’s a lineup that seems to work for everyone, including the band and the audience.
“We have a lot of fun even without instruments in our hands,” Moore said, and he thinks that sense of fun and friendship translates into their live shows as well. Moore said the band plays with enthusiasm, and crowds enjoy getting up and dancing or just jumping around to their tunes. “It’s participatory in a way that rock and singer/songwriter shows are not,” Moore said, although he has great respect for both genres and those styles do sneak into The 23 String Band songs.
Moore said the band performs all over the state and tries not to play any one town too often. For a clip of The 23 String Band’s performance on WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour in Lexington, check out the band’s website, the23stringband.com.
Moore describes the band’s style as being in the middle of a spectrum with the Punch Brothers at one end and Old Crow Medicine Show at the other. Moore sees the Punch Brothers as technically excellent “virtuosos, contemporary classic almost,” he said, while Old Crow Medicine Show is “four-on-the-floor, pump fist, gather-round-the-campfire music.” Although all ages come to the band’s live shows, its strongest demographic is the 20- and 30-year-olds, Moore said.
While there is enough work and popularity that Moore believes the band could work at music full time, many of the band members have day jobs they really enjoy. At this juncture, the players don’t intend to make The 23 String Band their full-time job. Currently, Moore is the only full-time musician, doing freelance work in addition to his work with the band. That approach is fine with him and his bandmates. “It’s been a fun ride, and I’m looking forward to the next bit,” Moore said. “We’ll see where it goes.”