The Kings County Ramblers are a scrappy, “rough around the edges” bluegrass band that is native to Bay Ridge, but they sound like something from below the Mason-Dixon line. To be fair, only two of the four members live here, and they’re all transplants. But the band got its start right here, in the town of hardcore and disco, when they all met at a Kitty Kiernan’s open mic five years ago. They’ve been serenading the city with their Americana and bluegrass ever since, with shows everywhere from local Bay Ridge bars to the Central Park Bandshell.
The Ramblers boast a banjo, a standing bass, a guitar, and a mandolin – plus the occasional fiddle for kicks. They’re all blessed with serious pipes, so they take turns on vocals – giving each song a completely new feel. In fact, when you’re listening to them live, it’s hard to wrap your head around their dynamism. They can go from the twangiest honky-tonk to old gospels in seconds, with neither rendition the worse for wear. So I wasn’t surprised to hear that when they play in Bay Ridge, their audience needs to adjust a bit.
“Sometimes people don’t understand what bluegrass is, and they’re expecting blues” says bassist Pat Ryan. But the Ramblers are quick to win them over. “The draw is that when it comes to local music, everybody’s dealing with sh**ty rock and roll bands. But all the players of bluegrass are really f***ing good.”
You get what he’s saying, right? Ever been in a bar, having a good time, when someone walks in carrying an instrument, and you realize you’re nervous and bracing yourself for impact? Yeah, been there. And let me tell you: the Ramblers do not fall in that category of bands. It’s appropriate that a lot of bar owners in Bay Ridge book the Ramblers for patios and gardens, because they are so in control of their music that listening to them is an effortless, almost relaxing experience. Sitting outside, eating, and listening to them live, you could think you were at a low-country boil in your neighbor’s backyard. That said, when they pick up the pace and start playing the Grateful Dead, or the faster finger-picking stuff, I guarantee you that someone is going to be dancing.
The Ramblers have certainly established themselves in the neighborhood – they play fairly regularly at Lock Yard, Yellow Hook, Kitty’s, Kettle Black, and can always be found at Summer Stroll or some of the street festivals. On a lucky day, you might even find them playing outside in one of the parks in the neighborhood. Pat told me that they got their footing here by simply living in the neighborhood and playing different places – from there it was easy.
“Everybody in the neighborhood can be out playing live music,” he insists. “There’s plenty of music here that people don’t know about.”
But they’re clearly not just a Bay Ridge band, and some of their upcoming shows are a testament. They have a big show coming up on Tuesday, August 4th at Rockwood Music Hall, where they will be opening up for the Grammy-award winning Michael Daves. And this weekend, they’re playing a July 4th show in Bushwick. What a better way to spend Independence Day then seeing live Americana? Plus, they’re out to record a live album fairly soon, so stay on the lookout.
When the Ramblers aren’t, uh, rambling all over the city, you can check them out at their place of origin, Kitty Kiernan’s, the second Sunday of each month at 8PM.
The Kings County Ramblers (Facebook | website) are Mark Wyatt, Emily Hultman, Pat Ryan, and Jake Calvert. You can join their mailing list by shooting an email (and some love) to email@example.com.
They are radically talented musicians, so please don’t ask them to play Wagon Wheel, which even you could play at an open mic.