The Band’s History and Mission
The mission of the 2nd South Carolina String Band is to present Civil War music in as authentic a manner as possible. In their recordings the listener will hear the music of the 19th century played on 19th century period instruments in the appropriate style. This is the music of the day as it truly sounded to the soldiers of the Civil War.
The 2nd South Carolina String Band was formed in August of 1989 by five riflemen of Co.I, 2nd SC Volunteer Infantry, a unit of Civil War reenactors that was very active during the five years of commemorative events celebrating the 125th Anniversary of the Civil War – and for many years to follow. After the battles, drills and inspections, the boys who had instruments played and sang around the campfire while members of the unit would often join in and sing along. This was the beginning of the 2nd South Carolina String Band.
Without recognizing it at the time, the group, comprised of mostly amateur musicians playing banjo and fiddle, guitar, tambourine, bones and military drum – had coalesced into a 20th century recreation of a typical American Civil War camp band. In the beginning they played only at night around their company camp fire as they enthusiastically began to explore and perform the music of the War Between the States. Soon, they began performing for reenactment dances and concert audiences.
Nearly two-and-a-half decades have passed since the summer they met, and the band’s popularity has grown within the Civil War reenactment community and far beyond. During the same period the group itself has grown and matured in their musicianship, sense of historical accuracy, and presentation. The band has changed over time, adding new members and instruments – a second fiddle, fife, penny-whistle and flute. It now numbers eight regular members (with a few frequent guest artists) and they’re proud to say that four of the original five men are “still with the colors” – still proudly representing the much renowned but no longer active infantry company they once marched with. Though not a performing member of the group, Erik Ewers (son of the band’s manager and banjo player, Joe, and nephew to Joe’s brother and fiddler, Fred) has been as much a part of the group’s success over the years as any of the musicians. Erik has been the producer of all five albums released by the 2nd South Carolina String Band. A reenactor himself in his college years (with his father, uncle, and younger brother, Chris), Erik joined documentarian Ken Burns as an intern at Florentine Films following graduation from the University of Massachusetts, in 1991. He rose ‘through the ranks’ there and after more than 20 years with Burns, has won program Emmys for Unforgivable Blackness. The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, National Parks, and The War, and a personal Emmy or sound editing in The War. It is his artistic instincts and keen ear that have been key to capturing in the studio the same unique spirit and energy that is the hallmark of the band’s live performances.
In almost 25 years together, the 2nd South Carolina String Band’s music has literally spread around the globe via the internet, radio, and TV airplay on folk music stations in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia, plus many university radio and National Public Radio stations in the United States. They have been featured in periodicals as diverse as People Magazine, U.S.A. Today, Skirmish Magazine, and U.S. News & World Report. Exposure for their music on Amazon.com‘s Civil War Music page, on CDBaby.com‘s powerful web distribution outlet for independent musicians, and on YouTube, has played an important role in elevating their standing in the Civil War reenacting community world-wide as well as their reputation for quality among music lovers in the population-at-large – be they attracted to historical, folk. traditional, or just plain old good music. All 5 of their recordings have been listed in the Top 30 selections on Amazon.com’s Civil War Music page for the past 5 years running. The 5-Star ratings given – on both websites – by folks who’ve purchased them to all 5 of their albums released to date stand as testament to the group’s high standards of excellence and attention to detail. The band is proud to be able to claim fans and supporters from virtually every country in Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, Japan, Korea, China, and more.
Over the years they have worked with several filmmakers and documentarians, contributing period music to soundtracks for Ken Burns documentaries “Mark Twain”, and the Emmy nominated “JAZZ”. In 2002, the band was selected by director Ron Maxwell to give a rousing on-screen performance in the Warner Brothers film, “Gods & Generals”, as well as to provide background instrumental music for the soundtrack. In November, 2004, at a benefit concert at Gordon College in Massachusetts, the group was awarded the prestigious Stephen Collins Foster Award in recognition of their contributions to the preservation of 19th century American arts and culture. At a Fall 2005 reenactment they were filmed for an episode of the British/Public Television travel show, Globe Trekker. On July 4th, 2006, they released their fourth CD, Dulcem Melodies, and in March of 2008, recorded their fifth - a live double album in Gettysburg, Lightning In A Jar - also released at the annual Gettysburg reenactment on July 4th of that year. They are presently at work on their sixth and final release (“… they ain’t writin’ any new Civil War music.”, says band leader and banjo player, Joe Ewers).
The songs and instrumental tunes performed by the 2nd South Carolina String Band would have been considered the “pop” music of the period beginning in the late 1820′s and running through the 1860′s and beyond. In the years following the American Revolution and the War of 1812, Americans were determined to reject the European classical musical forms and were searching for their own distinctly American musical “voice.” They found inspiration in songs and melodies originating in Celtic, American, and African folk music sources, and in the frontier tradition of tall-tales about larger-than-life American characters such as Davy Crockett, Paul Bunyon, Old Dan Tucker and John Henry. Composers such as Joel Sweeney, Daniel Emmett, Stephen Foster, and George Root, soon arrived on the scene; men who wrote music for a living; music to appeal to the masses. This music was unique in that it had no classical background. Its songs were filled with the language, slang, and experiences of the common man rather than the intellectual elites and its impact on American culture echoes down to the present day.
The 2nd South Carolina String Band plays the songs and music that moved the American people of the early and mid-eighteen hundreds. They play the music that was in the hearts and minds and on the tongues of the citizen-soldiers that made up the ranks of the armies of the North and the South as they marched off to take part in the cataclysmic struggle that was to become the defining event of our nation’s history. They play it on instruments of the era and in an authentic manner and style that carries the listener back to simpler times. They play with a verve and excitement that infects even the most reserved listener with their own enjoyment and brings back to vibrant life the tumultuous energy of the American experience during the War Between the States. To experience the 2nd South Carolina String Band is, for a moment, to reach out and touch the past – “… to eavesdrop on history.”