Back row: Matt Zinc, Rick Hedrick, Frank Jones, Chris Bryan. Front: Dan Harden, Brandon Lee, Jerry Roberson.

The Reel Tyme String Band

by Barney Quick

No type of musical ensemble exemplifies what Brown County music is all about like a string band, and no string band embodies the values that make Brown County special like the Reel Tyme String Band. The bonds between the members are based not only on shared youthful musical experiences, but ties between families and neighbors going back several generations. They can be heard in the spirited, heartfelt manner in which the band delivers its diverse repertoire.

“We respect each other a lot; we take care of each other,” says singer-guitarist Chris Bryan. “Everybody shows up at six for rehearsals, tuned up and ready to go.” To a person, all the members interviewed for this article said the main appeal of belonging to the group was “no ego.”

Most of the members fall into a ten-year age range that puts them in the baby-boomer demographic. Hence, they count the rock and country-rock of their youth as early influences, as well as the bluegrass that is ever-present in Brown County households. The newest member, Brandon Lee, is a mere fifteen years old, however. Still, his pedigree is impeccable; his grandfather, fiddler Bernard Lee, is a local legend.

While several members have crossed paths in various ways throughout the years, this particular band began with Bryan and banjoist Danny Harden working up a set of tunes. Next came dobro player Jerry Roberson and then bassist Matt Zinc. The group started performing regularly at Franco Marie’s Italian Restaurant in Coachlight Square in Nashville. Proprietor Frank Jones, whom Bryan had known since the seventh grade, frequently sat in and was soon brought on board.

Rick Hedrick was invited to sit in at a September 2005 performance. While he had spent much of his life onstage in his youth, he hadn’t picked up his guitar in years. He took readily to the way the band adapted the music the members had grown up with to the string-band setting.

Some bluegrass was also thrown in, and Hedrick found a new appreciation for it. He and his brother had played bluegrass growing up. “Our parents made us,” he says. “I hated it at the time, and only in recent years have I started to appreciate the legacy put down by the people I met as a kid—Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, Reno and Smiley. Now I have no regrets about that period.”

Harden likewise rubbed shoulders with the greats as a boy. “I spent a lot of time up at the [Bean Blossom] festival grounds,” he says. “I hung out with J.D. Crowe. He was my hero. And everybody knew Ralph Stanley—called him Daddy.”

Zinc is developing a website, for the band, expected to launch in early 2007. A CD is in the works as well, which will lead to a podcast.

Jones and his wife Kim recently decided to downsize from their large Italian-cuisine establishment to a smaller operation. The Reel Tyme String Band’s last performance at the restaurant coincided with its last night of operation. A capacity crowd of followers turned out for the historic occasion, feasting on a buffet meal and wishing the band well.

They intend to find another venue soon, but it doesn’t have to be any kind of a step to some notion of “the big time.” “We used our tip money to buy Brandon’s mandolin,” says Bryan. In fact, the band is always pleased to do fundraisers. Past events of this nature have included a show to help a friend with cancer, and also to generate proceeds for field trips for Brown County High School’s special-needs class.

Ultimately, the main motivation for the band’s members is the fellowship and the music. Harden, a veteran of many ensembles, says, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing in a band.”