I actually come from the camp that believes that if Mumford & Sons weren’t so popular, more core roots fans would respect them. But it is really hip to hate and undervalue Mumford right now. Let’s hope that the current backlash doesn’t hurt every band with a banjo, because there’s many great string bands out there that and mix high energy and heartfelt songs into the string band concept.
Devil Makes Three
The West Coast’s preeminent string band for years that has garnered a massive underground following, Devil Makes Three is finally getting the recognition and large crowds their music has deserved since they started in 2002. The trio was one of the first to bring a punk attitude to string band music, and with a new Buddy Miller-produced album coming out soon, they only promise to find more fans.
The Dirty River Boys
If you’re looking for a Mumford-like alternative from the Texas music scene, The Dirty River Boys from El Paso have the high-energy, heartfelt songwriting thing covered and then some. Like so many successful Texas bands, they’re able to balance substance with sensibility to bring real music to a wider audience.
Larry & His Flask
One of the most dynamic, off-the-wall live acts you can see, Larry & His Flask launched themselves into the wider consciousness when traveling on the Warped Tour in 2011, and continue to leave fans gasping for breath from the sheer madness they evoke on stage. If energy and showmanship is what you’re looking for from your string band, look no further than Larry & His Flask.
They’re no longer officially around, and they’re still better than Mumford & Sons. The .357 String Band broke up in late 2011, but they left behind a legacy of some of the most full-tilt string band music you will find. They were the pinnacle of speed, skill, and songwriting in string band music.
Split Lip Rayfield
Never given enough credit and regularly overlooked, Wichita’s Split Lip Rayfield was one of the very first bands to infuse string band music with punk. Formed in 1995 and releasing their first album with Bloodshot Records in 1998, the band has seen a decline in output and touring over the last few years after the death of founding member and guitarist Kirk Rundstrum, but remain one of the biggest treasure troves of high octane string band music.
If there is a legacy band in the throwback old-time string band concept, it is these guys. Just invited to become Grand Ole Opry members and now with a #1 song to their name in the form of Darius Rucker’s “Wagon Wheel” cover, Mumford & Sons could and burn like a fad, but Old Crow Medicine Show is here to stay.
Founding .357 String Band member Jayke Orvis has taken his solo project into hyper drive lately, and has himself one of the most well-orchestrated string bands pushing well-written material. Like many underground roots bands, Jayke Orvis suffers from a lack of outside recognition, but their talent rivals any other string band at the moment.
The Hackensaw Boys
Given credit as one of the very first bands of the current string band revolution, Hackensaw Boys member David Sickmen and former member Rob Bullington had a band called the Route 11 Boys with Ketch Secor and Chris “Critter” Fuqua who would later go on to found Old Crow Medicine Show. Hackensaw Boys have been sort of a proving ground for musicians, including Tom Peloso who went on to join indie rock group Modest Mouse. Most of the string bands you speak to will list The Hackensaw Boys as a big influence.
Since they ostensibly are one of the primary influences of Mumford & Sons and their original concept can be seen all throughout Mumford’s approach, it’s only appropriate that The Avett Brothers are included here. The Avett’s were one of the very first bands to evolutionize string music and give it a shot of punk energy, and to bring it to an audience outside of the traditionally-defined roots world.
The Foghorn Stringband
One of the most traditionalist-style string band’s in the recent uprising, but one who proves that style and craftsmanship can outlast speed or over-sentimentality in songwriting when the music is done right.
Trampled by Turtles
Another band that has seen big success from the rise in popularity of string music, and just sits below the big boys like The Avett Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show in draw. Trampled by Turtles can pick as fast as anyone, but tend to favor the songwriting aspect more in their most recent album.
More String Bands Better Than Mumford & Sons: Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Calamity Cubes!, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Tillers, Carolina Still, The Pine Hill Haints, The Dinosaur Truckers, Gators in the Sawgrass, Chatam County Line, The Gourds, The Pawn Shop Saints, and…