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Man About a Horse: “The Sky’s the Limit for This Band.”

April 24, 2017


The bluegrass crew from Man About a Horse took a non-traditional route to financing their debut album: they asked people to pre-order the album via Bandcamp.

It seems to have worked. The album drops on Friday. The bandmates will celebrate with a performance that night at Milkboy.

We spoke with guitarist Matt Royles about the band, their music and their ambitions.

Who are you guys and where did you come from?

Circa 2013, Matt Thomas and I were neighbors near 3rd and Fairmount, but it took a mutual friend setting us up on a man date to get us really talking about music.

We were pretty shocked to discover we both had a dream of playing in a bluegrass brand.

We met Dan (Whitener) at one of our shows at the Jalopy Theatre in Brooklyn after he responded to our banjo ad on Craigslist. I saw Liz (Carlson) shred fiddle with the Wallace Brothers Band at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and we met Nate (Lanzino) at a jam circle in Baltimore.

In a lot of ways, these chance encounters really typify the bluegrass world. It’s a big community of people who just love this kind of music. We’re lucky to have found some of the best out there to be in this band.

Bluegrass? In Philadelphia? What’s up with that?


But I think a lot of folks might be surprised to learn just how much bluegrass there is in Philadelphia. For starters, there are a bunch of long-running monthly and weekly jams in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Fiume in West Philly has been doing Thursday bluegrass nights forever, and the Sunday bluegrass brunch at Heritage in Northern Liberties has been getting pretty popular more recently.

And Philly’s got so many great music venues that we tend to see a lot of excellent touring acts in the bluegrass and related genres coming through town. I keep a calendar of shows on a site called Philly Bluegrass (fitting, I know.) I’m usually amazed at just how much high-quality music there is to list.


You “grassed up” Hall & Oates on the new album. Wait, does that mean there was a subtle bluegrass legacy here already?

We’ve played Daryl Hall’s music club up in the Hudson Valley a few times. For a Philly band, I think having a Hall & Oates cover in your set is pretty much mandatory if you’re going to play at Daryl’s House.

We really liked the sound of acoustic instruments on “Lady Rain,” which is a deep cut from Abandoned Luncheonette. Now, if you go back a bit farther than the 1970s – I’m talking more like the 1770s – Philadelphia played a huge role in the history of bluegrass music. This city was the main arrival point for Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 18th century, and the trailhead for something called the Great Philadelphia Wagon Road that took those immigrants down through Appalachia, where bluegrass was born.

There is actually a movement toward this country-style music in Philly. Is that a reflection of the direction of the country? Or do you just dig banjos and stuff?

Great question. I think when you see things like Sturgill Simpson winning major awards, Rolling Stone opening a Nashville office, and banjo and pedal steel guitar popping up on what seems like every other popular music song, you start to think there might be a trend.

I suspect that what’s happening in Philadelphia is a microcosm of a larger trend nationally towards American roots music.

Whatever’s causing it, I think we’re benefitting here in Philly. We’ve got a bunch of bands that could hold their own with any Nashville players.

But to answer your question more directly, yeah, we dig banjos.


What are the ambitions of band making “newgrass Americana” up north? What would be a success for you all?

In the very short term, we want to get this record on some national airplay and sales charts. I’d say we’re pretty close to making the Billboard chart, based on pre-sales as of this moment. Hopefully that will make a few folks in Nashville say, ‘Who the heck are these guys?’

Longer term, we think if we keep writing great songs, delivering a mind-blowingly fun live show experience, and maybe catch a few breaks along the way. Then the sky’s the limit for this band.

If you look at touring acts like Greensky Bluegrass and The Infamous Stringdusters, I think that’s where we’d like to be 3 to 5 years down the road.

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