Rum River Blend brings wild bluegrass to Troy’s Mayflower Arts Center Theater

By Tim Smith

Go to any community—large, small or in-between—and you’ll find a group of friends who get together to play music. Some do it in church, some make a name for themselves outside their hometown and some do it just for fun. Rum River Blend in Troy probably falls into the third category. The group of five makes their own brand of music at local venues mainly for the enjoyment it brings to themselves and others. They’re scheduled to appear at the Mayflower Arts Center Theater in Troy, May 7.

Linda Tatarian is the group’s leader and banjo player. She describes their music as a combination of Bluegrass, gospel, folk, children’s songs and anything eclectic they might dig up.

“We use the tag line ‘Unprofessional Entertainment’ and have recently added ‘unpredictable’ as well,” she says. “We are sing-along, play-along fun. We encourage audience participation, to sing, dance, frolic—just don’t hurt yourself!”

The current lineup has been together since 2002 but the group originated in 1990, when Linda and her husband Chris Tatarian were living in the San Francisco Bay area, playing for miscellaneous local events.

“When Chris and I relocated to Troy in 2000, we played our first public event at the Strawberry Festival,” she says. “We soon found the Tipp City Hotel Gallery and have been a regular every fourth Friday since 2001.”

They were joined for a short time by a washtub bass player until one night in 2002, the washtub was not available for a gig at the Leaf and Vine. That was when Chris saw Bill Benning out walking his dog and asked him to sit in on bass that night, and he has never left. Carl Phillis, the 1948 Ohio Fiddling Champion, and Mark Acton on mandolin and guitar round out the group.

“We do not take ourselves too seriously,” Linda says. “We have fun and believe if we have fun, our audience will as well. We are not hardcore Bluegrass or any genre. We do a mix of what we think will appeal to the listeners.”

The band has a tremendous groupie following thanks to their numerous regular appearances in the area. They’re a fixture at the Hotel Gallery in Tipp City, Dayton’s 2nd Street Market, the Troy Strawberry Festival and they also play at schools and retirement homes. Fans have been known to request favorite songs.

“Probably the most requested tune is what might be considered our theme song, ‘Five Pounds of Possum,’” she says. “It’s a silly tune about a hillbilly trying to hit a possum with his car to make possum gravy. There are many favorite requests. Others are ‘Orange Blossom Special’ or ‘Black Mountain Rag,’ fiddle tunes with Carl Phillis taking the lead.”

Although the band appears at many different venues, they tailor their program to fit the event.

“We play everything from a 1930s lullaby ‘Sweet Violets,’ and 1970s ‘Those Were the Days’ to ‘Home,’ a recent Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros tune,” she notes. “Our favorite children’s song is ‘Don’t Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose,’ known by many children in the area.  Last year we played for a concrete convention and re-wrote ‘Take a load off Fanny’ to fit in with the concrete theme!”

The band’s unique name was courtesy of Tatarian’s hometown of Milaca, Minnesota, where the Rum River runs through. She named the band when she hooked up with her soon-to-be-husband, Chris, and describes the music they played as “A blend of Minnesota nice and California Grateful Dead.”

“Every show presents new fun, as we are unpredictable,” she says. “The show will include all the standard favorites and a few new additions for 2016. There will be some sing along (not mandatory), and there is always the possibility of a special guest to join us on stage.”

There have been several such occasions in the band’s history.

“Playing in the entertainment tent for the Miami County Bicentennial, headliner Daniel Rodriguez was standing at the back of the tent,” she recalls. “I invited him to join us on stage for a song, if his contract would allow it. He welcomed the invite and after some bantering over what song we would do, he said ‘I think I can do that one’ to ‘Those Were the Days.’ It was a magical moment when the last line was sung in his high tenor voice the crowd was on their feet and the hair was standing on end!”

Rum River Blend clearly wants the audience to have a good time and a memorable experience.

“I want our audience to leave with a smile on their face and a song in their heart,” she says.  “Maybe they will say ‘Oh, I have not heard that song before, or ‘I have not heard that song for a long time,’ but whatever it is, they will think of it after leaving the show. This year we are playing a Woody/Arlo Guthrie tune at all of our shows, ‘My Peace.’ We hope everyone takes a little bit of peace home with them.

“My closing line for every show is, ‘If you enjoyed what your heard tonight, tell your friends, tell your neighbors, you heard Rum River Blend,’” Tatarian jokes. “‘If did not enjoy what you heard tonight, keep it to yourselves as nobody likes a complainer.’”

Rum River Blend performs at 7:30 p.m. May 7 at the Mayflower Arts Center Theater, 9 W. Main St. in Troy. For more information, please call 937.440.9834 or visit rumriverblend.com or mayflowerartscenter.com.

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach Dayton City Paper freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@daytoncitypaper.com.

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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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