While planning for the upcoming tour, Corn Potato members will include some visuals designed and crafted by Lindsay McCaw.
The three members of the Corn Potato String Band began playing fun country music together in 2012, but it’s been almost three years since they’ve been able to appear in person as a trio.
With entertainment venues opening again, they’re glad to resume taking their song stylings around Michigan with an appearance Thursday, Feb. 10, at The Ark in Ann Arbor.
Sensing their energy geared up, the three dubbed this the “No Spaghetti Arms Tour.”
“The main way I’m feeling liberated since the pandemic is by setting time aside to play music with my really good friends,” said Detroiter Aaron Jonah Lewis, a multi-instrumentalist joined by another Detroiter and multi-instrumentalist, Lindsay McCaw, and banjo player Ben Belcher of Alabama.
“Getting in front of people and sharing that experience has always been really important to us, and it’s been hard to go without it.”
The instruments the trio plays include fiddle, guitar, bass and mandolin. They joke about what their title represents about themselves and their choice of songs: the ears and eyes of America as the starches of the New World.
“We do traditional songs, some new songs and tell the stories that go with the writing of the songs,” said Lewis, a Midwestern-bred entertainer whose immersion in Southern music came after the classical. “We try to do some songs that people will recognize and relate to as well as songs they haven’t heard before. An idea is to unearth gems from the musical past.”
An example of their style is the presentation of two versions of a tune based on the fight song of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va. Lewis does “Washington County” learned as a fiddle arrangement once recorded by the late famed fiddler Kenny Baker. McCaw does “Washington and Lee Swing,” a jazz version early on performed by Louis Armstrong.
“We love to revel in the history and connection to the past, but we’re also very much about entertainment and humor,” explained Lewis, whose group has appeared in and out of the U.S. “It’s funny how we’ll find a song that’s been played by some kind of hillbilly string band in the ’20s and ’30s, and it turns out that it was written by professional composers on Tin Pan Alley years earlier.”
Lewis, 40, who also teaches instrumental music to private students, was a violin performance major at Interlochen before being introduced to folk styles and country performers by a friend met through a Habonim Dror program in Israel.
After working with different bands and getting to know different musicians, Lewis asked Belcher and McGaw to form Corn Potato. He had met Belcher through connections made during the program in Israel, and he got to know McGaw through participation at an Appalachian String Band Festival in West Virginia.
“We’re kind of like a niche of a niche,” Lewis said. “We most closely fit in with what people call old-time country. We don’t sound quite the same as anyone else. Although we do think of it as country music, it’s bolder country music. It spans the time period from before recorded technology was available.
“We’re not trying to play what people have heard 1,000 times. It’s a little bit of education. We’re trying to share things that they may not have heard before and tell the background.”
During the pandemic, Lewis started work on a recording, “Ragtime Banjo Revival,” independent of his Corn Potato partners. It will have 27 pieces arranged for banjo and other instruments and feature 10 different ensembles across the selections.
The numbers reach from “Maple Leaf Rag” popularized by Scott Joplin to “Pearl of the Harem” by Harry Guy, a Detroit composer going back 100 years and into ragtime.
While planning for the upcoming tour, Corn Potato members will include some visuals designed and crafted by McCaw. Moved as a scroll mounted on a couple of rods to make up what is known as a crankie show, the images — abstract and representational — will roll through to accentuate the music.
Two songs accompanied by images are “You and a Canoe” by Emile Grimshaw and “Freckles” by Joe Morley, which is on Lewis’ latest recording, Mozart of the Banjo: The Joe Morley Project.
The audience joins in by imagining for themselves how the images relate.
The Corn Potato String Band will appear at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 10, at The Ark, 316 S. Main Street, in Ann Arbor. $20. (734) 761-1800. theark.org. For more information on the group and tour updates, go to cornpotato.com.