“Straddling the boundary between punk rock and mountain music, Bemis is known for taking traditional songs most people have never heard and adapting them in ways that are both inventive and memorable.” — Isthmus; Madison, WI
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Since 2001, Andru Bemis has wandered the ends, edges and in-betweens of North America like a musical Johnny Appleseed, tuning neglected pianos and bringing joy to audiences wherever he goes. Traveling almost exclusively by foot, thumb, and public transportation, Bemis carries the tools of his trade in his pack: a piano tuning kit and an assortment of battered musical instruments—banjo, fiddle, guitar, and occasional banjolele. His unmistakeable voice, exquisitely crafted songs of travel, love and longing, uncommon skill on multiple instruments, quirky humor, and engaging stage presence have endeared him to countless audiences and fellow performers in venues of every size and description.
Actor/comedian/singer John C. Reilly has twice invited Andru to tour as the opening act and fiddler/banjoist for John Reilly & Friends, featuring Reilly, Becky Stark, and Tom Brosseau. Highlights of these tours included sold-out shows at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, the first ever public performances in Milwaukee’s historic Miller Caves beneath the Miller Brewery, Lincoln Center, and an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. Bemis has also shared shows or toured with Dan Bern, Shawn Colvin, Joshua Davis, Felice Brothers, Tony Furtado, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Emily Keener, Jim Kweskin, Charlie Louvin, Over the Rhine, Amanda Palmer, Noam Pikelny, Red Tail Ring, Rachel Ries, Sam Shepard, the Steel Wheels, Sebastian Steinberg, Two Man Gentlemen Band, Willie Watson, Jason Webley, Woody Pines, and more others than he can possibly recall.
Bemis’ solo performances are spiritual, enlightening and entertaining for audiences of all ages. His powerful tenor voice and instrumental accompaniment harken to a time before television, when tunes were shared between neighbors in parlors and on porches, in churches, saloons and Grange halls. His repertoire is a seamless combination of original songs and carefully selected public domain and folk songs, many of which are rarely heard today. Like Woody Guthrie and countless historical folk musicians and troubadours, Bemis often adds new verses to old songs and crafts them to his liking. He has played violin since the age of 5, and is self-taught on the guitar, banjo, banjolele, and an assortment of other instruments.
Songs from Bemis’ self-produced albums are played on radio stations throughout the country, and have been featured in a number of independent films. “Rail To Reel” was called the “Best Folk Album of 2006” by KVDS FM (Davis, CA), for bringing new life and unique instrumentation to a collection of lesser known traditional songs learned and adapted through his travels. Bemis contributes frequently to other artists’ recordings, including a 2011 collaboration, “Say Yes to Yourself!,” with fellow Michigan musician Elisabeth Pixley-Fink. The duo celebrated the album’s release with a 22-state train and bus tour, performing nightly for two months, from Minneapolis to Mexico City.
In 2007, after spending several months each year using passenger trains as his exclusive transportation between performances, Bemis spearheaded a national letter–writing campaign to encourage Amtrak to offer specially priced seasonal or monthly rail passes for touring performers. The campaign resulted in hundreds of personal letters to Amtrak, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Soon after, Bemis took a six-year hiatus from touring to start Foundry Hall, a performance venue and community music organization in his hometown of South Haven, Michigan. He learned to tune pianos (there are four at Foundry Hall), and now travels the rails and roads with a tuning kit tucked alongside his instruments.
Andru now lives in Binghamton, New York, with his wife, historical musicologist Dr. Sarah Gerk. He hosts a weekly nationally syndicated radio show—the Chenango Sessions—in which he records world-class performers live in small rooms; coordinates the Cranberry Coffeehouse, which has a presented folk and traditional music series in the Southern Tier for almost half a century; tunes and repairs pianos in public spaces; and tours two to three months per year.
“The ability to play such a beautiful song is a rare gift, and a power of which I can only dream.”Garrison Keillor
“Multi-instrumentalist, South Haven [Mich.] native and Renaissance man Andru Bemis has spent the past decade or so making his way across the country carrying his instruments on his back, spreading folk songs like apple seeds as he goes. Bemis is a churched-up version of the hobo you imagine in the back of a railcar, picking on a stringed instrument, coasting off into the sunset. But Bemis is much more than just a picker in a bowler hat: this is a folk musician’s folk musician, singing his own lyrics alongside traditional songs in his signature bluegrass-y warble; swapping between banjo, guitar, fiddle and ukulele onstage; and nodding to folk styles from Celtic and Cajun to more modern styles and back to pure Americana.”Recoil Magazine; Grand Rapids, MI
“Michigan’s premier neo folk artist … is a modern day train hopping, banjo slinging troubadour who has made a name for himself in small venues across the US. His charismatic live show garners (accurate) comparisons to Arlo and Woody.ThisIsHappening; Lafayette, IN
“… When things finally got rockin’ and rollin’—er, so to speak, [John C. Reilly] came out and introduced their warm up act (the first time I’ve ever been present for a warm up and NOT wanted to kill myself) Andru Bemis, who played some sweet-ass banjo and sang old folk songs, real old ones, like the first ones ever. He warmed up the crowd sufficiently, inducing a sing along and called himself the canary of the show, coming out to see what kind of crowd they had on their hands …”Reel Scoop; Indianapolis, IN
“Andru Bemis is a modern folk singer who sounds like he should be on some dusty old 78 record. The way he plays clawhammer banjo and nylon-string guitar, you can tell that all he does is play music. He has a beautiful voice that breaks one way to a cry and another way to a yell. He really captures the high lonesome sound.”WPSU FM; Lemont, PA
“Andru Bemis is a traditionalist with a fresh approach and a modern troubadour with deep respect for the roots of his craft. He is a gifted vocalist and instrumentalist. His music speaks to our present condition in language of a gentler past. [Rail to Reel] is a magic mixture of traditional songs that sound brand new and songs written by Andru that are timeless. “Just Like Huck Finn” is destined to become a musical classic just as its forebear has become a literary classic. His treatment of “500 Miles” shows respect and humor at the same time — not an easy thing to bring off.”Wepecket Island Records