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A sound as changeable as the weather

If you happen to catch The Bad Bongwater Boys in action more than once, chances are you’ll see a different show each time.

From country to bluegrass to old school rock ’n’ roll, the local band, primarily a six-man unit with a rotating cast of guest stars, plays anything its individual members are into.

“We can play for any type of crowd,” said Dave Soehner, guitarist, vocalist and one of the leaders of the band.

The Bad Bongwater Boys consists of a core of local musicians joined by a rotating roster of guests. Back row: Eric Brubacher, Aaron Poffenroth, Jonathan Sauder and Dave Neigh. Front, Ryan Baer, Matt Wood and Dave Soehner.
The Bad Bongwater Boys consists of a core of local musicians joined by a rotating roster of guests. Back row: Eric Brubacher, Aaron Poffenroth, Jonathan Sauder and Dave Neigh. Front, Ryan Baer, Matt Wood and Dave Soehner.

“As a band, we’re playing so many styles of music; we started off playing bluegrass music but now we’ve moved into all kinds of folk and older blues.”

Playing its own modified renditions of known rock songs as well as covering its own material, the band keeps it wide and varied: one show’s set list might feature a totally different sound from the next.

“We have sets of bluegrass music, sets of acoustic rock music, sets of folk music, and blues music,” said Soehner.

While the variety in musical genres reflects the band members’ shared and individual tastes, it also gives The Bad Bongwater Boys the ability to play a wide variety of gigs. Their vast repertoire allows the Boys to perform at bluegrass, rock, folk and blues festivals.

“Everybody kind of brings a different dimension to the music,” he said of his bandmates.

The local outfit features a regular band of six members from Elmira, Wellesley and Waterloo – Ernest Cunningham, Alex Brubacher, Aaron Poffenroth, Ryan Baer and Johnny Sauder – as well as a supporting cast of additional musicians, including Dan Bossenberry, Dave Bossenberry and Taylor Poffenroth. These days, the band’s sound is the product of eight musicians playing the  banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, and a percussion section which consists of a stripped down conventional drum kit – with a bass drum, snare and high hat – a washboard, and stringed instruments covering rhythm in addition to melody.

Bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Grateful Dead and The Band are among some of the local act’s influences.

Although the Bad Bongwater Boys have been together for about a year and a half, several of the band’s musicians have been playing together informally for years. It all started when a group Elmira youngsters searching for something to do found music.

“Growing up in Elmira, there’s not really a lot to do, so you’ve got to kind of figure out things to do: we always played music, since we were 10 years old,” said Soehner, who sings and plays the guitar and the mandolin for the band.

“There are so many possibilities … there’s nothing to do growing up in Elmira, but there are so many good musicians that are coming out of this town.”

Soehner started with rock and punk and then moved on to other sounds.

“I’ve gotten into everything since then, like blues, folk, bluegrass.”

Those musical tastes are ever-growing: Soehner recently returned from a five-month trip that took him to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia, where he absorbed everything around him, relishing the different cultures and, particularly, the music. He even picked up a charango, a South American stringed instrument resembling a lute.

“We don’t have it in a  performance yet, but we’re always trying to find a new way to add something else in,” he explained, noting that it’s likely just a matter of time before the charango makes an appearance in one of the band’s songs.

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