Old-time string music, with origins dating back to the late 19th century, never really went away. More accurately, it fell out of popular style, as most hit genres eventually do. Being a fundamentally American art form, though, it was always around, and it got a boost in national attention when the release of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” reignited public interest in older types of music. Listening to string duo Hawk Proof Rooster, you can imagine their songs must have been accidentally left off that instantly iconic soundtrack.
Even their name, Hawk Proof Rooster, stems from the sort of Southern-fried mysticism that would feel completely at home in the Coen Brothers’ vision of early 20th century Americana: one man’s chickens get picked off by hawks, one by one, until he sets off to find a rooster that could stand up to any old hawk. While this may sound like a tall tale that’s been passed down through the years, it is actually a story told by Charlie and Nancy Hartness, the married duo that make up Hawk Proof Rooster, about a neighbor of theirs in Athens, Georgia.
Charlie and Nancy hailed from Portland, but found themselves living in Georgia. When they eventually released an album of their own – after time spent collaborating with groups like Spencer and Rains and the Sky Island Stringband – it was with the daunting 21-track “Got a Little Home.” Made up of a mixture of original songs and covers, the album runs the gamut of emotion, from carefree ditties (“Bill Sullivan’s Red Steer”) to mournful odes (“The Lynching”) to something in-between (“I Only Want a Buddy Not a Sweetheart”). At their most charming, in “Dear Beethoven,” they interpolate the fourth movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, and transcend the inherent pitfalls of such a cheeky trick.
All along the way, Charlie and Nancy trade off instruments, incorporating guitar, ukulele, fiddle, banjo, and other hallmarks of old-time music. The harmony they’ve found in their relationship lays a smooth line to the harmony they make in music, creating an utterly warm experience.
Hawk Proof Rooster at Oly Old Time Festival
South Bay Grange,
3918 Sleater Kinney Rd NE, Olympia
4:00 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17
$20, Free for kids 12 and under