On Friday, March 23, the state’s happiest folk band makes its Central Arkansas debut when Red Oak Ruse performs at Four Quarter Bar in Argenta, beginning around 10 pm. Admission is $7, ages 21 and up. Before the show, starting at 8 pm, New Belgium Brewing is hosting a “tap takeover” Pint Night event, introducing its new Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA and featuring its two wood-aged sour ales. (For more on that, scroll to the bottom.)
The members of Red Oak Ruse – the most dynamic indie folk act to come out of Arkansas in a long time – all have a widely varied and extensive background in music in several different states. For example, frontman and vocalist/fiddler/guitarist Michael Schembre may be most widely known by Arkansas live music fans for his role with Mountain Sprout from 2013-2016; but in Missouri, his home state until he moved to Eureka Springs a couple years ago, he’s well-known for the music he played with The Kay Brothers, The Hat Trick, and Mary & the Giant.
Since relocating to Arkansas, he’s devoted his talents to playing with Opal Agafia & The Sweet Nothings and, more recently, his band Red Oak Ruse.
Red Oak Ruse came out of the gate last year already breaking barriers when it comes to genres and traditional music styles, blending the sounds of modern and classic folk-rock, pop, and bluegrass for a sound that could be described as a mixture of The Avett Brothers, The Eagles and Third Eye Blind. In an interview with the band first published in fall 2017 when Red Oak Ruse released its debut album, I nicknamed their sound Ozarks folk-pop; they laughingly dubbed it “Ozarkana.” Read the full interview with Red Oak Ruse here, or check out the in-depth album review with audio here.
Red Oak Ruse is comprised of Schembre; Justin Thomas Easter on lead guitar and vocals; Jonathan Hagood on bass and vocals; and Chris Loeffler on drums. All but Loeffler are Eureka Springs residents and full-time band members; Loeffler still lives in Missouri – Jefferson City to be precise – but don’t be surprised if Schembre recruits Loeffler to move to the Ozarks, just like he convinced Hagood.
Song after song, Red Oak Ruse provides surprising twists and turns in musical stylings, genre-hopping, and instrumentation. The songwriting is some of the best I’ve heard come out of Arkansas in a long time: fantastic hooks in nearly every track’s melody; outstanding lead vocals and harmonies; subtle but powerful bass lines; playful-yet-powerful fiddling; high-speed, intricate, and expertly delivered electric and acoustic guitar solos; and, best of all, lyrics that are honest, entertaining, inspiring, and easily accessible (in other words, you don’t have to be a poetry major for them to mean something to you).