Photo by Rande Styger
A family that plays together
BY ANTHONY PERROTTA
WEST ISLIP—The Homegrown Strings Band, a modern incarnation of the rural string bands of the early 20th century, is coming to West Islip this weekend.
The band originally consisted of Rick Jackofsky, his wife Georgianne, and the couple’s two daughters. This month marked 22 years since the band’s first performance, which was for the Long Island Traditional Music Association, when the couple’s children, Erica and Annalee, were 12 and 9 years old. “Our set was only supposed to be 15 minutes, but we were bumped up to 45,” Rick recalled.
As for the origins of the group, Rick had been playing bass in a rockabilly band at the time. The family had just gotten rid of their TV, so for entertainment, Rick started teaching his young daughters music.
Annalee remembers taking her dad in for show and tell in kindergarten. It was there that they performed a song that they wrote together, called “Wish I Was a Big Oak Tree.”
“I really enjoyed performing, so when Erica and my dad were working on playing some songs together, I wanted to join in,” she said.
Georgianne said she was the most hesitant when it came to starting a band, being that she didn’t have an extensive music background. But, in the end, the band was formed and began touring the country in 1997.
“We stayed away from [playing] the bar scene since the girls were so young,” Georgianne said, adding that they opted for coffeehouses and libraries instead, along with some notable music festivals, including the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival in Saugerties, N.Y. and Willow Creek Bluegrass Festival in Montgomery, N.Y.
One of Rick’s favorite venues to play was Caffe Lena, the oldest continually running coffee house in the nation, located in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where Don McLean is said to have performed “American Pie” for the first time.
“There’s a story behind every location,” Georgianne said, recalling the Pines Bluegrass Festival at the Pines Resort in the Catskills. “Most of those old Borscht Belt resorts have closed, but this one was nice while it lasted,” Georgianne said.
“We saw many bluegrass legends perform there,” she continued, “but it was April Stevens of The Stevens Family that Annalee really enjoyed listening to, and who took the time to sit her down and tell her about the mandolin.”
The Stevens Family was popular with the Jackofskys because they were a family band with a mom, dad and two daughters. “We hadn’t [officially] formed a band yet when we went to see them perform,” Georgianne added.
Annalee, who now works at a library and teaches yoga, also recalled being homeschooled with her big sister so they could go out touring.
“I still remember doing homework with my sister in the backseat of the car while traveling around the country doing gigs,” she added. “I also remember all the interesting hotels we stayed at – some good, some awful – while we toured, and all the interesting people we got to meet in different parts of the country. It was an eye-opening way to grow up.”
Erica’s last show with her family was back in November. Georgianne explained that her oldest daughter’s marketing job and commute into Manhattan made it too difficult to keep performing.
The band has recorded five studio albums to date. The first one is “Blind Dog Thumpin’ on the Porch,” released in 2000, and the latest is “Field Recordings: Volume I,” released in 2015. When asked if they intend on doing a “Field Recordings: Volume II,” Rick said they plan on making a follow-up “eventually,” but not anytime too soon.
“We’ve always been more of a live band,” he said, adding that people aren’t buying CDs anymore. “We record, really, just to have something to sell at our shows, kind of like a novelty. But it’s interesting to look back and see how our repertoire has changed over the years.”
The group’s other albums include “Big Fork, Little Fork” (2002), “Rock Hollow” (2004) and “Ragged but Right” (2007).
Rick offers private banjo and guitar lessons in person at the Jackofsky home in Rocky Point, or online through Apple FaceTime or Skype. An updated version of his book, “Ragged but Right: The Ungentle Art of Clawhammer Banjo,” which he describes as a “springboard” for those looking to learn the traditional art of the instrument, is also available at Roosterick.com.
Rick and Georgianne began making music together as high school sweethearts. Now that their daughters are older and spending more time away from home, they have come up with an alternative to The Homegrown Strings Band, a duet group called The Homegrown Two.
Georgianne said it’s different performing with just her husband after more than 20 years of the whole family playing together. “It’s still fun, though,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll be getting that [project] off the ground soon.”
The Homegrown Strings Band is scheduled to perform on Sunday, Jan. 20 at the West Islip Public Library on Higbie Lane at 2 p.m. They will be in Sayville at the Edwards Homestead on June 2.
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