By Kristi Kates
The Whyos were an intimidating street gang who raged through NewYorks
volatile Five Points region from the 1860s until the early 1890s,
controlling much of the Manhattan territory and shouting their gang
cry of Why-oh! throughout the rough city streets.
The musical act thats been dubbed The Wiyos - while they definitely
did borrow their name from the infamous gang - may be just as
boisterous at times, but theyre a lot less dangerous.
Which is, of course, fortunate for their fans.
We all met in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and felt that a band,
to some degree, is like a gang, The Wiyos Michael Farkas explains.
Throw in an occasional black eye and missing tooth for good measure,
Farkas goes on to say that, more seriously speaking, they wanted a
band name that had some historical significance.
And we certainly have a style that is loosely based on the gangs, he
says, each of those gangs had a very particular look.
On stage and in their promo shots, The Wiyos garb harkens back to the
late 19th century, as do their stage personas. In addition to Farkas
on harp, percussion, and often washboard, the band consists of Teddy
Weber on guitar, steel guitar, kick drum, and cornet, and Sauerkraut
Seth Travins on doghouse bass and percussion. Farkas says that its
the combination of carefully-selected musicians that help make The
Wiyos a success.
BIG EARS, BIG SOUND
Influenced by a little bit of everything (This band has very big
ears, Farkas says), the band is inspired by all the bands that are
trying to do something unique and original out there, Farkas
The arts in this country have always been a tough road, and my
inspiration comes from those who trundle along in the face of poverty
and adversity. Those being true to themselves is inspiring, he says.
That approach is definitely working for the band. They were recently
featured in the BBC television documentary Folk America, and The Wiyos
were also hand-picked in 2009 by Bob Dylan to tour as the opener of
Dylans road show, with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp.
Being multi-talented helps, too.
In addition to the instruments we play, we all sing, Farkas says,
and we work well together because we have a clear vision and love
performing together. We are a good team that is not afraid to be
Those opinions also extend to their feelings on the state of the
music biz today. While many may categorize The Wiyos as Americana
music, they feel that their genre is more of a float between a range
of sounds, which is something they continue to expand upon as they add
in such experimental elements as human beat-boxing and New Orleans
We are never quite clear as to what qualifies as Americana these
days, Farkas says. There is so much music that could fall into that
category. But if you define hip as something that was aligned with
urban culture and music from the 30s and 40s, then we certainly
qualify. These days, we have moved beyond the old-timey music where we
first gained our reputation.
A big part of their reputation, as well, are their energetic live
performances, in which they blend a little retro physical comedy with
their sharp musical skills, calling to mind the visuals of Charlie
Chaplin or Buster Keaton.
We enjoy musical and performance traditions that come directly from
the stages of Vaudeville or even Commedia DellArte (a form of Italian
improv theater begun in the mid-16th century, translated as comedy of
art), for that matter, Farkas says, back then, there was no
separation between comedy and music.
You put on a show, and in the best case scenario, you had the benefit
of good lighting, sound, and ambiance to set the stage for some kind
of transformation, he continues. Live shows should always endeavor
toward transformation. That is the reason why people went out to see
music or theater in the first place.
The Wiyos will be performing at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City
on November 20. For more info on the band, visit www.thewiyos.com.