He’s been described as one of the major innovators of 5-string banjo playing,
a wonderfully idiosyncratic musician. Fellow musician Tony Trischka calls him
“a transcendentally clawhammering force of nature” and Bela Fleck says simply,
"Richie is a wonderful musician. I love his mantra-groove spooky-banjo style."
For Natalie Merchant, it’s his ability to blend traditional technique and repertoire
with contemporary and original material that sets him apart: says Natalie,
“I have been amazed by Richie Stearns’ musicianship…the banjo in his hands can
become either a hypnotic weapon of propulsion or the source of some of
the most soulful and plaintive sounds I have ever heard."
RICHIE STEARNS first discovered the pleasures of the old time banjo when he was 14. He’s traveled round the world, performing both traditional and his own original music, finding ways to collaborate with musicians from five continents (Africa/Asia/North America, Australia, Europe) as well as local musicians from diverse musical backgrounds (classical, jazz, country, R&B, and more). Over the past three decades, he’s written original music for film scores and dance ensembles as well his own bands (The Horse Flies, Evil City String Band, Ti Ti Chickapea, Donna the Buffalo, and the Renegades, among them) and collaborated with artists from a variety of disciplines to present public performances on stages through the U.S., Canada, and Europe, as well as on radio and television.
A founding member of the neo traditional alternative rock band THE HORSE FLIES, he’s toured extensively over the last three decades, recording eight albums with The Horse Flies, including releases on MCA and Rounder Records. (The Horse Flies have been featured on MTV, Prairie Home Companion, All Things Considered, World Café and Mountain Stage, and have been written about in Rolling Stone, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and other major publications.)
The list of musicians Richie’s recorded, toured, and performed with is long and diverse: among them, jazz guitarist BILL FRISELL, Malian bluesman VIEUX FARKA TOURE, North Indian Gypsy band MUSAFIR, Tibetan singer YUNGCHEN LLAMO, pop legend LINDA RONSTADT, country and bluegrass musicians (including PETER ROWAN, VASSAR CLEMENTS, TONY TRISCHKA, and JIM LAUDERDALE), Cajun groups (Michael Doucet & BEAUSOLEIL, REDSTICK RAMBLERS), Celtic bands (DE DANNAN, John Doyle of SOLAS) and Australia’s KASEY CHAMBERS as well as SAMITE of Uganda and South African Afro-pop star JOHNNY CLEGG.
Three major long-term musical collaborations involve NATALIE MERCHANT (three recordings and multiple tours), BELA FLECK (workshop presentations and performances on concert stages throughout the US) and folk hero PETE SEEGER, who recently invited Richie to score original music for an album that will feature Pete telling his life story over a music background. (Over the past two decades, Richie’s performed with or for Pete on numerous occasions.) Past performances and recordings also include work with a wide variety of other musicians, including DAVID BYRNE, BILLY BRAGG & WILCO, OLD CROW MEDICINE SHOW, JOAN BAEZ, and the Tuvan throat-singers, the ALASH ENSEMBLE.
In addition to his ongoing tenure with THE HORSE FLIES, Richie’s best known for his current work with his own EVIL CITY STRING BAND (repertoire based in the world of old time and country music, with some originals) and the improvisational trio TI TI CHICKAPEA, which includes critically acclaimed cellist HANK ROBERTS and respected violinist ERIC ACETO. (Their music, while rooted in tradition, involves a wide range of improvisation and musical experimentation.) He’s a founding member of the roots rock outfit, DONNA THE BUFFALO.
He’s also president and co-creator of the annual GRASSROOTS FESTIVAL OF MUSIC AND DANCE, a major American roots music festival that not only brings together internationally respected musicians from many different cultures for four days every July, but also, by allowing the space for these talents to come together and play music, has over the last 25 years succeeded in naturally fermenting its own unique musical culture. The festival draws thousands of attendees every year; the alumni list is literally a “who’s who” of world roots music and Americana, and the success of the Finger Lakes festival has spawned a similar sister festival held annually in North Carolina.
As a workshop presenter and teacher, his credits include the Vancouver and Winnipeg Folk Festivals in Canada as well as the Telluride (Colorado) Bluegrass Festival, the Philadelphia Folk Festival, Florida’s Suwanee and Magnolia Fest, West Virginia’s Augusta Heritage Center, New York’s Ashokan Fiddle and Dance Camp, Alaska’s Folklife Festival, Meadowlark Music Camp in Maine, and other festivals in Sweden, Denmark and Germany.
Artistic collaboration has included creating works for the SECOND HAND DANCE COMPANY (including an off-Broadway show), the RHYTHM & SHOES Dance Ensemble and the GREENGRASS CLOGGERS as well as concert presentations at the Corning Glass series, 2300 Degrees, which melds live music with glass-blowing artistry. Richie has played a leading role in composing music for two feature film scores: Where the Rivers Flow North (Producers Guild of America Nova Award) and A Stranger in the Kingdom . Among his most recent collaborations are live performance art presentations (including Park Doing’s Ode to Analogue Television and Natasha Pickowicz’s PopCorn Youth noise concerts.)
When he’s not touring, Richie’s taught banjo students in Ithaca and, over the past 30 years has regularly offered a weekly music session (held at a variety of venues over the years) that’s most often simply billed as “Richie Stearns and friends.” Joining Richie are a cast of local luminaries as well as far-flung musical friends passing through.
“What I’ve learned from my students,” says Richie, “is that everyone has a different way of learning. When I teach, what I try to do is show people how to listen. It’s all about sharpening listening skills, being aware of what’s going on around you, and using what’s going on in the moment to inspire you to improvise.”
RICHIE STEARNS Missing
RICHIE STEARNS Solo
RICHIE AND ROSIE Tractor Beam
HORSE FLIES Chokers and Flies - Old Time Music
HORSE FLIES Human Fly Rounder Records (re-released by MCA)
HORSE FLIES Gravity Dance MCA Records
HORSE FLIES Where the Rivers Flow North Alcazar Records/New Sounds (film score)
HORSE FLIES A Stranger in the Kingdom Kingdom County Productions (film score)
HORSE FLIES In the Dance Tent Live and Kickin' Records
HORSE FLIES Two Traditions Rhythm Records
HORSE FLIES Until the Ocean Pest Control
EVIL CITY STRING BAND/Evil City String Band/Simply Red
JENNIE STEARNS Angel with a Broken Wing
JENNIE STEARNS Mourning Dove Songs
JENNIE STEARNS Live from Buffalo 2001/Tin Roof Mystery 1993
JENNIE STEARNS Sing Desire
RUNNING WITH SCISSORS Running with Scissors
TI TI CHICKAPEA Change of Worlds Orchard Beat Records
TI TI CHICKAPEA Firestick I-Town Records
BUBBA GEORGE STRING BAND Bubba George Live
THE IMPROBABILLIES Improbabillies
THE RENEGADES The Renegades Carryon Records
Richie also appears on:
CHIP TAYLOR & CARRIE RODRIGUEZ Red Dog Tracks Train Wreck/Back Porch Records (voice, banjo, tenor guitar)
CARRIE RODRIGUEZ Seven Angels on a Bicycle Train Wreck/Back Porch Records (vocal, banjo)
JOE CROOKSTON Able Baker Charlie Milagrito Records (“album of the year” on US Folk DJ chart 2008) (banjo)
NATALIE MERCHANT House Carpenter's Daughter Myth America Records (voice, banjo, tenor guitar)
10,000 MANIACS MTV Unplugged (banjo)
JIM LAUDERDALE AND DONNA THE BUFFALO Wait 'Til Spring Skycrunch Records
JIM LAUDERDALE The Hummingbirds (banjo)
DONNA THE BUFFALO Positive Friction Sugar Hill Records(vocals, keyboard)
DONNA THE BUFFALO Live from the American Ballroom (vocals, keyboards, organ, synthesizer)
TARA NEVINS Mule to Ride Sugar Hill Records
HANK ROBERTS Truth and Reconciliation Show I-Town Records (banjo)
JIM ROBERTS Ancient Hand Rhythm Records (banjo)
JOHN DOYLE Evening Comes Early Shanachie (harmony vocals, banjo)
MARK GRAHAM Southern Old Time Harmonica (banjo)
MARY LORSON AND ST. LOW Tricks for Dawn Cooking Vinyl Records (banjo)
SAINT LOW Saint Low Cooking Vinyl Records (banjo)
HORSE FLIES AND AGENTS OF TERRA Fresh Oldtime String Band Music (produced by Mike Seeger) Rounder Records (vocals, banjo)
SIM REDMOND BAND Good Thoughts I-Town Records (tenor guitar)
THE SAMPLES Return to Earth Apache Records (banjo)
THE YOUNG FOGIES The Young Fogies (vocals, banjo)
TONY TRISCHKA World Turning (vocals, banjo)
CROW GREENSPUN Never Be Its Own (banjo)
ALEX CATON The Sinners and the Saved (vocals, banjo)
Various Artists Rounder Old-Time Music (banjo)
Various Artists Old Time Music: On the Air, Vol. 2 (banjo)
Various Artists Visits (produced by Ray Alden/Heritage Records (re-released by Rounder)
Compilation (with the Horse Flies) Rainbow Sign (produced by John McCutcheon) Rounder
Various Artists: Sowing these Seeds: the Tenth Anniversary (a Pete Seeger tribute) Appleseed Records