Miss Maddy’s F Street Stompers go back in time playing high-energy 1920s ragtime
What’s the modern, quintessential Sacramento sound? Some might say it’s a little punk, a bit indie and layered with plenty of hip-hop influence. Perhaps, but there’s one current band camped out in an old, gray house in the Oak Park neighborhood that instead draws on the syncopated rhythms and high-energy jigs of early 1900s ragtime.
Miss Maddy’s F Street Stompers embody influences from the likes of Leon Redbone and Peggy Lee, and even take note from groups like the Memphis Jug Band and its upbeat dance numbers.
Maddy Smith wears the washboard and is on lead vocals in this five-piece outfit; the rest of the F Street Stompers offer a front-row seat to the past with Max Peterson plucking the banjo, Brent Vallard pulling twang from a steel guitar, Robin Croen on upright bass and Matt Paige garnishing the ragged tempos on mandolin.
As the sun settled into the earth on a recent Sunday evening, Vallard and Peterson’s cozy home played host to the band’s weekly practice. It’s a fitting space, too, with wide living-room quarters and instruments littering every square inch of the carpeted area, including violins and trombones mounted on walls. A couple of corrugated washboards leaned against an entryway, while a single banjo and an old accordion, once belonging to Peterson’s grandmother, claimed space amid the array of noisemakers.
As an all-acoustic band, the Stompers say the perks of such are no cords to untangle, no heavyweight amps to lug around and never having to stress about finding a power source. Whether playing the wooden-planked walkways of Old Sacramento, various venues throughout town or even the banks of the river, the band members say they enjoy the freedom no cords attached offers.
“[We] can set up anywhere, anytime and just go,” said Croen. “That’s awesome, and that’s definitely an aesthetic, visually and audibly.”
Smith’s instrument of choice—an old metal washboard with several gadgets screwed and nailed to the face—also adds to that vibe. All of the washboard’s tin and brass trinkets were scavenged from different thrift stores throughout Midtown until Smith was finally satisfied with its overall sound.
“There’s a cymbal, a little tiny frying pan, a cool metal cup that we found and took apart. It makes this really cool ding noise,” said Smith of the anatomy of her instrument that she wears on her chest during performances.
Earlier this year during a live performance at The Press Club, Smith’s fingers, covered in silver pointy thimbles, tapped and scraped against the washboard’s features as the band played songs such as Clarence Williams’ “Jerry the Junker” and Merle Travis’ country tune “Fat Gal.”
Whatever the songs, the band’s members say they strive to capture the energy of the upbeat, toe-tappers recycled throughout the 1900s and into the revival of the ragtime movement well into the ’40s. Although the Stompers mostly perform popular songs from that era, they also blend bluegrass, country and even a little bit of gypsy into the old-time genre.
“Our songs are mostly ’20s renditions [of older tunes] that we’ve changed,” said Peterson. “We’ve added verses here and there to suit our needs if we can’t figure out what they’re saying. [This is] an old, lost form of music that nobody plays anymore, and it’s mostly what we listen to at home.”
The Stompers are currently recording their first four-track EP, set for release by the end of summer. Live, they keep the mood playful, encouraging audience members to jig along to the vintage sounds they revive from the past.
“It’s just good music, and they’re all toe-tappers still. I just feel like it’s so natural to dance to this music,” said Vallard. “That kind of energy is something that we strive to put into our performances.”