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Herb and Hanson: The acoustic duo of destruction

By Staff | Apr 28, 2009

Critically described as “intoxicating and stupefying,” Herb and Hanson, aka “The Acoustic Duo of Destruction,” have been performing in and around the West Virginia area for the past four years. Last year they appeared at the River Festival on the Banks of the Shenandoah in West Virginia, and also at the Sunshine Daydream Festival in Terra Alta.

Herb Manila, on guitar and mandolin, and Mike Hanson on guitar, make up one of the most musically compelling touring duets in our region and with several live shows across the Mountain State lined up over the next few weeks, there’s plenty of opportunities to catch them in their element.

Their dazzling instrumentation and tight vocal harmonies make them a joy to experience. Their high energy style would be almost exhausting if it weren’t so sweetly exhilarating, and they have a universal appeal with their creative and unique interpretations of cover tunes, as well as their very compelling original music.

It is nearly impossible for audiences not to respond to their driving force with hand clapping, feet tapping and dance. Herb and Hanson’s original music is inspired by a number of influences, and can be both poignant and amusing. 

Among Hanson’s early influences were the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Vassar Clements, Bill Monroe and John Hartford. He started playing guitar in high school, and has never had formal training; he just picked it up by observing his friends who played guitar, but believes he really learned by jamming with other musicians. Herb also credits a wide and eclectic range of influences, from Greensky Bluegrass, to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, to Guns ‘N Roses.

Herb started playing guitar at the age of 12, mandolin at 26, banjo at 28, ukulele at 30, and he promises the fans that more will follow.

The two first met in 1996, and by 2000 had started performing at open mikes and jam nights in the Washington D.C. area. They soon began performing together at small local venues, and by 2001, had released their first, self-titled CD. 

In 2005, they decided to go out on the road full time, and have constantly expanded their touring radius around D.C. up and down the Atlantic seaboard with an almost cult-like following of enthusiastic and appreciative fans. 

Both on and offstage, Hanson’s quiet and easy-going demeanor is nicely balanced by Herb’s flair for the eccentric.

Their second studio record, “The Whiskey Fund,” was released in 2006 to rave reviews from both fans and critics alike. This CD defies description in terms of musical genre; including original folk, bluegrass, blues, ragtime and ballads. 

This duo crosses musical boundaries with finesse and great style. Anything they approach sounds as natural to them as any other musical form, and they refuse to be defined or bound by any particular musical style. 

“Poor Man’s Dime,” perhaps one of their most requested originals from “The Whiskey Fund,” details the plight of many of us today, that of being in “a rich man’s world on a poor man’s dime,” and climaxes with blindingly fast mandolin and guitar riffs that leave audiences shaking their heads in stunned amazement. 

“Katrina” parallels the loss felt in the aftermath of a hurricane to the heart rending pain for the loss of love, and again, features beautifully articulated instrumentals which leave one weak in the knees.

In February, they performed as Artists in Residence at the prestigious Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda, Md., to a standing room only crowd where people were literally sitting on windowsills. 

More recently, they shared the stage with Ralph Stanley in New York City, and Larry Keel in Pennsylvania.

They are also featured in a larger acoustic string band based in Northern Virginia, called “Over Under-Down Yonder” (OUDY), where they “croon, whoop, harmonize, bleed and stomp their way through train tunes, horse hymns, corn liquor lullabies, moonshine melodies and Shenandoah shanties,” just to name a few.

They are presently working on no fewer than three different recording projects. Soon to be released, one is a compilation of John Hartford tunes, which they recorded at ELM Cottage Studios with “Uncle Eddie” in Wheeling. 

They appeared for their debut performance on the Wheeling Jamboree at the Victoria Theater on Saturday, April 18. The show was simulcasted on the Web at www.wheelingjamboree.org, and broadcast live on several AM and FM stations throughout the state. They are also appearing at the Mecklenburg Inn in Shepherdstown, on May 1, and at the Waterfall Cafe in Fairmont, on June 5.

Contact Robin at rmahonen@graffitiwv.com