Having created a name for themselves in Adams County, Run the Willow takes the next step with their fan-funded debut album.
By Ken Knox | Photography by Casey Martin
Vince Bruinsma never intended on settling down in Gettysburg, much less forming and being the front man for a band that has become a staple at watering holes and music festivals throughout Adams County. But, as fate (and choice) would have it, that’s what happened. “I was looking for more of a wandering lifestyle where I could just go as I pleased and search out places and be a little bit more free,” he recalls of his intentions when he landed in town. “I definitely wasn’t planning on staying here.”
Bruinsma moved to Gettysburg with his wife, Dana, in 2013, and quickly fell in with a crowd of local artists and similarly carefree spirits, eventually culminating in the creation of Waldo’s & Company, the all-ages artist’s co-op and hangout space located under Lark on Lincoln Square. A musician since high school, Bruinsma also began playing gigs at several of the town’s various coffee houses, breweries, and bars. In 2014, he released an EP of original material, The Wilderness Below, under his name, but something was missing. “I didn’t really enjoy playing music by myself,” Bruinsma says.
Having gotten to know several of the town’s other local musicians, Bruinsma began inviting them or joining them on stage for the occasional jam session, and before long those two-person collaborations became three- and four-person collaborations that eventually became something like a band.
“It didn’t start as, ‘We’re going to be a band,’” Bruinsma says. “We just started playing together, and it was fun and sounded a lot better. It was super chill.” His co-singer and drummer, Rebekah Foster, remembers it a little differently. “Oh, I was like, ‘We’re definitely a legit band,’” she laughs. “I was really serious about it.”
The group continued to play sporadically but was eventually forced to come up with a band name so they could appear on the promotional material for the inaugural Gettysburg Rocks charity music festival. They chose Run the Willow, Bruinsma says, for its consonance and because “we just liked the sound of it. It feels earthy and evokes a pleasant vibe.” And voilà—a local band was born.
Since then, Run the Willow has developed a solid local following by playing not only Gettysburg Rocks, but several other local festivals (including the Rocky Knob Folky Fest and A Concert for CARES), and become regulars at haunts like Battlefield Brew Works, Hauser Estate Winery, Garryowen Irish Pub, Adams County Winery, and, of course, Waldo’s. Recently, they’ve even branched out to other areas, performing as the featured band for Harrisburg’s Italian Lake Music Series and at the Beta Hi-Fi Emerging Music Festival in Philadelphia. Still, the band’s most significant achievement has been recording its first full-length album, which was finally released this summer.
Recorded in the band’s practice space on Foster’s family’s farm and funded through fans by a successful Indiegogo campaign, A Living Dichotomy is the perfect representation of their blend of sunny folk-rock and inspirational leanings (all the band’s members identify as Christian.) The debut album showcases by equal turns their shimmering optimism, their gorgeous melodies and vocal harmonies, their “let go, let God” spiritual faith, and, most profoundly, their love of the land that surrounds them. Several of the songs (“Open Country,” “Summer Hymns,” “Wooden Man,” and “Roots,” to name a few) are steeped in a love of nature that Bruinsma holds close to his heart. “I don’t think I can write a song without a nature metaphor in it,” he jokes. “I’ve tried. It just doesn’t work.”
More than anything, though, A Living Dichotomy stands as a musical journal of sorts detailing Bruinsma’s ongoing struggle to reconcile heart and home. “My music has tended to deal with the internal tension I have between not necessarily wanting to be attached but finding fulfillment and love and being part of a community and that being a much more positive thing than not investing in where you live,” he says.
Now that the band’s profile has been raised, however, Bruinsma may once again be forced to choose between staying put and moving around. But for now, the band is taking it day by day. “We’re all pretty invested in this area and have a lot of different things going on outside of the band, but we’d definitely like to do a few weeks of touring here and there,” he says, pointing to popular indie acts like The Oh Hellos and Blind Pilot as inspiration for the kind of career the band might have. “I’m pretty sure we’ll stay independent since that is kind of our style.”
Many of the band members have known each other for years (Foster grew up with banjo player Chris Hartlaub and viola player Ben Muller, while Hartlaub and bass player Taylor Greenholt previously jammed together in a rock ‘n’ roll outfit), so it’s hardly a surprise they feel like they’re part of a family. That irony is not lost on Bruinsma.
“Through living in Gettysburg, I found a really awesome community of people that I wanted to put down roots with,” he says. “So many people live in a place, and they’re like, ‘I can’t wait to get out of here,’ and they miss out on all the people around them. If there’s a message to the album, it’s that there is beauty in all sorts of mundane things that are around us all the time that we might not enjoy at first glance. But it’s worthwhile to take the risk and love and invest in the people you live with and be rooted where you live.”
Run the Willow
Genre: Folk, Indie-Folk Rock