Freight Hoppers back on track
Written by COLE CHRISTENSEN Sentinel Staff Writer   
Tuesday, 06 September 2011 11:02
The Freight Hoppers
Analogies and references to trains are commonly found in all corners of traditional American music, from gospel to blues to bluegrass. But perhaps none is more fitting than as a band name for the Freight Hoppers.
Based out of Bryson City, N.C., the Freight Hoppers got their start in the 1990s as a two-piece fiddle and banjo musical show for a scenic railroad excursion company. The railroad wanted some traditional music that fit in to the Appalachian scenery and fiddler David Bass and banjo player Frank Lee both looked and sounded the part.
The daily tours allowed Bass and Lee to hone and perfect their sound together, ultimately serving as the catalyst for the founding of their band, which was in-demand for live shows at festivals and venues across the country until the band’s hiatus in 2000.
After eight years apart the Freight Hoppers were born again in 2008, much to the joy of fans clamoring for more of their hard driving, fiddle-based music that both calls upon and pushes the boundaries of what is commonly referred to as old time music.
“David was performing with some other people and there were occasions where they would need a banjo player for one reason or another,” Lee said in a recent telephone interview. “We were receptive to the idea of putting the band together again to get a return on the investment we had made in the Freight Hoppers.”
The Freight Hoppers represent a dichotomy that exists in the ranks of old time music, blending traditional fiddle and banjo sounds that appeal to purists with hard driving songs that appeal to wider audiences, especially fans of bluegrass and other Americana genres.
Their 2010 album “Mile Marker” is a great example of this, with a split of vocal and fiddle tunes across the 13 tracks that include chestnut old time tunes like “Lost Indian” and well-worn country blues like “Scandalous and a Shame.”
“The only thing we have to worry about is entertaining these people and presenting the music in a format that is other than bluegrass,” Lee said. “Many of the old time musicians recording in the ’20s and ’30s were very versatile musicians, recording lots of different kinds of music.”
In many ways the Freight Hoppers are simply creating music that they love to play, regardless of sub genre or historical accuracy. Bass and Lee’s partnership extends more than two decades, and their tight-laced fiddle and banjo sound is the product of many years of hard-core playing.
Their tight melody, coupled with the rhythmic drive of Isaac Deal, guitar and vocals, and Bradley Adams, bass, is the hallmark of their driving sound that is in many ways making old time music new again.
“Our existence as a band is very much unlike anything I have ever heard about or dreamed about as far as how smooth it goes,” Lee said. “I am really lucky to have this band, it is just so perfect. It is just so natural.”

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