Best known for their work in Calexico and Ryanhood, respectively, Ryan Alfred and Ryan Green are both graduates of the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Matt Rolland won his first Arizona State Fiddle Championship at 17, and with his band, Run Boy Run, won the 2011 Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
All of that hard work in mind, you wouldn't blame them for slumming some jams just for fun on the well-travelled roads of traditional, backcountry, front porch tunes. Instead, you'll find them riffing string band and Appalachian standards like the worn and frayed "Little Rock Getaway" with the sort of skill, intellect and vigor that, in some parallel universe, the New York Symphonic Jazz Orchestra might bring to the threadbare "Stardust."
"I've known about Ryanhood ever since I moved to Tucson." Rolland says. "They were a pretty big name when I was in college just because the type of pop-rock music they play really appeals to college students."
Raised in Mesa, in a family band headed by a well-known fiddle teacher, Rolland came to the UA on a Flinn scholarship to study economics.
"After Run Boy Run kind of took off and we did our first national tour in 2013, Ryan [Green] got in touch with me and just said, 'Hey, let's get together and grab a coffee. There aren't too many bands touring nationally out of Tucson, so I'd love to meet you.' We had never met at that point, so I was flattered."
Before long the two were swapping songs, in regular jams and online. Both had orphan tunes that didn't quite fit their other bands, and there were classics both of them knew in a range of genres.
"I didn't really know Ryan Alfred," Rolland says, "but I had seen him with [Calexico] and knew he was a great musician." Green and Alfred, though, were old friends, having lived in the same dorm at Berklee. Rolland says Alfred moved to Arizona because Green was here.
"Once he brought Ryan Alfred into the fold, we knew very early on that we wanted to do some original stuff. We all write, just interesting acoustic music—instrumentals, primarily—but things that you're going to always play in a band that's focused on songs."
As Woven Oak Trio, the three have been seldom seen (an in-joke for the bluegrass trio), however they plan to record in March and play three Arizona shows starting Jan. 20 in Hotel Congress's Copper Room.
"There's definitely a mix of styles. Ryan Alfred comes from a rock background, but he's also into Americana and a Southwest thing. Ryan Green loves Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and progressive acoustic music, and I'm coming at it from a more traditional music background of Celtic and a kind of American fiddling style, so in many ways it's just a blend of those three different styles. There are different layers," he says.
"There's improvisation involved, but we don't stray too far into jam territory. Both Ryans sing...and then we do some very hard-driving, exciting flashy material, but also, we're not afraid to slow it down and just do a beautiful tune."