Making Music

The Tillers to perform in Madison
as part of RiverRoots music series

The band found musical inspiration from Appalachia

(February 2019) – The RiverRoots Music Series will continue in February with a performance from The Tillers, a Cincinnati-based folk band.

RiverRoots Music
Series Lineup

• Feb. 15: The Tillers. Opening band: Arlo McKinley & the Lonsome Sound. Tickets $10/$12
• March 29: Possessed by Paul James. Special guest: Willie Tea Taylor. Tickets $17/$20
• April 26: Chicago Farmer. Tickets $10/$12
• May 18: Wild Ponies. Tickets $10/$12

(All shows at 8 p.m. at
Red Bicycle Hall, 125 E. Main St., Madison, Ind. Tickets online at www.RiverRoots.org.

“One of the goals of the music series is to provide extended entertainment throughout the year,” said Tony Novello, coordinator of the RiverRoots Music Series.
The Tillers will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, at Red Bicycle Hall, 125 E. Main St. in Madison, Ind. Arlo McKinley and the Lonesome Sound, a country band that is also from the Cincinnati area, will open for The Tillers. This concert will be the second of five in the RiverRoots Music Series.
The Tillers were founded in 2007. The band consists of founding members Sean Geil, who plays the guitar, and Mike Oberst, who plays banjo, fiddle and harmonica. Both Geil and Oberst sing and write songs for the band.
The Tillers’ journey began in the Cincinnati music scene. Geil met Oberst while they were both members of other bands but quickly found a similar creative interest.
“We both had a mutual love for old time music and a different style than the bands that we were in at the time,” said Geil. After adding Jason Soudrette on the upright bass, The Tillers began growing more serious as artists.
As the band began touring and putting out its first albums, the group added a new upright bass player to the band, Aaron Geil, who is Sean’s brother. A few years later, fiddler Joe Macheret joined the band, which Geil said helped establish their sound.
The band continues to tour regularly and released a self-titled album in 2018. “We tour heavily in the region now, typically for three or four days at a time,” said Sean Geil. The band will be traveling as far as Winnipeg, Manitoba, this summer and the United Kingdom in November.
The Tillers find much of their folk influence through the folk music of the 1930s through 1960s, particularly the music of Woody Guthrie. “Both Mike and I were infatuated with Woody Guthrie and his music. We both thought it was so fun to play raw folk music,” said Geil.

Photo courtesy of Michael Wilson

The Tillers band features (from left) Aaron Geil, Joe Macheret, Mike Oberst, and Sean Geil. They are scheduled to perform in Madison, Ind., in February. They are based in Cincinnati.

The Tillers also found inspiration through field recordings and the folk sound of Appalachia. “Most of the people that we were inspired by are not recording stars. They might have been highlighted by musicologists or have recorded a handful of songs at home that were compiled by Smithsonian Folkways,” said Geil. “We also found ourselves influenced by our peers. We’ve fallen in love with the people we’ve met and their music, and it’s helped us find our voice.”
The band started out by performing covers of artists like Woody Guthrie but found positive responses from their fans when they released original music. “Our local fan base really took to our original songs, so we moved from simply having fun as artists to writing our own music,” said Geil.
Geil and Oberst are the primary songwriters for the Tillers and have spent the past several years establishing their unique voice. “We try to focus on what comes naturally instead of fitting into a particular sound,” said Geil.
“We often write songs that are based on stories, legends, and the history of our region.”
Geil said that he found inspiration as a songwriter from his band mate, Oberst, whose songs focus primarily on stories of growing up along the Ohio River in Cincinnati. “He really influenced me as a songwriter and how I needed to be vulnerable. His songs really reveal a story told to him or one that he’s learned,” Geil said.
Most of the Tillers songs are written in collaboration with each other. “One of us will bring a song that we’ve started, and things will change and evolve as we work them out together,” Geil said.
The Tillers’ 2013 album was the band’s first all original album, which Geil said established more of a name for the band. “We started playing bigger shows once that album released,” he said. “It helps us to just let the music be and focus on our style individually as writers. We try to be as honest as possible.”
Geil said that the band hopes to keep their love of music going and not give up as artists. “We like to keep our relationships strong and have a lot of respect for each other. We want to sustain and do good as artists,” he said.
The Tillers have played a few times at the RiverRoots Music & Folk Art Festival and have appeared at other Madison folk music events. “We hope to play at RiverRoots in years to come. We love Madison,” said Geil.
“The Tillers are friends of Madison,” said Novello. “They were an easy pick, and this should be a fantastic show. They’re a fun band.”
While this concert series works to provide added entertainment leading up to RiverRoots, it also helps uncover some additional aspects of the festival. “Everyone knows about the music of RiverRoots, but there’s also an educational aspect to the festival,” said Novello. “Each year at the festival, we like to show how these artists create and write their music, which is free for attendees to enjoy, so we needed some additional funding.”
A few years ago, the RiverRoots Festival opened a nonprofit arm that allows for sponsored funding for this education.
The nonprofit sector of RiverRoots helped establish the Ohio River Valley Folk Society, under which the RiverRoots Music Series was established. The Folk Society has also opened doors for various folk artists and musicians to visit schools and share their music with children of all ages.

“We’re continuing to incorporate different groups,” said Novello, adding that the goal this year is to extend these musical visits to senior citizens and little children. “We want everyone to enjoy and benefit from this kind of music.”

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