The cohesion was there. The chemistry was there. The songs were definitely there. But the Lancaster-based folk trio of multi-instrumentalists Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven and Charles Meunch needed a name. Given the genre’s affinity for all things bucolic, the group drew inspiration from the world around them; specifically, a piece of litter.
“We knew we wanted to be the ... ‘something’ birds,” de Vitry said. “I always connected with the ideas of migration and flight, so we were keen on ‘birds’ in the band name, but we needed an adjective. Charlie saw a shoe box discarded on the ground with the word ‘stray’ printed on it. We decided on ‘The Stray Birds.’ ”
Music flows through the blood of this triumvirate, as does the love of making live performances a communal, intergenerational experience. Having recorded a 2010 EP, “Birds Of The Borderland,” as a duo, Craven and de Vitry joined with Meunch to tour and record in January. The Stray Birds’ self-titled debut was independently released in July, while the band clocked almost 30,000 miles by car on tour, traveling as far west as Colorado.
For being a relatively new group, the trio is incredibly inventive, competent and fiercely self-actualized. Their breadth of the Americana genre spans contemporary austere folk, old-timey Appalachian classics and double-time bluegrass breakdowns, all played with keen attentiveness to arrangements, balance and dynamics, not unlike a disciplined classical string trio. As one Youtube commenter noted, they have become the proverbial “hard act to follow.”
“All three of us are classically trained,” Di Vitry said. “There’s just something about string instruments that feel very accessible to us.”
“There’s a very human element to folk music that attracts us,” Craven added. “I appreciate the sense of honesty that comes from it. You can really get to know a singer — figuratively — through the words they sing and the emotions.”
The Craven musical legacy is well known in central Pennsylvania; Craven’s father, the Rev. Tim Craven, is a Penn State alumni and founding member of the Rustical Quality String Band, a welcomed addition to many a central Pennsylvania music festival since the 1970s.
The Stray Birds plan to tour through the remainder of the year. Next summer, they’ll help preside over the College,a series of work shops and coaching sessions for folk musicians held at Juniata College in Huntingdon.
Wherever the Stray Birds’ travels may take them, count on the group to commit to their mission statement.
“We want to use this music as vehicle to travel, and get to know the people and places we go to,” Craven said.
“We feel very strongly that the music needs to be heard,” deVitry added.