Singing at the Pub With The Vox Hunters

The Providence duo are keeping folk traditions alive through monthly pub sings and finding new relevance in old songs


“The folk process,” according to The Vox Hunters, is to hear songs one way and learn them slightly wrong. “To change keys, change speed, change phrases and change words that don’t suit us,” they explain. “Rather than change ourselves to work for the song, we do the opposite.”

Pete Seeger would be proud.

In taking in the full panoramic of local folkies The Vox Hunters, it becomes inevitably clear that their music is of the moment. Their music is something to be a participant in rather than a spectator, a contributor rather than a listener and, in the end, it cannot remain the same song it was when it began.

The Vox Hunters is the collective work of local violin maker Armand Aromin and RISD Nature Lab Coordinator Benedict Gagliardi. Together they have taken the task of honoring tradition and made it into a living and spontaneous event that works to bring people, experiences, backgrounds, beer, tea and open minds into a space where everyone can learn the words and be part of something real.

“Our friend Debra Cowan likes to say that folk music is not a spectator sport,” Armand says. “Our pub sings are where the music is most pure and you can easily sense the value of the songs. The phrase that we use to describe the purpose of these events is ‘social singing.’ Instead of going to watch a movie or play a game, we meet up at Bucket Brewery or the Irish Ceilidhe Club and sing together.”

According to Armand, the “traditional” music they play are old songs “that are passed down orally from generation to generation, and have some social or cultural utility.” In a state rich with cultural heritage and waves of compounded immigrants carving out their niche on the sea, in the mills or on the farms, The Vox Hunters are serving as curators and performers of the folk songs that have found their way into the collective social consciousness. What begins as a hosted pub sing or sing-along often becomes the living memory of a roomful of people who are products of their culture. Armand points out, “The beautiful thing about these pub sings is that there is no setlist for the evening. It can start with a bunch of sea shanties, then someone might sing about coal mining, which might make someone else think of a similar song about farming, which then leads to a gospel song.”

In the coming year, The Vox Hunters hope to record an album and, true to folk form, let “old” songs dispel new injustices. In some sense, The Vox Hunters see their job in the next four years as a necessary call to arms, “In the troubling years ahead, we hope to use our music both to unite people in camaraderie but also to spread a positive message and a resistant message when necessary. Perhaps it’s time to add some new verses to those beloved civil rights songs that our generation has not needed to use as a tool before.”

Keep your ears tuned and your vocal chords warm, the next pub sing is just around the corner.

The Vox Hunters