The Red Clay Ramblers have been together longer than the majority of students at UNC have been alive.
Originally formed in 1972 as a trio, the North Carolina band started out with three members playing the banjo, guitar and fiddle.
They then began to travel around the country promoting their music. As their band began to expand, so did their musical presence, eventually leading them to win a Tony Award in 1999 for their production of the stage comedy, "Fool Moon."
"The first time our producer went to nominate the show for a Tony Award, the committee said that there was no category for two clowns and a string band," pianist and Kenan Distinguished Professor Bland Simpson said. "By the third time we did it, it had been a hit all three times on Broadway and we ended up getting a special Tony Award. Essentially, they ended up creating a category for us."
The Red Clay Ramblers, along with comedian Bill Irwin and actor David Shiner, created "Fool Moon" after working together on a movie set. The comedy, which opened on Broadway in 1993, was brought back twice, in 1995 and 1998.
In addition to the success of "Fool Moon," The Red Clay Ramblers worked on several other projects over the years, but the commitment of constant touring was never a part of the plan, said Simpson.
"What's really kept it going is not just the concert work, but really the special projects that have different challenges and present different opportunities," he said. "When you do a show that sits down, that's a lot less wear-and-tear on the human element than constant touring."
Simpson said the band spent 60 to 70 days touring when he was a full-time pianist in 1987 and 1988, as opposed to some other bands that spend up to 150 days out on the road.
"There's a lot of romance about the road and touring," he said. "It can be enormously energizing and fun in limited quantities, I think."
Guitar and accordion player Chris Frank has been a member of the band officially since 1987, and said the theater work kept them from having to do a lot of work on the road.
"We're able to play a lot of performances in one place," he said. "It was good for our playing and our exposure, but it didn't wear us out like being on the road for nine months would have."
Artistic director Jack Herrick has been a member of the band for 35 years.
"The reason that we've been able to stick together for so long is, in part, because we've done a lot of musical theater where the band has been able to participate in productions of different shows," he said. "That has given us focus and supplemented employment from just touring."
Herrick said if the band had been touring, they probably would not have managed to stay together as long.
"We all have managed to get along over a long period of time," Frank said. "We socialize together, our families socialize together and we usually have some gig down at the beach where we can bring our families and have a family reunion kind of thing."
"It's more like we're all part of a big family than just a band, which is great."