Upcoming Artists Series: The Insolent Willies
It was a hot Friday night during the summertime, and I was driving home from my martial arts class in Clifton Park when I witnessed a car accident. A lady had smashed into the back of a guy’s truck at a traffic light. Concerned for everyone’s safety, I pulled over to help, witness, and ensure everyone was okay. While waiting for the police to arrive, I struck up a conversation with the guy whose name turned out to be Bill. To my surprise, we discovered we were both involved in local bands.
Since that incident, I’ve run into Bill at various local music awards shows and events. Intrigued, I decided to look up his band, The Insolent Willies, and boy, and they are fantastic! Their music is delightful and gives me a great vibe, making me happy whenever I listen.
The Insolent Willies, a primarily acoustic roots-rock band based in the Mohawk Valley and Adirondack Foothills, was formed in 2017 by Bill Ackerbauer and Frank Pullen. Their musical inspiration comes from various genres, resulting in a unique blend of “roots rock” and “alternative country.” Although their instrumentation, including banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, might initially suggest a bluegrass influence, their covers of artists like Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Violent Femmes, and the Kinks take them far from traditional bluegrass sounds. They also enjoy incorporating Irish drinking songs and fiddle tunes into their performances, and their bandmate Paul adds a touch of Cajun and zydeco flair with his accordion.
The band consists of Bill Ackerbauer (vocals, guitar, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin), Frank Pullen (vocals, upright bass, foot percussion, 4-string banjo, mandolin, fiddle), and Paul Gavry (accordion, fiddle). They often have fellow musicians like Paul’s son Evan Gavry and their friend Mike Gowans sitting in as well. Unfortunately, the band faced a major setback last year with the untimely death of their friend and drummer Chad Christman due to COVID-19. However, they decided to honor his memory by carrying on and continuing to create music.
Bill’s passion for music began at a young age, and he developed a deep interest in old folk music. His enthusiasm grew when he discovered the recordings of Woody Guthrie and Carl Sandburg’s book, “The Great American Song Bag.” He acquired a harmonica in his late teens, followed by taking up the guitar in his early 20s. Over the past two decades, Bill has performed as a solo singer-songwriter and collaborated with various bluegrass, old-timey, and folk groups such as The Bentwood Rockers, The Durey Creek Bluegrass Band, and The Doghouse Carpenters. When he met Frank, he sought to form a band that would blend rock and roll energy with his long-standing rootsy acoustic sensibility, allowing him to play an eclectic mix of his favorite music and showcase his original songs. Thus, The Insolent Willies came into existence.
Bill and Frank contribute to the songwriting process, often crafting their songs individually. Their styles differ, with Bill focusing more on lyrical content while Frank leans toward the musical aspect. When collaborating on a song, they strive to combine their strengths and create something greater than the sum of its parts. Bill draws inspiration from legendary storytelling songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and Tom Waits, as well as contemporary troubadours like Dan Bern, Todd Snider, Peter Mulvey, Josh Ritter, Jeffrey Foucault, and Chris Smither. They’ve worked with Stevie Tombstone, a touring singer-songwriter based in North Carolina who frequents Upstate NY.
Bill’s instrumental inspiration comes from the folk side of music, spending years mastering the fingerpicking guitar style of Mississippi John Hurt. He also has a profound appreciation for early recordings of old-timey string band music. He acknowledges that his fiddle playing may not be the most polished but carries the raw American energy reminiscent of artists like Charlie Poole, The Carter Family, Jimmy Rogers, and the Mississippi Sheiks. Another notable influence on Bill is Piedmont blues guitar player Roy Book Binder, whom he has had the privilege of opening for on a couple of occasions.
The Insolent Willies’ primary goal this year is to complete their next album. They have a repertoire of great songs that they have been performing live for over a year or two, and they hope to capture and share them through radio and streaming services. Some of their earlier songs, like “Discovery,” occasionally receive airplay on WEXT. In the meantime, they perform almost every weekend, particularly during the summer, at outdoor venues and festivals. They enjoy playing at the Cock N’ Bull in Galway, which has been incredibly supportive of the band, as well as at small breweries and pubs like Wolf Hollow Brewing in Glenville, Stump City Brewing in Gloversville, and Green Wolf Brewing in Middleburg. One aspect that Bill believes sets The Insolent Willies apart is their ability to make their audience feel like an integral part of every show. According to him, the positive exchange between the band and the listeners makes a show successful.
In the long term, the band aspires to continue playing shows in the Capital Region and expand its touring radius throughout the Northeast, reaching new audiences and gaining more fans. Watch for their new album, scheduled for release before the end of 2023.
You can listen to some of their music and learn more about the band through the following links: