By Jan Mercker
It was a sense of joy and connection that drew two classically trained first-generation sons of Ukrainian immigrants to Celtic and traditional American music.
Over the past two decades, the band Scythian, launched in DC by brothers Alexander and Danylo Fedoryka in 2002, went from busking in the streets of Old Town Alexandria to headlining traditional music festivals around the country.
“We found that we had this gift to connect with people and get them up and dancing … ‘Old time, good time’ was kind of our motto,” Danylo Fedoryka said. “If it’s joyful, it’s worth putting everything into it. The sound kind of grew around that.”
After a year of writing, recording, and livestreaming, Scythian performs its first live shows of 2021 at Round Hill’s B Chord Brewing May 7 and 8. And the Fedoryka brothers and their bandmates are more than ready to share some joy with Loudoun County.
The Fedoryka brothers, who spent much of their childhoods in Front Royal, grew up performing in a family classical ensemble that drew headlines with shows at the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap and venues around the region. Their mother, Juilliard-trained pianist Irene Fedoryka, worked to instill a love of music in her 10 children with Suzuki method training.
“She was so determined that we would have the gift of music,” Fedoryka said.
In their 20s, the brothers fell in love with the energy of Celtic and traditional American music and the connections those genres created with their audiences.
“I always thought there was a disconnect in classical music between me and my audience,” Fedoryka said.
His older brother, Alexander, a classically trained violinist, was the first to fall in love with the “unstoppable drive” of the Irish fiddle. Fedoryka shifted from piano to guitar to join Alexander in the band, which they named after a group of Ukrainian nomads in honor of their family’s roots.
“When we started playing folk music, we found the sense of connection that we yearned for. We had this hunger as brothers to interact with the audience and make them part of the show, and folk music gave us that,” Fedoryka said.
The brothers launched Scythian in 2002 while in graduate school in DC and started busking at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria. Before social media, they built an email list and a significant following. Those early days also were crucial to building their beloved get-up-and-dance style
“It was the time in the streets that also taught us how to engage audiences,” Fedoryka said. “The crowds in the streets are basically the toughest audiences you can have. … You’ve got to catch their attention.”
Scythian got their big break when they were hired as the house band at Fado Irish Pub in DC’s Chinatown, with weekly shows drawing 200 to 400 people.
“It kind of became the thing to do on Thursday night,” Fedoryka said.
Those DC crowds helped them develop the big, joyful sound they’re known for—and a regional following, with several sellout shows at the 9:30 Club. As their reputation grew, coverage from the Washington Post and other outlets helped them earn a place in the Celtic and bluegrass/Americana festival circuits. And Fedoryka says their reputation for getting people dancing often snagged them the coveted spot as final band in the dance tent at festivals.
“We’ve done over 2,000 shows and it was always the audience that made each show different and unique,” Fedoryka said.
Scythian launched their own Appaloosa music festival in Front Royal in 2014, and the event drew more than 8,000 people in 2019. After skipping the 2020 edition because of COVID, this year’s edition of Appaloosa is scheduled for Aug. 14-15 in Front Royal.
Family ties and Appaloosa’s success eventually drew the brothers and their bandmates out of DC and back to the Shenandoah Valley. Band members’ geographic proximity and decision not to quarantine from each other allowed them to be musically productive during the COVID year.
“We decided we’re going to be family for this,” Fedoryka said.
The band—made up of the Fedoryka brothers with Ethan Dean on upright and electric bass and Louisiana-raised Johnny Rees on drums–stayed afloat with support from fans tuning into biweekly livestreams. Scythian cranked out 1,000 hours of livestreams and devoted time to rehearsal and recording.
“It kept us creative,” Fedoryka said.
The band released two albums last year: “Roots & Stones” and “Quaranstream,” which Fedoryka describes as made up of “quirky b-sides.”
Scythian played a weekend of sold-out shows at B Chord last fall as the venue built a reputation for attracting big-name national and regional acts thanks to its outdoor space, top-notch sound system and COVID protocols designed to keep musicians and audience members safe. This week, they return to B Chord for outdoor shows May 7 and 8.
Friday’s show features drummer Johnny Rees’ brother, Nashville-based multi-instrumentalist Stevie Rees and promises a Cajun flair, while Saturday’s show offers a Celtic/Americana bent. With the band’s former banjo player Ben-David Warner joining the lineup as a guest musician, Fedoryka said the band will dust off some older fan favorites. Saturday’s show also will feature some tunes designed for kids earlier in the afternoon.
Fedoryka says the band and their fans are looking forward to another taste of the socially distanced but connected musical vibe B Chord is known for.
“It didn’t take away from the musical experience,” Fedoryka said. “There was a real feeling of togetherness.”
Scythian plays B Chord Brewing Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. Doors open at 4 p.m. and the show starts at 6 p.m. both days. Tickets are $30. Children are welcome and kids under 12 are admitted free of charge. For tickets and information, go to bchordbrewing.com.
For more information about Scythian and the Appaloosa music festival, go to scythianmusic.com.