20 Things You Didn’t Know About Ragged Union

Formed in the winter of 2013, on the Front Range of Colorado, Ragged Union has made a name for itself at renowned festivals and events in the US and the UK, as an ‘updated-traditional’ original bluegrass band. The music sounds of a piece with the bluegrass tradition, with modern and varied songwriting, lyrics, and arrangements that allow it a comfortable co-existence in the trad, progressive, and jam grass worlds. The band has appeared at IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass, Northwest String Summit, John Hartford Memorial Festival, Darrington Bluegrass Festival, Topanga Festival, and major UK festivals including Shrewsbury, Musicport, Didmarton, and Purbeck Valley Festival.

Their second album, Time Captain, was released in October, 2017. The effort features eleven original numbers, and an update of Joe Val’s version of the cowboy classic, Diamond Joe. Time Captain reached #7 nationally on the Roots Music Americana radio chart, with songs covering the range from blazing-fast bluegrass romps (Diamond Joe, If You Don’t Love Me), to medium stomps (Bridge on Fire), a hard-driving waltz (Leaving Town), some veritable jam grass (Half Lit Parking Lot) and even some old-time melodic songs (Moonshine Boogie and Leaving Louisville). Maybe not something for everyone, but definitely a multi-dimensional sound that has the salt to please both young and old, listeners and dancers alike, and one that has earned critical praise for its respect of the roots and its willingness to branch out.

The band has been through some personnel changes, none perhaps more profound than the most recent. Longtime lead vocalist, Christina Union, played her last show with Ragged Union in November 2017 (Geoff and Christina are married, and both parents touring had become too hard on their young daughter). In January 2018, the band began working with Benny ‘Burle’ Galloway on upright bass and vocal. Burle has been one of the best-kept musical secrets in the country, with songwriting credits on albums by Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, and Drew Emmitt. His songs, both complex and simple, sound like they are a hundred years old, yet connect with the listener on a level that few songwriters achieve. With songs so powerful, Yonder Mountain String Band, after putting at least one of Burle’s songs on every one of their albums to date, chose to make an album with Burle, consisting only of tunes by Burle, with special guests like Tim O’Brien, Jerry Douglas, Sally Van Meter, Darol Anger, Casey Dreisen and Dirk Powell. This album, billed as Yonder Mountain String Band and Benny Galloway – Old Hands, debuted at #5 on the Billboard Bluegrass Charts and is one of Yonder Mountain String Bands best selling albums to date.

2018 tours will take them to NC, TN, GA, WA, OR, UT, ID, CO, and back to the UK. This collaboration is brand new – the group has just had time to perform two shows in Colorado – but it already feels like a unit that has been playing together forever. Burle has a long performance history with Ramsey, Elliott, and Hoffenberg, and with the songwriting affinity between Galloway and Union, and a little bit of contrast, Ragged Union has opened a door for itself into a musical world that is even richer and wiser than the one it was already inhabiting.

20 Things:

1) Ragged Union (Boulder, CO) has begun performing with famed songwriter Benny ‘Burle’ Galloway in 2018.

2) Burle has songwriting credits with The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon, Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, and many more.

3) Burle is also a BBQ master, with a wood fire trailer BBQ capable of smoking a whole hog, or 10 turkeys, or 20 briskets.

4) Mandolinist Jordan Ramsey won the 2016 National Mandolin Contest at Walnut Valley.

5) Guitarist and singer/songwriter, Geoff Union, used to play in the Two High String Band with Billy Bright, who currently plays mandolin in Wood and Wire.

6) The band has made annual trips to tour England for the past 4 years, and Jordan is in the midst of a long-distance relationship with his English girlfriend.

7) Banjoist Chris Elliott goes by the nickname ‘C-Bob’, given to him by a Texas cousin after he started playing the banjo.

8) Chris studied banjo with Alan Munde at Levelland Community College in South Plains, Texas.

9) Alan Munde played in Geoff’s band, The Two High String Band, in Austin, Texas from 2009-2011.

10) Alan and Billy Bright released a really cool mandolin/banjo duet instrumental album in 2016 called Bright/Munde that everyone should hear.

11) Justin Hoffenberg (fiddle) just turned 30 and still makes his girlfriend drive him everywhere.

12) Justin works at a custom puzzle factory in Boulder, Liberty Puzzles, who has sold their fancy hand-crafted all-wood puzzles to celebrities including Bill Clinton.

13) Burle is also a really good plumber.

14) Geoff has an all-electric car, which he thinks is great because you can get sweet parking spaces.

15) The band are big fans of ‘Scrumpy’ – English unfiltered apple cider, the best varieties of which are made from the rotten apples collected from the ground after the harvest…. ‘the first thing to go is your legs…’

16) Jordan is also a fantastic swing mandolinist, with a local group called, Espresso.

17) Justin’s old band Long Road Home included Pete Wernick on banjo for a time, before he hit the road again with that other band…

18) Geoff is a big-time cocktail enthusiast, with a rack of home-made bitters at home.

19) Chris is a hit on Tinder, ladies, swipe him to the right!

20) We all live in Colorado, and we all hate skiing!

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About the Author

Claire Ratliff

Claire Ratliff is the President and Senior Publicist with Laughing Penguin Publicity. Her company provides publicity and marketing/promotional services including media relations, graphic design, photography, and copy writing. They work with a variety of bluegrass and country artists in Nashville.