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Apr 21, 2019 1:04 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

'Edna's Kin' Family Band Brings Old Timey Tunes Into The 21st Century

Edna's Kin is, from left, brothers Andrew and Dan Koontz and their dad, Warren. TOM KOCHIE
Apr 22, 2019 10:38 AM

Dan Koontz is a musician and composer who, every Sunday, can be found playing the organ for services at Sag Harbor’s Christ Episcopal Church.

But after services this Sunday, Mr. Koontz, who also plays guitar, will be back at the church at 2 p.m. to make an entirely different sort of music as one third of “Edna’s Kin,” a roots music band he formed several years ago with his father Warren Koontz and brother Andrew Koontz.

With Mr. Koontz on guitar and banjo, his father on guitar, brother on fiddle and bass, and Sag Harbor’s Bruce Beyer sitting in on drums, on Sunday “Edna’s Kin” will serve up a concert based in old-time bluegrass, blues, and traditional Irish music to benefit the church’s organ fund.

The group performs each year at the church, but this week’s concert will include several original songs written by Mr. Koontz for “Whiskey and Wine,” the band’s first CD which came out recently. Among the locally inspired tunes is one called “Mt. Misery Breakdown,” inspired by the Sag Harbor neighborhood of the same name.

Though Mr. Koontz and his brother Andrew grew up in New Jersey, in a recent interview he explained that the musical style and the group’s name are both a nod to Warren Koontz’s southern roots.

“My father was born in Alabama and Edna was his second cousin and a close member of the family,” explained Mr. Koontz. “She was a southern woman with a very southern sounding name—Edna Earl Mullins.”

“She was the last member of my father’s family from that part of the country,” he added. “Everyone called her Edna Earl and it sounded like they were talking about two guys, Ed and Earl.”

Despite the fact that the late Edna Earl Mullins now has a roots band named for her, Mr. Koontz explains that she wasn’t at all musical. Instead, she was the head mistress of an all-girls private school.

“We visited down south a couple times and got to know Edna Earl,” said Mr. Koontz of he and his brother. “She was well educated and well-read for a southern woman of her generation.”

As a kid in suburban New Jersey, Mr. Koontz recalls that his father was always interested in roots music and he grew up listening to his records. Warren Koontz also taught his sons to play guitar and as a member of a New Jersey-based folk music society, would perform folk and roots music in concert.

But Mr. Koontz added that he and his brother weren’t much interested in making that sort of music.

“As teenagers we didn’t want to play the string band kind of music we play now,” said Mr. Koontz. “I wanted to play electric guitar and loud stuff. So did my brother. Things being what they are meant we rarely played together.”

It was actually Mr. Koontz’s wife, Stacey Dermont, who suggested they form a family band.

“Stacey imagined us growing up playing all the time. She planted the idea with my brother and my father without telling me,” said Mr. Koontz. “I was skeptical. My brother had played the violin classically until he was 17 or 18 and dropped it like a ton of bricks.”

Andrew Koontz didn’t pick the instrument up again for 15 years until Ms. Dermont encouraged the trio to play together.

“The band gave him a good reason to play fiddle again and he loves it,” said Mr. Koontz of his brother. “He likes to play Irish stuff and obviously country and bluegrass. He plays in an Irish band down in southern New Jersey where he lives.”

Though “Edna’s Kin” initially performed no originals and began by creating a repertoire based on the records they heard from Warren Koontz’s collection, the trio has evolved dramatically and now, half of their songs are originals.

When asked to weigh in on why he feels traditional music is making such a comeback these days, Mr. Koontz attributes the interest to the Coen Brothers movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”

“It was such a great movie and so saturated with really fun performances of classic roots songs,” he said. “That really woke people up in some ways.”

With Warren Koontz living in Florida, Andrew Koontz in New Jersey, and Mr. Koontz here in Sag Harbor, it may seem that the logistics of geography would stand in the way of the music. But in reality, the miracle of modern technology has made “Edna’s Kin” entirely possible. For example, in creating the original song “All This Lovin’” for their new CD, Mr. Koontz went into Mick Hargreaves studio in Manorville, recorded the drums and guitar tracks and sent an MP3 file to his brother and father. They, in turn, went into their studios and contributed their vocal and instrumental parts before shipping the whole thing back to Mr. Koontz via the Drop Box app.

“I synched them up here and it turned out well,” he said.

While the idea of making old time roots music with a trio of musicians located in three different states may make some purists’ heads spin, Mr. Koontz offers some advice.

“If people want to picture us around a single microphone with corn cob pipes, that’s fine with me,” he said.

“Edna’s Kin” performs in concert on Sunday, April 28 at 2 p.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 4 East Union Street, Sag Harbor. Advance tickets are $10 at Canio's Books, 290 Main Street, Sag Harbor. Canio’s is also selling “Whiskey and Wine,” the band’s new CD. Tickets for the concert will be sold at the door for $15 if available. All proceeds benefit the Christ Church Pipe Organ Restoration Fund.

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