Union Duke is a Toronto folk act that bridges big-city rock with bluegrass and country, defined by their rambling banjos, soaring vocal harmonies, chicken-pickin’ electric guitars and a fast driving, heel-stomping beat.
The three original members, Matt, Ethan, and Jim, were drawn together by their teenage hooliganism, skipping class to play music on battered instruments in an old workshop basement. It wasn’t long before they were sneaking into bars around the Toronto circuit to play shows at the age of 13. They picked up Will and Rob, natives of Port Hope and Red Deer respectively, and since then their rough and rowdy dynamic has continued to thrive, on and off the stage.
With hundreds of shows and festivals under their belts, Union Duke embodies the very spirit of the “touring band”. They still drive coast to coast in the van that took the three original members to their first show together, over a decade ago. Come hell, high-water, or hitch-hiking, they make it to every show, driven by grit and determination to make people dance the drunken two-step.
Union Duke’s latest album Cash & Carry was recorded in a log cabin in the Ontario woods and features songs of love, loss, and a cheap shirt.
“Union Duke’s appearances at the Mariposa Folk Festival in 2013 were met with enthusiasm and surprise by the audiences who got to see them. Who were these young bluegrass musicians and how did they get to be so good? Their tight and incredible musicianship, their tuneful repertoire and their engaging manner with the audience made them one of the “hits” of the festival. As artistic director, I have done something that I rarely do and that is hire this great band for a second year in a row. That’s how much I think of Union Duke!”
- Mike Hill, Artistic Director, Mariposa Folk Festival