Big Sky Stringband performs a broad collection of original American roots music and unique covers. Founded by Jay Stanek (acoustic guitar/vocals) and Chris Meier (mandolin/vocals), the band builds a new generation of folk-rock music around its core strengths: solid songwriting and textured grooves.
Initially formed in Champaign, Ill., in 1997, by current members Chris Meier and Jay Stanek, and former members Dave Johnston and Ken Wilson, the group played a limited number of shows around Champaign before Johnston relocated to Colorado to start Yonder Mountain String Band, and Meier and Stanek returned to their native Chicago. The latter duo continued to play as Big Sky Stringband, and in 2001 expanded the line-up to include drums, electric guitar, and bass.
The band concentrates its efforts on creating energetic and diverse shows that span the musical landscape from folk, rock, blues, and country to funk, jazz, and bluegrass. The quintet of Meier, Stanek, Brandon Cochran (electric guitar/vocals), Zach Malasto (drums), and Meier’s father-in-law, Dick Mallory (bass), create a unique form of roots-jam music. With train wrecks, clotheslines and broken fences as the backdrop, the group weaves stories of mill workers, first loves, and mine fires into a tapestry of Americana. But these songs are more than a glimpse at American life, they are the quest for the American Dream embodied in song.
The band’s song “Centralia,” a straight-ahead bluegrass chronicle of the real-life underground mine shaft fires that caused the evacuation and near-condemnation of Centralia, PA brings perspective to the heartbreak and helplessness of the city’s citizens. The song’s dead-on message and easy hook have been featured in documentaries on both PBS and NPR.
In 2005, Big Sky Stringband released Flyin’ Blind, a live album featuring 12 original compositions and the band’s distinctive take on 2 traditional songs.
In February 2007, the band released Turning of the Wheel, a six-song EP, and the band’s first proper studio release. The EP’s song "Slow Train" was featured on Coke's entertainment site during the summer of 2007.
Capable of a variety of live settings and situations, the band has performed shows throughout the Midwest and at venerable Chicagoland venues including Martyrs’, Hideout, Cubby Bear, Kinetic Playground, and Wise Fools Pub. The band has headlined every Barrington Brew Festival, and performed at other outdoor festivals throughout Chicagoland including the 2007 Sheffield Garden Walk. Dynamic and powerful, these live performances allow the audience to get caught up in down-home Midwestern music while moving their feet and hips along the way.