Jake Hoffman ’07 and Peter Winne ’07 both had a love of music when they became roommates their freshman year.
“It turned out we like a lot of the same music. Over the years, our friendship grew and we started really making music together,” Winne says.
With new member Kyle Morgan, the two are now part of the folk trio Tumbling Bones, which just wrapped up an American and European tour and is getting ready to release its first album.
Winne, who plays guitar, foot percussion (using tap shoes), and harmonica, says the group focuses on pre- and post-WWII folk, as well as original music.
“The music we play now is heavily rooted in traditional folk music, like bluegrass, old-time music, and blues. That wasn’t really the music that Jake and I were reared on,” Winne says, noting rock ‘n’ roll was their adolescent music of choice.
The change in musical taste happened after freshman year.
“My affinity [for folk music] came with the purchase of a banjo which was in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Vassar,” he says.
Winne and Hoffman began listening to folk, bluegrass, and other types of music, appreciating the genre that launched some of the biggest names in music.
“We kind of just slowly gravitated toward the folk music when we got older because we were interested in learning the roots of people like Jimi Hendrix or the Grateful Dead or Bob Dylan. It takes you back in time,” Winne says. “We started copying it and playing it ourselves.”
Soon a band was born. Hoffman and Winne joined Sam McDougle ’09, Dan Maroti, and Ryan Dieringer to form the Powder Kegs, which played small venues in the tri-state area. The band got its break after winning the inaugural People In (their) Twenties Talent Show (PITTS) at Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio.
The band continued to tour and recorded an album—in Skinner Hall at the Chapel—during Winne and Hoffman’s senior year.
After the group disbanded, Winne, Hoffman, and McDougle then started the band Tumbling Bones. They played on the East Coast and some shows overseas, but McDougle’s acceptance into a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at Princeton University in 2012 meant they had to find a replacement—Kyle Morgan, whom Winne calls “a great singer, songwriter, and guitar player.”
Since then, the band has toured the East Coast as well as Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Germany. They’re wrapping up their first album, with plans to release it in April, followed by another tour. The album was recorded by Christopher Connors ’12, who also recorded the Powder Kegs’ album three years ago. Winne found Connors through his Vassar mentor and guitar instructor, Adjunct Artist in Music Terry Champlin.
“We’re just putting the finishing touches on it right now,” Winne says, noting the album has yet to be titled.
While recording the album helped to polish their sound, performing live is the highlight of being a professional musician, he says. Making people feel joy and sharing the connection of music is a one-of-a-kind feeling, Winne says. “Some of the happiest moments in my life are when I’m immersed in a song. If I can make someone else feel that way, it’s special,” he says.
Ireland has given the band a second home and last year provided a memorable performance during a sunset cruise on a fiord, Hoffman says.
“The music is so deeply ingrained in the culture, especially traditional folk music, so you can see why we do well there and why we like going back there,” Winne says.
Relying on their music to make a living wasn’t something Winne or Hoffman thought about growing up—“I don’t know if I ever did decide. It just happened to me,” Hoffman says. He adds that managing the Powder Kegs’ finances helped when it came to making Tumbling Bones a viable small business.
While the group will be laying low for the next few months, they’ll start a new tour in the spring. That’s when the group’s Vassar connections will come in handy, says Hoffman, who wed another Vassar grad—Emily Thielmann ’08—this past summer. The tour plans usually follow the geographical diaspora of fellow alumnae/i, Hoffman says.
“We end up staying with a lot of them,” he says.