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The Wooks play it coy

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'We are here to put the good back into the wook.' - TIM BENKO
  • Tim Benko
  • 'We are here to put the good back into the wook.'

The Kentucky-based band The Wooks' name is, to all appearances, short for the Star Wars character Chewbacca and his Wookiee warrior cohorts. Or perhaps it's a nod to the "Wookie" as defined by Urban Dictionary: "a lifeless idiot whose whole existence consists of following around jam bands and not showering or shaving."

Asked to comment on the latter, guitarist CJ Cain demurs. "I'll let Arthur handle that one," he says with a chuckle, "since he is the main reason why we call ourselves that."

Banjo player Arthur Hancock clears his throat as if readying to read a prepared statement. "You can bring in philosophical types of thought, or even the nature of good versus bad," he says. "And those things all come into play when one asks, 'What is a Wook?' We are of the reform sect, and we are here to put the good back into the Wook. We are doing nothing but trying to make good music and spread the Wookiee way."

The band's history is less ambiguous: They came together in early 2015 with an acoustic approach that bridged the gaps between bluegrass, old-time music and the modern jam band aesthetic. Branding themselves as "Real Kentucky Rhythm and Bluegrass," they've drawn a considerable jam-band following with their deft mix of styles.

Where exactly does the group belong on the bluegrass-jam continuum? "It depends on what show you see, and where we're at in the set list," explains Cain. "Because we really don't stay in any kind of genre for very long."

While a typical Wooks set does include extended jams, there are hefty doses of rock 'n' roll, bluegrass and old-timey music. "You kind of feel the energy of the crowd," Cain says, "so you kind of know what song you want to do next based on how they're responding to you." He provides a real-world example: "We wouldn't want to go out and do a 10-minute jam of a Jerry Garcia song if it's a traditional crowd," he says. "We might do that song, but we'd play it a little differently. And we might not use every pedal-board option."

The group's debut album, Little Circles, was released last June. "We were lucky to have the support of a burgeoning fan base in Kentucky to help us get the record made," Hancock explains. That wasn't the only good fortune that came into play with the album's creation. Back when Hancock was in college, he took an elective banjo course; the instructor was multiple Grammy Award nominee Alison Brown.

"As I grew older, I maintained communication with her," he says. "So when the Wooks decided to make a record, what better way to make one than with Alison Brown producing us at Compass Sound Studio in Nashville?"

Kentucky is home to the group's largest fan base, though they've developed a significant following in Colorado as well. "On this tour, we're going to hit places we've never been before," says Hancock. "It's going to be interesting to see how it goes; it's all new territory for us. But either way, we're just going to do what we do and hope for the best."

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