‘River Whyless’ moves from tiny desks to the big stage


River Whyless returns to Lexington to perform at The Burl on Friday, Nov. 11.

To Ryan O’Keefe of indie folk group River Whyless, music is a never-ending path of exploration that has taught him the importance of patience, whether it be with the people you collaborate with, reaching success or excelling at an instrument. River Whyless’ exploration continues with its latest record We All The Light, which released Aug. 26.

“If there’s something that you can just whip out and learn really quick then it’s probably not going to have that much meaning to you in your life,” O’Keefe said. “I think spending time with your instruments can be really effective in the way it sculpts you as a person.”

Founded in 2009, River Whyless is composed of O’Keefe on guitar, Halli Anderson on violin, Alex McWalters on drums, and Daniel Shearin on bass and harmonium. The group’s stock has exploded in the last year, earning trips to the iconic Newport Music Festival along with performing an intimate show for NPR’s Tiny Desk series.

We All The Light was River Whyless’ first record working with a producer in Justin Ringle of indie rock group Horse Feathers. The catalogue of music was recorded in stints across the country, from La La Land in Louisville to Ringle’s quaint home studio in Astoria, Oregon, to the group’s rehearsal space in their hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.

“Our band is very much a tight knit group, so bringing Justin in definitely expanded our horizons and helped us get out of our own heads in certain areas and out of some of the pitfalls we’d find ourselves in on occasion in the past,” O’Keefe said.

According to O’Keefe, the group tracked bass drums and guitar in Louisville and most vocals and “bells and whistles” at Ringle’s home overlooking the Pacific Ocean before returning to Asheville to polish the record and apply finishing touches. 

O’Keefe added that Shearin went to school to be a recording engineer, so the group has adequate equipment and know-how to scrap together a suitable studio environment 

This Friday’s show will be River Whyless’ first venture back to the Bluegrass since performing at The Moonshiner’s Ball in Berea in May 2015. O’Keefe recalled the show due to an unrelenting rain that wiped power out on the festival’s main stage where the band was set to perform, leaving the group to play impromptu in the rain.

The band had a similar spontaneous moment recently at a gig in Athens, Georgia, where their bass guitar “imploded,” leaving the group to hop off the stage and into the crowd to perform acoustic, thrilling the crowd according to O’Keefe. 

“Sometimes there’s these special situations where there’s nothing you can do about it and usually even as frustrated or maybe embarrassed as you are in the moment, usually those are the moments that people remember the most and we remember the most,” O’Keefe said.


What: River Whyless and Elise Davis

When: Friday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.

Where: The Burl – 375 Thompson Rd.

Tickets: $10, 21+