The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market is a busy, busy place. Every Saturday, it’s packed with serious shoppers, eager politicians, and casual socializers navigating the Fayetteville square intent on their various missions and weekend tasks.
We’d wager that in recent years, however, nearly all of the visitors to the market have been stopped in their tracks at least once by a talented group of young street musicians called Farmer & The Markets.
The band, made up of locals Jackson Lafargue, Philip Shepherd, Cody Nielsen, and Ashtyn Nilsen, play a diverse mix of cover songs in several genres, from classic rock to modern indie music. They bang on boxes, strum guitars, and glock the glockenspiel while children dance, and passers-by stop and sing along.
Recently, the band has begun playing stages outside of the streets of the Fayetteville square. They were on the bill of the Fayetteville Roots Festival last year, and they performed at the Walton Arts Center during at the TEDx event held in April.
To us, they’ve become one of Fayetteville’s many treasures. We got in touch with them earlier this week, and they were nice enough to answer some questions.
Tell us a bit about how you guys got started playing together with Farmer & The Markets. How’d you settle on the name?
Jackson: We first started out around three years ago as an informal trio consisting of me playing percussion, Philip playing glockenspiel/percussion, and another friend of ours from our high school who played guitar. We simply wanted to make some extra cash on the weekends and initially never intended it to be an actual established group. Eventually our guitar player was replaced by Cody Nielsen, who was also in Surf de Soleil with Philip. Some weeks later, Cody brought Ashtyn along, and as a result, we made the most money we’d ever made at a market up to that point. That same day, as we were wrapping up, we were talking about how it seemed that everyone was asking us if we had a name. Cody spontaneously blurted out “Farmer & The Markets” and it has stuck ever since.
You guys are also involved in several other musical projects around town. What other bands are you in?
Jackson: Cody and I are involved in a shoegaze/noise rock project named Dividend. We formed the band a couple of years ago as an outlet to write original, more experimental music than what was allowed with Farmer & The Markets. We put out an EP last fall, and are hoping to both lay down recordings for our debut LP and go on a small midwestern tour this summer. Me, Ashtyn and Cody are also involved in Ozarka Orkestra, a roughly 14-piece group that primarily plays traditional Balkan and Turkish folk songs, as well as original compositions. Our friend Joey Largent put the band together using a hodgepodge cast of musicians from around the area this past winter and it’s been a resounding success ever since. Ashtyn just recently joined up with Candy Lee and the Sweets as a backup singer, and Philip is still the illustrious head of Surf de Soleil.
You seem to be able to draw from a huge catalog of songs. About how many do you think are in your current repertoire?
Probably around 70 at this point. We counted the other day but I don’t quite remember the number. We are also always learning more material so that number is constantly changing.
With as many songs as you guys play, do you ever just forget a verse and have to wing it?
A ton actually, ha ha. Lyrics are the hardest part as far as memory goes. Luckily we have our songbook to go by that we keep by our feet, but sometimes the music we are playing becomes a bit too complex instrumentally so it can be hard to look away from the instrument to see lyrics. Philip especially gets into that problem, since his parts may be the most complex out of any of ours and take a bit more concentration. But yes, that happens every now and then. Usually we end up repeating other verses or just mumbling.
One of my favorite things about you guys is the song choices you make. How do you come up with what songs to learn/play together?
Jackson: We have a private Facebook group that we generally use to bring up song choices. We tend to learn music in bulk, so we have a voting system built around every member submitting a certain number of songs, and then everyone voting on said songs, getting a limited number of votes each round. If a song has two or more votes, then we do it. We all have some pretty diverse and differentiating tastes so that’s what we’ve found is the best way to do it.
Seems like you have recently branched out to other venues quite a bit in the last few years. What’s been your favorite place to play outside of the market?
Cody: I really enjoy Crabby’s up in Rogers. We are friends with some of the staff and the food is good (even though I’m picky and only order a bacon cheeseburger.) The big stages like the Fayetteville Roots Festival, First Thursday, and Block Street Block Party are also exciting. I am personally a big fan of playing weddings. I enjoy dressing up and getting to be a part of such a huge night for a newlywed couple. I’m just a big hopeless romantic.
What are some other local bands that you think are doing cool things these days?
Cody: My favorite local band is definitely SW/MM/NG. They know how to make some amazing pop tunes. Randall Shreve and the Sideshow has also always been a long time favorite and then there is a also good stuff coming from The Theta Theorem, High Magic, May the Peace of the Sea Be With You, and High Lonesome, to name a few.
Jackson: I would have to agree with Cody on SW/MM/NG. Their music can make any day feel like a hazy summer’s afternoon. The Theta Theorem is also a band to watch. They’ve put out two EPs but have had only limited opportunities to play live around the area until recently. I have to vouch for Gandhi’s Ballsack, an anti-corporate punk outfit that plays short, aggressive songs sticking it to the man. They’re definitely one not to miss. Rat Brats is also highly recommended. I caught some of Witchsister’s set at the Block St. Block Party and they were pretty good, although I hadn’t previously heard of them before.
Ashtyn: Unzaa is an incredibly unique group; I try not to miss a show. I fell in love with Don’t Stop Please at an event at the Garden Room last year. Each member could play multiple instruments really well, between that and Anna’s vocals, I was captivated. I catch their various side projects frequently around town–Handmade Moments, Comfortable Brother, and High Lonesome. Snake Eyes & The Bug Band play great Zydeco music and I grew up learning to Cajun dance to them. Elephant Revival just recently caught my attention at Crystal Bridges. They had a platform one of their members stood on with a sensor so that when she delicately tapped her toes a huge bass sound was produced. Adams Collins, Randall Shreve & The Sideshow, Ghandi’s Ballsack, and Dana Louise are wonderful, too. Gosh, we just have too much good music around here!
I love seeing the crowds you draw when you play together at the market, and the faces of the people that seem to be discovering you for the first time. Can you think of a favorite moment from playing the that stands out in your memory?
Cody: Actually this is kind of a weird one. But I remember one day at the market we were doing The Beatles’ All My Lovin’ and a fly literally flew down my throat as I had my mouth opening singing the chorus. It was insane and disgusting.
Jackson: One moment that stands out is this one time early on in our band’s tenure when we were asked by this guy to set up and play at his house to surprise his fiancee. He had us set up in his living room while they were both at the Farmers’ Market. When they came back to their house, we started playing Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes, which we specifically learned for this event (in fact, it’s still in our repertoire!) Just seeing their reaction made it all worth it.
Ashtyn: One morning at the Bentonville farmers’ market they had set up a “kitten corner” with a large selection of cats right by us, they meowed during the song breaks and sat there being adorable. I think that was when Cody coined us with “Hi we’re Farmer & The Meerkats! Mreow!” Since then we featured me and Cody’s cats in our album, “Alphabet Soup” and we’ve talked about having a show with all of our cats on stage with us.
OK, so your out-of-town friend is coming to Fayetteville for the first time for a one-day-only visit, and you’re their tour guide. Where do you take them?
Cody: I’d totally showcase all of my bands! Ha ha, just kidding. But I would definitely want to take them to the market in the morning, Hugo’s for lunch or dinner, make sure they watch the sunset from the cross on Mount Sequoyah, and hopefully if the timing is right see an awesome local band at The Lightbulb Club, Lalaland, or Backspace.
Jackson: Oh my, where to start? We’d probably start out on an early morning ride on the bike trail–Fayetteville’s lifeblood in my opinion, followed by a visit to the Farmers’ Market to get some fresh veggies. We’d probably just spend most of the day aimlessly exploring, honestly. There’s tons of places in Fayetteville to find and explore little nooks and crannies, as well as to hunt for Fayetteville’s finest and funniest graffiti, especially downtown.
Ashtyn: The wreckhole (swimming hole) on the White River, Berry Natural or Onyx Coffee, up on Mount Sequoyah to play music/watch the sunset if they’re into that, the Farmers’ Table Café, and ideally an evening show at Lalaland, Nightbird Books, or Backspace!