Members of Run Boy Run, featured at the Payson Old Time Opry event Friday night, Payson natives Bekah and Jen Sandoval bring a rich family heritage to the group.
The two grew up around bluegrass music festivals. Their grandfather, Ben, was a promoter and performer. Their parents — Roy and Sylvia Sandoval — formed a band with them, their younger brother, Ben, and a family friend, Trevor Smith.
“Our mom taught us to sing and to harmonize. She had always been in choirs,” said Jen in a phone interview a few days in advance of the Friday, Sept. 28 return engagement of Run Boy Run at the Payson Old Time Opry.
Bekah said she and Jen first started singing with their mother at family reunions.
“She and her two sisters (Jen and Mary) sung three-part harmonies when they were little and passed a lot of old hymns on to us,” Bekah said.
As for their instrumental skills — Jen plays mandolin and Bekah fiddle and guitar — they are mostly self-taught, though they have had a few lessons along the way.
“Growing up around the music contributed to our ability to play and do justice to it,” Jen said.
As for the other lessons Jen says she has learned over the years: “You have to be able to take criticism graciously and learn from it and apply it in your work ethic.”
She said connecting with people through the music is the most rewarding aspect of performing.
Jen and Bekah perform with brother and sister Matt and Grace Rolland, along with Jesse Allen. The Rollands, like the Sandovals, grew up around music, competing regularly at contests and festivals around the state and elsewhere.
Matt Rolland is a two-time Arizona State Fiddle Champion and also plays guitar and mandolin.
Grace Rolland combines her voice with the Sandoval sisters’ and is a multi-instrumentalist, playing mandolin, guitar, keyboard, and Appalachian dulcimer.
While the two families crossed paths over the years at various events, they didn’t strike up a real friendship with the Rollands until the Sandoval sisters enrolled at the University of Arizona, Jen said.
Jen recalls formally joining her family’s band, called Mazatzal, at about 13. “It was really enjoyable to perform with my family.” Going to different events, like the one held regularly in Pinetop, seemed like a family reunion, since her grandfather also attended.
Bekah said one of her earliest memories of their work together centered on a California bluegrass festival where they watched Nickel Creek perform. At that same festival, which took place right after she and her sister had started playing instruments, they got to go to backstage jam sessions with their father and grandfather.
Traveling to festivals and contests, she also had the privilege of meeting and getting to know some of the icons in the bluegrass field. She recalls meeting the Cherry Holmes Family Band, which has since disbanded but not before becoming a nationally known, award-winning band.
Run Boy Run first organized in 2009, Bekah said. She and Matt had been with another band, but one of the members graduated and went off to grad school. They still wanted to perform, so they got together with Jen and Grace, with whom the Sandovals had already done some singing, along with Jesse Allen and started playing in Matt’s living room.
Their first performance as a band was at the 2008 Pickin’ in the Pines event in Flagstaff and they won their contest. Last year, the group also won the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“When we won that, we decided to do more,” Bekah said. Before that, school, work, studying abroad made it hard to get together on a regular basis.
Since the Telluride win they have had gigs every weekend, she said.
The future for Run Boy Run included recording their first full-length album and hitting the tour circuit. They are making plans to do a short tour next August, and then a longer one, Jen said.
The group has joined kickstart.com, a Web site designed for musicians and other artists seeking financial support. Jen said they would be awarding prizes to contributors.
At the concert tonight (Friday) the group plans to present a number of original compositions and traditional tunes.
The concert at the Payson High School Auditorium is at 7 p.m. and tickets are $7 per person.