By Matthew Barnes
Steve and Margie Ratzlaff started playing music in high school, varying between banjo, guitar and drums. But like many rising musicians, life put a brake on those pursuits when children and marriage ensued.
Jump forward a number of years and as fortune would have it, the Mint Hill couple picked music back up with their church. After running through some gospel energy, they formed a band, River Ratz, with their son, Matthew, playing bass and friend, Scott, performing the mandolin and fiddle.
In their return to melody, Steve and Margie met Scott when they were taking some music classes. They immediately hit it off and found themselves often inviting him to their impromptu busking sessions.
In time, Scott’s wife, Suman, was a guest player on the underappreciated washboard but was asked to step up to the role of permanent bassist when Matthew went off to college to pursue a career in the Marines.
River Ratz, in its current incarnation, is made up of four empty-nesters that infuses the sounds of folk, country, rock, gospel and bluegrass through covers and originals. Often playing breweries where they receive a warm response, Suman describes it as an easy outing,
“It seems like that age group just really enjoys hearing live music,” Suman said. “I guess they can relate to it. It just flows.”
They have been expanding their territory, playing all over Charlotte.
River Ratz has taken to the stage in an era where social media is everything. They have made great strides to put themselves on the map by building a website and taking part in the social network. They have more than 10,900 likes and follows, including friends from as far as Brazil and Ireland.
Regardless of the age of mates in any band, it is a very familial relationship. They described going through life’s challenges beyond having the children leave (and come back), relating to work and life behind the scenes. But the music has been a way for them to bolster each other’s spirits and devote their newfound time and energy.
“Even as a band, it becomes more personal, too,” Steve said. “We all go through different things in life and the music is sort of there to support that stuff.”
When they’re not on the stage, they do have their alter egos, ranging from civil engineer to pharmacist and even radiation oncologist.
Scott describes them as “overachievers.” It’s that spirit that allows them to clock out on one end and start up rehearsal on the other.
North Carolina has a deep history in music and the musical atmosphere generated by the band is a throwback to a time when live music was the only way to hear any at all.
“Before radio, this kind of music was how people met, danced, got married,” Scott said.
More recently the band has invited audience participation with ‘Fungrass,’ allowing anyone courageous enough to play or sing along with them, an engaging experience regardless of audience demographic.
The River Ratz may play upwards of 40 songs, both covers and originals to an appreciative crowd at any number of venues. They build their fan base through a mix of country, folk, rock, bluegrass and whatever else might strike the musical mind.