From L to R: Charlie Rose, Ruthy Ungar, Mike Merenda, Opal June Merenda, Konrad Meissner, Jacob Silver, Adam Armstrong. Photo by Christopher Gilner. 

 In 2016 Hudson Valley based songwriters Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar (aka Mike + Ruthy) enjoyed a high-water mark year buoyed by critical acclaim for their June release, Bright As You Can (Thirty Tigers) and a commitment to touring once again as a crack five-piece ensemble - reintroducing a high-energy folk rock sound that they helped define in the early 2000’s as “Trad is Rad” trailblazers, The Mammals.

Mike + Ruthy are “musicians’ musicians” who have found fans and friends in the Americana world and beyond. As word of their well-loved record spread, the band quickly found themselves sharing bills with industry luminaries as diverse as The Avett Brothers, Milk Carton Kids, Elephant Revival, Ani DiFranco and The B-52s setting the stage for a tremendous 2016 which included invitations to 15 major music festivals across the US and and Europe.

He's a songwriting guitar-slinger with a knack for clawhammer banjo. She's a fiddler and uke-chanteuse who grew up in the American roots underground, the daughter of GRAMMY-winning fiddler, Jay Ungar. These two believe in the transformative power of a great live show. They write top-tier songs ("Some of the best songwriting of their generation" (LA Weekly), tour with their kids and peerless five-piece band (a sound they’ve taken to calling rural rock), and perform for audiences worldwide with a charm and on-stage ease that might make you think they’re your new best friends. Of their own roots music festival the two founded in 2013, their late friend and mentor Pete Seeger wrote, “Dear Mike + Ruthy, Your Hoot was one of the best song-gatherings I’ve seen in all my 94 years. I hope next year I can be there for more than one day.” 

Woody Guthrie's guitar killed fascists. This family carries the torch.

“'One of the year’s standout Americana albums."

Boston Globe

"In the vanguard of today’s vibrant folk revival."

- Pop Matters

"The 14-song collection spans folk, bluegrass, vintage country and just about everything else that falls under the catch-all heading of 'Americana.'” 

- Wall Street Journal


Mike + Ruthy are hard touring folk musicians from New York's Hudson Valley. It doesn't just mean that they play square dances on old, dusty instruments (which they do), it means they write about the times we live in using sturdy roots music as their bedrock. Buckle a couple kids in the backseat (check!) and you've got something that looks a lot like the American bohemian dream.

They host their own festival (, have archive endorsed co-writes with Woody Guthrie and Allen Ginsberg, postcards of encouragement from none other than the late Pete Seeger, and miles upon miles of touring under their belts supporting one of the best catalogs of original music being performed today.

As a duo encircled around one simple microphone they alternate between whisper-soft intimacy and rafter-raising hoedowns. Expanded into a crack 5-piece roadhouse band they slalom between Motown soul and "Bringing it All Back Home” Americana. 

Their latest record, Bright As You Can, is being hailed as one of the top Americana releases of the year (“One of the year’s standout Americana records” - Boston Globe) and their touring schedule reads like a who’s who of today’s scene (“In the vanguard of today’s vibrant folk revival”- PopMatters) including appearances with Ani DiFranco, Avett Brothers, Watkins Family Hour and The B-52s. 

Woody Guthrie's guitar killed fascists. This family carries the torch.


 In August of 2013, at Mike + Ruthy’s inaugural Summer Hoot festival, just before his Sunday morning set, Pete Seeger leaned over to songwriter and festival founder Mike Merenda and joked, “You know, Mike, I think the folk instruments of the 21st century are the drums, the electric guitar and the electric bass.”  

 A week later a postcard arrives at Mike + Ruthy’s Catskill Mountain home from the iconic folk singer: “Your Hoot was one of the best song-gatherings I’ve been to in all of my 94 years.  I hope next year I can be there for more than one day.”

Five months later and Pete has passed away at the age of 94. Four months after Pete’s passing Mike + Ruthy embark on a recording project that is the synthesis of all their musical experiences to date: a folk rock hybrid record that pays tribute to their mentors while defiantly forging a path that is electrified, youthful and now. Fiddles screech amidst the hum of red-hot amplifier tubes and a throbbing, propulsive, rock n roll rhythm section. A pedal steel guitar effortlessly floats across the landscape like a silken cloud. Mike + Ruthy’s harmonies have never been more intertwined, their stories never more personal and revealing.

 There’s more to this story than a husband-wife songwriting team sculpting a phenomenal new record. These two are staking their ground, making a statement about the relevancy and elasticity of American roots music, and how only the deepest roots can grow the tallest tree.


Bright As You Can, the rocking new album from The Mike + Ruthy Band, celebrates the grit and glory of kinship, blood and otherwise. As with previous Mike + Ruthy endeavors, the rootsy material covers much ground, but the through-line remains family. And this time out, the tempos are brisker, the playing more fervent than ever before. The atmosphere crackles with the excitement of a kick-ass, seasoned band of road warriors, a gang hunkered in the Catskill Mountains, laying down 14 road-tested tunes of radio-ready acoustic pop, broody rock, country soul, and boot-stomping porch folk. 

“Word on the street: you’re my family / I’m not just talkin’ to Ruth, I mean everybody / The big and the proud and the soft little sound / Every last lost believer the whole world round.”  “Word On the Street” – Bright As You Can.

Over countless miles on the ribbon of highway, playing gigs in wood-stove-warmed living rooms one month and Carnegie Hall the next, husband-wife singing songwriters Mike Merenda (guitar, banjo) and Ruthy Ungar (guitar, fiddle) have built a troubadour life inclusive of family. Ruthy, daughter of GRAMMY-winning Jay Ungar (“Ashokan Farewell” – “That song put me through college,” she says) and folksinger Lyn Hardy, was born to it. She first appeared onstage at age three, and joined her dad on A Prairie Home Companion at twelve. After studying theater and living the thespian life, she met aspiring playwright and fellow floor-sleeping New York denizen Mike Merenda. An erstwhile guitar thrasher of the punk and ska variety, Mike was grieving the loss of three close friends in succession. Mike + Ruthy heard and felt the songs in one another, and two paths leading away from music became one consumed by it. They headed for the hills, embracing life as a duo – musical and otherwise.

From the start, they wrote what they knew, weaving ardent friendship, warts-and-all couplehood, bittersweet loss, unabashed joy, and modern gypsy domesticity into song, while keeping an edge consistent with the scrappier end of the folk spectrum. They’ve always been an open book; fans have borne witnesses to – and often participated in – Mike + Ruthy traversing the world for seven years with Tao Seeger (Pete’s grandson) as The Mammals, embarking on their own musical path as Mike + Ruthy (first post-nuptial release: The Honeymoon Agenda), scoring an Americana hit with third release, 2010’s Million To One, and bringing children into the fold

Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody and keeper of his legacy, was so moved by Mike + Ruthy’s performance at a benefit for Huntington’s Chorea research, she gave them unrecorded Woody lyrics entitled “My New York City,” and asked them to complete the song for the collection My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody’s Town. An epic ballad, telling Mike + Ruthy’s tale as much as Woody’s, was born. The song, buoyed by a band, became the centerpiece to 2011’s acclaimed The NYC EP, and its dramatic scope further set the stage for the swinging-for-the-fences sonics of Bright As You Can. No Depression editor Peter Blackstock wrote, “Quite a few folks have done this ‘set-Woody's-lyrics-to-music thing’ over the past couple decades. I'm not sure anyone's ever done it better than this.” Soon after, Canadian neofolk supergoup The Duhks, fans of the The NYC EP, hired Mike + Ruthy to produce their well-received 2014 Compass album Beyond the Blue, recording it at Mike + Ruthy’s own Humble Abode barn studio in upstate New York, and further inspiring our heroes to do the same for themselves with Bright As You Can.

While writing songs for Bright As You Can, Mike + Ruthy produced an ongoing biannual music festival, designed with their distinctive ragged-but-right family template in mind. With toddler Opal and youngster Willy in tow – the kids accompany them everywhere – they put their nurturing energy into The Hoot, drawing acts like Josh Ritter, David Bromberg, Natalie Merchant, and none other than Pete Seeger, who sent them a postcard not long before he passed: “Your Hoot was one of the best song gatherings I’ve seen in all my 94 years. I hope next year I can be there for more than one day.”

“I love to make you laugh. This guitar’s all I have / Empty pockets, topped off jars, makin’ love beneath the silvery stars / What are we waiting for, when do we leave and where do we go?”                             “What Are We Waiting For” – Bright As You Can 

In May, 2014, Mike + Ruthy decided to make a high octane record, comprised of songs they could tour with a band. They tapped drummer Konrad Meissner (Brandi Carlisle, Tracy Bonham), bassist Jacob Silver (Emmylou Harris, Arlo Guthrie) and pedal steel man Charlie Rose (Elephant Revival, Josh Ritter), and enlisted master engineer-producer Adam Armstrong to capture it all on an eight track recorder at Humble Abode Studios. Guests include Jay Ungar, Amy Helm (Levon’s daughter), and ace keyboardist Marco Benevento, all adding texture, intensity, and family love. 

Single “Rock On Little Jane” written for daughter Opal, taps into Ruthy’s deep soul well; a vintage-y horn-and-string-section complements her most impassioned vocal yet.  

Because the Bright As You Can repertoire has been road-tested, the songs are already on YouTube, captured by fans. Three unexpected cover versions of their Carter Family-ish “Simple and Sober” are already viewable, courtesy of teen sweethearts, a young golden-throated woman, and a gray-bearded grandpa in recovery, who thanks Mike + Ruthy at the end of his touching, much-viewed performance. The tune shares an almost-eerie timelessness with “The Farmer,” which could’ve been written a century ago. By contrast, “Golden Eye” creates a new genre, funk folk, and the autobiographical “Chasin’ Gold” is offbeat swagger, while Mike’s cinematic “Cigarette” bestows on him heavyweight singer-songwriter status. 

Mike + Ruthy, like most folkies, love ghosts, particularly songs about ghosts, and especially “The Ghost of Richard Manuel,” written by their friend Joshua Davis. They’ve performed this ode to the tragic genius of The Band many times at Levon Helm’s Midnight Ramble in Woodstock, NY, to rapturous response. Here, it fades into fuzz-rock companion piece “Legends Only Appear In Black and White,” a tune that would not be out of place at a Pink Floyd arena show. 

“Bright As You Can” not only kicks everything off, it sums everything up. Over churning acoustics, driving rhythms, and keening pedal steel, Mike + Ruthy jubilantly sing of those who have loved them – mothers, fathers, lovers, children – who gave them words of strength, placed their hands on strings and steering wheels, inspiring them to make make music filled with as much love as possible and take it to a world in dire need of connection, joy, and family. And that is what they have done. 

“O my lover he once told me you gotta be as sweet as you can, yeah you gotta be as sweet as you can / My love comes to me like a sword of light / On this battlefield you’re a flag of white.”  “Bright As You Can” – Bright As You Can


“'One of the year’s standout Americana albums."

Boston Globe

"In the vanguard of today’s vibrant folk revival."

- Pop Matters

"The 14-song collection spans folk, bluegrass, vintage country and just about everything else that falls under the catch-all heading of 'Americana.'” 

- Wall Street Journal 

"Everything is masterfully performed as Mike Merenda and Ruthy Ungar sing about the charms of hard work, homemade wine and free parking. Amid the barn dance reverie created by fiddle, pedal steel, horns and more, Ruthy's versatile alto is the most glorious instrument of all."

- ABCnews

"It’s that ability to go beyond the boundaries that allow The Mike + Ruthy Band to temper their folk finesse and do so with such skill, they’re actually able to set themselves apart." 

- Elmore Magazine

"Cigarette gently faces the horrors of the world, praying that a good song will offer some kind of salvation.  These uplifting songs do."


“Bright As You Can seems to be honoring the great musical traditions of the past while at the same time welcoming, with open arms, the future of what music can be.”

- Folk Alley

"True musicianship is alive and well."

- Performer Magazine (feature)

"On their upcoming Bright As You Can LP, the duo rumbles and tumbles their way through 14 finely crafted tunes that roam effortlessly through the whole span that is Americana, from alt-country to folk to bluegrass." 

- The Bluegrass Situation

"This is a record about what it is to be human. It's a record about what it is to have an inextricable allegiance to tradition, while feeling compelled to speak for oneself. It's a record that will grab you, that won't let you go." 

- No Depression

"When it comes to chemistry, Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar have plenty to spare. Onstage, they are Mike + Ruthy, a husband-and-wife duo setting the indie-folk scene ablaze. Singers and storytellers, poets and parents, the two tour with their children in tow, embodying a down-home approach to Americana. Bouncing between festivals and intimate venues, the troubadours bring harmony-driven fiddle and banjo tunes to more than 100 shows a year. Road-tested material such as the pair’s celebrated recording of Woody Guthrie’s “My New York City” cement Merenda and Ungar’s status as a “national treasure,” according to peer Anaïs Mitchell."

- Seven Days, Burlington, VT

"Easily a new favorite"

- Daytrotter


- The New York Times

"Some of the best songwriting of their generation"

- LA Weekly

"Infectious new folk rock"

- Boston Globe

“These two will shatter any stereotypical misconceptions of what it means to be a folk musician.”

- The Coastal Journal