WILKESBORO, N.C.—Characterizing the music of the Washington, D.C.-based band Scythian is no easy task. The quintet led by brothers Danylo and Alexander Fedoryka feature banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin. That sounds like bluegrass. But the group also has a rollicking drummer, plus an accordion and a viola, with touches of Celtic and Gypsy (from the brothers’ Ukrainian ancestry), not to mention a frenetic stage presence with large doses of audience interaction. Think of a house party where bluegrass meets klezmer, with all your crazy cousins thrown in for good measure.
Whatever you call it, Scythian is becoming something of a phenomenon. With eight years, 1,200 live shows, and five albums under its belt, the band has become regulars on the festival circuit, often playing for audiences that number in the thousands.
But if their music is hard to peg, 34-year-old Danylo Fedoryka’s pro-life views are unambiguous. The guitarist, accordionist, and vocalist conspicuously plasters pro-life stickers all over his guitar case, and he will talk about his views on the sanctity of life with whomever asks him, as he did with me at MerleFest, which took place last weekend in the foothills of western North Carolina.
First of all, Danylo, before I talk to you about your pro-life views, let me say that you guys killed it in your show here at MerleFest. Oh man, it was an incredible crowd. We just couldn’t believe it. Everybody’s seated on a hillside, so you can see everybody. It’s just an incredible experience from our perspective.
You guys have played here before, right? This is actually our fifth official year at MerleFest. What an honor to be here.
What’s different about Merlefest from the other things you do? It’s a dry [no alcohol] festival. So it’s one of the best family-friendly festivals I’ve ever seen. The kids are just as into it as the adults. It’s really a unique experience because it’s very safe, so parents feel very comfortable having their kids here. It’s a lot of fun for us.
Speaking of kids, you played for thousands up on the Hillside Stage and then you came over to the “Little Pickers” tent, which is for the kids, and you packed them in there, too. I’m one of 10 children myself, and I have 26 nephews and nieces. My brother and I founded the band. But at home we were also making music for our nephews and nieces, so we put together an album for kids called Cake for Dinner with the songs we wrote for them. So this is a side project that we have just so we can play for kids, because there’s nothing as pure and as innocent as a child. They don’t care who you are. They don’t care if you’re famous. If you’re making fun music and if you’re interacting with them, they’re just completely full of joy. We love that.
Tell me about the pro-life stickers on your guitar case. I’m very pro-life for several reasons. For one, if my mom had not been pro-life, there’s a high likelihood I wouldn’t be here. I’m the eighth of 10 children, and she was a concert pianist. If you’re a concert pianist, you know, you have your career. So she’d probably want only one or two children if she hadn’t been so committed to her family and to life.
So from a very early age I knew the value of life. I had all my siblings around me and each of those lives made my life so much richer. I’ve been really pro-life my entire life.
Add to that the fact that they’re innocent babies in the womb. A lot of people talk about the reasons [they are pro-abortion] but they forget about the child. My grandfather was a freedom fighter during the Second World War and he was put into Auschwitz. He survived, thank God, but just the fact that one group of people was able to say that another group of people weren’t, in fact, people at all. … There’s a lot of similarity to what’s going on today. They’re saying, “Oh it’s a fetus, not a person.” So it really hits close to home in more than one way for me, and I just feel like I need to speak up for those that can’t speak.
In the music business that’s not a real popular view. For you to take a stand for life, have you experienced any backlash because of that? No, not really, because our band isn’t really political. My mom always said you play music to touch the soul, because there’s beauty in music. God is in beauty. And if you really want to touch people, you have to touch their hearts first before you get into anything political. But I put my stickers on there because people will come up to me and I can actually engage them in a conversation and hopefully shed some light on the subject. It’s not to be belligerent or “out there”; it’s a silent witness and that’s my purpose for having those stickers on there. And for the most part, if people find out, they just admire the fact that I stand for something that I believe in.