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The Band

The Familiar Strangers Trio/Quartet play an Americana grab bag of music from western swing to country, bluegrass, folk, blues and even a little bit of gypsy jazz! This acoustic trio (occasionally a quartet) is perfect for smaller venues (no drums) but they nevertheless generate a big response from audiences with their friendly banter and responsiveness to requests from audience members. This is a band with a sense of humor that can easily move between material designed to get you up on your feet dancing or tugging at your heart to buy another beer and lose your sorrows. Their musical palette runs from Bob Wills to Doc Watson to Django Reinhardt and more. The band recently celebrated their first recorded project, Masqurade 2020, which is already garnering critical success.
In addition to the acoustic-based trio/quartet the band also performs as a full six piece electric band playing dance and listening music based in the American roots music styles of Western swing, classic country, country and blues based rock and more! Imagine John Hiatt gets in a car with Chuck Berry and they pick up a hitch hiking Dolly Parton! It's kinda like that!
The full band has plays fairs, festivals and big venue events all over north California and are currently putting the finishing touches on their first full band CD release set to be out in the early spring of 2023.

Candy Girard – fiddle & vocals
Tim Sarter – bass & vocals
Kevin Russell – guitar & vocals
And our occasional Strangers
Joe Craven – mandolin, vocals and percussion
Sean Allen – lap steel guitar, standard guitar, vocals

Kevin Russell

Kevin Russell is a multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. He performs regularly in a number of Sonoma county’s most popular bands. All of these groups perform at local club venues, county fairs, parties, festivals, weddings and special events. Kevin is also the driving force behind The Sebastopol Guitar Festival, held yearly in early February. In addition to being a musician, Kevin hosts shows featuring touring musicians like Joe Craven, Gonzalo Bergara, Jim Hurst, David Lindley, Radney Foster, Jack Tempchin, Ray Bierl, Mike Dowling, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, Missy Raines & others. 


Kevin has appeared as a sideman on 21 local recordings by songwriters & groups, has recorded eight CD's with his various bands and has six CD's out under his name. He is a DJ on Sonoma county’s NPR station, KRCB and a former writer of  CD reviews for the online website Freight Train


Lastly, Kevin has performed as a side player for a number of local songwriters, including Michael Capella, Mark McLay, Teresa Tudury, Doug Jayne, Audrey Auld, Terry Pinnegar, Greg Abel, Greg Scherer, Amy McCarley & more and performed with a number local band favorites, including Laughing Gravy, Eagle Ridge, The Rhythm Rangers, The Bluegrass Irregulars, The Lucky Dawgs, Stupid White People, Modern Hicks, The Ruminators, Kevin Russell & his So Called Friends, The Western Swing Caravan, Kevin Russell & Some Dangerous Friends and The Familiar Strangers.

Contributed tracks 
to these compilation CD's

Connections I [1996]

Freight Train Boogie [2000]

Connections II [2004]

The Songs of Hank Williams [2019]

Out Among the Stars -Modern Hicks [1999]

Tornado Alley - Modern Hicks [2001]

Under a Stormy Sky - Modern Hicks [2004]

You Don't Know Me - Kevin Russell [2002]

A Tribute to Gram Parsons - Laughing Gravy [2005]

Trouble in Mind - Kevin Russell [2005]

Not Out of the Woods Yet - The Rhythm Rangers [2007]

Live - Under the Radar [2006]

Beyond the Niche - Under the Radar [2009]

Pilgrim - Kevin Russell [2010]

There Ain't Nobody Home But Me - Kevin Russell [2010]

Plain Dirt fashion - Kevin Russell [2013]

Country Swing [2017]

Kevin Russell & Some Dangerous Friends- live! [2019]

The Familiar Strangers Trio – Masquerade 2020

to other projects

The Ruminators “Wild West”

The Ruminators “Loomings”

Terry Pinnegar “Expeditions”

Kirk Keeler “Notes from the Underground”

Mark McLay “Just Glad to be Here”

Doug Jayne “Looks Like She’s going on a Trip”

Doug Jayne “Voice in the Wind”

Moss Henry “Autumn Rain”

Lisa Redfern “All is Bright”

Mark Beynon “At the Right Time”

Mark Beynon “Maybe”

Brian Gale “Deserted Country”

Danny Sorrentino “Lucky Buck & the Winners” 2008

Mark McLay & the Dustdevils “Love & Barbwire” 2008

Teresa Tudury's "Such Fine Things" 2009

Doug Jayne "Folk University"

Venues Performed

Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival

Sonoma County Fair

Apple Blossom Fair

Gravenstein Apple Fair

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

Earle Fest

Forestville Youth Park Celebration

KRSH backyard concerts

The Bodega Bay Food & Music Festival

The Mystic: Petaluma

Twin Oaks Tavern: Penngrove

The Reel: Sonoma

Red Brick: Petaluma

Redwood Café: Cotati

Murphy’s Irish Pub: Sonoma

Stout Brothers: Santa Rosa

Ace Cider Pub

The Black Rose

Town Of Windsor Earth Day celebration

Freight & Salvage: Berkeley

Highland Dell: Guerneville

Hotel Utah: San Francisco

The Casper Inn

Sebastopol Center for the Arts

Rancho Nicasio: Nicasio

Hopmonk Tavern: Novato, Sonoma, Sebastopol

Taft Street Winery; Sebastopol

Lagunitas- Petaluma

Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival

Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival

Good Ol Fashioned Bluegrass Festival

Candy Girard


Candy Girard has had a wonderful life full music of many different styles. She studied classical violin as a child while growing up in a family with folk music and old cowboy songs sung and played. She started fiddling in her teens, playing bluegrass and swing in her 20's, and went on to have many great musical experiences. 

Some recording highlights were playing on the soundtrack for the TV series, Firefly, video game World of Starcraft, recording with Mason Williams, and The Jerry Garcia Band album, Cats Down Under the Stars.

She has toured with Shirley Bassey, Johnny Lee, and country music icon Hank Thompson. She also toured and played in Circus Flora with the Flying Walendas. 

She has played in venues varying from seedy honkytonks to the Great American Music Hall and the Kennedy Center, performing in the US, Great Britain, Japan, Korea and Australia. 

Candy has received the honor of fiddle player of the year for both Los Angeles and California from the California Country Music Association, and has been inducted into the South Australia Country Music Hall of Fame.

Playing bluegrass at Disneyland, Disney’s California Adventure and Knottsberry Farm, as well as playing jazz standards and rock with Big Band Leader, Wayne Foster and in the Raiders Band under the direction of Horace Heights kept things interesting. 

She has appeared on national television on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, backing up stars such as Clint Black and Tanya Tucker. She played square dance music on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, backed up star contestants on both American Idol and Dancing With the Stars, as well as Wayne Brady on Who’s line is it Anyway. 

Candy is grateful for this wonderful life of music and now enjoys playing the music she loves the most. 

Press Democrat Article Aug 2022!

Tim Sarter


Since moving to Sonoma County from San Francisco in 1996, Tim continued to do what he did there and has kept a very busy performance  schedule.  Averaging 80 shows a year he’s played electric and upright bass in many local Sonoma county bands that you may or may not have  heard of - including The Shannon Rider Band, Kitty and the Big Dogs, Eugene, Hand Me Down, The Mad Maggies, Adam Lieb and the Disorderly House band, The West County Jazz Collective, and The Bootleg Honeys. He’s also subbed or sat in with in too many bands to mention (or remember)


Tim also has been seen in Several local playhouses acting and playing bass in plays - Hank Williams Lost Highway, Always Patsy, Stand By Your Man, Woody Guthrie’s American Songs, Hope, and Mother Jones in Heaven. Most of these plays were put on by Heritage Music Theater, in which he was a founding member. 


In working with The Familiar Strangers Tim has found a level of connection and musicianship that he’s incredibly satisfied and happy with. 

Tim Gahagan

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Tim comes to Sonoma County from the region affectionately referred to as the Rust Belt where in the 80’s and 90’s he worked tirelessly in Rock, Blues, Soul, Punk Rock clubs and dives from Detroit to Brooklyn. Since his cross-country relocation to NorCal in the early 2000’s he’s found himself working with some of the most talented musicians in the area and expanding his drumming style to include Brazilian Jazz, Surf, Country and Americana.   Self-described as the consummate Blue-collar drummer he prides himself on the “less-is-more” approach, although there is a Keith Moon lurking inside waiting to be unleashed at any moment. 

David Zirbel
 Pedal Steel Guitar

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Dave Zirbel has been performing and recording on steel guitar in the bay area since 1990. His early inspiration and exposure to music came from his parents' record collection. He followed his fathers footsteps and took up the tuba and sousaphone from fourth grade through high school, but his enthusiasm for wind instruments drastically changed when his uncle Jerry loaned him a stack of Beatles and Stones records and showed him a few guitar licks on his vintage Fender Telecaster.  He went down the rabbit hole with other bands from that era which led him to country rock, and pedal steel guitar. A lot of rock bands and contemporary artists from the late 1960’s, such as the Byrds, New Riders of The Purple Sage, The Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, Graham Parsons and Bob Dylan, were using pedal steel on their recordings and on stage. That led him to country and western swing music. Once he got his first pedal steel, the phone started ringing and he was off to the races.


Some of the bands he’s worked with over the years are Trailer Park Rangers, I See Hawks in LA, Commander Cody Band, San Geronimo, Four Year Bender, The Easy Leaves, Danny Montana & The Bar Association, Stone River Boys, Johnny Dilks & His Country Soul Brothers, The Mother Truckers, Buckeye, The Lake Charlatans, Gary Claxton & His Hellbound Honkytonk Band , The Branded Men, Victoria George & The High Lonesome, Kevin Meade & Highway 1, The Starling Six, Bad River, Electric Tumbleweed, The Rowdy River Special, Jon Chi Band, Broken Spoke, The Rhythm Rangers, Rancho Deluxe, Lansdale Station, New American Farmers, The Casual Coalition, and more!


He’s recorded on over 100 records, including a few by Sammy Hagar, Tim Bluhm, The Mother Hips, Grotus, I See Hawks in LA, Ismay, The Monophonics, plus  many more. While mostly performing at nightclubs, bars, festivals and larger venues(mostly as the opening act), he would occasionally find himself playing onstage with with some well known musicians such as Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson, Boz Skaggs, Bob Weir, Peter Rowan, Steve Earl, Albert Lee, Dave Alvin, and Sammy Hagar. He’s also had a few moments of glory at The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, The Kate Wolf Festival, The Fillmore Auditorium, The Great American Music Hall, Slims, and The Maritime Hall. Dave is grateful to have had all of these wonderful opportunities and looks forward to performing with the Familiar Strangers.

Sean Allen
 Lap Steel Guitar/Standard Guitar/Vocals

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Sean Allen is the bands Master of the Telecaster and a much in demand guitarslinger for hire. In addition to playing with The Familiar Strangers he maintains a full performing schedule most weekends with a number of the bay area’s most popular bands. Not surprisingly, he is also a much sought after studio musician adding exceedingly creative standard guitar pyrotechnics, as well as, lap steel guitar in both beautiful Hawaiian and ruckus Americana styles.

Sean also provides much needed accompaniment for nationally touring acts like Maria Muldaur, Gary Nicholson, Bonnie Hayes, Commander Cody, Peter Rowan, Carlene Carter and many others.

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