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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday ó May 7, 2004


Get hip to the lip

This Notes for You
By Keith Waller

Iím watching four possessed musicians on stage and Iím concerned for their safety. They are playing so fast that it seems possible they could hurt themselves. The mandolin player just finished a run so fast that my brain could only register half the notes. The banjo is sweating. Not the banjo player, the banjo is actually sweating because it fears for its life. The acoustic guitar playerís arms are covered in tattoos and he is doing the splits and Pete Townshend style windmills, but through it all I canít take my eyes off the bass.

The bass is made out of an automobile gas tank. Itís painted green and black camouflage and it has É-holes cut in it like a violin. It has only one string, but that seems to be all the bass player needs to lay down a beat that has the whole room twitching like Elvis impersonators.

Welcome to speedgrass, and the champions of the genre, Split Lip Rayfield. This isnít your fatherís bluegrass music. This is bluegrass that would sound perfect coming out of the window of a GTO with a 451 Hemi engine. It has plenty of muscle, and if you donít keep your eye on these boys, theyíll run you over.

After completing a couple of ridiculously fast songs, I gathered my jaw up from the floor and yelled to them, "Hey! Canít you guys play something a little more up-tempo?" Wayne Gottstine, the mandolin player, looked up at me and I saw a trace of a smile and his eyes lit up just a bit. The next song was sort of like leaving the pavement while doing 120 mph, crashing through the fence, the barn, and taking off the front porch of the main house leaving traumatized livestock strewn in the wake. These guys would be scary if they werenít so darn nice.

I met and had a short conversation with Wayne, and Kirk Rundstrom, the guitar player, while we were sitting at the bar at PiE in Boise before their show started. I didnít know a soul in the bar, so I decided to strike up a conversation with the guys sitting next to me. Iíd heard of this band and their label, Bloodshot Records, so I figure I can impress these fellas with my knowledge of obscure insurgent cowpunk bands. I ask them if theyíd ever heard of the band that was playing next, Split Lip Rayfield. "Well, actually we are Split Lip Rayfield," Wayne said.

The ensuing conversation centered on being journeyman musicians. The exciting life of driving yourself through the night to the next gig, setting up all your own gear, handling your own promotion, producing your own records, missing your family and friends, thrilling the crowds night after night and barely making ends meet. Their label means well, of courseóthey have a whole stable of stunningly accomplished bands and singer/songwritersóbut they donít exactly have extra cash laying around to use for promotion.

On the way home after one of the best performances Iíve ever seen, I was struck by what an unfair world this is. Last year, Brittany Spears, who in my opinion is neither a good singer nor a good dancer, made about a zillion dollars, while Split Lip Rayfield, whose talent is overwhelming, barely made enough to cover their bar tabs.

Well, maybe they did a little better than that, but then again they can drink a lot of beer.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.