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 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.