Headlining the opening night of the 31st Annual Northern Rockies Folk Festival, Friday, Aug. 1, Austin, Texas-based The Gourds are about as quirky a band as may be found. But fear not, its music is rock solid. Nine albums, the most recent being last year's "Noble Creatures," and die hard fans across the country have proven people love humor with its music.
Founded in the early 1990s, the band consists of Kevin Russell on vocals, guitar, mandolin and "what-nots" says the band's Web site. Jimmy Smith is on vocals, guitars, bass and "incidentals;" Claude Bernard plays accordion, keyboard, guitar, vocals and "network security." Keith Langford takes on drums, "advanced planning, systems analysis and driving" and Max Johnston (formerly of Uncle Tupelo and Wilco) plays fiddles, mandolin, guitar, banjo, lap steel, vocals and "ultimate karate."
"We have a lot of instruments going there," said Langford, the advance planner. "It an eclectic thing. Even though we use country instruments, elements and rhythms it's a metropolitan thing we do. We pick all different kind of styles. Might be cajun-y and then go into something that sounds like the Stones, and then bluegrass. We put it all that together. We have a massive amount of songs; rock and roll one night and bluegrass with mandolin and accordion the next."
Russell and Jimmy Smith split the songwriting duties, with Johnston throwing in a song or two every record.
"He's the change up pitch that happens in the show," Langford said.
As for their incredible array of songs, they range from the completely twisted like "New Roommate," "Piss and Moan" and I Ate the Haggis," to ballads like "Promenade" which features the lyric, "Somehow my losing just comes natural/ Like a Southern democrat." But while ballads are deep and heartfelt they're a long way from tear inducing treacle.
The music is rich and textured, with reference-laden songs that bring to mind Steve Earle and The Band. In "My Name is Jorge, " they sing, "I once sold me an apple to William S. Burroughs/He shot up his dope, his Wine sap, his girl/And I sold me a lemon to Henry S. Ford/But he brought it back, I said, all sales are final."
"Die hard Gourd fans know all the old stuff," Langford said. "And they're delighted when they hear something old that's been rejuvenated. Everyone in the band has their own favorite album. We've been listening to old ones to rehash some material. Right now my current 'Bolsa de Agua.' There's a lot of humor in the band both on and off the stage. It comes out of the music for sure. It's meant to be lighthearted; not real serious. There are nights when the banter can be equally entertaining as the music. We're not a shoe gazing band."
With that he chuckled, tickled by the image and the absurdity of the notion.
For details, visit www.nrff.net.
Northern Rockies Folk Festival
· Friday, Aug. 1
5 p.m. Steelhead Redd
6:45 p.m. Marley's Ghost
8:30 p.m. The Gourds
· Saturday, Aug. 2
12:30 p.m. Sheryll Mae Grace
1:30 p.m. Finn Riggins
2:45 p.m. The Damphools
4 p.m. Jeremiah James Band
5:15 p.m. Kim Stocking Band
7 p.m. Marley's Ghost
8:30 p.m. Radney Foster
· Hailey City Park aka Hop Porter Park
· Tickets: $25 at the gate, $23 in advance from Chapter One in Ketchum, Notes Music in Hailey. Kids under 12 free.