Written by Gretchen Gregory – [email protected]
COLUMBUS — If you don’t know what your plans are for the Fourth of July yet, be sure to check out the Rumpke Mountain Boys playing at Woodlands Tavern, formerly the Thirsty Ear, at 1200 W. 3rd Ave., Columbus, after Further and Red, White, & Boom Friday July 2.
Two weekends ago, I spent a blissful night sitting on the second floor of a barn in Terra Alta, West Virginia, pondering thoughts over why the Rumpke Mountain Boys called their music “trash grass.”
I was tired after dancing and listening to a lot of good musical acts that day at The Promised Land, the place formerly called Sunshine Daydream, including the likes of The Recipe, and kind of drifted into a sweet slumber as the bluegrass music sort of wafted up through the old wooden beams and onto the second floor of the barn where I sat, surrounded by some other like-minded folks who I happily shared my cooler with.
Downstairs in front of the stage was where all the action seemed to be, as some kids were madly swinging and dancing, getting down to the foot-stomping, soul-searching bluegrass music, although it’s more like jamgrass than anything else.
That’s when I realized that Rumpke is such a great band, that no matter what you’re mood or what you’re into listening at the moment, they can deliver. They kind of create the best of both worlds – it’s foot-stomping music if you want it to be, but it’s also on the softer side too, so it’s easy listening music. And in my opinion, that’s worth a lot more than the self-proclaimed “trash grass” label. But then again, they are proud of their band name and where it came from. So that counts for something.
They named themselves after the largest hill in Hamilton County, Ohio – the landfill dubbed Mount Rumpke. Aside from the fact that the largest hill in Hamilton County (the home of Cincinnati) is the landfill, the band followed the bluegrass tradition of naming their band after the highest point near their home. And for the past 10 years, they have been lighting up stages and campfires throughout the Midwest with music that makes the young ones quiver, dance, and shake their thing, while the older ones have a chance to relax and hear some low-key, solid bluegrass music.
The band can do this because they don’t have drums, relying instead on Travis Gates to provide the rhythm with his five-string bass guitar, and it’s something which has allowed them to play late night sets across the Midwest at several music festivals with noise ordinances to deal with. After the headlining bands are finished, Rumpke Mountain Boys can be relied on to keep the party going, often even until 8 or 9 a.m.
Having a lack of a bass drum isn’t a hindrance at all; it allows their audience to focus on the fast-paced melodies of the mandolin (Ben Gourley) and banjo (Jason Wolf), with their perfectly pitched strings, but still be low-key at the same time, playing with the soft and smooth rhythm of the bass guitar (Travis Gates) and guitar (Adam Copeland).
The band plays all sorts of music, from traditional mountain music to reggae and classic rock hits by Pink Floyd and Tom Waits. It’s a real eclectic mix. What impresses me the most is they know 800 songs, 700 of which are covers.
“We are one of the most eclectic groups that you’ll find,” the band told Jambase in a recent interview. “Each of us seem to have a vast list of songs that we know, musicians we love, and shows we have seen. The one thing we have in common is that none of us were raised listening to or playing bluegrass…We enjoy the freedom and open mindedness that the Grateful Dead and Phish brought to the jamband scene. You can cross every genre of music in one set and the audience gets it.”
“Their music is not obtrusive to most people of all walks of life,” Jason Huckaby, manager of the band, told Cincy Groove earlier this week. “They have fans of all ages and types. Some of our biggest fans are into punk, rap, metal, country, and so on. At Highland Spring Jam after hearing the guys close out the music three nights in a row, one guy said he had a new favorite band (Rumpke Mountain Boys) and he ‘hates bluegrass.’”
“I have always done my best to inform people that haven’t heard Rumpke that they are not a bluegrass band; they are a band with bluegrass instruments,” he explained.
Visit them online at www.rumpkemountainboys.org.