Rumpke Mountain Boys
13 November 2016 - The Fox Theatre - Boulder, CO
for The Lot Scene by Parker
Band Members: Adam Copeland - guitar, vocals; Ben Gourley - mandolin, vocals; J.D. Westmoreland - upright bass, vocals; Jason Wolf - banjo, dobro, pedal steel, harmonica, saw, vocals
What better than a warm fall night in Boulder, Colorado? Filling that night to the brim with fantastic music, that’s what! And that is precisely what those of us who gathered at The Fox Theatre on University Hill did that fine Sunday evening. Call us “the lucky ones”. It had been a tough day for music lovers once again with the news of the loss of Leon Russell, one of our very greats. However, there was a feeling of joyous defiance of death and all things pertaining that pervaded the venue as opposed to any overbearing feeling of sadness or grief. Music is a healer, is our healer, and I think most folks there were tuned into that particular vibe as they made their way inside. I know the Rumpkes were, having had a chance to chat a bit with them before their set. They did tell me to get ready for a Russell-heavy set. I told them I wouldn’t mind that in the slightest. Really had a lovely conversation with J.D. Westmoreland that ranged all over, but of definite interest was the fact that he was celebrating his fifth year with the band to the precise day and in the very same town in which he’d originally joined the band: Boulder. Pretty cool, right? Things like that just don’t line up every day. Then I enjoyed one of my absolute favorite pastimes…catching up with my incredible friends whom I might chance to meet from show to show. Always a great game of buddy roulette in terms of whom you will see when you walk through the doors of a venue. And always excellent to see with whom you’ll be sharing a show experience. And what is “infamous trashgrass” care of the Rumpke Mountain Boys other than a complete and total experience? That evening, as we were all to see in a few scant minutes, it became even more. Which reminds me, we’re here for some music, right? Well, then, how about we get down to it?
Striking the match and setting the whole place ablaze with their trademark high energy, “Merman Dingo” was our first offering of the evening with Adam up to the mic to take the lead vocals. Ben was wearing a Leon Russell style hat and rocking it completely, it must be said. The very first of many various tributes to the great Leon that were to come that evening. It had been a fair many months since I had last seen the Rumpkes and I could immediately sense a tightening of their musical texture and overall sound that was at times apparent and others subtler still. As with any band we support, we desire for them to forever spiral upwards in all ways possible. This was precisely the kind of phenomenon I felt I was witnessing in the progress of the Rumpkes. And exactly the kind of feeling you want to have at a show, right? A nice, groovy bass intro from J.D. brought us into the next selection of the evening: “Molly”. Ben’s mando immediately lit the room up with its bright and cheerful timbre with Jason’s banjo backing things up in a smooth and stylish fashion, all the while J.D. crooning away on the mic for us. Pretty classic Rumpke sound going on and in good measure. Strong lead into this set so far to be sure. Most assuredly the musical acumen of these very talented and skilled gents was on display for all to see that night in each solo and melody line and every other note uttered from those well-worn instruments on stage. “Crows Blues” followed “Molly” with Ben stepping up to the mic to take the lead. And that Leon Russell hat was killing. Well done, Ben. And what a fun little trip through some sweet string band madness is this ditty! One of those “I challenge you to not dance to this song” kind of songs. And filled to the brim with that infectious Rumpke energy. And would you like to see a bit of this infamy all for yourself? Well, you are in such luck today, friend! We’ve got some mighty fine video footage of the Rumpkes nailing down “Why Can’t We All Grow Young” for your viewing enjoyment! Check this out!!
So much magical mayhem all on one stage. Intensely good times. And then they started rolling out the Leon Russell in perfect style. And I mean rolling them out to us. What a tribute set. Seven covers in all. Seven! That’s right. Seven. The first of which was “Manhattan Island Serenade” (which the Rumpkes changed to “Ohio River Serenade”) and which saw Dave Guy of The Roots join the band on trumpet and for the remainder of the show. What a great timbre to add to the string mix on stage, something a little brassy and bold to shine out alongside all the other instruments. Really special stuff to be sure. What a sound to get from the Boys! Adam was on the vocals for this one, making Leon proud with this Ohio version of the Russell classic. What a jam. Super fun. “Takes a Drink in the Morning” followed up the “Serenade” keeping our Leon Russell train a-going and with J.D. back up to the mic to spin out this tale of necessary advice. Jason, banjo still across his chest, sat down to his pedal steel for this one, adding that oh-so unique sound to the musical concoction of incredible goodness all stirred up on the stage. And that trumpet! Bravo, Mr. Guy! Ben grabbed his electric mandolin for the next song, Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”, and stepped up to the mic to rock this one out in fine tribute. I have to say, this one was definitely an enjoyable little ride around the aether and back again. Buoyant and a little bit brazen, it had edge and energy and it was a favorite of mine that evening, no doubt. Ben’s solo on his electric is most worthy of note. Lengthy and adept, note after note, Mr. Gourley dominated the musical landscape of the song in so many excellent ways. Suffice it to say, each of the gents on stage is a total beast in his own right. And that’s exactly what the audience witnessed with “Stranger”. Excellence. “Cajun Love Story” followed continuing our dance with Mr. Russell and his amazing music. Classic banjo to open? Sure! Let’s do that! And to a waltz, too? As sung by the Mr. Wolf? Well, now, I reckon so! Really enjoyed the Boys’ harmonies in this one. And so trashgrassy. So trashgrassy. Speaking of trashgrass, it was time to take a walk back into the Rumpkes’ originals territory. Lee Owen of Lexington, KY, (Born Cross-Eyed) joined the band for the remainder of the set as well at this point on acoustic guitar. This saw Adam introduce the next song, one he said he’d written rather recently and will keep developing on and on. He explained that it’s a song about all those who have gone before us and remembering them, specifically folks in Adam’s own life. He dedicated “Mark It Zero” to Leon Russell, of course…classy and fitting. Copeland took to the mic and things got going in fine RMB style. Quick, fun, well-played…all those things a person is looking for in trashgrassy string band music. The very best kind of it, too, you had best believe. And holy banjo badassery, Batman! Damn, Jason! Leave some shredding for the rest of the band, right? On second thought, go nuts, man, go nuts! That goes for you, too, Dave - just destroy things on that trumpet! Burn them down, my friend! Wowsers. What a rush! It was nice to get a bit of a chill vibe up next with “Banks of the River” and J.D. throwing down a soulful vocal line for another nice waltz up in the Fox. Loved the mando and pedal steel soloing respectively. Woven so seamlessly together throughout the number, the two seemed siblings long lost and then reunited in song. Fantastic. Then it was time to go “Out in the Woods” with our good friend Mr. Russell, jammed out trashgrass style. Ben Gourley laid down some mighty fine vocals adding some serious soul to the mix. Gravelly, gritty goodness all up in your face. My face. Our faces. And damn happy that was the case. Nasty solo work coming from all corners of the stage, from Jason just wailing on his banjo to Lee Owen throwing down a monster solo of his own. And what about that trumpet? Yet again? Damn fine! Not a bad time at all, my friends. Really enjoyed this one, indeed. “Big Boss Man” proved to be a perfect follow-up to “Out in the Woods” and with a “Strawberry Wine” finisher things were just dandy! Josh Rosen from Shakedown Street came out to add his own electric guitar groove to the party just in time for “Strawberry Wine” sung by Mr. Adam Copeland. Mind you, this is one for the getting down. In a boisterous bayou bash kind of fashion. And how about that magnificent mando from Ben, my friends? About like that baller ass banjo from Mr. Wolf, right? And then that guitar solo from guest Josh Rosen? Trumpet, too? More of that clarion call from the left of the stage? So much tasty good music happening all at once, all together, all a sweet sound to behold. If this is trashgrass, what’s not to love? Right? Remember how I said they’d cover seven Leon Russell songs? Well, they weren’t done yet! Not by a long shot. And, “She Smiles Like a River” was an incredible addition to the vaunted lineup so far. Ben stepped back up to the microphone to croon this one for us, Russell hat still perched smartly atop his head. And we got a wee more pedal steel for our musical palates to boot. Not to mention all the other incredible music pouring forth from the stage in buckets. What a feast for the soul! My goodness, what a set! And then the closer…what a closer for this show. The first few bars of “Bid You Goodnight” rang out into the night around us and lit upon face after face inspiring smiles of recognition and joy all around the room. We all lent our voices to the band’s for this one uniting the entire venue in song and community. Always a marvelously perfect way to finish things up in our world. Bravi, Boys!! But they weren’t done yet…nope. They had that one, excellent encore up their sleeves for us. And they nailed it. The band. Their guests. All of them. Nailed it. Leon Russell’s “Tight Rope” is one of his better known songs and it was the appropriate capstone to an evening filled with his music. J.D. gave us one helluva rendition on vocals as the band cruised along killing it underneath his melody. Of course, where would we be without some exquisite string band jamming while we’re at it? Mando, banjo, guitars, and trumpet…and that rock steady bass work. Magic. Just magic. Trashgrass magic. I think I now understand what that concept is all about, trashgrass. The Rumpkes showed me how. And I thank all the stars for that one. Thank you, fellas, for such a superb evening of music and madcap string band lunacy. Suffice it to say, I’ll be looking very much forward to my next encounter with the Rumpke Mountain Boys. They set the bar pretty high this time, in my humble opinion. It’ll be great to see where they go from here!! All the best to you and yours, Rumpkes. Let’s do this again soon, K? Cheers!