Lauren Stovall from The Railsplitters loves changing people’s impression of bluegrass music. The guitar player and singer said she realizes that to some, bluegrass carries a negative stigma of “hillbilly” music or a step down from country, but that she enjoys opening minds to the different variations of the genre.
“We’ve been to shows where we’ll play, and someone will come up to us after a show and say, ‘You know, my husband dragged me here and I didn’t want to come because I don’t like bluegrass, but you what you guys do I really like,’” she said. “And that’s cool because we are exposing people to bluegrass through an avenue that they’re OK with accepting it.”
The Railsplitters will headline the Keystone Winter Bluegrass Weekend on Friday, Jan. 22. The festival will host two days of bluegrass music, bringing six different bands to the lineup on Friday and Saturday.
Stovall likes to describe the Boulder band’s music as unconventional bluegrass, staying away with from using the term “progressive bluegrass,” as she feels it implies a more jam band feel. The words “pop grass” and “doo wop grass” are also thrown around, but from song to song it varies, she said.
“With the more progressive bluegrass bands out there, the people who are taking the music a little bit further than traditional, it’s bringing in people who — whether they are young or old — who may not have enjoyed bluegrass before,” she said. “It is sort of bringing them in through a side door, to let them become exposed to why we like this music so much.”
Although they came together because of a common love of the genre, each member of the band delves into their own style of music as well, and it reflects in their songs. A variation from more traditional bluegrass, Stovall said they like to expand their horizons a bit.
“Obviously when you look at us, we look like a bluegrass band,” she said. “We have the right instrumentation, and we all met at bluegrass jams and because of bluegrass music and a mutual interest in it, but again we all come from different musical backgrounds, and we all listen to various types of music.”
The band is relatively new in its inception, created in 2012. Stovall was playing a few solo shows and realized she wanted to bring other musicians in, so she asked Pete Sharpe (mandolin and vocals), Leslie Ziegler (upright bass and vocals) and Dusty Rider (banjo, pedal steel, and vocals) to sit in with her. She knew the three from the bluegrass scene in town, and the four meshed so well, they began booking more gigs at local venues. Fiddle player Christine King was added almost two years ago.
“Everybody — between other musical projects and day jobs — it eventually got put on top of everybody’s priority list, which was really nice,” Stovall said.
As soon as the momentum started going, the group decided to start working on an album. They put out their first album, “The Railsplitters,” a few years ago, afterwards releasing “The Faster It Goes” this past spring. Their first album falls more in line with traditional bluegrass, with the most recent showing their expansion into more unconventional bluegrass.
“Between the two you can almost get a sense of how the band has progressed over the years, and what’s been going through our minds,” Stovall said.
“The Faster It Goes” has been so well received that the band has to keep reordering more copies. A track on the album, “Tilt-a-Whirl,” ended up on Spotify’s Fresh Tracks playlist, which has given them more exposure. They are currently throwing around the idea of creating a new live album with recordings from their shows in Germany. Although it was their first time in Germany, it was their second time touring in Europe, and the band is looking forward to heading back overseas in the near future. The Railsplitters will return to the United Kingdom in April, before heading to the Shetland Islands for the Shetland Folk Festival.
“It’s such a great experience in every way,” Stovall said. “We all love to travel, and to be able to travel and share music is the best of both worlds.”
The Keystone Winter Bluegrass Weekend will be celebrating its fifth year of bringing a collection of bands to town for two days of mountain music. The festival features Steel Pennies, Timber! and 2013 RockyGrass Band Competition winners The Railsplitters on Friday, Jan. 22. Saturday, Jan. 23 brings back local band The Pine Beatles for their fifth festival, along with RockyGrass winners Caribou Mountain Collective and Rapidgrass.
“It’s a super family friendly environment … very laid back, everyone is having fun,” said Ben Brewer, guitarist for The Pine Beatles. “It has the atmosphere of almost like a bluegrass festival you might see in the summer … everybody’s friendly — a leave your ego at the door type of thing.”
The bluegrass festival is fundraiser for the Dercum Center for the Arts and Humanities, a nonprofit that works to bring talented artists to the area.
“They are amazing, they have done all kinds of arts promotion in Summit County and mostly Keystone, but they bring all kinds of great music to Summit County,” Brewer said.
The Pine Beatles are a local band that has been with the festival from the beginning. Brewer’s son, Jacob, has played several of the Keystone festivals with the band. The 13-year-old will throw down with the ukulele and the trumpet, and will also be singing a Warren Haynes song.
“The Keystone bluegrass festival includes a part where the community can bring their instruments and just jam with the band before we start our set, and it’s a really cool opportunity for the community and getting to know people,” Jacob said.
After five years with the festival, Brewer said the band is honored to be asked to play it year after year.
“We are warming up this year for this great band called Caribou Mountain Collective, and they are warming up for Rapidgrass — those are two very high-caliber bluegrass bands,” he said. “We are just the neighborhood, local community band — we get up onstage and we have as much fun as possible, and that comes through.
“In our case it’s locals creating music, and sharing it with our friends and our community — that’s really what it’s all about.”