Hogslop String Band are a decidedly unusual bunch. Manic, off-kilter, flippant, and funny, their portrayal of classic old time and grassicana music is stirred with punk precepts, an approach that puts the emphasis on absolute irreverence and full-blown frenzy. Setting the stage for headliner Jim Lauderdale in an exclusive performance that took place on Friday, September 24th during AmericanaFest at Nashville’s popular venue, 3rd & Lindsley, they clearly took those who were unaware wholly by surprise.
“You came here to see Jim Lauderdale,” bassist Pickle surmised. “So you weren’t ready for this. If you have alcohol or drugs, take them now. It only gets weirder from here.”
He wasn’t kidding. With a set of songs that mainly focused on what it takes to get wholly inebriated (“We have high hopes and hopes of getting high,” guitarist and harmonica player Gabriel Kelley insisted), they paraded about like a band unhinged, with Pickle flopping about as if terminally intoxicated while alternately mounting and coddling his stand-up bass. Kelley, a big burley mountain of a man, was also unrestrained, rallying the crowd to share in the revelry even while touting their merch.
“We’ve got CDs, shirts, all kind of shit,” he declared. “Buy ’em if you want. We don’t care.”
Still, despite that demonstrative attitude, they showed that in fact they did care, offering up a series of songs that were of a positively celebratory nature. Eschewing what Kelley referred to as “minor key songs about heartache,” they proved to be a tight ensemble, thanks in large part to singer and fiddle player Kevin Martin’s tender, high-register vocals, the nimble flourishes of guitarist and mandolin player Will Harrison, and the adept banjo playing and occasional vocals of Daniel Binkley, all of whom served to balance the demonstrative designs that dominated the band’s performance overall. Indeed, were it not for their outrageous antics, Hogslop String Band could be considered a well-seasoned old-time ensemble, given their tight-knit instrumentation and clearly defined harmonies. So too, when they dipped into a reservoir of vintage oldies — The Band’s Rag Mama Rag, John Prine’s Knockin’ On Your Screen Door, and the Grateful Dead’s New Speedway Boogie, their reverence for their roots was in plain sight. The latter song shared a coda that referenced the dire times we’ve all recently witnessed — “One way or another, this darkness got to give” — which made their rowdy, rambunctious, goofy, and gregarious approach all the more exhilarating.
“Live music is back,” Pickle proclaimed, and indeed, the band’s performance was as lively as anyone might hope.
That said, the group doesn’t refrain from speaking its mind, even in the midst of a somewhat subdued crowd. “They call this Americana, but who even knows what that means,” Kelley mused, tossing a jab at the organization that was sponsoring the evening’s performance. So too, they appeared to have no constraints; Greasy Coat, a song thought to be about aversion to condoms (“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t wear no greasy coat”) might have made a few people twitch, though it was clearly of no concern to the performers. Even Martin, the seemingly sanest one of the bunch, seemed perfectly content to join his crazy compatriots when it came to letting loose.
For that reason alone, Hogslop String Band might have been a hard act to follow. And indeed, while Lauderdale was enough of a professional to reclaim the stage, his warm-up certainly made their mark. Suffice it to say, your pappy’s string band music was never as effusive as this.