There is a pastry shop in the next town over from where I live. Whenever they pull a fresh tray of donuts from their oven, they light a little sign in their window that reads, “Hot and Ready”. That sign came to my mind recently when I visited the dance tent at Merlefest in Wilksboro, NC. At that tent, I encountered a string music band that certainly should have their own, “Hot and Ready,” sign that lights up as soon as they hit the first chord. I noted the name of the band and recalled that these guys are scheduled to appear this spring and summer at venues and festivals all up and down the eastern half of the country. The band is named, The Hogslop String Band. Do not despair; the music these guys make has nothing to do with the satirical part of the band’s name.
A Dance Band
As their biography implies, they more or less stay true to tradition but they also maintain a bold irreverence and attitude. For the most part, they manage to walk that thin line between the two extremes. While their roots are definitely in old-time string band music, the high energy of their stage performance is based in wild rock-and-roll. Maybe one could describe their brand of string music as mountain roots punk. Nevertheless, they are definitely a DANCE band. Even I found myself doing a lead-footed version of the revered flatfoot while they played. Before the set was over, the guitarist was calling the wildest (and probably the largest in Merefest gathering size) square dance. His pronouncement to the crowd before getting started was, “If you ain’t gonna’ dance, then clear the floor so the rest of these folks have some room!” Their performance is best served up live although they have done a recording or two in the past.
The band consists of singer and fiddler Kevin Martin; guitarist, harmonica player and singer Gabriel Kelley; mandolin player and singer Will Harrison; banjo player and singer Daniel Binkley, and bassist and all-round entertainer Pickle (don’t ask; he must be seen to appreciate).
I caught up with Kevin Martin after a meet and greet/autograph session to ask him some questions about this unusual string music band.
I asked Kevin how long the group had been together. He told me that they have known each other for about 13 years; that the band formed back then with them playing a lot of square dances and similar venues. It has only been in the last six or seven years that they started playing festivals.
Kevin said The band mostly does weekend tours but we are all full time musicians. “Gabe does some studio work and I have an old-time country music band in Nashville that I play with as well.” I wondered if the bulk of the band’s work was with festivals but Kevin said that most of their work was with club dates. I mentioned that the dance tent set that I saw seemed to be a typical club date set with the square dance calls and such. Martin replied, “We started as a square dance band. We’ve done dances that lasted four hours with 500 people. For a number of years, that was all we were doing. We would do square dances and we would do weddings.”
I commented on the high energy the band has and Kevin admitted that back in the day they played the music and called the dance, interacted with the people, and had lots of fun, however; presently the band has evolved into a performance band.
Play A Square Dance
The Hogslop String Band is based in Nashville but only Daniel Binkley, the banjo player is originally from Nashville. Martin said the rest of the group is originally from Georgia but that he has been in Nashville 14 years and the others for similar times.
When asked what got the group started together and Kevin told me, “We all met in a bar named the Five Spot. They had an old-time open jam on Wednesday nights and we all just picked together. Someone asked if we could play a square dance and that is how the band formed. It seemed that from then on, we were playing every weekend.”
I asked if they had ever recorded any material. Kevin replied, “We are a live performance band. We have a record we put out a few years ago and a second recording that we will release soon. It will be very representative of our live show with rowdy fiddle tunes and such—almost PG but a bit on it’s far side.”
I asked how the band name came about? Kevin surprised me with this comeback, “I wish I had a good story for you about that. You remember I told you that someone at a bar asked us if we would play a square dance. When we got to the place to play the dance, someone asked us what we were called. One of the guys who now manages us called out, ‘Hog Slop’, and it stuck. I hated it for a couple of weeks but I grew to like it. I grew up around fiddler’s conventions and such where you came up with a different name for each competition and that is what I thought this was. The name has stuck and now I feel it represents us well.”
Look for The Hogslop String Band on the festival circuit this summer and fall. They are definitely best enjoyed live and in a venue where there is room for dancing. I am sure your flat footing moves are so very much less lead-footed than mine.