2,000 Miles from Home -- Bluegrass in LA: Split Lip Rayfield at the Knitting Factory By Bradley

Sep 25, 2001

I'm still not certain why, but earlier this summer I moved from Alabama to LA. I do not understand my rational or even if there was any. All I know is that I was coming out of a yearlong drinking extravaganza and found myself on the road to Los Angeles.

I'd been in LA for a week when I saw a flier for a bluegrass band by the name of Split Lip Rayfield. I'd been wanting to see this band and their legendary one-string bass for a little more than a year.

So far, what I'd heard from their CD was straight-up old-time bluegrass, but played in a way and with an energy that made them stand out. They have the kind of sound that you might develop if you were raised on Black Sabbath and cornbread. It's traditional, but with some elements of rock thrown in. These fellas ain't got no Bella Fleck sound. No way. Think more along the lines of the mixture of rock and traditional Irish music that the Pouges brought with them. It's the kind of music that'll make you want to buck dance one moment and bang your head the next. Maybe even kick some ass next time your eggs ain't cooked the way you like 'em.

With this in mind I headed to the show.

It was at this place called the Knitting Factory. It's a pretty up-scaled place with guys wearing earpieces and microphones at the door. I was sort of put off by the looks of it. I'm going to hear bluegrass in here? It was looking odd. Not the type of place that I'd expected Split Lip Rayfield to be playing. But what the fuck, I was getting to see one of my favorite bands. My neighbor Dickie was with me, he had the camera. The band was just setting up.

Split Lip Rayfield is Jeff (one-string gas-tank bass), Wayne (mandolin), Kirk (guitar), and Eric (banjo). I went up and talked with Wayne about getting some pictures and a few words with them after the show. He was cool and said it should be fine.

The price of beer was brought to my attention. I was thirsty so we went back up the street to where we already had some beer, and downed three quick ones. Maybe I'm not cool. Maybe I'm a tight-ass. Maybe I'm broke. Maybe it's cause I'm from 'Bama. Maybe I understand the value of the dollar. Call it whatever in hell you want to, but I'm not paying $5 dollars for a beer when you can get 24 PBRs at Ralph's for about $10. Na', no thank ya'. After the beers, we headed on back down to the club and got inside right as the band was starting up.

By the fourth or fifth song the place was getting full, the band was thumping, good ol' bluegrass twang filled the air -- time to get some pictures. Dickie took out the camera. With the pumping of the bass, and the sound of mandolin lines that were walking the fence between bluegrass and speed metal, Dickie readies the camera. He snaps one shot, two -- a large gorilla dressed in a Mission Impossible action outfit, wearing an ear piece and a microphone, grabbed him by the shoulder, spun him around, and took him out the door. With the use of his gorilla-to-second-grade-English dictionary he warned that if we took another picture we'd be thrown out: "NO MORE PICTUES!" Snarl, drool, slobber.

I tried to work out some deal with the door, but they would settle for nothing less than $50 cash if we wanted pictures.

"You come into a $7-million club and expect to take pictures for free. You can't do that," was all I got.

Fine, fuck it. I'd already missed half a song with this guy. I go back to my spot by the stage. The rest of the show was a mixture of personal favorites like "Pinball" and "Outlaw," as well as some new harmonies and drunken drawls. I loved it. These guys were better than I thought they would be. It made me feel a little more at home in a city that has more people than my home state. They tore it up. Lift your beer high boys.

Their new CD titled, "Never Make It Home," is on Bloodshot Records. I haven't got to hear much of it yet. Some of it displays the kazoo workings of Jeff (bass). It's gonna' take a 12 pack of beer, and a some voodoo to fend off irony just to break it in.