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Some bluegrass without corn

BY ERIC ANDERSEN | FEBRUARY 19, 2010 7:30 AM

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mp3 samples: Split Lip Rayfield

"Hobo Love Song"

"Rig or Cross"

When people think about bluegrass, images of gray-haired men in collared shirts and ties plucking away at banjos might come to mind. However, the guys in Split Lip Rayfield prefer wearing T-shirts and jeans onstage, and their playing gives off a live feel more along the lines of a punk-rock show — rebellious, aggressive, and energetic.

“Most of the modern [bluegrass stuff] is little too corny for me,” bassist Jeff Eaton said. “We try to take the whole suit-and-tie thing out of the mix and just keep it real … there is a lot of tradition in the bluegrass world, and we try to cast that aside.”

Split Lip Rayfield will perform its wild bluegrass tonight at the Yacht Club, 13 S. Linn St., with an opening performance from local blues rock band the Mad Monks. Admission is $10.

The group has been together for almost 15 years, putting out seven studio albums and receiving widespread critical acclaim along the way. Its most recent album, 2008’s I’ll Be Around, features the humor and raw power that fans have come to expect from the band.

Jason Larson, a UI student and the host of “Local Tunes” on KRUI 89.7FM, commended the Yacht Club for its support of the bluegrass scene, and he looks forward to Split Lip Rayfield’s performance in Iowa City. He said the trio plays “some good bluegrass.”

While the band is currently going strong, it was not long ago that the future of the Split Lip Rayfield was in question, when founding member and acoustic guitar slinger, Kirk Rundstrom, died after a yearlong battle with esophageal cancer.

“We thought the band was over,” mandolin player and vocalist Wayne Gottstine said.

Split Lip Rayfield broke up for almost a year but reunited after recording music for the Adult Swim TV program “Squidbillies” and performing with the Reverend Horton Heat.

Gottstine said the band missed playing shows and decided to start touring again as a trio, with banjo player Eric Mardis completing the lineup. The group is on the road in the Midwest and plans to continue playing as many gigs as possible.

While Split Lip Rayfield shuns most of the bluegrass tradition, it does have one staple that shows up at every performance — the Stitchgiver. Eaton used the gas tank of a 1978 Mercury Grand Marquis, a piece of hickory, and a Weedwhacker line to build the homemade bluegrass instrument.

Gottstine said the bass is not for the weak; it got its name because of its tendency to injure those around it.

“It’ll rough ya up,” he said. “You don’t want to get too close to it, or it will take a chunk out of your skin. It’s real rough on [Jeff’s] hands, and he has to tape them up.”

The trio looks forward to its performance at the Yacht Club, a venue that the band has learned to call its home in Iowa City.

“We always like going to the Yacht Club,” Gottstine said. “It’s always a real good time, even though I’ve rarely experienced lovely weather in Iowa, because we always seem to come around in the winter.”


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