Hogslop String Band and Their Whiskey Soaked Rowdy, from Merlefest
Hogslop String Band brought their whiskey, rowdy stomping to the Dance Stage at Merlefest this year. The high energy jams brought the crowd to their dancing feet as they encouraged folks to grab a partner and circle up round the tent. This went on for a good time as the band fed the crowd that insane energy. And that’s just what you get with Hogslop. There’s no denying that they bring something unique to that traditional old-time bluegrass. There show is one you see to kick the mud off. Rest, Relax. Rest and relaxation at a Hogslop show means burn up those dancing shoes and let loose. Let go of all the stresses of the work week and connect with those around you with heart and intention.
If there’s anything I learned sitting down with Kevin Martin (fiddle) and Gabriel Kelley (harmonia, singer) of Hogslop it’s that they are full of heart and intention in their craft and their character. Self-described as roots plus they bring all the plus’s to the table, staying true to traditional old time and firing it up with bold irreverence. Their traditional old-time laced with their rock-and-roll energy makes pinning them to a genre as useless as tits on a boar hog. It’s pointless.
They play what they want, how they want, and the common denominator is that high energy, good-time. It’s a fine merging of pickin’ and rhythm with impeccable showmanship, naughty by nature. They put on a show that’ll have you happy as a hog. That’s exactly what it felt like to sit down with them at Merlefest to dig a little more into the mud.
Americana Highways: How many times have you played out here?
Kevin Martin: Yeah, it’s only our second time playing MerleFest, but Gabe and I grew up coming here and screwing around at the festival. Making noise and playing music.
Gabriel Kelley: Yeah, I think I started coming when I was probably six or seven years old. And he’s been coming since he was little too.
AH: That’s cool. So, it’s come full circle for you guys?
GK: Yeah, my mom was real close with Doc (Watson) and his wife, and that whole crew. She was a folk, a visual artist. Made corn chuck dolls. She would always do her craft stuff here and I’d just run around and be a shit kicker. We’ve both been coming here a long time. So, it’s kind of fun to. I think before last year it’d probably been 10 years or something.
KM: It had been 12 years since I had come to just hang out.
GK: But it’s cool, you know, it’s mutated in some cool ways. It’s nice to see some tradition carrying on too.
AH: Yeah. And you guys make big traditional music, old time, but you’ve got this rock mixed in. You’ve got a kind of more eclectic feel and vibe. How did that happen between the five of you guys? Those musical influences? How did you all come together and make that happen?
KM: We all kind of just met just picking old time, traditional music and playing square dances and stuff. And then, you know, these days we play a lot of that. We play a lot of our own songs and we play a lot of songs that we just love and it doesn’t matter where, or when it’s from, we just make it Hogslop. Make it sound like Hogslop and make it rock and roll. Yeah. Our version of it.
GK: I mean, everybody but Pickle in the band is a songwriter. Which is great, you know, it’s a different dynamic and everybody’s got their own flavor and flare. We’ve really only been pursuing this, like an actual band, pursuing something for only a few years, but we’ve been friends playing over 10 years. So, you know, playing that long with anybody, we’ve figured out almost subconsciously, but there is kind of a sound that is Hogslop. The goal is just always that anything we do we don’t really care what genre it is, you know, especially in this kind of music. And traditional old time, and bluegrass and all, there’s so much weird separation. And especially in Nashville, old time is one place and bluegrass is another, and we just don’t give a shit about any of that. We like playing music and playing music with anybody that wants to. As long as there’s heart and intention.
KM: As long as it’s a song that we can put our little Hogslop stank on. You know, our little brand on and make it our own.
GK: But yeah, so some of guys, we all have had careers. Other than that, Kevin’s got an old country, traditional country group, two step and honky tonk stuff. It’s great. And you know, I’ve played in the Allman Brothers and worked in the blues-rock world for a long time. Will Harrison’s done a bunch of stuff. He played a long time with some mainstream country stuff like Billy Currington, Brett Eldridge and some of those folks.
KM: He also played with Grateful Dead cover bands like the Stolen Faces in Nashville.
GK: Yeah, all sorts of stuff. And we just love music in general. And when you really get down to it, it’s all the same shit. Really. Yeah. Same chords. It’s the same, same thing. I think the only thing that really separates us is that we feel pretty strongly that the preservation of old time or anything to do with traditional music, when it starts feeling like it’s in the library and people are sitting down and playing, that’s not really how we feel like it’s supposed to be played. It’s supposed to be something you do to kick the mud off. And you’ve been working hard all week and relax and feel good. It should be fun and entertaining and, you know, whiskey soaked rowdy.
AH: Y’all definitely bring the rowdy. So, I saw y’all for the first time at FloydFest.
GK: Oh, yeah. That was a good time.
AH: So, speaking of festivals, I know you guys are doing Big Sky in Montana and you’ve got Bourbon and Beyond. I’m trying to go to that too.
GK: Yeah. That’s got a good lineup on that one.
AH: Yes, it’s so good. Festival-wise, what makes MerleFest so different than the other festivals? And then do you have a festival favorite?
KM: MerleFest is special to us in that it is that full circle thing that we talked about. I know that me and Gabe feel like that, you know.
GK: It’s where we come from.
KM: It’s the largest folk festival in the United States. It’s gotta be. If it isn’t, it was for a very long time.
GK: Definitely for traditional music.
KM: It has a unique brand of traditional. Of roots music. They call it roots plus. And that’s what Hogslop is. We’re roots plus. We fit the genre so well. We run the gamut of what they represent here. In one act on the stage. As far as favorite festivals, I mean, there’s so many. There’s a great, kind of bluegrass festival in Flagstaff, Arizona called Picking in the Pines, which is such a beautiful setting.
GK: If you’ve never been, you should go,
KM: The music is always great. And the people who run it are fantastic. And the crowd.
GK: Beautiful amphitheater and all those old growth pines are everywhere.
KM: Ponderosa Pines. It’s Beautiful. And just south, just off the Ridge is Sedona, you know, desert.
GK: It’s gorgeous.
GK: But you know, MerleFest specifically, it’s just been around for so long. I mean, you know, 30 years. 40 years now, I guess.
GK: 30, 40 years. It’s been such a big thing. You know, it’s something, when you’re kids, you go, man, that’d be awesome to do one day. To be a part of, or go see, or come back. And that was real special for us getting to do that last year. And, it was interesting too, because I have my memories of MerleFest and MerleFest really was pretty different 15, 20 years ago than it is now. I mean last year I saw other friends of mine, like when I played in the Allman Brothers and the Tedeschi Trucks and all those folks are good friends of the whole family. So I know that whole crew well. I would’ve never thought 15 years ago a band like Tedeschi Trucks would be at MerleFest. I’m really excited that they’re branching out into that. Getting outside, getting more on the fringes and you know, there is a big movement. People use words like Americana and all this stuff a lot. We kind of feel like we’re the weird misfits, you know. It’s kind of like the Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer thing. The island of misfits. Genre-wise and everything else, we don’t feel like we fit anywhere. We don’t really care. We’ll go do Americana festivals or we’ll go do straight up and down blazer, bluegrass festivals, you know. Or we’ll go do something like Bonnaroo that has nothing to do with string music and we can fit into all those spaces and love all of those places.
KM: Or Bourbon and Beyond where, you know, playing the same stages as Alanis Morissette.
AH: And Pearl jam.
GK: And Pearl jam or whoever. Yeah. And it’s cool because at the end of the day, it just kind of reaffirms that it’s about heart and intention, and people feeling good and connecting. So, you can call it whatever we need to, but who cares really?
AH: As far as being received. I know you guys are going to Sweden soon.
GK: Yeah. We’re doing a run, just all Scandinavia. Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
AH: So, how does that go? I mean, just as far as being received by your audience and stuff. Being able to take Americana-roots music. All the genres that you guys bring in. How is that received by the international crowd?
GK: Really well.
KM: Swedes love country music,
GK: Love American music in general.
KM: American music in its entirety. They just can’t get enough of it. This will be our third time going to Scandinavia and they love our band. Now, do they understand what we’re saying sometimes when we’re screaming in the microphone and everyone’s talking really, really damn fast? Especially some of the older Swedes. They know English, but they don’t know like…
GK: Southern slang.
AH: Well, music is a feeling. A felt thing, you know? You don’t always have to know what’s being said to feel what’s being said, you know what I mean?
KM: Yeah. Some of the greatest shows we’ve ever had have been in Scandinavia.
GK: That’s cool. That connection kind came through me. I lived there when I played soccer professionally there when I was younger. And I speak the language fluently. I started going there with my solo stuff and I produced a number of artists there and worked over there a lot. And so, we started taking this group over and I kind of questioned it too. I was like, wonder how this will go, you know? And it’s really cool to see. I mean, I’ve lived a few different places around the world over the years, and it’s not till you go to some of those places and you realize what a blessing to come from, where we come from. That we were raised and brought up in the traditional music we were from, because, you know, you can go anywhere in the world and people talk about Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton and all these people. They really love those styles of music that it is very American. It’s fun to get to be some of the guys, we’re all in our thirties or whatever, and go share that again. You know, we’re kind of a fresh, new, different thing, and realize that it connects no matter where we go. It’s a lot of fun. We’re doing one festival that we’ve done before. It’s in this little town. It’s actually where the damn candy cane was invented.
GK: Polkagris is what it’s called. This little town called Gränna that’s on the side of a lake. They’ve had an almost 40-year bluegrass festival. It’s the only bluegrass festival I know of that’s been that long running in Scandinavia. And we headlined that two years ago, right before COVID. It was so cool to see, you know, it was like everybody in Scandinavia that played banjo or fiddle or whatever, all shows up to this thing to catch some authentic folks doing it. And it’s a really refreshing thing to see that not only state-side, but a lot of other places are learning this stuff too. We love it. When other folks wanna learn it.
AH: What about you learning their style play?
KM: Oh, we’ve definitely learned some Swedish tunes over there.
GK: We’ve played a few on stage.
KM: We get some of our Swedish friends up who play great. We get ’em up, play their full music with us, you know.
AH: That’s fun.
GK: Yeah. It’s cool. You know, it’s a totally different language to use to connect, you know,
AH: So, you guys had a 2019 album. What’s coming up next?
GK: Yeah. So, we already have another one in the can that we’re kind of holding for the time being. We’re also working on, we haven’t really told anybody yet, so you’re the first person hearing it, but we’re working on another EP of some kind of more obscure cover tunes that we just wanted to do in the band. That we’ll probably be releasing before the smart record. We made it kind of during the COVID era when we were home. I’ve got a studio and we just did it at my place, and I produced, and we all just showed up. The main goal for this next record is to really represent what the band’s been doing live for the last couple of years, which is really this high energy, rowdy thing. Our first record was more of an experiment of what happens when a bunch of guys that have never played with a rhythm section, play with rhythm section. Bring whatever kind of song to the table. And it was fun, but it doesn’t necessarily represent who we are at this point in a live setting. So, it’s just really important for us that we’ve got a record of really high energy.
AH: That 2019 record was a little bit of high energy, with a little bit of mellow feel. I love “High Hopes” and “Nobody’s Business.” But then you kind of go slower with “Go Back Home.”
KM: It’s some cool moments on that record. I like it.
GK: It was really a blur. I mean, to be honest, we were, it was three weeks through the whole record album. It was three weeks of lots of drugs and alcohol. Working with a guy named Andrea, who’s a great producer in Nashville. It’s called the bomb shelter. But you know, that producer, a lot of the stuff he’s done like Alabama Shakes and a bunch of stuff that. I think we were the first old time group he’d ever recorded.
KM: Some strange string band.
GK: Yeah. You know, so it was like this weird, like, let’s just see how weird we can get. And, you know, I think we all enjoy that record, but it’s not quite what we’ve morphed into.
AH: It’s not quite weird enough?
GK: Or just not the energy.
KM: We’ve still got more to do.
GK: Yeah. There was more to do, and there’s a lot more to do. As people, all of us as individuals and songwriters. Everybody’s growing constantly and shifting and changing. So, this is a little bit of, a little bit more a traditional old time with real high energy, because that’s what we’ve been doing pretty seriously the last few years.
AH: That’s cool. I’m excited to hear that.
GK: It’ll probably be 23. That we’ll drop that one.
AH: Well, I don’t wanna keep you guys too long. My last question. So you guys are the host of the late night jam tonight. How are you gonna bring the weird?
GK: Oh, it’s just embedded in us so you don’t have to try anymore.
AH: How do you get weird around here. It’s dry around here.
GK: Well not us. We can help you out with that.
AH: I need a Hogslop flask.
GK: Okay. We can sort that out easy. I thought we’ve got ’em here. Will knows. But yeah, I mean, the thing that’s great about this jam traditionally is nobody ever knows what the hell’s gonna happen. And what we’re stoked about is the theme that we all kind of came up with this year, which is kind of the late sixties, early seventies. We got Dylan songs and, you know, canned heat tunes and band songs and just stuff that’s not necessarily traditional ultimate. This rock and roll and just stuff that feels good. Everybody will bring their own little sauce to the table.
AH: Well, that’s gonna be fun. I’m gonna see y’all up here tonight and thanks so much for taking the time out. I know y’all are busy, so I appreciate it.
AH: It’s so nice to get to talk to y’all.
GK: We appreciate you too.
Find more information on Hogslop String Band here: http://www.hogslopstringband.com
And their music on Apple, Spotify and Amazon.
Hogslop String Band will be playing the Northern Indiana Bluegrass Festival on May 28th. You can check out all of their tour dates on their website.
Hogslop String Band Interview