Boulder-based quintet to be featured at Strings this week for the first time
If You Go...
What: The Railsplitters
When: 7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 5
Where: Strings Music Pavilion, 900 Strings Road
Tickets: Tickets start at $20
Steamboat Springs — The musical range of the Boulder-based bluegrass quintet can fall anywhere from roots Americana, country twang, 50’s doo-wop or surging rock n’ roll.
And this week, the mesmerizing instrumentation and vocal harmonies of The Railsplitters comes to Steamboat Springs.
On Tuesday, the group spent time with students at the Steamboat Springs Middle School through the Strings Music Festival’s newly revived artist residency program, “Mozart Masters,” which invites professional musicians to work with students on special musical arrangements, followed by a community concert at Strings Music Pavilion. The group also plans to work with students from the Emerald Mountain School on Wednesday.
Bringing a traditional bluegrass sound woven with rapid tempos and a raw power, The Railsplitters will have their first public performance at Strings Music Pavilion at 7 p.m. Thursday. The group is comprised of members Lauren Stovall on guitar and vocals, Pete Sharpe on mandolin and vocals, Leslie Ziegler on bass and vocals, Christine King on fiddle and vocals and Dusty Rider on banjo, pedal steel guitar and vocals.
For the past three years, The Railsplitters have been working their way up in the bluegrass music scene, releasing two albums, “The Railsplitters,” and more recently, “The Faster It Goes.” Not only that, they’ve won two major bluegrass music contests, the 2012 “Pickin’ In The Pines” in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the 2013 “Rockygrass” competition, in Lyons, Colorado.
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Tuesday afternoon, Steamboat Today spoke with Ziegler about working with local students and developing the recognizable bluegrass sound of The Railsplitters.
Steamboat Today: What was it like working with the students at Strings today? Do you guys do that often?
Leslie Ziegler: It was really neat to watch. This was the first time we’ve experienced working directly in the schools here. It was neat to get into the classroom and work with the kids on different instruments, not just strings, but brass, woodwind and percussion. We taught them a fiddle tune with words to it, and we taught them by ear, with no music to read. We did this to stay within the tradition of bluegrass music being passed on by ear. We did this call-and-response method of playing a melody for them, and then they would play it back. It really got through to them a lot more than we expected. They picked up on a lot.
ST: What drew you to the bluegrass genre and inspired you to pursue a career as a musician?
LZ: I come from a more classical background, and initially, I was drawn to the fact that you don’t read music when playing bluegrass. Another thing I could say is that it’s a community-based instrumentation. How I got into a career as a musician had a lot to do with this band, actually. I’ve been playing bass since sixth grade and have been involved in music even before that. But I got into it more seriously in college. I played in a few bands here and there but nothing serious. This band started really from Lauren Stovall, the guitar player and vocals, who had a few solo gigs and asked some friends to play with her. Eventually, we got more and more serious with performing and pursuing this as a full-time thing, and we had to make that decision to continue with our day jobs or to make this our full-time job.
ST: Did you ever see yourselves where you are now?
LZ: I did not. Not to say that I didn’t think it was possible, I just had no idea it would be possible to be a full-time, touring musician. However, I think others in the band did. I think that being in this band with everyone’s level of commitment to the songs and the work really drew me to believe this is something really special that we have going on here.
ST: What are some of things you guys have learned over the years?
LZ:We’ve learned a lot, and we are starting to learn what it’s like to be on the road for certain amounts of time and getting our routines down. Also, learning about each other, musically, has been huge. In the past year or so, we’ve really started connecting and can almost predict what the person next to us will play and how to respond to that. There is more communicating on stage, and playing together gets stronger every day.
ST: What makes the Railsplitters unique compared to other bluegrass bands?
LZ: A few different things. I would say the banjo playing and the songwriting — Dusty has a lot to do with the songwriting — while the lead singer, Lauren, has a voice that is so distinct and unique, it helps define our sound. The songwriting process varies from song to song, but we each get to put our own personal spin on specific parts. How to start and end a song is more group-based. It’s a lot of trial and error, but we never turn down an idea. I really enjoy the way we approach songs, because it gives everyone a voice. The background each one of us brings and what we make together is specific to the Railsplitters.
ST: For someone who has never seen or heard the Railsplitters, what would you tell them to watch for or recognize?
LZ: The vocal harmonies that we all sing: That’s something that really sets us apart. We started out with just a lot of three-part harmonies, and as our sound developed, we started playing three- or four- or five-part harmonies. We are taking the genre of bluegrass and putting our own swing on it and incorporating other genres, like pop, jazz and traditional bluegrass.
ST: What is next for the Railsplitters?
LZ: We plan on doing another record next year. We want to get some of our new music out as soon as possible, because we are working out some new songs that we are really excited about. It really exciting to see the way we are growing musically. We will also be taking a few tours outside of the U.S. and will head to Germany next month, then the United Kingdom in April. We are ready to get our music out and to play it for people globally.
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