Hot Buttered at the Edge

Bluegrass band to play at brewery

While the weather is sure to be warm and cold drinks preferred, it is the sound of Hot Buttered Rum that most will be drinking in at an upcoming concert.

The bluegrass band from San Francisco will play on the lawn of Kannah Creek’s Edgewater Brewery, 905 Struthers Ave., in a concert with local band Stray Grass and Alycia Vince from 6:30–9 p.m. Thursday, June 23. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $25 in advance at hotbutteredrumingj.brownpapertickets.com or $30 the day of the show.

Take a camp chair and enjoy the music created by Hot Buttered Rum’s Bryan Horne (double bass/vocals), Erik Yates (banjos/guitars/woodwinds/vocals), Nat Keefe (guitar/vocals), Shane Schlick (drums/percussion/mandolin) and Zebulon Bowles (fiddle/vocals).

In advance of the show, Yates spoke in a telephone interview about how the band got its name and West Coast bluegrass scene.

Melinda Mawdsley: I’m sure you are asked this all the time, but there must be a story behind the name of your band.

Erik Yates: It seems like there would be a story behind that. I’m sure you can imagine the ingredients: rum, butter, sugar. It is a good cold-weather drink. We did a lot of early touring in ski areas in California and Colorado and the name actually works pretty good for us.

Mawdsley: You are playing at a craft brewery. Are you guys craft beer guys?

Yates: Love it. I love craft distilleries, craft breweries. We play some wineries in the Bay Area. We work a lot with brewers, vintners and distillers. I always thought food and spirits and brewing and music go together well. It’s no coincidence that people love all those things. A lot of musicians brew their own beer and make their own pasta from scratch.

Our bass player (Bryan Horne) is a baker. He has a certain recipe for an apple/walnut cake. Personally, I try to challenge myself and cook different recipes whenever I’m home because it’s one of my favorite ways to engage with my wife.

Mawdsley: Have you had Kannah Creek Brewing Co. beer before?

Yates: I don’t know that I have. I’d be surprised if I hadn’t, but I can’t conjure up a specific memory of that. We are always game to try the local fare.

Mawdsley: The band’s formation sounds like another interesting story. You were backpacking in California? Did you have instruments? Who brought up the idea first?

Yates: Me and the guitar player, Nat, went to college together. That’s the simple version. He was always good at putting together different projects for student committee and formed Hot Buttered Rum to do a show on campus. ... It was an eight-piece band originally formed just for kicks. I think Hot Buttered Rum was what we were drinking at our first rehearsal. We weren’t planning on it being a touring entity per se. After college got done (several of the musicians went to the High Sierra on a) month-long backpacking trip. That trip solidified the band.

I didn’t officially join the band for six months. We did a lot of subsequent trips after that initial one. It became part of our process. ... We did a lot of our early writing on retreat-type sessions, strap on our packs and go into the backcountry.

The Bay Area is a very busy place. Even back then, there was a lot of energy around the tech sector and we used the proximity of mountains to get up and get out into an older rhythm. A lot of our early songs, some of which we still play, are about the mountains, nature and places we found meaning. It’s very much a 21st century take on the origins of bluegrass. The ties to the California backcountry are strong with the band. It’s like our church, in a way.

Mawdsley: Did you grow up listening to bluegrass?

Yates: I didn’t grow up listening to bluegrass. Nat did. He’s the guy who really introduced the rest of us to bluegrass. Myself and Bryan, we kind of grew up mainly on rock and jazz. I played string bass and saxophone and piano, it wasn’t my only focus but as soon as I heard good jazz I was hooked on that. Bryan was a classical guy.

Bluegrass, to me, people call it the jazz of country music, and it really kind of is. Bluegrass has a lot of fast tempos and a lot of tunes you are expected to know, and should know. That’s one of the things that always appealed to me about bluegrass.

In folk music or rock music, there are people who know a ton of music but others who only know their songs. I always wanted to find situations where I could grab a guitar or banjo and play good music with other people. The universality of bluegrass and rhythm was a big attraction for all of us. It’s one of the most amazing things America has come up with: bluegrass music.

Mawdsley: I see your music is described as West Coast bluegrass? What is that distinction?

Yates: West Coast bluegrass is our way of alluding to the fact we aren’t traditionalists. There are a lot of Colorado groups that also are not traditionalists. We are trying to put out there that we take bluegrass as a jumping-off point. We blend it with all other kinds of music we are into. We sneak jazz in there. Our current drummer is a really good R&B player. Every once in a while we’ll give him some space, and even having a drummer is a weird thing in the bluegrass world. In that sense, we are West Coast, left of center.

Mawdsley: What is the bluegrass scene in California?

Yates: It’s not as big as in Colorado. There are per capita fewer players out there, but it’s got some great names. There are some great pillars of the bluegrass world out here. Some of the people — David Grisman, Peter Rowan — have been a big influence on us. There are a lot of players out west who are mixing bluegrass with swing music, blues or rock music. There are a lot of bluegrass mash-ups, which Hot Buttered Rum is for sure. There’s also a place for traditional players. There’s a whole scene that formed around the California Bluegrass Association. They are constantly throwing festivals.


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