Split Lip Rayfield revs up the resurrected Capital City Barn Dance. 

Double Time

The Capital City Barn Dance swings back to life at Fireballz on Friday, March 23, with a full-throttle lineup of rock 'n' roll, country and bluegrass-based sounds. Ultra-speed acoustic pickers Split Lip Rayfield headline the show with a revved-up sound that is grabbing attention from fans and critics across the country.

"It sounds arrogant, but it's true," Split Lip guitarist Kirk Rundstrom says nonchalantly as he talks about the band's live shows. "We blow everybody away. … We play harder and faster than any punk band."

To accomplish this, the Split Lip boys use an innocent-sounding instrumental grouping of guitar, mandolin and banjo played double time in a quick and clean whirl. In place of drums, bass player Jeff Eaton hammers a homemade bass made of a 1946 Ford gas tank with a wooden stick for a neck and a single strand of weed-eater nylon for a string.

"He's as competent a musician on that gas tank as anyone I know," Rundstrom says. Even Rundstrom is amazed by his band mate's ferocious attack on his unusual instrument. "Jeff blows his hands off," he says. "… By the end of the show there are blisters on top of blisters."

Taking its name from a character in Eaton's mother's little Missouri hometown, Split Lip got together in 1998 in an attempt to strike a different chord on the music scene. The players had been in a variety of punk bands through the years and were looking for a different slant. Deciding to abandon drums and amps, they shifted the musical mood to an acoustic sound, four-part harmonies and original songs. Lyrics to the tunes are a wild mix, as likely to deal with track-jumping trains and murder as with driving on drugs. The songs come fast and hard; Rundstrom says the band generally crams about 20 tunes into a 45-minute set. Because the instrumental lineup includes banjo and mandolin, the group gets the "bluegrass" tag. Rundstrom, however, doesn't buy such a narrow definition.

"We're not a bluegrass band," he explains. "Switch [us] to electric instruments and you've got a rock show."

Also set to play at the Barn Dance's return are The Damnations TX from Austin, Texas, and Richmond's The Shiners. Damnations feature the fine harmonies of Amy Boone and Deborah Kelly. Their intertwining voices put a friendly edge on the band's big-beat, country-oriented sound. Add The Shiners' original take on the traditional and the alternative, and the resurrected Barn Dance should get off to a promising start.

Wes Freed, Shiner singer and a Barn Dance organizer, says plans call for a monthly slate of shows. Most of the extras such as square dancing featured in past Barn Dances have been abandoned, although the between-set "house band" will remain a fixture. Freed says Barn Dance organizers are trying to establish connections with similar shows in other cities to tap into a broad base of bands with original twists on a country-based sound.

"We want to provide sort of an event," Freed explains. "Make it something a little more than just your regular rock 'n' roll show."


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