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Mayhem String Band performs in Vail

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyFrom left are Mayhem String Band members Kevin Larkin (mandolin, accordion, harmonica and vocals), Chris Steiner (guitar and vocals), Ben Johnson (bass and vocals), J.T. Lack (banjo and vocals) and former band member Jamison Hollister, who has been replaced with fiddler Ferd Moyse.
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VAIL, Colorado ” During a break between gigs, members of the Mayhem String Band sat down for an interview Monday at their friend’s Avon apartment. Strewn across the middle of the table lay a fiddle and a rather abused bow. About half of the bow’s black hairs had splintered off and collected in a nasty knot, and fiddle player Ferd Moyse showed no remorse about it.

“That’s old-time fiddling,” he said. “If you’re not breaking something, you’re not doing it right.”

Playing so fast that bows shatter is pretty standard for this bluegrass ensemble. After all, a band with the word “mayhem” in its name doesn’t travel all the way from the Mississippi Delta to bore people. Instead, the ensemble incites whiskey-soaked parties that rattle the spirits of old blues masters.



“We’ll be as rowdy as we can get in a given venue,” singer and banjo player J.T. Lack said.

The band stops at the Sandbar Sports Grill in West Vail tonight as part of a record-release tour.



In the self-important world of acronyms, the Mayhem String Band is a refreshing break from jargon. Mayhem actually stands for “May All Your Hangovers End Miraculously.”

“We drink a lot on stage,” Lack said with a laugh. “Don’t write that. OK, we encourage the crowd to be libatious, and we just assume that it probably hurts them the next day, when a lot of times they have to get up the next day for work.”

For the Mayhem String Band, causing trouble all night long is its work. Most of the guys in the ensemble are friends from high school. Two of them joined the band to escape a landscaping job in the Mississippi heat, which helps explain why bassist Ben Johnson has been known to cart a leaf blower on stage.



Once, Johnson used the leaf blower to spray condoms into the audience.

“I went up to the health department and told them I was in a band and I was a musician and I was, in fact, putting on a show to promote safe sex,” he said. “And they gave me about 300 Jimmy hats, which I then shoved in that leaf blower.”

The Mayhem String Band emerged in “good ol’ boy territory” ” the vast, flat expanse that gave birth to the Delta blues. It is a place where blues festivals are common and the genre seeps into everyday life.

“Delta’s the home of so many of the great blues artists, so there’s always this inherent coolness about the native music there,” Lack said.

A touch of the blues seeps into the band’s new album, “Land Pirates.” Released last week at a Denver show, the CD contains mostly original bluegrass music (think banjo, fiddle, mandolin and guitar) with a tinge of old-time blues. For instance, one track covers a song by 1920s blues icon Gus Cannon. The band recorded the album in a one-horse Mississippi town, in a small studio across from a police station, with producer Jimbo Mathus from the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The album soaks up the flavor of Mississippi.

“I wrote a blues song on there,” Lack said. “‘County Road Blues.’ Half of it’s kind of silly and reconstructed lines from old blues songs. The first couple verses are what they used to call a true life song. It’s just how it is. I live on County Road 323, and there are in fact buzzards over my front porch and black cats outside my door and I do wonder why the pretty girls don’t come around as much anymore.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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