This winter we will be featuring bands ‘on the rise’ in the region that you will be seeing on music festival side stages in the summer of 2013 – Unlike other magazines that will remain unnamed, we do NOT charge these bands for promoting them, so please share this with as many folks as possible. There’s a TON of excellent original, unique music being made out there today so open your ears and mind to it. Every band started somewhere, so let’s get behind our local artists and give them some love, too – Jerry would agree! This is the first in the series of FEATURES for local and regional bands – Washington, PA’s #1 party band – The Rusty Haywhackers.
Local Music Spotlight – The Rusty Haywhackers
By Ryan Neeley exclusively for Appalachian Jamwich
Photos by Ryan Neeley
I always make it a point to come early or check out the side stages at festivals I attend to catch the openers or lesser-known acts on the bill, then keep track of them so I can get out to see them when they come to town. Doing this has allowed me to see Gov’t Mule with 35 people in Wheeling, WV on a Tuesday night, Keller Williams (multiple times) with less than 50 people in the crowd, Yonder Mountain String Band in 99 and Phish in 94, so I would say that the effort made to get there a bit earlier (along with the extra paid in alcohol purchases showing up at the venue early) has been well worth it. You see, no matter how hard you try, you never know who is going to break up or fizzle out, and who is going to take off to be the next Avett Brothers – but nine times out of ten, you’ll enjoy the band and you may be able to say that you saw (and probably met or took a photo with) that group before they turned the corner to regional and then national success.
In June of this year, I headed up to Nelson Ledges Quarry Park to cover JimiMiller Band’s 10th annual Lazy Daisy Festival for Buckeye Music Magazine. Nelson Ledges, a former rock quarry with natural spring fed lakes, rocky outcroppings for diving, and just plain old good energy has always been a favorite place of mine, and Jimi Miller and his band are an excellent group from Ohio, so I was looking forward to the trip. I went to the main stage to check out the opener with an amusing name – The Rusty Haywhackers. What I saw that day did something to me, making me want to see more from this diverse group out of Washington, PA, a mid-sized college town south of Pittsburgh. A female lead singer with an urban feel and soulful voice, a dreadlocked percussionist with an infectious smile, two guitarists who differ like night and day but whose styles complement each other like peanut butter and jelly, and a bassist that lays down funk driven beats with flair, this group had a chemistry rarely seen in a group that has been together for less than five years. Think the Rumpke Mountain Boys party mixed with Old Crow Medicine Show songwriting, Rusted Root style percussion, a pinch of Blues Traveler harmonica jam-blues, Ivan Neville funk and Michael Franti vibes and you have The Rusty Haywhackers .
I spoke to the band on a Thursday evening after their weekly jam night gig that they host at the VIP in Washington, PA, and learned that the first gig they had played with Matalik was a memorable one, as a bar fight broke out. “Basically, we had brought down a bunch of hippies from our area into a down home country bar in West Virginia, and a drinking contest ensued. Never a good idea to pit hippies vs. rednecks in anything, especially a drinking contest,” vocalist/guitarist/mandolin/banjo player Brian Matalik admitted. “It wasn’t a pretty sight. I think they felt like we invaded their space.”
2012 has been a turning point for the Haywhackers, gaining exposure by landing slots in festivals like The Recipe Family Cookout at Sunshine Daydream Memorial Park (Trip’s farm as I will always call it – RIP), The Rumpke’s Snugglefest outside of Cincinnati, OH, JoeDown in Burgettstown, PA, and their own festival (that they took over), Violas Backwood Bash in Dallas, WV on Wheeling Creek, where Larry Keel, JimiMiller Band, 600lbs of Sin, Joe and Shannon from The Recipe, and Fletchers Grove took the stage this past year.
Since seeing them that day, I have had the pleasure of watching this group perform a handful of other times throughout the summer, and they never disappoint, putting on a balanced show of originals that don’t sound like such and covers of everything from The Grateful Dead to Zappa. Vocalist/Songwriter Sarah Keener is the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and remembers singing and wanting to be in a band as far back as kindergarten. With an exceptional, soulful voice that has a bit of an urban feel, at times partly singing and part spoken word/rapping lyrics, but not because she can’t hit the notes! She clearly demonstrates her dexterity when reaching high and low notes alike and harmonizing difficult arrangements. She also has a great stage presence, a surprise considering the fact that this is her first group and she had to overcome paralyzing stage fright, “Yeah, I hated the thought of taking the stage. I always thought it (performing) was something that I’d like to do, but never considered it seriously because I was afraid to put myself out there. But once I did and I ‘let go’ so to speak, it got easier and easier each time,” she said. The vocalist/songwriter lists performing with Jimi Miller at Lazy Daisy as one of her highlights of the summer, “They (Jimi Miller Band) have always been good to us, it was a real thrill to get up there with them.”
The beard and gruff exterior of Brian Matalik (mandolin, banjo, guitar, and vocals) hides a voice and songwriting ability that screams COLORADO BLUEGRASS, and rightly so. Matalik moved back to the area from Colorado less than a year ago after studying bluegrass in the state for almost five years, and he joined up with the Haywhackers, fitting in like an old glove on a Colorado farmer. “I’m actually a recovering drummer,” Matalik said. “I was in the percussion ensemble in high school, which is where I met some of the other band members. When I was 14 or 15 years old I took guitar lessons and after a couple of months, the teacher wouldn’t teach me what I wanted to learn, which was like Zappa and good stuff like that, so I quit taking lessons.” Matalik is an accomplished songwriter, and picked up a lot in Colorado, “Everyone’s into bluegrass out there, so you get the best of the best. I’d love to go back someday soon.” One of my songs written by him is a Haywhacker staple called Home on the Mountain, a Grateful Dead/Allman Brothers sounding tune with a hook you’ll be humming all night.
The other guitarist in the group is Matt Locy, the opposite of Matalik, with a short haircut and goatee, he is also the most schooled of the group, having attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Locy admitted that he was more into guitar virtuosos Joe Satriani and Steve Vai rather than The Grateful Dead and bluegrass. “I was more into the Metallica-type riffs when I started playing. Actually, the reason I picked up a guitar was because of David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. But I never really played much Dead until I got with these guys – after I started playing to it and listening to it, I was hooked. ” Locy is a very technically sound guitarist and can shred at any moment, so keep your eyes on this talented guitarist
On the other end of the “learned music” spectrum is harmonica/percussionist Marc “Steady” Steadman, who had no musical training before he started in the band. “I could mess around on the harmonica, but I never took lessons or anything”, he said. But there are some people that can pick things up by ear, and Steadman has that knack for percussion and driving beats, adding a Jim Donovan-esque style that doesn’t overpower you nor underwhelm the groove-heavy sound the band puts out. He plays a mean harmonica and is also the joker of the group, with an infectious personality and a smile that makes you happy, you can tell that he’s a person you just want to be around.
Rounding out the percussion section is bassist Dan Burgess – This guy just shaved off his dreads, surprising everyone at the band’s Halloween gig in New Martinsville, WV, but judging from his performance that night, he’s no Sampson. He still throws down the funk, weaving in and out of beats laid down by Steadman with crisp precision while keeping the funkiness at its maximum. Every so often you’ll get a taste of him showcasing his skills, and while he may now be a showman, having to take the spotlight all the time, he can definitely hold his own with some of the region’s top bassists. He played with Locy in bands since his teenage years, also focusing on the harder rock and metal that was popular at the time, then transitioning into the Grateful Dead and bands that allowed more freedom later.
If you’d like to know what to expect when you see this talented group of musicians, first, be sure to strap on some comfy shoes, because they are definitely groove-heavy and danceable. You’ll hear Grateful Dead favorites like Liberty, Shakedown Street, New Speedway Boogie, just to name a few, done in a unique, powerful way with some originals that I’m sure you’ll appreciate. And their ravenous fans, aptly named The Whack Pack, is a group of die-hard, family people that love to dance, have excellent energy, and will take you in as one of the pack, so long as you’re into having a good time with great people experiencing to a phenomenal local band. Look for this up and coming band in a club near you this winter and on side stages/as openers in festivals throughout 2013. I can guarantee that you’ll be coming back, just like I have, to be Haywhacked again and again.
Like The Rusty Haywhackers on Facebook by clicking HERE
For The Rusty Haywhackers page on Reverb Nation, click HERE
NOVEMBER OPPORTUNITIES TO SEE THE RUSTY HAYWHACKERS:
- EVERY THURSDAY hosts of JamNight at the VIP on N. Main in Washington, PA – Bring your drums/instruments!
- November 17 – McGrogans Taproom – Canonsburg, PA
- November 30 – J Alans – Dayton, OH
Check em out on YouTube doing a killer Deep Elem Blues! – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpXq8UBAYfA