With much of the band now based in Nashville, the popular Michigan-bred bluegrass quartet plays Grand Haven Friday, with a hectic 2017 ahead. Members are flourishing with side projects, too, while praising their Great Lakes State roots. Check out the Local Spins interview.
THE ARTIST: Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys
THE MUSIC: Bluegrass, Americana roots music
WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM: 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Old Art Building in Leland; 6 p.m. Friday at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven as part of the Music at the Museum/Red House Concert Series w/ special guests Channing and Quinn (this show is sold out)
After moving to Nashville in early 2015, Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys have slowly become one in a long line of Michigan acts to make the Great Lakes roots scene proud as they continue to make waves nationally.
This summer will see the quartet — comprised of husband and wife tandem Lindsay Lou and Joshua Rilko, bassist P.J. George and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Mark Lavengood — hit major festival stages such as the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado and Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in Oak Hill, New York as well as a few others. Prior to festival season, however, band members are taking part in multiple side projects and have a pair of shows coming up on Michigan’s left coast. Lavengood also is releasing a new album and will be performing this spring with his Bluegrass Bonanza.
Fresh off a pair of gigs in Colorado opening up for the Phoffman/Beck quartet, made up of Greensky Bluegrass’ Paul Hoffman and Anders Beck, Samuel Grisman and Northern Michigan’s own Billy Strings, Local Spins had the opportunity to catch up with the Flatbelly’s George as well Lindsay Lou.
Local Spins: Tell us about living in Nashville and what the scene is like and what it has done in terms of your collective growth as musicians.
Lindsay Lou: It’s amazing, everybody there is a music addict, so it’s easy find inspiration and collaboration. I live with our booking agent and bass player, and Billy Strings and Molly Tuttle live across the street. So it’s a real rich environment to be living in. Our friends, The Stray Birds live within walking distance of my house. The heroes live there and the peers, it’s like everyone is there and everyone just wants to hang out and pick.
P.J.: The scene in Nashville is just amazing really. There are so many talented musicians all living in the area, some of which are leaving and coming home from tours. There’s lots of social gatherings full of friends, jamming and general good times. It’s a big part of why I live here. It’s really one of the best places for a musician like myself who’s looking to learn, grow and play with lots of different folks. It also works great as a home base or hub to travel from. I’ve probably been gone as much as I have been home over the seven years or so I’ve been on the road. Right now though, I am enjoying a beautiful spring day off the road at my house in East Nashville.
Local Spins: You’ve got some pretty major festivals coming up this summer, including playing Telluride for the first time, what else is on the horizon for the Flatbellys and how excited are you to get out to Telluride?
P.J.: I’m super excited for our festival season this year. I have actually played both Telluride and Grey Fox stages with previous bands I was in. At Telluride, the band I was with (Nora Jane Struthers & The Bootleggers) won the band contest in 2010 and returned to play there in 2011. It’s extra exciting that I get to return to these festivals that I’m already somewhat familiar with, this time with a band who is so accustomed to playing together and comfortable on the big stages. Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys at this point have played together so much that we have a level of comfort with each other and with the audience that is really special. We’ve also been playing lots of songs from our new album recently (due out in January 2018) and are ready to bring some new songs to the audiences this summer.
Lindsay Lou: Telluride, holy freaking balls. I’m so excited about that. We’ve got that and ROMP, which is a great festival in Kentucky and Grey Fox in upstate New York, that’s one we’ve been wanting to play for a long time … It feels really good, I wanted to have the new record out in time for this summer, but it’s just not going to happen. Ionia was released over two years ago now, and our sound has evolved a lot since then. We’ve grown and we are getting ever closer to ourselves, and finding this sound that is entirely our own. I’m really feeling very happy about the album, which is being produced by Sam Kassirer, who did Bad Self Portraits for Lake Street Dive, among many others. We aren’t going to have it this summer, unfortunately, at the festivals, but they should be a great opportunity for us to say, “hey, here we are” and then hopefully we will be able to come back next year with the record.
Local Spins: You all have a lot going on musically beyond what the Flatbellys are doing. Mark has his new album coming out in May with the Bluegrass Bonanza and you are playing with the Sweet Water Warblers and just had gigs in Ferndale and Kalamazoo and play Spring Lake tonight with that trio. Can you talk about your various side projects a little bit?
Lindsay Lou: The Sweet Water Warblers is myself, Rachael Davis and May Erlewine. We got together at Hoxeyville in 2014. It was just a fun thing, and then we started playing a couple shows and selling out everywhere we played. We just released an EP (With You) and are now talking about making a full-length. It’s a side project for all of us but is such a huge spirit booster. … If it weren’t for the two of them I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today. When I was in college I was just such a huge fan of both of them. It’s really humbling for me and getting to make music with them is pretty freaking awesome.
We are going to the UK this August and are playing a couple festivals including Hiawatha in the UP, along with possibly a couple others in Michigan. It’s just kind of filling in the windows of my life. My life is basically on the road with the Flatbellys, then I come home for a day and then go to Michigan and play with the Warblers, and then home for a day and leave with the Flatbellys again. I will be in Nashville for most of May so I‘m pretty excited about that.
P. J.: Josh (Rilko) and I are playing with Billy Failing (Billy Strings’ banjo player) in Nashville this weekend. As of now, it is a one time thing but I certainly like Billy Failing’s music and was fortunate enough to get to play bass on a couple songs on his album “Calling My Trouble by Name.” Josh and Lindsay also participated in that album a bit as well.
Local Spins: In closing, let’s talk about the Michigan roots/bluegrass scene. As artists like yourself, Joshua Davis, Billy Strings, Dominic Davis and Greensky all get bigger and more national it seems that each of you, despite many of you moving away take a lot of pride in this scene and stay loyal to your Michigan roots. Can you address that?
Lindsay Lou: Nobody passes through Michigan. You’ve got to be coming here, and because of the peninsular nature, it’s sort of like an island. There’s a lot of solidarity and what’s here is really all our own thing that is happening and it has just flourished with the Earthwork Music collective. There’s just a lot of really incredible original music in Michigan. I was really lucky to find it when I was living in Lansing, going down to the Green Door to see Steppin’ In It on Monday nights. That’s where I first met Josh (Davis) and Dominic (Davis).
The scene is just so supportive in fostering original creative art. And it really does kind of have its own style because we are all influenced and inspired by each other, so that island mentality really shines through in the music scene and you realize how lucky you are to come up in a place like Michigan when you leave. Other places have awesome scenes, but Michigan has that up north Midwest hardiness. We all have to go through winters together and people are from here and have roots here. It’s a real deep sense of belonging and home and solidarity. To have such a creative platform is really a special thing.
VIDEO: Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, “The Fix”
VIDEO: Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, “Magic Man”
Copyright 2017, Spins on Music LLC