CONCERT REVIEW: Redefining a music genre after a ‘Lou-grass’ experience

Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys - Joshua Rilko, PJ George, Lindsay Lou Rilko and Mark "Huggy Bear" Lavengood.  Photo supplied.
Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys - Joshua Rilko, PJ George, Lindsay Lou Rilko and Mark "Huggy Bear" Lavengood. Photo supplied.
  • An encounter with ‘musicianship that serves the heart and soul’
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Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, Americana Season, South Holland Centre, Spalding

Sunday night at Spalding’s South Holland Centre may well have been the “Barbecue ‘67’ moment for an audience of 300-plus people.

Just like the visit of Jimi Hendrix, Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band, Cream. Pink Floyd and The Move 50 years ago this May, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys is a show the people who were there will talk about for generations to come.

The band, lead vocalist Lindsay Lou Rilko, husband and mandolin player Josh(ua) Rilko, bassist PJ George and all-round “crazy person Mark Lavengood on Dobro resonator guitar, are the best thing to have come to Spalding since Ruby Turner brought the house down in February 2014.

With songs of maturity, serenity and tranquility, the stand-out highlights being “Here Between”, “River New” (with PJ George on lead vocals) and May Erlewine’s “The River Jordan”, this was pure class bluegrass.

But anyone expecting a “take your partners” barn dance from Lindsay Lou and her men, the group name reputedly “Flatbellys” coming from someone who told them “It’s good to see you Flatbellys out here pickin’ with us Greybeards”, would have got a shock.

We all have different influences, but we’ve honed in on our chops with the bluegrass sound and everything it’s taught us

Lindsay Lou Rilko, lead vocalist and guitarist, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys

The soaring, towering, unerring vocals of Lindsay Lou Rilko shook the auditorium to its very core, exploding with atomic energy songs from the band’s most recent album, Ionia.

Front Country, The Railsplitters, Hillfolk Noir and The Stray Birds all left their bluegrass mark on Spalding.

But Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys are another Americana, genre-defining experience entirely.

After the concert, Lindsay Lou said: “This was our smoothest trip (to the UK) yet because every time we came here before, I got sick.

“I heard, from a number of people, good things about Spalding and it does feel like a family, the whole basis of which is to share all these songs with people who have never met us before.

“That lays the foundations for the bluegrass music we see through own lenses which comes out sounding different.”

Of all the rave reviews Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys have had since its foundation in 2009, the words of Seth Bernard who co-founded Michigan-based social enterprise Earthwork Music captures the band best.

Seth said: “This is what happens when musicianship serves the heart and soul... when four people travel 50,000 miles a year together in the same vehicle and have music for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“This is what happens when (a) family band makes a record in the living room and the music arrives with the vibe of the place and time permanently imbedded within it.

“This is next-level Lou-Grass...the acoustic soul of the Great Lakes on a pilgrimage to Nashville.

“This is the magic of the moment between bandmates who have put in the time it takes to raise the bar... Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys have earned it.”

Lindsay Lou said: “Bluegrass and country music started in the 1950s, but I grew up listening to a lot of jazz and soul singers.

“We all have different influences, but we’ve honed in on our chops (sharpened the band’s musical technique to perfection) with the bluegrass sound and everything it’s taught us.

“But over time, we matured our own sound and our next record will have electric guitar and drums on it.”

However, what sets Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys apart from other bluegrass bands is the penetrating, rousing and virtuoso vocals of Lindsay Lou herself.

Mandolinist Jimmy Gaudreau, of bluegrass royalty The Country Gentlemen, described Lindsay Lou as a vocalist “who can sing anything you throw their way”.

Even better, the band’s own website said: “Lindsay Lou has the kind of voice you can get lost in.

“One part jazz singer, effortlessly transitioning octaves, one part blues shouter, soaring over the band like a clarion call, and one part folk singer, rousing them all together in song.”

Lindsay Lou said: “I used to sing in choirs and my mum would always listen to Carly Simon who was one of her favourite singers.

“Music has played a big role for me in a spiritual sense, a kind of secret space to find yourself within.

“But Josh has probably spent the most time of anybody, really investing himself in bluegrass properly.

“He comes from a really strict religious background which he has freed himself from.

“But he still embodies that traditionalist approach, whereas I don’t feel married to any musical genre.

“I’m a disciple of music with a capital M.”

Review and interview by Winston Brown

CONCERT PREVIEW: Voices from the Great Lakes at Spalding riverside setting for a Nashville night out