Rumpke Mountain Boys to bring bluegrass-rock performance to Canopy Club

By Declan Harty

A constant changing of band members is a signal of creative hardship for most musicians; the Rumpke Mountain Boys, however, used it to find a steady group dynamic.

The Rumpke Mountain Boys have found the right mixture of personalities for a concrete group. Now in their third year together, the four Rumpke Mountain Boys have developed enough of a following to allow them to consistently perform on the road. Their tour will bring them to The Canopy Club’s Void Room on Thursday at 8 p.m. The group, which is one of Ohio’s most notable bluegrass groups, will perform after Jaik Willis, a solo guitarist and singer from Chicago.

“It was kind of a revolving door,” said Ben Gourley, the mandolin player, when referencing the formation of the group. “We just kept thinking of people who weren’t worthy of the lifestyle or didn’t want to travel as much or stuff like that, and they eventually worked their way out of the band. So eventually we found a group of people that all wanted to stay together and continue to do this, and we found a way to raise our spirit.”

Jason Wolf, who plays banjo, originally put the band together about 13 years ago. Gourley joined a year and a half later, after responding to an ad the band placed in a local newspaper. It would take 10 years to form the current group, according to Gourley. The group is now composed of Adam Copeland, J.D. Westmoreland, Wolf and Gourley. Copeland plays the acoustic guitar and Westmoreland is the upright bass player. All four contribute to vocals and the songwriting process. 

The group, which began as a “hodge-podging” of musicians, is a collaboration of a variety of genres and styles. Gourley said the band knows well over 1,000 songs, which include both covers and original music. Despite playing with bluegrass instruments and having a bluegrass tone, the Rumpke Mountain Boys perform covers from bands as diverse as the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. 

“It is essentially rooted in bluegrass,” Gourley said. “We all come from such a collective background as far as what we listened to growing up … So our style is a melting pot of everything we have ever gotten into, and it shows up into both our songwriting and our covers.”

Solo artist Jaik Willis will open for the group when they perform at The Canopy Club on Thursday. Willis is a frequent performer at The Canopy Club and plays nearly 200 shows a year. Willis wrote in an email that his act consists of “acoustic music on a Flying V, beat boxing and singing or scatting.” He said that he enjoys keeping his act entirely live.

“I don’t use looping or laptops or any other sort of prerecording,” Willis wrote. “It’s an indescribably intense experience when everything is working and the monitors are dialed, to be juggling this whole intricate web of sound in the air with just a microphone. The body takes over and consciousness takes a backseat to action. That’s what I live for.”

Willis, who has performed with the Rumpke Mountain Boys before, described the group’s style as “high energy bluegrass, with a more updated canon of material and a broader vocabulary.” 

The performance at The Canopy Club will be nothing new for both acts because they are accustomed to performing in college towns. 

Willis said each campus is different and he hopes the campus community realizes “how unusual and lucky” it is that The Canopy Club’s age requirement for shows is 18 years and older, which allows everyone to “continue to support live music there.”

Though the Rumpke Mountain Boys hail from Cincinnati, Gourley is a Champaign native and is looking forward to the Thursday performance. 

“Any time we play in a college town during school season, you always get good company and people to come out in any way,” Gourley said. 

The show’s bluegrass and rock roots will provide a style of music that attendees may not have been accustomed to hearing. The Canopy Club has hosted a wide variety of music, but the Rumpke Mountain Boys and Willis’ rock and bluegrass style will be a unique performance this semester.

“It isn’t something that we have done a lot of this semester,” said Mike Armintrout, lead talent buyer and director of marketing and operations for The Canopy Club. “Over the years, we’ve done plenty of bluegrass and roots rock … the club produces and promotes shows of all styles and genres, and we do not discriminate against any particular genre. Our goal is to hopefully offer a little bit of something for everyone, no matter what your musical tastes are.”

The show, which is presented by Liquid Karma Productions, is expected to draw approximately 100 attendees, according to Armintrout. Tickets cost $8.

Mitchell Jarman, junior in ACES, is looking forward to the Rumpke Mountain Boy’s cover songs and the group’s interesting style. Jarman described the band’s style as a “loose style of playing bluegrass with a lot of jamming as well.”

Declan can be reached at [email protected]