Explaining what style of music, exactly, that Ballhog! plays is still a conundrum for Randy Russell and his bandmates.
"We've used a lot of different things to describe ourselves," Russell told The Daily Times this week. "At one point, we said we were a 'bluegrass orchestra.' We've also referred to ourselves as 'brass-grass.' Basically, the general description is that we're a traditional stringband with a horn section and drums. Or, we just say we're a whiskey band."
Whatever the consensus, the certainty is that Ballhog! is the sound of a good time. Imagine the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Del McCoury Band climbing onto the ramshackle stage of a roadside tavern and stirring up the floor-strewn sawdust into a blinding sandstorm. The band's self-titled album, recorded in 2005, is a sunny, breezy mixture of jazzy blues and Old Time bluegrass. In addition to the blend of instruments — saxophone and banjo, flute and mandolin and more — the guys harmonize with the aplomb of a gospel act as well.
Getting to that point, Russell said, was a process of trial and error. Formed in 2001, the band evolved from two separate acts, he said.
"One band was doing a straight bluegrass thing, and the other was doing more of a rock-jazz thing, and we always did shows together because a lot of the same guys were in both bands," Russell said. "Eventually, it made more sense just to call it one thing. It just happened we would do the kind of rock 'n' roll show with the horn section, then switch it up and do the bluegrass show.
"Well, the horn players were the best soloists we had, so when we did the bluegrass thing, we always wanted them to get up with us and play, and eventually they developed their own parts. It was a natural evolution, and it turned out to be cool and different."
Russell, who plays mandolin, guitar and doghouse bass, is joined by bassist/mandolin player/guitarist Toby Leonard, guitarist/mandolin player Jamey Wood, banjo player Craig Boerner, percussionist Andrew Swift, dobro player "Spotty-Dog" (a member of Nashville act Old Union) and horn players Chris West and Patrick Dolen. The band has performed around the Southeast, but Thursday's show at The Corner Lounge marks the first time the group will have performed in the Knoxville area. (Although Ballhog! came close last August, when the band was included on the lineup for the Mucklewain festival.)
It's certainly not something that fans have come to expect from a roots-music act, especially one from a city as corporately defined as Nashville.
"In Nashville, everybody has a vision of what's put out by the industry, but in general, the city is a cultivator of music," Russell said. "People come in for all sorts of reasons and are drawn to all kinds of music; there'
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