I took a sip of Barnyard Beer’s Bonfire Porter and looked around the room. Hay bales bordered the stage at one end, concealing a recording setup that local country station 92.9 The Bull brought out to document the whole affair. The Bull was on hand to tape the bands’ sets, edit them down a bit, and then air them on what will become a weekly bluegrass/Americana program called LIVE!stock at Barnyad Beer.
On stage was Lawrence’s Menage of Twang picking through some original bluegrass/country tunes with a standard setup of guitar, banjo, upright bass, fiddle, and washboard.
The room sounded good, aided by the 100 plus bodies filling the wide open space that is the Barnyard. Towards the end of their opening set they launched into Take the Night Train to Memphis, which featured a nice down-home fiddle run that highlighted their set.
More and more people filtered into the bar as the headliners, Ashes to Immortality set up their equipment. The start times were a little earlier than normal, which many in the crowd seemed to appreciate. But it did result in some people missing out on a nice set from the Twang gang.
Ashes to Immortality are a relatively new Lawrence band, but they’ve already experienced a measure of success as exemplified by their inclusion in Split Lip Rayfield’s New Year’s show. Split Lip being Kansas’ gold standard bluegrass act.
Ashes took the stage with two female vocals, a fiddlle, mando, guitar, upright bass, banjo, and drums. They reminded me a bit of the east coast jamgrass act, The Recipe, though at times I thought the inclusion of the drums overwhelmed the subtleties that come with the natural percussion of pickin’ on the strings.
The band started strong with an emphasis on harmonies between the two female members, with main singer Bayley Kate Hartman’s vocals leading the way. The first few songs tended more toward rock than bluegrass, as the band mixed in originals with covers of Van Morrison’s Moondance and John Hartford’s Can’t Get No Better.
The back half of the set was more successful as Ashes shifted into more of their string-y material, emphasizing speedy pickin’ and pluckin’ on the mando and banjo.
My favorite of the night was probably a cover of Little Maggie, along with a quick little smoky mountain instrumental vamp that I could’ve listened to for probably 20 minutes straight before realizing I was in some weird sort of a trance.
It was just about 11:00 p.m. when Bayley Kate thanked the crowd and said goodnight. I was hoping for another set, but it was not to be on this night. Lots of beer fans stuck around, though, to continue analyzing Banyard’s wares, which on this night included a porter, a red, and a golden ale.
As I mentioned before, the Porter is where it’s at.
Trust me on this one.
Afterwards, I spoke with Barnyard bosses Mike Hummell and Heath Hoadley about their newgrass revival, and their hopes for what the venue might become.
"We’re trying to create a place where the musicians are easily creative," Hummell says. "Ashes is a band that — these guys are pros, and I can really see them doing something beyond Lawrence, Kansas."
Brewmaster Hoadley agreed, before getting back to his other passion, great beer. "I just want to make quality beer and hope that other people enjoy it, too."
"The Irish Red’s great, it’s sweet and I’ve drank a lot of it," said Sam, a music fan who came out to see what the Barnyard was all about. "I thought the sound could’ve been a tad better, but the energy was great. And the women were pretty hot."
I’d say so far so good.