It's the middle of the night in the middle of America and Google Maps is not being especially helpful. Though they initially chalk it up to driver error, the Dodgy Mountain Men are lost in Indiana, victims of smart phone failure. Back and forth they crisscross in a '90s Dodge Caravan. The 20-minute drive turns into three hours. It's after 4 a.m. when they reach Bean Blossom, Ind., the next stop on their tour. Far too late to crash on anyone's floor, they drive to the Bill Monroe Music Park & Campground where two of them pitch a tent in the parking lot and the other two sleep in the van. The Dodgy Mountain Men are men who take these things in stride. And besides, it's not an inconvenience. The Bill Monroe Park is the site of the John Hartford Memorial Festival, where they're already set to play the next afternoon. In the morning, they unpack their gear and hit the stage as the self-proclaimed "least bluegrass band at a bluegrass festival." And eventually, without too much trouble, they make their way back to Missoula. Next time, they vow, they'll be packing an atlas.
The Missoula stompgrass band is on a roll. For their tour, between May and June, they played 16 shows along the northernmost interstates, en route to festivals like the one in Indiana and another in Pennsylvania. It was a tour in support of their recent debut album Stronger Than Death, which came out four stops into the trip. The CD had been pressed in Chicago, so they picked it up instead of waiting on the mail.
The band started two years ago and managed to establish themselves locally, playing a string of shows in and around the Missoula Valley. They're booked through the summer, including for a gig at River City Roots Fest in August. This Saturday night (technically, Sunday morning) they're the final band playing the Love Your Mother Earth Festival, which they'll play after an evening show at Local Fest in Caras Park. It's their third time playing LYME, having proven themselves on a plywood plank one year and moving to a mid-level stage the next. "Pretty much, we're playing 1 a.m. until we can't make the crowd dance anymore," guitarist and singer Eric Bostrom says.
Their stompgrass style and willingness to roll with the punches is enough to get them on festival lineups from here until whenever they quit.
"If we were a band in Portland, well there's 50 bands like us," says Jed Nussbaum, vocalist, mandolin player and guitarist. "But here we get these opportunities, and that's what allows us to build our momentum in the first place."
The band's new album bridges the gap between blues and bluegrass, acoustic and electric. The mandolin and guitar work follow classic verse-chorus-solo pattern and deliver a rootsy undercurrent. Nussbaum's and Bostrom's deep voices resonate in "Montana Storms" and "Simple Man's Blues" atop a walking bass and a pair of uncommon drums. Those tablas add a world music vibe and almost a lounge feel; if you're in a lounge in, say, New Delhi. There are a handful of good jams to while away an afternoon like the sun gave it to you on a stick. Other songs pick up the tempo the way a sunset begs for the party to start. Dodgy Mountain Men play music meant to be heard outside: It's perfect for dancing with a sweaty crowd.
The Dodgy Mountain Men really do take a "dodgy" persona on stage and into their songs, being gruff, bearded men and all. They get away with being a little grungy, likely from sleeping in the van or on the floor. But the sound is polished: The band's first show back in Missoula sounded like they plugged a CD player into the PA. They also played a last-minute gig at the Top Hat opening for Dead Winter Carpenters last week. In just eight songs, they brought the floor from empty to 40.
"We're not bluegrass enough for the traditionalists, we're not rock enough for the punkabilly kids, not jammy enough for the hippies, but we get a little of everybody," Nussbaum says.
The Dodgy Mountain Men play LocalFest at Caras Park Saturday, June 23, at 6 PM. Free. They play Love Your Mother Earth Festival later that night, at 1 AM, at Rock Creek Lodge.
Love Your Mother Earth Festival
WHAT: Four days of bands, DJs, art, vendors, workshops and camping.
WHEN: Thu., June 21, through Sun., June 24, all day and all night.
WHERE: Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton.
HOW MUCH: $65/$55 advance.
WHY: First of all, everyone's going to be thereFacebook says so. Second, some of the region's best electronic music will be playing all night, every night. Third, there are more local bands in one go than at any other time in a Missoula calendar year. Finally, it's at Rock Creek, possibly the most beautiful place on earth and just 25 miles east of town.
MORE INFO: Go to loveyourmotherearthfestival.com.