Though they won’t be screeching to a halt outside the Florence Hotel in a stolen cop car like the Blues Brothers, former members of the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band will converge in Missoula next week to get the band back together.
Former members will be arriving from all corners of the country, stepping out of their roles as family men, career professionals and sushi chefs to join the three members remaining in Missoula to reconstruct the glory days when they were this town’s favorite rockin’ county bluegrass band.
“They were the best times of my life,” says mandolin player Seth Overstreet, now a network engineer in southwest Florida. The band has not played together since 2001, and anticipation is high.
“I’m overwhelmingly psyched,” says Keith Friedland, harmonica player and Vermont-based syrup maker. “We put on a good hoe-down. We packed places.”
For their first reunion performance, the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band will headline the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project’s fund-raising celebration, Muddigras, Tuesday, Feb. 8. The following Friday they’ll play a second show at The Other Side.
“It’s basically two nights to rock out with some great friends I used to rock out with all the time,” says Bob Hansen, Cold Mountain’s drummer, currently attending culinary school and working as a sous chef at Sushi Groove South in San Francisco. “And if we can help some people out at the same time, then that just makes it an even more beautiful thing.”
A fund-raising gig for a small Missoula nonprofit may seem like an unlikely catalyst for reuniting such a far-flung group of individuals, but when MUD fund-raiser Jessica Womack proposed the idea as a joke to her boyfriend Jason Asteros, it sparked a chain reaction. Asteros, the former Cold Mountain guitarist, is as surprised as anyone that the plan came together. “It’s kind of funny that it’s actually happening,” Asteros says. “It’s kind of absurd.”
Asteros is making his way to Missoula from Georgia with Matt Lindahl, the band’s Nashville-based lead singer and washboard player. Lindahl has proven to be the engine of the Cold Mountain train both on and off the stage.
“He’s a really intuitive entertainer, it’s just a part of him,” says Nate Biehl, ringleader of the Broken Valley Roadshow, which will share the bill with Cold Mountain Tuesday.
“When Matt called and said ‘hey, we’re going to put this thing together‚’ I knew he was the only one who could do it,” Hansen says.
Lindahl’s talent and stage presence landed him on national TV last spring when he was a final contestant on “Nashville Star,” the USA Network’s country-western spin-off of “American Idol.” With his overalls, baseball cap and washboard, he has become a recognizable personality in Nashville and is now the star of an ad campaign for a local dairy. Soon Lindahl will be grinning on billboards all over Nashville with his washboard and big jug of milk.
But the limelight hasn’t blinded Lindahl to his roots. When he first rode a Greyhound into Missoula in 1996, his friends had just started a band, but their lead singer had laryngitis. So they recruited Lindahl to learn some bluegrass tunes and soon he was singing full time. When he told the band he felt stupid just standing up there singing, keyboard player John Curtis went down to Ace Hardware and bought him a washboard.
Ultimately, Lindahl credits the rest of the Cold Mountain Rhythm Band for his newfound fame. “It was kind of a little victory for everybody,” he says. “If it weren’t for those guys I wouldn’t be up there.”
With his music bringing in more than just beer money these days, Lindahl has purchased a video camera and plans to film a short documentary of the band’s reunion, starting with his road trip from the South. He hopes to give copies of the film to all the band members and longtime fans to commemorate the time they spent together.
“This is more than just going to Montana to play a couple gigs,” Lindahl says. “It’s more of project for me. I spent one-sixth of my life with these guys and it’s important for me to honor that.”
In a such a large band—there will be at least eight musicians on stage Tuesday—it’s hard for everybody to agree on anything, but they can all agree that when they played together, they created a sonic alchemy that elevated their lives. And now five of them are willing to travel thousands of miles to try to recreate it.
The show Tuesday is officially themed a masquerade ball, and Lindahl says fans who remember balloon drops, piñatas on zip lines and other hi-jinks from Cold Mountain shows past can expect more of the same.
Muddigras kicks off Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 4 p.m. with kids games and mask making, followed by a parade across the Higgins Avenue bridge. Performing artists will include Unity Dance and Drum, La Rana Mobile Art and Ecology Project, and Fun Factory Jugglers. Cold Mountain Rhythm Band will take the stage at 9 p.m. preceded by some rippin’ bluegrass from Broken Valley Roadshow. This is a catered, costumed event and beer will be provided, with one free beer going to those who supply their own mugs. Admission is $10 for members, $12 for nonmembers and the kiddies get in free.