Head-banging country 

Kansas City’s Wilders rock old-time

Despite Missoula’s healthy appetite for folk music, even seasoned Union Club swingers and bluegrass boot-stompers might be tempted to take a pass on a Kansas City band advertising old-time country tunes and named after the author of the Little House on the Prairie stories.

But for anyone who saw the Wilders play the Top Hat last year, their name likely won’t conjure images of author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s frilly bonnets and candle-lit needle work. This rowdy foursome lived up to its reputation, frothing the crowd into a frenzy with relentless rhythms and frenetic fiddling, and even inspiring a batch of bachelorettes to commandeer the stage.

Officially the band plays old-time country and honky-tonk, but according to fiddler Betse Ellis, their style is best described as a “hillbilly riot.”

“It’s a hillbilly monster that takes over and it’s real, it’s us,” says Ellis in a telephone interview. “A lot of what we do is really head-banging music.”

This may seem like an impossible feat for an acoustic string band, but Ellis claims the rhythmic mumbo jumbo of Ike Sheldon’s guitar and Nate Gawron’s upright bass manifests a fifth band member known as the “phantom drummer.”

The band credits the fire in their bellies for their ability to appeal to a wide audience, which, Ellis says, has begun to include more punk rockers and hipsters. But regardless of genre bias, this is bar music at its best, and a shit-kickin’ good time.

Says Ellis: “A lot of energy makes it accessible to a lot of people.”

Newcomers can expect a dose of tunes from the band’s 2003 release Spring a Leak, and folks already hooked on the Wilders’ cracked-out country flavor can look forward to a taste-test of original songs to be released on the band’s new record, upcoming this fall.

The Wilders play The Other Side Thursday, June 23, at 9 PM. Broken Valley Roadshow opens. $6.

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