Kale and ale 

Speaking Missoula's language with Local Yokel

It's a quintessential Missoula midwinter Sunday morning: Fresh skiff of snow, sun burning off the clouds that shroud Mt. Jumbo, streets quiet and empty of their weekday bustle. Coffee. Woolly hats. Down jackets. Dogs romping while their owners shovel. In a small house in the lower Rattlesnake, five musicians cram into a tiny, cozy living room to practice, tuning mandolin and guitar and fiddle.

In a way, the band feels like the embodiment of this classic morning, and more broadly speaking, of Missoula itself. Even their name—Local Yokel—is a clear nod to this place. And they'd be the first to admit that they're as much a product of this little valley as anything else.

"This is a great music town," says Trevor Snodel, guitar player and vocalist, "and really supportive of its own. Some of our greatest influences are local musicians, like the Dodgy Mountain Men or Ted Ness, and seeing them and knowing them is a huge inspiration."

Bass player Dave Wilbert credits earlier locals for paving the way for up-and-coming acts. "We've all been really inspired by what the Lil' Smokies have been able to do," he says. "We saw them six or seven years ago playing backyard parties and now they're super successful. If they hadn't done what they did, we wouldn't be playing the shows we are now."

All of which is to say it makes perfect sense that Local Yokel was named best new band in the Indy's 2015 Best of Missoula contest. Billing themselves as "high-octane Rocky Mountain BluegrassFolkRock," the group is hard to pin down, musically speaking. As guitarist and vocalist Ethan Ryan puts it, "The songs I write are played on bluegrass instruments, but they're not really bluegrass songs."

While they do play some traditional bluegrass songs, they also dabble in everything from straight up rock to Americana and folk, late-'90s covers to R. Kelly.

click to enlarge Local Yokel was voted best new band in the Indy’s 2015 Best of Missoula readers poll.
  • Local Yokel was voted best new band in the Indy’s 2015 Best of Missoula readers poll.

"There's a common expectation that when you see a bunch of people holding bluegrass instruments, it's just going to be 'plickety-plow, plickey-plow,'" Snodel says, illustrating with a traditional plucking style on his guitar. "So it's fun to get away from that and connect with audiences with something unexpected."

Local audiences have offered the band something unexpected as well: A following. "We played so many shows last summer," says Ryan, "and there was a group that was there every time. It was wild, being at the Top Hat, looking out into the crowd and seeing people I didn't know singing along to an original that we wrote."

That same fan base rallied around them during the Best of Missoula contest, voting Local Yokel into the top spot, even though the band had only been playing together for six months. "It's crazy," says mandolin player Nick Chapoy. "We didn't even know we were in the running."

In the sunny Sunday living room, the band members take up their instruments to practice a tune they haven't played in months, a song called "Kale" (and if that isn't the perfect Missoula song title, I don't know what is). The song began as something of a joke (and isn't about kale, really), written by vocalist, banjo and fiddle player Kaya Juda-Nelson and her sister, but has since morphed into a crowd favorite. "All I want is you and a bunch of kale/ a bottle of wine and a jug of ale," goes the lyrics. "Sitting on the back porch in the July night/ oh, honey, in the dark I will be your light." With three-part harmonies on the chorus and well-played solos all around, the song is a harbinger of what's to come: Summer in Missoula, and plenty more success for these Locals.

Local Yokel plays Draught Works Thu., Jan. 21, at 6 PM and again at the Top Hat Thu., Jan. 28, at 10 PM. Both shows are free.

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