Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Rumpke Mountain Boys go with flow

‘Trashgrass’ band back at Piere’s for Feb. 25 show with Grateful Groove

Rumpke Mountain Boys, from left, Adam Copeland, JD Westmoreland, Ben Gourley, and Jason Wolf, will be at Piere’s on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Published February 15, 2023

Rumpke Mountain Boys are coming back to visit their fans.

Having played at Piere’s on Nov. 25, the “trashgrass” band returns to the venue’s main stage on Saturday, Feb. 25, with local Grateful Dead tribute band Grateful Groove opening things at 9 p.m.

“They’re all super, super responsive,” Rumpke’s Jason Wolf said of the Fort Wayne crowds. “They follow us everywhere. We just have a lot of good friends and followers up there that come way down to southern Kentucky for our festival. They travel a lot for us, so we wanted to started traveling to them. The people that pay the most attention, we’re coming to them now.”

Playing it by ear

Along with Wolf on banjo, Rumpke Mountain Boys consist of JD Westmoreland on bass, Adam Copeland on guitar, and Ben Gourley on mandolin. And they all sing.

“There’s not really one singular frontman,” Wolf said in a phone interview. “We rotate, sort of the like a campfire picking mentality. We do it very methodically on stage, to the point of, ‘Who ended the last show?,’ then we move from left to right taking turns singing a song. It just kind of helps us from getting bored.”

From talking to Wolf, it sounds like being bored at a Rumpke show is out of the question. Along with trading off songs, the group has no set list, allowing the vibe of the room to dictate the upcoming song.

“I think we’ve only written a set list one time,” Wolf said. “We really like to feed on the crowd response and the vibe, and maybe what kind of show we’re at, whether it’s a traditional bluegrass festival or a jam band festival, just to kind of keep it fresh for everybody. It’s really about reading the crowd and matching the energy that is given to us.”

What’s in a name

While there may be some covers mixed into the set at Piere’s, the quartet will focus on their material, from their latest record, River’s Daughter, released in June, all the way back to their debut, 2012’s Trashgrass.

The band’s debut album title coincides with their style of music but also the Cincinnati area where they hail from, where Rumpke Sanitary Landfill towers above everything else.

“We coined that term, and I think we even copywrote it,” Wolf said of “trashgrass.” “The Rumpke Mountain is a giant landfill that is the highest elevation here in Hamilton County, in the Cincinnati area. So, we kind of named ourselves after that as sort of a homage to older bluegrass bands named ‘Mountain Boys.’ We always thought it was funny, and didn’t think it would stick, but then it did stick.”

The term also applies to the band’s sound, which is a little bit of everything.

“All the members of the band come from vastly different musical backgrounds,” Wolf said. “Our bass player is from Memphis, and he’s a big fan of soul music and he’s a jazz major. Our guitar player was from central Ohio, and he was always interested in blues-type music. We just all kind of bring something different.”

Bringing crowds together

The sound is also a bit different, but merging bluegrass and jam band is gaining more fans and acceptability.

“Now the lines have been kind of blurred, which is great because I’ve watched the attendance grow at some of these festivals we’ve been doing to 15 years,” Wolf said. “I’ve seen the crowds grow to such a vastly different set of people. It’s great, because they’re all starting to appreciate each other for a change instead of being standoff-ish like it used to be 20 years ago.

“It used to be real standoff-ish,” he added. “I had dreadlocks down to my knees and I was learning banjo, going to these circles and just getting scowled at. I was just thinking, ‘Well, maybe this isn’t the crowd for me.’ ”

Wolf credits bands like New Grass Revival for making the subgenre more mainstream, followed by the likes of Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band.

“That band was majorly influential on blurring the lines,” he said of New Grass Revival Band, which included Béla Fleck and Sam Bush. “They had all the heavy hitters, and they came from traditional backgrounds, but they were playing very progressive styles of music. Somehow they got away with it without the scowls and kind of paved the way for bands like us.”

Just hit record

Like every other band, the COVID-19 lockdowns hurt Rumpke.

“Before that, we were beating the streets, playing 280-300 days a year,” Wolf said. “Coast to coast in 23 days, flying here, flying there … Alaska, Jamaica. I was gone a lot, and I was the only one with kids. It was a little rough. When the COVID thing hit, we lost 280 shows in less than 24 hours. I was thinking, ‘How am I gonna pay the rent?’ When venues started coming back, we noticed the dynamics had changed. We used to be off a month at a time, then maybe take a week off. When things came back, everyone was a weekend warrior.”

Focusing more on festivals, Rumpke has become a favorite, with many setting up equipment to capture their live shows.

“We heavily value our recorders,” Wolf said. “We offer the free tickets and we encourage it. Half the time, if they need gear, we can get them that or help. We have over 400 full shows on, and not to be crazy, but there are at least five or six of them that are anywhere between four hours to, I think the longest we ever played without stopping was nine hours and 42 minutes.”

That show was at the Grassfire Festival at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in northeast Ohio. While you can expect a much shorter show than that at Piere’s, it will be an experience nonetheless.

“There’s never the same show twice,” Wolf said. “I don’t think we’ve ever come close to playing the same set list twice in 20 years.”

Related Events

Get our free daily email:

Get our free daily email:


© 2023 Whatzup