There is plentiful laughter when you get around the guys in Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails.
Since forming in 2012, the Billings four-piece group has been gigging all over Montana, playing the Big Sky Bluegrass Festival last winter. On Friday night, they will headline Music for the Wild at Bones Brewing. Also on the bill for Friday night are the Maverick String Stretchers and Kitchen Dwellers.
Even a conversation about when they formed brings chuckles. Guitarist Sean Larsen thought they got together early in 2012, but when fiddle player Geoffrey Taylor points out that he didn’t arrive in Billings until after he graduated from Northern Colorado University in May, Larsen throws back his head and laughs at his own gaffe.
That’s part of their charm. Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails like to kick the fun up a notch when they play live shows and the audience usually responds with giddy abandon.
The first night Ted Ness played Bones Brewing in fall 2012, almost 400 people showed up. That’s some magnetism. Make no mistake, though, these four musicians are committed to quality and writing the perfect songs. They bring out the best in one another.
Taylor, the lone classically trained musician in the foursome, is possibly having the most fun of anyone in the band. His music degree included hours of practicing music by dead composers. When he got into Ted Ness and rediscovered the joy of creating his own music and improvising in a group with three other strong musicians, it created a mood so joyous for him, he had to laugh.
“We’re not here to make serious music, we’re here to make fun,” Taylor said.
At 25, Taylor is the youngest player in the group but still a driving force. Larsen, 27, is the oldest, which he said is a weird circumstance since he was the youngest player in his old band, Anonymous String Association.
Half of their set list is cover tunes ranging from Bill Monroe to the Yonder Mountain String Band and String Cheese Incident. When it comes to writing lyrics for their originals, some turn into parodies of bluegrass ditties, with words culled from their bluegrass dictionary. Nobody in the band seems to remember where they put that darn dictionary, but Larsen runs through some of the words in it, including whiskey, barbed wire, moonshine and pickup.
Phrased together, they sound like the band’s mantra.
Since mandolin player Andrew Lammons moved to Missoula a few months back, getting together for gigs has been more of a challenge. That’s why the other three members, including bassist Matt Regele, are considering moving to Missoula.
For now, they have Music for the Wild booked, along with the Billings Grass Roots Music Fest, also at Bones, in June, and a gig in September at ZooMontana opening for the Mission Mountain Wood Band.
Wild about the cause
Organizers of Music for the Wild, including Cal Cumin, president of the Eastern Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association, said he hopes to bring in 300 or 400 people for Friday night’s fundraiser. They’ve already sold 300 tickets for the show, many to people in town for the Montana Wilderness Association’s annual meeting May 17-19.
“Everybody is coming from all over the state,” Cumins said.
The group recently hired a field organizer, Cameron Sapp, a recent Rocky Mountain College graduate.
“People sometimes have the idea that wilderness means no access. The 1964 Wilderness Act states that it is for the use and appreciation of the people,” Sapp said.
Bringing people together for a party with music and food allows the organization to introduce itself to prospective members and to celebrate Montana’s wild places.