Bay Area bluegrass and Americana band Hot Buttered Rum kicked off 2015 with a return visit to Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room, opening for Newmaster Sounds Saturday, January 31.
HBR took the month of January off, after guitarist Nat Keefe and drummer Lucas Carlton both welcomed new babies in late 2014.
“We are just kicking back into gear,” Keefe said. “This is going to be our first gig back.”
Tahoe is an apropos location for the groups start to the New Year, Crystal Bay in particular.
“Tahoe has been a really consistent fun place for us, it’s sort of a second home base of sorts,” Keefe said. “We try to play there once or twice a year, at Crystal Bay, and then at some festivals.”
Hot Buttered Rum is Aaron Redner (fiddle, mandolin, vocals), Bryan Horne (bass, vocals), Eric Yates (banjo, dobro, winds, vocals), Keefe (guitar, vocals), and Carlton (percussion).
New babies aside, 2014 was a busy year for HBR. The group released a self-titled album, worked at improving its (already excellent) vocal content, and toured aggressively throughout the year.
“We toured really hard in the fall, we went to the Northwest and the Midwest and the mountain states,” Keefe said. “Then we had a good robust festival season in the summer.”
In May, the band released “Hot Buttered Rum,” the group’s first eponymous album. Produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, the record showcases the band solidifying its identity.
“I think doing a self titled album is sort of a bold artistic stroke, saying ‘this is us,’ ” Keefe said. “I think it has taken us some time to get to the root of what Hot Buttered Rum is. We’re sort of a slow blooming flower. It has taken us this time to understand what we mean to ourselves, and what we mean to people.”
For more than a decade, fans across the country have enjoyed a far-reaching array of songs by Keefe, Yates and Redner, and stunning instrumental virtuosity across the board. The band really hit its stride in 2003, when Redner joined and the group wrote its first batch of songs as Hot Buttered Rum.
A mix of bluegrass, Americana, rock, and a whole lot more, HBR shows feature fast picking, high harmonies, clarinet and saxophone by Yates, and lots of dancing fans.
While it has always incorporated plenty of vocal work and harmonies in its songs, the band re-dedicated itself to vocals for the recent album, Keefe said.
“We even brought a vocal coach into the studio; that helped up our game,” the guitarist said. “We’ve been working on singing a lot.”
The Crystal Bay show marked the start of what promises to be a fun-filled year for the band and its fans. HBR is currently at work solidifying the summer schedule, and already has a tour of Montana, Utah and Wyoming to look forward to, joined in part by Leftover Salmon.
“This is a really fun time of year, because you get festival offers trickling in, Keefe said. “You don’t know what our summer is going to look like and then it slowly takes shape.”
One event that promises to be a memorable time is a five-day float down the middle fork of Idaho’s Salmon River in August, joined by a select group of fans (details on the band website).
Never a band to rest on a recent album long, HBR is also keen to begin work on their next release this year, Keefe said.
For now, Hot Buttered Rum was excited to start 2015 off playing a gig with the Newmaster Sounds.
“We’ve never done a show with them but I’ve always admired them from afar,” Keefe said of the British rock group. “It will be really interesting to see the chemistry of our music together and our two different crowds together, it’s going to be awesome. They’re a badass band.”
ABOUT Josh Sweigert
Josh grew up on the California coast with a deep appreciation for bluegrass and string band music as well as the great outdoors. A guitarist and singer, he plays solo acoustic gigs in South Lake Tahoe.