In 2009 The Flatbellys recorded Get ‘Round in a house on Foster Ave in Lansing, MI. Flatbelly mandolinist, Josh Rilko, calls it an unofficial Bluegrass thesis for college years spent studying the topic. “Night classes” involved all sorts of unorthodox study methods. I was a groupie. I remember having BB gun target practice with our friend Nicky in the living room while the Flatbelly boys were recording or rehearsing upstairs. (We gave it only 1 or 2 pumps before shooting). They released the record at Art’s Bar on Kalamazoo Ave in Lansing. I was there. I took pictures and sang the harmony on Colleen Malone with Josh and Leslie [now bass player of the Colorado band, The Railsplitters]. Before the show our friend Becky spray painted the band name with red and black spray paint on an old white sheet. Soon after Flatbelly banjo player, Josh Brand, moved to Nashville to take the TN bar and become a banjo pickin’ laywer. Flatbelly flatpack guitarist, Jesse Meyers, moved to Colorado to become a pilot. Josh and Spencer, Flatbelly bassist, joined a local bluegrass band, and I left the country for my last semester of college. When I returned I had an album’s worth of material had convinced the two remaining Flatbellys, and a handfull of other Michigan musicians, to help me record it. We called it Lindsay Lou – A Different Tune.
At that same time in 2010 Mark Lavengood was putting together his first record, which also featured some of Michigan’s finest and was entitled From Dust To Steel. We initially met and jammed with Mark at Blissfest Music Festival around that time, but it wasn’t until 2011 when Jen Sygit brought Josh and I along with her for a show at Uncommon Ground in Chicago that we got to spend time and get to know him. I remember wondering if I had ever laughed so much and had so much fun in one evening.
By 2012 we had been playing a lot with Mark, and we went into the studio to create Release Your Shrouds, which was immediately followed by our first tour of the East Coast. We went on touring nonstop as a four piece band (myself, Josh, Spencer and Mark) and playing Michigan shows with our friend and banjo player Keith Billik until the summer of 2013 when Spencer left the band for life-off-the-road, leaving Josh as the last original Flatbelly.
In October of 2013 we solidified our current lineup with PJ George on bass. His knack for harmony singing and playing soulful music on just about any instrument he choses has undoubtably had an effect on our music. You might see wisdom and experience when you see him, and it’s not just the beard. PJ’s musical background spans from being a bluegrass bassist [Barefoot, Nora Jane Struthers] to a drum major to a jazz pianist to co-founder of an alt rock outfit [The Cheap Seats]. He’s toured extensively and has played a major role in recording a good number of albums. He’s the one who initially suggested we record our next full length record in our dining room, and we latched onto the idea like a dog to a bone.
2014 saw us touring the West Coast, the East Coast, the Midwest and Germany together. We recorded an EP in Boston, which set us up well for the LP undertaking. Jeff and Susan from Beehive Productions came from New York and we cranked out a live performance of 12 songs in 4 days, which together form Ionia. It’s the truest recording I’ve ever been a part of, and I feel proud of it.
2015 saw us making two trips to the UK for tours including the Shetland Folk Festival, and extensive touring of the US including an appearance at the Stagecoach Music Festival put on by Coachella in SoCal. Three of us have all up and moved south of our home state in the Great Lakes to make Nashville our home base. We tour so much that home is usually on our backs like the old bluegrass standard declares. And with our new little tour bus, the road is feeling more like home than ever. Check out our facebook page for photos and tour updates.
At the end of 2017, Mark Lavengood is leaving the band to invest himself more fully into his family, home life, and personal musical endeavors. It’s been an honor to say the least getting to know him as a musician, as a friend, and as a teacher of non-violent communication and impromptu public wresting sessions alike. The mutual love and support, and family-like bond we’ve created while traveling the world in the name of Music is strong, and the potential for future collaboration on and off stage is bright. We welcome this change as one of many that has brought us to where we are and will take us to where we’re going.