The members of Bakersfield/Taft country rock sensation Good Question aren't your average good ol' boys.
Hungry for a shot at national stardom, the quartet has already become a name to be reckoned with after winning last year's Kelly 95 Battle of the Fans. It was a triumph that helped put their independent single "So They Say" into steady rotation and landed them a string of opening slots for some big names, including David Nail, Lee Brice and Chuck Mead.
Now Bakersfield has a chance to get reacquainted with this band on the rise when they hit the stage at Bakotopia's St. Patty's Day Shamrock Shindig at B Ryder's on Saturday.
Band members say the show couldn't have come at a better time. Not only will they be reconnecting with local fans, but they also get to show off some new material, including a sneak preview of their upcoming CD, in front of a few hundred of Bako's wildest green day revelers.
"There's no greater feeling than playing in your hometown and people know you, your music and sing-a-along during shows," said guitarist Taylor Unruh. "Our fans are awesome."
The story behind Good Question began four years ago, when Taft high school buds Ryan Coulter and Ethan Morris toyed with an idea to help Unruh for a senior project about the history of sound engineering. Rather than do another ho-hum presentation, the trio decided to show off an example of the process by recording their own original tune. Soon, the popularity of that song, "Outlaw's Creed," made them big men on campus after it was circulated among classmates.
"I'd like to see that presentation," said Alec Olivieri, the band's guitar and piano player, who attended Stockdale High in Bakersfield.
"No you don't," laughed Coulter, the band's vocalist. "Kids just kept burning the copy of the CD. We thought we were movie stars back then."
Their school celebrity status ultimately led them to form a band. Their first gig: a birthday party for Coulter's stepmom.
"We only played about three or four songs, but the response we got there and for the project was a driving force," Coulter added. "We expected to be a garage band like knuckleheads, but we really felt we had something here."
After graduation, the group continued performing and extending their local following to Bakersfield, filling up venues like B Ryder's, Fishlips, The Marketplace, and Buck Owens' Crystal Palace, where Coulter and Unruh also both worked. Drawing in a healthy number of young country fans to shows, they've helped revive a local country scene that hasn't had much juice since the Smokin' Armadillos were huge in the '90s. All under the age of 25, they may just be ready to teach the old school some new tricks.
"Our sound is progressive guitar-driven country," said Olivieri. "A lot of people think country does not have a lot of young listeners. That's just not true. We have people from age 15 all the way to 80 at our shows."
Unruh pointed to the noticeable lack of country bands coming out of Bakersfield, even with our reputation as a hotbed for the genre.
"We don't think we need to go to Nashville first. Who says a country band can't make it big out of Bakersfield again," he said.
Starting out performing mostly country and rock covers, the band has finally accumulated an impressive number of originals, including "So They Say," the song that helped spark their popularity. It's a catchy up-tempo number that easily ranks with the best new crossover country sounds on commercial radio. Comparable to the sounds of Eli Young Band and John Mayer, it's a well-produced sample of what fans should continue to look forward to.
"We'd like to stay on mixed format radio stations," said Unruh.
The band started recording at Bakersfield's ASR studios last summer and hopes to finally release their long-awaited six-song EP sometime this year. Local country singer-songwriter Rick Reno Stevens co-produced the effort, and the band is confident about the sound.
"I can see a lot of things happening after the CD comes out," said drummer Morris. "I've always wanted to be a successful in music. Just jump on that bus and go."
Band manager Garret Tuckness, who took the band under his wing two years ago after hearing them live in Taft, said he believes in the group and is committed to helping them reach their goals.
"I love music, period," said Tuckness, who by day works as a real estate agent. "But their music is that good that there's no reason we shouldn't make it."
Time will tell if Good Question has what it takes to weather the climb to country greatness, but for now, they plan to shake up the room with a special St. Patty's Day treat at Saturday's show.
"No matter what kind of music you're into, you'll find something you like when you see us," said Coulter.
"So They Say" is currently available for digital download at iTunes. For more information, visit Facebook.com/gqmusic.
I first met Frazier Park roots trio Mama's Kitchin' during our Bakotopia Open Mic Nights held at Fishlips. At first glance I assumed they were country musicians. They looked like mountain men, but once they plugged in, they laid down some of the swampiest grooves I'd ever heard come out of Frazier Park (do they even have a scene?) Every week, these guys would drive 45 minutes through rain, sleet and snow to get a chance to hop on stage and jam out. They got so popular with regulars that if they didn't show, the crowd would get angry at me as if I'd forgotten to book them.
Well I'm happy to announce they'll be rejoining us at Saturday's Shamrock Shindig to celebrate the release of their new CD, "Wide Open."
"There's a grassroots type of scene up in Frazier Park," said Mama's Kitchin guitarist, vocalist and fiddle player Mike Sumser. "Old timey music and bluegrass."
Formed three years ago, the group does incorporate some of those vintage elements in their sound, but not enough to define them entirely. Just ask lead vocalist Bill Shultz, who also switches from banjo, dobro, mandolin, guitar and harp with the band.
"We're not country," he said. "We play the way the Stones, and Black Crowes do, when they play b-side stuff. They played rock songs, but used traditional instruments."
Mama's Kitchin bassist Keats Gefter offered up a more scholarly description:
"The eclecticism of Mama's Kitchin' is what makes the group what it is. Each guy kind of brings in different influences. Elements of Southern rock, or rock music played on acoustic instruments," he said. "It's always hard to say what we play."
The 13 tracks featured on "Wide Open" showcase everything those familiar with the band already enjoy. Opening with the soulful blues of "So It Goes," before heading into the rockier "Bullet," they shuffle back with "Girl from New Orleans." One of my favorites is "Mama's Kitchin'" a song that, name aside, best represents the outfit.
"We recorded about 19 songs, and pared it down to 13 to fit our vision. I really wanted to make a cohesive album that flowed from one song to the next," said Sumser, who recorded and helped produce the record at his home studio.
Other standout tracks include "River" and "Serves Me Well." For all of it's rough edges, "Wide Open" is honest American music that will appeal to fans of the Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers, and The Band. But I'm telling you, the best way to experience Mama's Kitchin is live. Joining the band on drums will be Michael Caverhill.
"We are planning on wearing kilts and having some designated drivers," said Keats. "That's how we roll."
The band will have copies of "Wide Open" on sale this weekend and soon at Cdbaby.com and for download at iTunes. For more information, you can find the band at Facebook or back in the mountains.