Hot Buttered Rum tonight’s hot pick(in’)

Joel Stonington
The Hot Buttered Rum String Band plays the Belly Up tonight. (Courtesy Hot Buttered Rum)

The Hot Buttered Rum String Band will be happy to be at elevation when it arrives to play the Belly Up tonight, as its music was born in the mountains.”Our band catalyzed during a backpacking trip in the High Sierra,” said guitar player Nat Keefe. “We were always friends and then we went on this month-long trip together. That’s where we found a lot of the spirit of the band together. We wrote a lot of music.”He said the members went out with backpacks and one of Gary Snyder’s books of poetry. During that time, as they played music and sat around the campfire, things just came together.When on tour, they try to find the time to get out hiking or skiing as much as they can on tour. As well, they spend a couple of weeks each year hiking in the Sierra or Rockies. “We were backpacking in the backcountry,” Keefe said. “We covered several hundred miles. Did a lot of off-trail stuff and some mountaineering. Music sounds different when you’re high up in the mountains. You can really hear the music clearly.”They won’t stop to ski in Aspen, because they have a show every night of the week. So they’ll zip into town and then back out again. Keefe said that for him, the connection is something that’s hard to really name. “It’s just really important to me,” he said. “I’m able to just be me and really hear my music. It’s good to be up in the mountains and be in good shape, to be moving up and down mountains really does feel good.”Hot Buttered Rum consists of Zachary Matthews on violin and mandolin, Bryan Horne on upright bass, multi-instrumentalist Erik Yates on banjo, flute and accordion, and Aaron Redner fiddles and plays the mandolin. They play rollicking bluegrass with influences ranging from jazz to hip-hop to Celtic. The end result is danceable, funky, spiritually connected with the mountains and, finally, politically active.Maybe it’s enough to just say they’ll roll into Aspen on a veggie-oil bus. They like to push female artists and feminist issues and, of course, they have the requisite anti-Bush songs. It’s all been going over really well with the crowds. Keefe says they’ve been getting a great response to the veggie bus and to the political themes. “We have a lot of momentum right now,” Keefe said. “In this year we’ve been able to play with a lot of our heroes: Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, Bela Fleck. A lot of people I’ve seen onstage doing amazing things and suddenly I’m there trying to keep up.”Hot Buttered Rum plans to release another album by the end of the month. Rowan and Darol Anger are both guest artists. “The sound came out really crisp and clear,” Keefe said. “It’s been getting a good response from radio stations and critics.”

James McMurtry, son of novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry, was raised in Virginia, but in sensibility and sound, he is a product of the Lone Star state, where he was born and now lives. His most recent album, last year’s “Childish Things,” was a best-of-2005 Aspen Times pick. On it, McMurtry takes aim at modern-day America; the centerpiece, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore,” is a weary lament of domestic greed, racism, poverty and aggression. McMurtry appears in an electric trio tonight at the Belly Up, opening for California’s Hot Buttered Rum String Band.Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is