Rafe Hollister coins unique and authentic genre of mountain rockWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
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Diehard fans of “The Andy Griffith Show” would know there’s more than meets the eye to Rafe Hollister. The coarse hillbilly overall-clad farmer turns up to audition for the skeptical local choir and blows the crowd away with his powerful voice.
Despite just a handful of appearances on the show, Hollister left such a strong impression on local musician Sam Brinkley that he decided to name his band after the character.
Waynesville’s version of Rafe Hollister features Brinkley on lead vocals, guitar and harmonica; Brooks Butler on lead guitar and backing vocals; Mark Moser on mandolin; Jeff Mendenhall on fiddle; Joseph Massie on bass; and most recently, Vince Seabrook on drums.
The band, which utilizes traditional bluegrass instruments in creating its roots-rock sound, self-classifies its music as “mountain rock.”
Months after Rafe Hollister emerged, other local musicians started picking up on that classification and began using it to describe their own music.
“I should have trademarked that,” jokes Brinkley, who formed the band with Moser in early 2005.
As the genre indicates, Rafe Hollister’s songs might appeal to a wide cross-section of music lovers. Its latest album, “Stimulus Package” offers a harmonic fusion of traditional bluegrass melodies, country twang and catchy rock-influenced rhythms. Brinkley’s growling vocals add a dynamic energy that doesn’t let up.
“Stimulus Package” debuted in December, following up a self-titled release in 2006. The band jumped on the album title at a rehearsal when Brinkley threw it out for consideration. It reflects the group’s general predilection to sarcastic humor.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously in Rafe, we always like to inject some humor into our songs,” said Brinkley. “We just thought that would be a catchy name.”
One thing band members do take seriously, however, is pride for their own roots in North Carolina. The state flag is their official logo as well as the cover art for their latest release.
“We love being from the mountains and living here,” said Brinkley. “We want to represent that in the music.”
That much is clear from the first song, “Humble Home,” which cajoles an unnamed pretty girl to abandon an all-day fight against city traffic and come down to “my countryside.”
But don’t expect a full lineup of patriotic songs praising only the idyllic aspects of mountain life here. Most of Rafe’s lyrics are tongue-in-cheek (“That’s about as Southern as unsweet tea”) with many songs addressing common stereotypes about life in the Southern Appalachia.
On its Web site, the band boasts of its references to whiskey stills, missing teeth, pig fights, “family trees that don’t branch,” tractors, possums, and Nascar — just to name a few.
Most of us here will know what Rafe’s referring to in “Smoke from the Mill” with its repeated refrain, “Smoke in the air and the smell from the mill, and the smell from the mill, and the smell from the mill.”
Two traditional songs are also included in the album, including “Red Rocking Chair” and “Swannanoa Tunnel,” a rare song from the early 1900s that laborers would often sing while piecing together the original two-lane road to Asheville, which they called Swannanoa Tunnel. Moser’s grandfather discovered the tune decades ago when he was commissioned by the Library of Congress to go around recording folk songs. Brinkley says Rafe Hollister is one of the few bands who have ever covered the song, let alone known that it existed.
Rafe Hollister frequently performs in Waynesville, Sylva, Asheville, east Tennessee, north Georgia, and South Carolina. The band will play the Greening up the Mountains festival in Sylva this weekend.
Concertgoers can expect an energy-packed show more influenced by rock ‘n roll than bluegrass. Rafe often leaves its songs open-ended to indulge the crowd — and themselves — with lively extended jams.
“We like to leave a lot of space live for improvisation,” said Brinkley. “We never sound the same twice.”
Those who attend might want to keep an eye out for a special guest the band sometimes brings on stage. Rafe’s mascot is a stuffed raccoon named Randy, passed down from Massies’ grandfather.
“It’s really old,” said Brinkley. “That’s, just again, our twist of humor. We set him on stage with us when we play.”
Brinkley confirmed that Randy would be making an appearance at the Greening up the Mountains show on Saturday.
Visit www.rafehollister.com to listen to select songs for free or buy the album. Stimulus Package is also available on iTunes, Amazon and Napster.