By John Benson
There’s a certain amount of swank involved in being an upright bass player in an Americana/bluegrass act.
Even if the player is average, instant credibility is afforded to a group with a stand-up bass player.
In the case of upright bass player J.D. Westmoreland, a seasoned Memphis, Tenn., musician, he was viewed as the missing link when he joined the Cincinnati-based Rumpke Mountain Boys.
“When I first saw these guys, I thought they were great musicians,” said Westmoreland, calling from the Queen City. “The banjo player was completely different from any other standard banjo player I had ever seen. He was very expressive and good. The guitarist was playing blues, and hard blues, but not like bluegrass. And the mandolin player was so fast and perfect, he was really sharp and on it. I thought this would be set off if they had a real bass.”
It turned out that fate would lead Westmoreland to at first fill in for the Rumpke Mountain Boys before joining full time three years ago. Constantly on the road, the quartet has been gaining fans one show at a time.
The group also recently followed up 2012 live album “Trashgrass” with its first studio effort featuring Westmoreland. Released late last year, the album “The Moon” was recorded old style — without any studio wizardry.
“I said, ‘Let’s cut an old-style record, no amplifiers, let’s just put microphones in front of us and record to 2-inch tape,” Westmoreland said. “It was just the way I’ve always done records. I guess it was a more mature and complicated record. Most everything on ‘The Moon’ was done in one take.”
Highlights from the new album include the classic-sounding track “Cincinnati Moon” and the progressive-bluegrass tune “Something to Say.”
Fans interested in hearing the new material can catch the Rumpke Mountain Boys headlining the Earlybird Gathering Friday at Nelson Ledges Quarry Park.
Westmoreland said he has very fond memories of the Portage County venue that — in his opinion — speaks to the heart of not only the Americana scene but to the reason why the Queen City band makes music.
“We’re not so much very interested in being rock stars or getting big. We’re more interested in making things sound good and connecting with people,” Westmoreland said. “That’s one of the reasons I joined the band. Unlike most festival acts at the level we are, they come to the festival and play their 90-minute set and get on a tour bus and leave.
“We don’t do that. We try to get there early and connect with the people that are around, play our 90 minutes and then stick around all night with the people we meet. It’s not just about stage and performances, it’s about culture and society.”
Invariably, Nelson Ledges is known for its counterculture environment.
“I guess not to point out anything, but in this culture everybody kind of shares,” Westmoreland said. “I always say it’s a meeting of the willing.”
Does this mean Westmoreland is willing?
“Always,” he said, laughing.