The Saltine Ramblers are tough to pin down.
One part bluegrass, one part country, two parts Ween, 2.5 parts self-deprecating goofballs, and totally capable of shredding. They used to show up everywhere, from the downtown Saturday Growers Market to a taproom on the north side of town, to the incomparable Road to Rich’s. There they once performed in hotdog suits.
They were the first band I approached last year. One member, Dave Payne, brings a slow cooker full of beans or posole or green chile stew to every show. He also hired me last year to shoot his album cover, and then to design the rest of it.
You can imagine how sad everyone was to hear with their acoustic guitarist Kevin moving north, they were splitting up. When a city loses a local band like that, we all grieve a little; even the people who don’t don’t know, or don’t care, all feel the sense of something passing.
But there would be a last stand.
The Ramblers’ last show was at Low Spirits, in February.
I went early and shot the opening band, Pawn Drive (“Americana with a dusting of grit und drang”), as well. Everyone was a sweetheart. And everyone rocked. Pawn Drive warmed the stage with respect and perfect picking.
The Saltine Ramblers played almost two sets worth of material, closing the bar, while everyone laughed, and nodded, and danced, and sang along. Drinks were delivered on stage. They gave away copies of both their albums. Dave brought vegetarian posole (so I could eat some). A beautiful night.
When I left the bar for the long ride home, I thought of what a miracle that band was. A bunch of guys who love laughing and playing music together. Who qualify the laughter with big hearts, and fast hands. We’ll miss you, boys. Keep me on speed dial for the reunion show.