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Old Man Markley Blends Punk and Bluegrass in Perfect Harmony

Charles Epting

The recent Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, California featured some of the biggest country artists on earth, including Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton and Brad Paisley. But there was also a big buzz on the smaller Mustang stage thanks to Old Man Markley, a high-energy seven-piece punk-bluegrass outfit from Los Angeles that makes music the old fashioned way – on washboards, autoharp, banjo and an old-school washtub bass.

As they told The Boot before their sharp, jumping (and extremely well-received) set, the ‘punk-bluegrass’ handle is not as strange as it sounds.

Singer/guitarist John Carey explained, “The term ‘punk’ is not a literal thing with us. It’s more just the attitude of doing what we want, of approaching music differently and taking it to a place that’s really unique. We were definitely punk music fans, but it’s more the attitude we represent in the band now.”

The band is currently working on a new record that they’ll start recording this month, and in the meantime they are doing what they have done for years -– criss-crossing the country in a band bus that will probably never be equaled. See, they found an old Seattle city bus a few years ago and made it their own –- building out beds, a generator, living areas — it’s the band’s home on wheels and after getting a special tour, we can honestly say we’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a snug, cozy, lived-in motor coach that’s as streamlined and make shifted as it gets.

Singer and autoharp player Annie DeTemple and fiddle player Katie Weed showed us around and lovingly pointed out their artwork on the van’s walls, demonstrated how the homemade bunks all tuck away when the band needs some room, and more.

The closeness that’s bred on the road certainly is represented on stage, where the band’s energetic presence and tight camaraderie make for wild, hootenanny-style concert experience. The crowd, many of whom seemed unfamiliar with the band at first, were sucked in immediately and throughout the day, the band’s name was being bandied all around the concert grounds — they had definitely struck a chord (as many of the critical reviews of the festival attest to as well).

The set featured “Killing Time,” “Party Shack,” “Guts n’ Teeth” and “Song Songs,” many tunes of which hail from the group’s debut album Guts N’ Teeth, released on Fat Wreck Chords.
The tune “For Better, For Worse” did get a big response, no doubt in part to the talked-about video the band produced for the song, which features none other than Bigfoot. (Watch it below.)

This is not a band you do not want to miss if they play nearby this summer. They’re entertaining and fun to look at, but most importantly, they play a hybrid country music that’s edgy, raw and completely unbridled — ‘punk-bluegrass’ if you have to call it something.

Watch Old Man Markley Perform ‘For Better For Worse’

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