All aboard

Mad River Railroad stops at RiverScape MetroPark

Photo: Mad River Railroad’s (l-r) Dave Finster, Pat Carine, Gary Ridgeway, Nora Denning, Dave Younkin

By Matt Clevenger

Overlooking the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton, RiverScape MetroPark seems like an ideal venue for bluegrass act Mad River Railroad.

The band played there once before, in 2015, and the show went so well the crowd responded with a standing ovation at the end of their set.

“It’s a neat venue,” guitarist/vocalist Dave Younkin says, “and I think they’ve improved the sound by changing where they put the speakers. We played there two years ago, and they asked us back this year.”

Mad River Railroad will return to RiverScape Friday, Aug. 4, headlining a triple bill with fellow bluegrass/newgrass bands Growler and the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys as part of the city’s popular Pickin’ in the Park concert series. Food trucks and a wide selection of craft beer will also be available onsite. Admission is free, and guests are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or blanket in case they decide to take a break from the action.

Originally formed in 2012, Mad River Railroad is known for their sense of humor and impressive vocal harmonies. They also perform a wide range of bluegrass and folk songs, mixing traditional standards like “Orange Blossom Special” with more contemporary “newgrass.”

“We’re from all around the Miami Valley/Cincinnati area,” Younkin says. “Three of us met jamming at a bluegrass jam, and we decided that we enjoyed playing together so much that we wanted to take it to the next level.

“Our live show is full of a lot of humor, and we really pride ourselves on our tight vocal harmonies,” he says. “We try to do songs that are a variety, that don’t all sound the same. So it makes our music very interesting.”

Mad River Railroad’s current lineup features Younkin on guitar, banjo player Pat Carine, bassist Dave Finster, mandolin player Nora Heink, and fiddle player Gary Ridgeway. The band released their first album, All Aboard, in 2014, and their second release, Rollin’ On, just came out in May.

“We’ve branched out into other musical styles, and we call [Rollin’ On] a newgrass album. It’s a variety of musical styles, played with bluegrass instruments.”

“We produce them ourselves,” he says of the albums, “through local recording and producing companies. We actually don’t sell them online—we only sell them at shows.”

As a genre, bluegrass music has seen a resurgence of sorts recently, both regionally and nationally.

“I do think it’s becoming more popular with younger people,” Younkin says. “I think they especially like the bluegrass instruments—the banjo, the mandolin, and fiddle. A lot of people like that acoustic sound, as opposed to electric.

“Bluegrass originated in the Appalachian area,” he continues, “and a lot of people migrated from the Appalachian area to this area to work at the factory jobs like General Motors and NCR and Armco Steel, and they brought the music with them. It’s stayed an important part of the fabric of a lot of their descendants.”

Growler and the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys will also perform Friday. “We haven’t played with them before,” Younkin says. “They’re what I call more like jam bands, and we’re a little more traditional.”

The self-proclaimed “bluegrass bad boys of Chicago,” Growler is a quartet consisting of guitar, mandolin, banjo, and stand-up bass. The band’s unique sound mixes traditional bluegrass with southern rock, jazz, gospel, and a healthy dose of gritty Chicago blues.

The Whiskey Bent Valley Boys are a more traditional bluegrass trio from Pewee, Kentucky featuring banjo, fiddle, and stand-up bass. Led by founding band member Col. Mason Dixon, the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys are known for their original sound, combining bluegrass standards with their own material, and their tendency toward wearing authentic vintage attire. The band is touring in support of their new album, Whiskey Sessions, which was released earlier this summer.

Mad River Railroad will also be on the road this summer; after their show at RiverScape, the band will also be performing at a long list of festivals and other venues throughout Ohio and Kentucky. “We like festivals,” Younkin says. “They’re always fun.

“One thing we’re excited about is the Bob Evans Farm Festival in Rio Grande, Ohio,” he says. “We’re going to be one of the opening bands for Flatt Lonesome—they were the IBMA [International Bluegrass Music Association] vocal group of the year in 2016, we’re excited to be opening up for them.”

The band also plans to record another album sometime in the future, although Younkin says he isn’t sure when that will happen. “We don’t have any recording going on right now,” he says. “I’m sure there will be more in the future.”

Mad River Railroad plays Friday, Aug. 4 at RiverScape MetroPark, 237 E. Monument Ave. in downtown Dayton. Growler and the Whiskey Bent Valley Boys are also on the bill. Admission is free. Show starts at 5:30 p.m. and runs until 10 p.m. For more information, please visit MadRiverRailroad.com or MetroParks.org.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattClevenger@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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