Diploma or dobro? Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys go bluegrass
A leisure-time activity for some college students led to a postgraduate profession.
The bluegrass band from Michigan State University, the Flatbellys, was destined to break up after its members graduated. But a singer-songwriter named Lindsay Lou changed all that.
“I met Josh (Rilko, a mandolin player) at an open mic in Lansing,” she said. “I started hanging around the band and would go onstage every once in a while and sing a harmony or two.
“I was tired of going to these house parties where everybody just gets drunk and talks loud and doesn’t say much of anything but does a bunch of lip flapping,” she said. “I had stopped going out, and to meet people whose idea of fun was sitting on the porch playing music every night and having bon fires and stuff, that was awesome.”
The music band led to wedding bands for Josh and Lindsay Lou Rilko, who did what maturing people from Lansing often do: they moved to Ann Arbor.
“I recruited two remaining Flatbellys, Josh and Spencer (Cain, bass), adopted a couple of other people (Mark Lavengood, dobro, and Keith Billick, banjo) and we recorded an album. That was two years ago and we’ve been going since then.”
Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys are on a five-week tour, you might say in search of the Sound. Lindsay Lou and Josh Rilko spoke to Lake Tahoe Action from a cellphone while aboard a boat in Washington’s Puget Sound.
“It’s a really cool job because you are always encountering happy people,” she said. “I am enjoying the human side of life. Two things I’ve learned is I love people and I love this country.”
Always at ease singing in front of people, Lindsay Lou as a girl sang before about 100 at her grandfather’s birthday party. Her mother told her she was born to sing.
“Before middle school I remember telling my dad very emphatically I was going to be a singer,” she said. “I am so set on this there is no way it’s not going to happen.”
But while she was in middle school she instead decided to study math and science and become a doctor. She earned degrees in human biology and Spanish. Then she heard the Flatbellys and met her future husband, who is part of generation of bluegrass pickers inspired by the Soggy Bottom Boys.
” ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ in a way did kick it all off,” Josh said, referencing the 2000 movie. The music of Soggy Bottom Boys – George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson and Chris Thomas King – was actually performed by Ralph Stanley, Dan Tyminski and producer T Bone Burnett.
“We are all trained in bluegrass and Lindsay writes all these different songs that may or may not have anything to do with bluegrass,” he said. “So we have to figure out how to play them and it ends up being what it is.”
The five-week tour is groundbreaking as Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys introduces itself to new audiences. Its appearance Thursday, Feb. 28, in the Divided Sky in Meyers will be the first time in Tahoe for the members. Venues on the tour have varied from 700 seat theaters to house parties.