Winter Park / Live Music: String band creates musical chaos, tames it |

Winter Park / Live Music: String band creates musical chaos, tames it

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News

The Mayhem String Band, an original five-piece band from Mississippi, will bring its brand of “countryfied outlaw bluegrass” to the Winter Park Pub on Saturday.

The band’s members are not only out to showcase their musical talents, but also out for a “plain ol’ good time.” That informal, fun feeling spreads through its audiences quickly.

Their influences: “All that good stuff that’s American music,” with sounds said to conjure up the spirits of Hank Williams and Waylon Jennings “by creating chaos and taming it in the same performance.”

The group began when bassist Ben Johnson met up and started playing with guitarist Chris Steiner and banjo player J.T. Lack. Jamison Hollister, fiddle and mandolin player, was the next to join in the fun and after several shows a momentum began that couldn’t be stopped “and the idea of ‘Mayhem’ was hatched.”

This will be a trip through memory lane for Kevin Larkin, who was the next member to join the band. Larkin, known as “Detroit Red” and the creator of the Spaghetti Western bluegrass band “Pineross,” moved from Colorado to play mandolin and harmonica for the other guys just last year.

He got his start growing up in Michigan and first heard bluegrass after he moved to Boulder. Inspired, he picked up the mandolin and founded the trio Stuck in the Mud with Steiner in 2002. Not only did the Mayhem String Band prompt a move to Mississippi, but he also digs “real” BBQ.

Ben “Papa” Johnson, who was born and raised in Mississippi, has been playing the bass since he was 13 years old “at various honky-tonks around the state.” He was a founding member of the legendary blues trio Three Legged Dog before he joined Mayhem String Band in 2004. In addition to playing the bass, he is said to have pushed the boundaries of what can be done with a leaf-blower. (I paused there for a second too, but maybe we’ve got another utility-instrument on our hands to surprise us like that of the vacuum cleaner and Jon Fishman of Phish).

Jamison “Hollerin'” Hollister is also a Mississippi native, playing in the state’s bluegrass scene since he could pick up a fiddle bow, he says. Influences who attribute to his passion include Darol Anger, Vassar Clements and Frank Zappa. He continues to be a student of music and plays everything from bass to bagpipes.

The first time “Captain” J.T. Lack heard bluegrass music he said it was” like a message from God to go and get a banjo.” For almost a decade he has played and sung “with anyone wanting to pick,” including Greenville’s Broken String Band. He says his main musical influence has been the Stanley Brothers.

As he grew up in Memphis, Tenn., Chris “Butterfield” Steiner took a liking to the guitar and he started several rock bands including Oxford and Second Guess. Steiner later moved on to Vail and played in the progressive bluegrass band Stuck in the Mud, where he meshed well with Larkin and Steiner. But he missed the wild music scene of Mississippi and he moved back and started playing with Lack and Johnson. The rest they say, is history.

Each member of the band creates lyrics for the band’s songs, a prime example of which can be heard in their newest CD, “Rapscallions and Ne’erdowells” released in April. The CD is an incredible conglomeration to their other favorite pastimes of smoking ribs, cold beer, and pretty women with memorable songs like “Long Time Comin’,” “Humphreys County Jail,” “Blowin’ Skirt,” and “Porterhouse Breakdown.” A short tease of each tune is available to hear at

“We just wanna help folks have a good time the same kind their great grandparents did,” Lack said. “Like water rollin’ down the hill, it’s just the natural thing to do. String music is in your veins, no matter who you are … hope to see you at your favorite bar.”

“There are many bluegrass bands out there, however, few have the nerve and audacity to do whatever the hell they please,” Johnson quipped. “This is what sets the Mayhem String Band apart from the average, run-of-the-mill string pickers. We raise hell, and we raise it well. We shoot first and ask questions later. We’re wild and crazy and we can’t be stopped. If this sounds like your kind of throwdown, then be sure to check out the Mayhem when they plow through your town.”

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