The Historic Artcraft Theatre in Franklin is a throwback to the vintage age of cinema.
So it makes sense that the venue is being repurposed for one night this weekend to step back into the history of country music.
The theater will host the Brown County-based Punkin Holler Boys for a night of old-time country bluegrass music. Banjos, mandolin and harmonica will be joined by the hootin’ and clappin’ of audience members during the jamboree.
The band has tapped into the electric music drifting from the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee, adding a modern element while retaining the traditional Americana spirit.
“Everything moves pretty quick. You get a banjo and hot mandolin player and a bass thumpin’ it moves pretty quick,” said Ralph Ed Jeffers, guitar, mandolin and harmonica player for the Punkin Holler Boys. “We do a couple of slow songs just to give us a breather, but we’re stomping feet and clapping songs and moving fast.”
The Punkin Holler Boys were born out of three-piece project between Jeffers, John “Spidey Jack” Sheets and Craig “Slim” Small. All three were singer-songwriters who bonded over their love of playing music on the guitar, harmonica, mandolin and fiddle.
“The only thing we knew was we didn’t want to play covers, and we didn’t want to haul big amplifiers around,” Jeffers said.
While the original plan was to accompany the other members on the songs each one wrote, the project grew into co-writing and performing together.
The band has grown to include five members. Sheets has retired, and Stuart “Cover Boy” Poe, Mike “Junk Box” Calvert and John “Train Wreck” Bowyer have joined on.
Their sounds has morphed into a jug-band bluegrass type of sound — lightning quick mandolin and guitar, constant washboard strumming and the twangy sound of banjo and fiddle.
“I grew up in the very old country vein. Craig is more of a rock ’n’ roll, punk rock vein,” Jeffers said. “The new guys are playing in this country-bluegrass thing. We got these great players with us, and Craig and I just kind of gravitated to what they were doing.
“The show we put on is a novelty, but we try not to be over-the-top with it,” Jeffers said. “We want to be as entertaining as possible.”
The band does many of its performances with a single microphone, as the members huddle together around it combining harmonies and vocals.
The Punkin Holler Boys modeled their performances after a raucous show they saw at the Bill Monroe Music Park south of Morgantown. One of the bands was Carl Shiplett and the Big Country Show.
“They were doing a single mic, and they were dancing around. So many of the bluegrass bands were lined up on stage in front of their individual mics, and they just stood there,” Jeffers said. “Carl’s boys moved around a lot, and I thought that looked like fun.
The shows recall the old timey country stomps that solidified bluegrass in rural parts of the country. Though the sounds could be coming from a barn dance in 1930s Kentucky, modern audiences seem to find their groove too.
“I wouldn’t say they go crazy for it, but they seem to enjoy it. We have everyone from 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds tapping their feet and singing along,” Jeffers said. “We don’t make any pretense about the fact that we’re there to entertain.”
Joining the Punkin Holler Boys will be another down-home country band, the Indiana Boys. The band’s name plays off a line in the song, “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. An early version of the band specialized in Tom Petty covers.
The trio takes pride in the fact that is composition and musical creation escapes any easy classification.
“We like to use the term ‘organic,’” said Dick Gist, guitarist and singer for the band. “We play mostly original material, and we play a unique style of music that can’t be classified as rock, bluegrass, country or anything like that. It’s a little mixture of everything that’s influenced us growing up.
The Indiana Boys formally started performing together in 2011, though the members had messed around and played together as far back as 2007.
Blending acoustic guitars, mandolin, banjo and other instruments such as the dobro or harmonica. Their style allows for much improvisation and adjustment on-stage, eschewing polished licks and rigid form for free-wheeling fun.
“We try to put out a lot of energy and a lot of originality, kind of like a painter does with a picture. It’s not going to be the same this time as the time before,” Gist said.
The Punkin Holler Boys
- Ralph Ed Jeffers, guitar, mandolin, harmonica
- Craig “Slim” Small, banjo, fiddle, guitar, mandolin,
- Stuart “Cover Boy” Poe , dobro, guitar, washboard,
- Mike “Junk Box” Calvert, bass, guitar,
- John “Train Wreck” Bowyer, mandolin, guitar
Where: Brown County
The Indiana Boys
- Dick Gist, guitar
- Joe Bollinger, banjo
- Barry Todd, mandolin
- “Picker” Dan Bilger, bassist
- Kenan Rainwater, vocalist, harmonica, rhythm guitar
Where: Brown County
The Punkin Holler Boys featuring the Indiana Boys
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: The Historic Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St., Franklin
Cost: $10 in advance, $12 day of show