Every band has its road story, but most don't involve shootouts. So when Kansas insurgent bluegrass band the DeWayn Brothers parked their converted school bus outside a venue in Tulsa, Okla., they weren't necessarily expecting the kind of violence that finds its way into their darker songs.
"There was this altercation between some people in the street, and a guy pulled out a gun," explains banjo man Garrett Briggeman. "And the other guy was like, 'What are you gonna do, shoot me?' And sure enough, he shot him point blank, right in the shoulder, and the guy was like, 'Oh my God, you shot me!'
"There are some questions you just don't ask people who are pointing a gun at you."
Life is different back in Emporia — the seat of Lyon County, Kan., and every bit as exciting as that sounds. It's a quiet, scenic refuge from as many as 250 shows a year, and a way to get back in touch with those Kansas roots ("farms with little junkyards in their front yards, drinking, white-trashy, stripped-down, regular old stuff").
The DeWayn Brothers — none of whom are named DeWayn — began life as the spin-off of a jam band called Loco Macheen. Drawing inspiration from Kansas' own Split Lip Rayfield and, to a lesser extent, Colorado's 16 Horsepower, they eventually decided to give up the tie-dyed ghost.
"It was the right move," says Briggeman. "The whole jam scene got weird. It was one of the biggest-drawing live genres for years, but now it seems like it's gone the way of Phish."
The DeWayn Brothers, meanwhile, are doing just fine. Farmer, the group's fourth album, alternates between shambolic howl-alongs like "Rabid Dog" and darkly fetching murder ballads like "Mockingbird Woods."
"I think you try to write songs about what you know," Briggeman says. "And in the bluegrass genre, it seems like most songs are either about drinking or murder or love songs, so there's always the struggle to write about other topics. 'Rabid Dog' is a real fun song, and a lot of our stuff tends to be in the minor key and not fun or nice. So it's kind of good for the show — and just for us — to play songs that aren't always in that same vein."
So when the DeWayn Brothers sing "Rabid dog shot six times / Rabid dog wouldn't die," they're singing about what they know?
"In some ways," says Briggeman. "I wrote the song, but I didn't actually get rabies."
And besides, all art is subject to interpretation.
"Yeah, we stayed with some friends in Iowa and this woman had an amazing take on it. She thought it was a metaphor for love, that the rabid dog would be the man in the relationship that was abusive but you still miss once it's gone, or some weird thing like that.
"And I was like, wow, you know, that's pretty deep. It's really just about rabies."Purchase their music: