Although Cutty Rye sounds like something from the top shelf, it’s actually the name of a folksy bluegrass band based out of Fayetteville, Ark. The band creator, Chooch Meisenbacher, says the name doesn’t have a much of a backstory before adding, “I used to be known for drinking large amounts of whiskey.”
Meisenbacher has recently brought a daughter into the world and has put the brakes on the whiskey, but that hasn’t stopped his passion for music; in fact, he and the band are still going strong with a slotted local live performance on the South on Main stage this week.
Meisenbacher calls Northwest Arkansas home, and although he began playing guitar at 19 and was always singing, he didn’t take music seriously until later in life. When a 10 year long relationship ended on a bitter note, he felt the need for a change.
“It made me reexamine my life,” he says, “I attended some Arkansas music festivals during that time and I was really struck by bluegrass.” Growing up, Meisenbacher identified as a grunge kid, but that changed after hearing the California based Devil Makes Three and similar bands.
He got a new job and found himself working with musicians who reached out to him. “I discovered then that I have a talent for writing music,” he says. He began to recruit members, and nearly five years later the lineup of Cutty Rye graces stages all throughout Arkansas.
Cutty Rye’s current members include Adams Collins, vocals and banjo; Warren Dietzel, vocals and mandolin; Dave Gesualdo, bass; Isayah Warford, guitar; and Chooch Meisenbacher, vocals and guitar.
“The band is made up of some real professionals. I can take a simple song to them and they can really help me expand it,” Meisenbacher explains.
Their music induces a state of foot-tapping, knee-slapping, shoulder-shaking dance, and often pairs well with a whiskey or beer. The thematic harmonies throughout keeps everything either light and jubilant or mysterious and awe-filled.
Their fan base varies, and they’ve learned to be flexible. “We’ve sort of turned into a wedding band,” Meisenbacher laughs, “but it’s so much fun. We pay the bills that way, and it’s really opened up a door. We have a great momentum right now.”
Speaking of momentum, the band is releasing an album this week called “The Devil Smokes Bluegrass.” Meisenbacher is stoked to see where it takes them, although they are already setting their sites beyond the Natural State in terms of music festivals and gigs, including the Fayetteville Roots Festival and the Mighty Mississippi Music Festival in Greenville, among others.
When Meisenbacher began reaching out to form a band, he was lucky, he says, to have people like Warford who were already plugged into the scene, and for this reason playing for an audience wasn’t such a pain.
“Truly, though, it’s easier to find a place where you can play for free,” he remarks. And playing bars and restaurants can be a mixed bag when the audience isn’t really there to listen, but rather to eat and drink. “It can be fun and engaging, though” he adds.
Meisenbacher believes the Arkansas music scene is one supportive family, and although the group has frequented the likes of George’s in Fayetteville, playing in the Local Live series will be their first show in the South on Main space. Cutty Rye, however, is ecstatic to check it out. Don’t miss the show, on Wednesday April 8, which is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.