One Ton Pig
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One Ton Pig

Band Americana Bluegrass

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Katy Niner November 7, 2007
With fewer gigs and more time during the offseason, Jackson bands continue to practice. This Stepping Out series goes behind the scenes to capture valley musicians honing their craft.
Prepared for the fun of reliving teenage shenanigans, bassist Andy Calder didn’t expect to have a musical reckoning during his 20th high school reunion in Flint, Mich.
Calder, the bass player for One Ton Pig, narrated his reunion story while his band mates – Justin Smith on guitar and lead vocals, Michael Batdorf, guitar and vocals, and drummer Jason Baggett – futzed with their instruments during a practice last week.
Calder’s mid-practice anecdote: Cruising from the airport along I-75 in a rental ride, Calder turned on the radio station that he grew up listening to and immediately recognized the voice introducing Led Zeppelin.
“It was the same record, the same time slot,” Calder said. Back in Jackson, he sent the DJ an e-mail: “Glad you don’t change, Arthur.”
Calder seemed stunned by the juxtaposition of his musical trajectory compared with the DJ in Flint: The Zeppelin record on repeat was a dramatic foil for the musical variety of One Ton Pig.
Practice began with Smith proposing to cull their Americana repertoire to a tight list of 30 songs.
But before the set-list inquisition, they added new tunes ahead of their Halloween gig at the Silver Dollar Bar, starting with “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” aka “In the Pines,” a haunting folk song originally made popular by Lead Belly and Bill Monroe, and again, more recently, by Nirvana’s plodding cover of it. A line referring to a decapitated head “found in the driver’s wheel” made it fitting for Halloween, Smith said, when he played the Nirvana version for the band from iTunes.
“‘But we’re a bluegrass band!’” Calder feigned protest.
The cover art for MTV Unplugged in New York came up on Smith’s desktop screen: a stage cluttered with fans and flamingo pink lights.
“See,” Smith said “that’s what I want our stage to look like.” “They’re too loud even before they played a note,” Calder quipped. They run through it once, but without Baggett (he set up his drum set
slowly because he had pulled his back moving the day before), so they play it again with percussions and Batdorf sang.
The Halloween theme continued with “Spooky” by the Classics IV. They jump in, playing over the recording. Smith worked his voice into the grooves of the rolling rhythms.
As a cold drizzle fell outside, Smith’s practice room in his Wilson home steeped in music and its accoutrements. Two acoustic guitars hung in a corner, and artwork of a musical theme, including a photograph of the Imagine mosaic in Central Park, covered one wall. Back issues of Guitar Player filled a bookshelf, and sheets of Christmas music rested on a keyboard. Smith asked Baggett to flick on the standing light beside him, a chameleon orb that changed from blue to green to purple. Calder questioned its utility.
“Mood is where the magic happens,” Smith said.
The mood became democratic when they began reviewing their master set list, kept on Smith’s computer. He went down the list: Calder voted to nix “Bayou Voodoo,” but Batdorf spoke up in its favor. “It’s a giddy-up song,” he said. “People get up and move for it.”
Calder set a baseline for the band’s democracy. “I vote no on the song, but I vote yes on keeping the gig.”
The voting continued, with all four players voicing opinions. They tried to balance slow tracks with fast, straight-up bluegrass with classic rock, Jackson favorites with the band’s best. “Could we not play any jail songs for awhile?” Batdorf requested. They deemed some good but overplayed (“Wagon Wheel”), others were dismissed as ho-hum (“Blue Car”). Honesty reigned. “I think I understand where it’s going,” Calder said of “Leavin’ Mother’s Bones,” “but I don’t always feel like we get there as a band.”
To explore this statement, Smith dug up the song’s charts, and he and Batdorf traded seats and instruments so that Batdorf could take the lead on reworking it (they both play acoustic and electric guitars).
Calder asked Batdorf what he wanted musically and offered a Latin undertone, which Baggett accentuated. They discussed what they were doing as they played. The Latin vibe saved the song list from the set-list cemetery.
The rehearsal ended with “Dead Flowers” – quintessentially One Ton Pig, according to Calder. “When people ask me what One Ton Pig sounds like, I say ‘Dead Flowers,’” he said.
Just as Zeppelin evoked adolescence for Calder, bluegrassified rock is classic One Ton Pig. - Jackson Hole News and Guide


There is nothing more American than good ‘ole country mountain and bluegrass music. One Ton Pig’s latest album, Big Norm, takes listeners through the Great Smoky Mountains, Sonoma, California and…hurricanes? The record’s honky-tonk rolls and country bursts of mandolin and acoustic guitar are like one big road-trip.

What makes Big Norm so much fun and such a great record is the band’s apparent enjoyment in playing with each other, just as much as it loves playing for others. The recurring themes of country and state pride, travelling on the road in that vintage country storytelling format, give all hints away that the love for the tune is first and foremost. It’s almost incidental that the band ‘s arrangements are so tight and its honky-tonk bluegrass sound so refined; “PIG” fans should be so lucky.
The themes of self-discovery and adventure shine through on “Looking for Springs,” with its quick, punchy guitar, muted mandolin rhythm and laid-back lyrics: We’ve been looking for springs. And we won’t travel far. We’ve been looking for springs. Need to know how lucky we are. The fast-moving beat is difficult to miss and is an ideal album-opener, clearly sending a message to listeners that One Ton Pig is 2 tons of country fun. The little “skee-daddling” that the vocalist does throughout the song could have used a little help from a slide guitar to really top off the song, but overall, it’s a great start to a one-hour/fourteen-song road-trip called Big Norm.

“Let Me Rattle” ruminates on state pride. Life on the road for any musician is always tough. There is no better way to pay homage to it than through a song full of it: Well you know. Yeah you know. West Virginia’s my mountain home. The rocking out mandolin is a steady, country bop. The catchy chorus could easily pass for a Bureau of Commerce of West Virginia theme song on its next advertisement for luring vacationers to its Appalachian Mountains, and scenic trails and rivers. “Time Rolls On” steers Big Norm into the same headwinds as “Let Me Rattle” and “Looking for Springs,” except with even more bluegrass gusto; the locomotive tempo chugs along while the singer wails out: Time rolls on. Time moves on. Time moves on with a start of a new day. The repetitive and rapturous melody is memorable for its abruptness and soulful energy. Another memorable song is “Cruel Words”; its rocked out swagger is filled with beautiful crystalline acoustic guitar fills and a honky-tonk pack of rhythm guitar refrains. Its chorus is infectious and alt-country radio-ready.

The jam-and-blues side of One Ton Pig flits out on “Butterfly In a Hurricane.” The blunk (blues-and-funk fusion) echoes Phish’s steady and long-winded live show jams. The song’s departure from the bluegrass and country genre sticks out sorely; the vocals are not as vibrant and purposeful as those on the more country-fried tracks. From out of the hurricane, One Ton Pig returns to its mountain music form with “Cold Water Blues,” a delicate yet frenetic honky tonk ditty with a short and fast lyrical delivery. Like its earlier honky-tonk brethren on Big Norm, this song has got lanky long legs and will make any country music lover look good on the dance floor.

“Sonoma” best demonstrates why these boys love to play what they play. It’s the only instrumental on the album, but also one of the best songs. It showcases the tight arrangements and skilful musicianship of the band; Especially, Tim Farris’s undulating mandolin libations. “Murder in the Hole” also showcases the bands country guitar virtuosity, juxtaposed with a disturbing narrative of a drunken night of fighting and violence, ending in the death of a man, as he floats with a frown down a creek; Who would have thought that a song about a dead man could be so magnificent?

“By Now”’s jivey, rock beat stirs up the blues pot once again, adding whirring guitar lines that add a hint of southern rock to it. Its slow growling underbelly groove is more consistent with the country sound of the band than the Phish-like phenomenon of “Butterfly In A Hurricane.” “Drunk to the Bone” avoids the jammy incantations of “Butterfly In A Hurricane” and subsists on a rootsy blues groove; a close cousin of Canned Heat’s 1968 blues rock classic “On the Road Again”; Throw in a little Jim Morrison as well á la “Texas Radio and The Big Beat.”

Big Norm is fourteen songs of country jamboree jubilations and gyrations, and should not be missed. Fans of good ‘ole honky tonk country and blue grass will thoroughly enjoy this album.

Review by Michael Morgan
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
- Review You


Jackson Hole Wyoming is a skiing Mecca and all-around party town, and it takes a special sort of band to really rock such a swinging party scene. Luckily for Jackson Hole, One Ton Pig broke and broke hard on the local bar scene several years ago. Featuring the songwriting and vocals of Michael Batdorf, the band is an all star cast including Justin Smith (Mandatory Air) on guitar and vocals; Jason Baggett on drums; Andy Caldar (Banyan) on bass and Tim Farris (Jet Black Ninja Funkgrass Unit) on mandolin and vocals. If a song is danceable and you can drink to it, you’re likely to find it in a One Ton Pig set. In November of 2010, One Ton Pig released their second album, Big Norm, a joyous mix of outlaw country, Americana, and gin-laden fun.

One Ton Pig practices the KISS principle on Big Norm, letting the inherent catchiness and vibrant melodies of the songs rule. They get things started with “Looking For Springs,” a solid blend of bluegrass, country and folk. Batdorf’s vocals are as smooth and pleasant as always, and the guitar and mandolin work here are superb. “Let Me Rattle” is Appalachian style folk, a train song about going back home to West Virginia. “Time Rolls On” features some of the finest instrumentation on the album, offering up an urgent, catchy feel that will draw you into its quasi-existential message. “Cruel Words” plays like water, washing over the listener like a second skin. The melody is catchy and simple, the arrangement intricate yet easy to follow, and the guitar work here is outstanding.

“Butterfly In A Hurricane” has a talk/sing style that focuses on the concept of a rambling life. You could easily remove the vocals from this song and have a wonderful jam/instrumental tune. As it is, the lyrics are here more to provide internal structure around which the members of One Ton Pig jam. “Cold Water Blues” mixes alt-folk, rock and perhaps the spirit of the blues in a song about surviving on the lamb. There’s a mix of joy and resignation here that is intriguing, as if a choice is made and the path is welcome but the hardships are frustrating. “Sonoma” is a vibrant instrumental that pays tribute musically to Sonoma, California’s roots as a Mexican state. As elsewhere on the album the instrumental work is over the top, with Tim Farris in particular standing out on Mandolin on this track.

Bluesy folk/rocker “Drunk To The Bone” is perfect for the bar scene, energetic and fun and built around an infectious riff. This is the sort of tune that regular fans will likely chant back to the band; a sort of bar room camaraderie that can’t quite be captured on a studio album but would not be surprising live. “Murder In The Hole” is a tragic song full of mischance and foolishness. The songwriting is solid, and fits in nicely with a long line of similar songs in American folk music. “Song In The Kitchen” is another occasion where the lyrics don’t seem to matter quite so much. This is a jam tune with lyrics added for form, and One Ton Pig does it up big. “Load Up And Be Gone” strips things down a bit, built around a simple chord progression on guitar. The premise here is somewhat banal, with a highly repetitive chorus that is more thematic than story based, but the instrumental work continues to shine. “Chilhowie Mountain Blues” takes it roots from the country/rock of Johnny Cash and expands upon this sound in one of the catchiest turns on the album. Try to sit still for this one. It can’t be done. One Ton Pig closes with “Burn It Down,” a rowdy tune that takes on the sort of progress that has seen the rise of strip malls across the country. It’s a killer closer, raucous and musically dynamic, showing off the extreme instrumental skills of the entire band.

Big Norm is the sort of album you throw in your CD player or call up on your playlist and leave it there for days at a time. From an instrumental standpoint it would be difficult to find a finer working group today. Some of the lyrics offered up on Big Norm work essentially as filler, providing a trellis over which One Ton Pig’s instrumental magic can spread. Michael Batdorf is an accomplished songwriter and storyteller, but it’s clear that in some instances on Big Norm he and One Ton Pig were willing to allow the music to speak for itself.
Review by Wildy Haskell
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
- Review You


Discography

High On the Hog (LP, 2008)
Big Norm (LP, 2010)

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Bio

Chicken-Fried-Prison-Music. That's what One Ton Pig is famous for: Fun, dance-worthy, down-and-dirty, outlaw-country, bluegrass, and Americana. If you're into Willie, Waylon, Merle, Jerry Reed, Del McCoury, or Johnny Cash, you're into the Pig!

One Ton Pig is appropriately based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is also home to the most rugged mountains in the world, the most unforgiving weather in the world, and the most eccentric, funky, fun-lovin', musicians.

The band formed in 2006, and is best-known for packing the Silver Dollar Bar every Tuesday night. The scene is literally a Jackson Hole tradition, and it’s not uncommon to see local politicians cutting the rug with 20-something ski bums every week!

Singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Batdorf is one of the most talented artists on the scene today. His songs deal with love, loss, mountains, whiskey, dogs, fightin', and Lewis and Clark, and they come straight from the heart. Batdorf's solo material is critically acclaimed, and his abilities as One Ton Pig's frontman speak for themselves. He's dynamic, and his connection with his audience is unparalleled.

Justin Smith is also a songwriting force in One Ton Pig, and his vocals and guitar make the band what it is today. Smith is perhaps best-known for his work with Mandatory Air, which is one of the most popular groups in the Northern Rockies. Smith's overall verve is largely responsible for One Ton Pig's reputation for being funky, friendly, unique, and outlaw, all at the same time!

Tim Farris covers mandolin and vocals, as well as some seriously funky songwriting. Farris's sophisticated approach to performance and composition truly add a quality to the group that separates them from all the rest. His background includes being the frontman for Jet Black Ninja Funkgrass Unit, a crazy-original trio that sounds more like Primus than they do Bill Monroe!

Bassist Andy Calder looooves to hold down the outlaw country grooves, but he's always willing to blaze some soul ala Jaco Pastorius! His other projects include touring with experimental funk/jazz outfit The DJ Logic Band and otherworldly art-metal group Banyan, which is fronted by Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins. Calder proudly endorses Schroeder Bass cabinets.

Drummer Jason Baggett is a disciplined, formally educated jazz musician. He's the glue that holds it all together, yet his vast experience allows him to push the band well beyond the normal limits of outlaw country. Listen carefully and you'll hear subtle Latin grooves, jazz shuffles, melodic drum fills, and beats that relentlessly compel butts to shake!

One Ton Pig has released two critically acclaimed and commercially successful cds of original music (High On the Hog, 2008, and Big Norm, 2010). They also pull out cover tunes from their repertoire of over 100, bringing smiles to the faces of bar patrons, festival attendees, wedding guests, prison inmates, cowboys, sailors, barbecue cooks named Grizzly, and the like.

If you're hungry for chicken-fried-prison-music, order yourself some OneTon Pig!