Southpaw Bluegrass Band
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Southpaw Bluegrass Band

Omaha, Nebraska, United States | SELF

Omaha, Nebraska, United States | SELF
Band Americana Bluegrass


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos




In a town known for its indie songwriters, it’s surprising that Fleming’s and Hoiberg’s originals haven’t caught more ears. The songs are written with a nod to traditional structure, producing a familiar, if vague, sound that at once puts you at ease and makes you want to tap your toes. - Jesse D. Stanek, The Reader, May 12-18, 2005 - The Reader

"19 Feb 2009 Meeting the Band: Southpaw Bluegrass Band"

Bluegrass in Omaha? Hell, yes

By: Will Simons
Issue: February 18, 2009

If there’s one thing Nebraska just isn’t known for, it’s bluegrass. For some reason or another, the sizzling fast picking and strumming featured in bluegrass of all varieties just isn’t as popular in and around the Cornhusker State as it is in bordering states like Colorado, Missouri and Iowa. Hell, there’s even an established loop of dedicated bluegrass players and fans in Europe.

Yes, Nebraska is bluegrass flyover country, a dark spot on a map that connects Appalachia, the lower Midwest and the Rocky Mountains. It’s a long stretch of road best traveled through at night.

But lack of support and recognition doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist around these parts. People are trying. Namely the Southpaw Bluegrass Band.

Based out of Omaha, this traditionally minded quintet is made up of David Fleming on acoustic guitar, Steve Hoiberg on banjo, Justin Kephart on mandolin, Josh Krohn on fiddle and Chris Hunke on upright bass. Four out of five of them share vocal duties as well, although Fleming usually takes the lead.

When they play, everything is kept as acoustic and intimate as possible. They stand in a circle surrounding a single microphone and make eye contact. Then a song’s counted off with a quick “One! Two! Three! Four!” and it’s off to the races for a mile’s worth of measures.

Even without strong local support for their musical stylings, this past year has been a good one for Southpaw, who take their name from Hoiberg’s left-handed playing. In 2008, they performed at a noteworthy Colorado bluegrass festival, toured Alaska and also released a debut record full of 13 original tracks. Back home, they’ve taken it on themselves to build the local bluegrass community, which is about as underground as it gets for any scene in this town. To do so, they started hosting their “Bluegrass Circle Jam” the first Thursday of each month at the Saddle Creek Bar. February of 2009 takes them back to Colorado for a brief tour. As things are looking right now, Southpaw will spend the rest of the year gigging about town and at a few festivals around the country. They’re also in the early stages of recording their second full length.

Meanwhile, it appears Southpaw and their self-described “Nebraskagrass” are one lonesome bright spot on a dark horizon. This year’s Nebraska Bluegrass Festival, held annually in Lincoln, has been cancelled due to lack of sponsorship. The locally produced weekly program “Great Plains Bluegrass” on KIOS 91.5 FM has also recently vanished from the airwaves. Even faced by such disheartening omens, Southpaw solidiers on.

Well, how did the band come to be?
Steve: (David) and I met at a Bluegrass Club meeting and decided to get together and play a few songs and see what happens. I’d say probably six months later we played our first show as the Bluegrass Communists, promoting bluegrass equality for all social classes.

That’s pretty funny.
Steve: (chuckling) Yeah, we did that for a while. We played three or four open mikes just as a duo and we had a couple other guys join who are no longer with the group. Then Justin, when we met (him), used to come to a lot of our shows in a previous incarnation. Then for a while it was just a trio, and it doesn’t really work for bluegrass. Then about a year and a half after he joined, we put an ad on S.L.A.M. Omaha. And Josh responded to that.
David: We were looking for a bass player. We figured we’d get a bass player before we ever found a fiddle player.
Steve: Going back, it became Southpaw probably about a year and a half after we first get together, because I’m a lefty. So anyway, Josh responded to the e-mail and said, “I’m a fiddle player” and kind of expanded upon that. He ended by saying, I think, “I’m the former Alaska fiddle champion, do you need to hear anymore?”
David: Two-time Alaskan fiddle champion! (Laughing)
Steve: As far as a bass player coming along, we’ve had several bass players. The inside joke is bass players are to Southpaw what drummers are to Spinal Tap, they come and go quickly and leave under mysterious circumstances.
But Chris, he and his wife are involved in the Great Plains Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association. He’d come and seen us play several times.
Chris: (Southpaw was) my favorite local bluegrass band. I was a fan. I saw them perform without a bass player and I thought he was on hiatus or whatever. I had bought (a bass) because it’s a cool instrument to own, but I hadn’t learned to play it yet. They encouraged me to learn and after a crash course in bass playing, I can do the basic stuff.
Steve: The last year has been very bountiful for us. We did a tour of Alaska. We participated in one of the most prestigious bluegrass band competitions in Colorado. We recorded our first album and released it. And we’re getting ready to do a tour of Colorado. So lots of good things are happening. We’re starting to get a lot of regional, national, international radio play, which is kind of cool.

What exactly is the musical approach of the group?
Chris: We’re a bluegrass band, but we’re guys that kind of like to put a unique spin on it. We wrote all the songs on our album and we have a pretty impressive number of originals.
We call it “Nebraskagrass,” because we write a lot of songs in minor keys and things of that nature, which is very atypical of bluegrass. I’m obviously a little bit biased, but when I compare our sound with others, where we may not compete in a traditional sense, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to push the envelope in a new and original direction.
David: I’ve always loved bluegrass, but to put an original spin on it is kind of our driving force.
Steve: Yeah, Bill Monroe (b. 1911, d. 1996), I’m not sure how familiar you are with bluegrass, he’s kind of the considered the father of bluegrass music, but he had a saying before he died , what he called the Ancient Tones, that essentially songs are just hanging in the air waiting for people to seize upon them. Really it’s the right combination of people and the right creative bent. And I think that has some valor, because not until we got all these guys in the band did that sound really come together.

About the bluegrass community in Omaha, it doesn’t seem to be very large.
Steve: I’d say there’s a lot of people that are interested, but the people are (scattered). I just grab it as being underground.
Josh: Like when it comes to festivals and that a lot of the fans of bluegrass are older people, in Nebraska especially.
David: Yeah, but you go to Colorado and the scene there is amazing – younger kids playing bluegrass, honkeytonk, country.

I have family in central Missouri, and when I visit, there seems to be a vibrant bluegrass community there as well.
Justin: There’s a diameter around Omaha, Nebraska where it’s like so many miles nobody listens to bluegrass, but beyond that (there are strong scenes and a lot of people who love it).

John Hargiss (of Hargiss stringed instruments) once told me that Omaha is a guitar town, thus the lack of banjo, fiddle and mandolin players around here.
Steve: Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.
David: (As he’s grabbing a cold one from the fridge.) That’s one of my frustrations, I think, when I was first starting out playing bluegrass was just finding banjo players and mandolin players, fiddle players…

How’s the bluegrass jam been working out that you guys host at the Saddle Creek Bar?
David: Each time we’ve brought out more players, and different players, which is key, so we’ve got high hopes for it. It’s fun.

I heard Southpaw recently on NPR, was that a local broadcast?
Josh: Yeah, there’s a radio program that was on Sundays on KIOS (FM) called “Great Plains Bluegrass,” which is unfortunately over.
David: Another loss.

I remember Tom May used to do his radio show, “River City Folk,” out of Omaha.
Steve: We’re going to be on his show in April.
Josh: Yeah, we’re going to record with him in April when he’s in town.
Steve: We contacted him and joked that he and us were the only Omahans to actually play the Alaska State Fair. He was pretty interested based on that.

It’s interesting that you play a lot of originals. Do you play quite a few traditional songs as well?
(They all concur.)
David: Yeah, I think that’s always where the music should be. And the list just goes on and on and on…
Chris: When you have a mix of traditionals along with your originals, then the crowd hears something they recognize and something that’s new to them each time they come to a show.
Steve: If you bombard them with all originals, they’ll like the music, but it won’t be songs they’ve heard before ... I think it really depends on the crowd.
Josh: It’s important to all of us that we’re playing original music, stuff that we’re contributing to bluegrass music. But it all has its foundations in traditional roots.

About your instrumentation, I noticed there’s no one playing strictly percussion of any sort.
Steve: Not allowed.
David: No drums in bluegrass. As original as we are, we do have all five (traditional) instruments – banjo, guitar, upright bass, fiddle, mandolin – we sing around a single mike, which is really traditional.
Steve: There’s been bands that have kind of gone in that direction, but it’s people that were trying to distance themselves from traditions, which we try to do, too, but we don’t think that percussion plays any part – well percussion maybe, but drums no.
- Omaha City Weekly


Southpaw Bluegrass Band - Self Titled 2008



"Southpaw Bluegrass Band (SpBB) began life in the Fall of 2003 as a duo featuring singer-songwriter/guitarist David Fleming, and songwriter/banjo picker Steve Hoiberg, both of Omaha. Because of his extensive collection of Soviet and Chinese iconography, identification with class struggle, and belief in promoting bluegrass music equality amongst all social classes, Steve suggested that they call themselves the Bluegrass Communists. David, not really knowing Steve all that well while at the same time recognizing he could pick a little banjo agreed on the name in theory, but admitted to wondering how it might go over when announced before festival crowds. As such, David politely requested one evening before one of the 3 or so shows that the duo played together that if Steve was resolute in his decision, he'd have to start introducing the group himself. As luck would have it, a revolt amongst audience members never ensued. In April 2005, singer/mandolinist Justin Kephart joined the boys, adding almost immediately to the already unique group dynamic. In January 2007, fiddler Josh Krohn joined the line-up. Chris Hunke has provided the bottom end as Southpaw's bassist since January of 2008.

Based on an inherent musical synergy and rooted in a mutual love and respect of bluegrass and the associated instrumentation, SpBB's current mission is to introduce the music to a younger local audience by performing at regional bars, restaurants, and music festivals. To date, performances have been very well-received, as has the ever-growing catalog of original Southpaw songs and instrumentals, further inspiring the group's assertion that bluegrass moves those new to the genre to tap their toes and clap their hands...but only if they're given the chance to hear it.