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Bluegrass Rebels with a cause

Richmond-based quintet The Whiskey Rebellion treats audiences to its unique brand of folk music

Virginia is for lovers - of bluegrass and folk music, that is. The commonwealth has long been a hotbed of Americana and is home to many popular bluegrass festivals, including the Blue Mountain Music Festival and the Richmond Folk Festival. One of the most exciting Americana bands to come out of the state in years is The Whiskey Rebellion, a five-piece bluegrass group featuring Ryan Phillips (guitar and vocals), Roy Myers (banjo), Mary Simpson (violin and vocals), Jared Pool (mandolin and vocals) and Tim Deibler (bass). In anticipation of the quintet's Oct. 3 gig at South Street Brewery, tableau chatted with Phillips about how the quintet has grown from a Richmond-based college band to a group with international aspirations.

When did you know you wanted to be a professional musician? \nEver since I started playing music. [The other members and I] were just talking about our 15-year-old selves and what they would think about some of the things that we're doing now; I definitely would have been surprised about being in a bluegrass band. I've always enjoyed playing music, but [as a teenager] I definitely saw myself playing electric guitar as opposed to acoustic guitar. I was always listening to Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd.

What is the history of The Whiskey Rebellion? \nIt started in 2004, maybe 2003, when I was walking home from class at VCU in The Fan. I heard a banjo coming from a front porch, so I walked right on up ... I started playing with the banjo player, Roy, a couple times a week, and eventually we started playing out at bars.

Then, we met Mary, our violinist, and our bass player at the time at a fiddler's convention in Buena Vista, Va. Those two starred coming down to Richmond, too ... Then, we started recording songs and put out a couple albums, and since then we've been getting busier and busier.

What is your favorite part about being a member of The Whiskey Rebellion? \nI would say being able to play original music is a really nice part of it and being able to present music through his band and write music for this band. I really love to travel as well - it's a whole lot of fun, that's for sure.

What have you guys been up to lately? \nWe just did a tour of Oregon back in late July of this year. It was our second tour out there. We went last summer, and this summer we did a big show at a place out there called the Liberty Theatre. It was a really beautiful old place, and we actually brought a film crew on this tour with us. They filmed the concert, and the filmmaker traveled with us for the whole tour and videotaped everything. He's now working on a tour documentary, and we're going to put out a concert album.

Who are some of your musical influences? \nDoc Watson was definitely a big influence on me as far as seeing someone just really rip up an acoustic guitar. It was sort of an eye-opening thing that was very cool ... Also, Johnny Cash single-handedly made me want to sing songs. Before I listened to any Johnny Cash, I was just a guitar player, but Johnny Cash made singing seem cool enough to try.

What's next for The Whiskey Rebellion? \nIt was a big year as far as getting this Oregon thing together. On the backside of that tour is getting this movie out and a live album from that tour as well. And not long after we got back from Oregon, we recorded an EP in Richmond. We're sort of in the middle of releasing several things. Beyond that, we definitely are going to try to make a habit out of playing out west once a year. That's been very good for us, and we've been very well received ... Europe is somewhere out there, too. It's a cool place for Americana and bluegrass, so that may be somewhere we try to go in the future.


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