Belleville-based Old Salt Union will headline concert at Lindenwood

News-DemocratAugust 28, 2013 

Old Salt Union is about as Belleville as you can get, but the band is making its music heard across the country.

"I've known Dustin Eiskant, our guitar player, since we were in the fifth-grade at Emge School," said banjo player Ryan Murphey. "All of us are from here. ... We have bluegrass roots, some call it 'newgrass,' but we don't technically have a genre. We play whatever genre the songs call for."

All five band members live in Belleville, but they just got back from a July tour that took them to Chicago, Minnesota, Kentucky, Ohio and several other places. They have future gig in Colorado and they still try to play in Belleville at least once a month.

All that and they've been together only since August 2012.

Old Salt Union will headline a concert at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium with the bands Clusterpluck (Americana), Elemental Shakedown (bluegrass) and The Jungle Fire (jazz fusion).

How they got together

"Two years ago, Dustin and I formed a band called Auto Pilot," Murphey said. "We both played guitars, a cover band."

They thought it would be cool to get a piano in the act, so they added Justin Wallace. "We were two-guitars and a piano cover band. We called ourselves Sunken Garden Jokers," Murphey said.

Along the way, Murphey taught himself to play banjo.

"I set my guitar down and practiced, sometimes 8 hours a day, and I've been playing banjo ever since."

The three of them went to record some of their music at the home of John Brighton, who plays violin and mandolin. They liked his sound and asked him to play shows with them.

Finally, Eiskant called his cousin, talented bass player Jesse Farrar, to see if he wanted to play some bluegrass. He did.

They played their first gig together in May 2012 at the Blue Agave in Belleville.

"The energy was undeniable," Murphey said.

By August, they were calling themselves Old Salt Union. "Our mandolin player came up with it and it sounded good. There really is no story or deep meaning behind it."

Gaining momentum

Old Salt Union plays lots of different kinds of songs, Murphey said. "Some standard bluegrass, some with a pop edge, some even sound a little Eastern European. ... We just try to be us. All our songs are original. And as instrumental as we can."

Soon after they formed, the band won a battle of the bands in St. Louis. "We blew the socks off people," Murphy said. "That's when the buzz started."

Next came a nationwide battle of the bands that was decided by online voting. They won that, too.

At the Indie Music Association Awards in California, the band won Best Song for "Walk Away," Best World Song for "Flat Baroque," and was runner-up for best album, "Western Skies." They plan to record another album beginning in November for release in 2014.

Getting around

You've probably seen the band around town heading to one of their concerts. You can't miss them.

"We bought an airport shuttle bus and converted it to our needs," Murphey said. "It has those long shelves that hold our instruments, even Jesse's big bass.

"We call it Rosemary."

To make a long story short, Farrar got bought a rosary when the band was in California.

"Jesse called it a Rosemary. It was funny. Rosemary kept getting brought up and it stuck. So we call the shuttle Rosemary. There's a Rosemary, I mean rosary, hanging in it now."

The band has opened for national acts, including Del McCoury, Sam Bush, Widespread Panic and Of Monsters and Men.

Hometown concert

When Lindenwood contacted Murphey to do a concert there, he didn't hesitate to say yes.

"To be playing at my old high school where I had study hall and classes, that was never on my radar," he said. "Belleville really needs to show up because it's going to be a really good show."

And, Murphey has high hopes that this will be the start of something big.

"It's such a great auditorium, and most of the time it's sitting there unused. My dream is to fill the place up. Then maybe we can attract some of those national acts to Belleville."

You can see and hear more about the band at OldSaltUnion.com and at their YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages.

What: Concert with Belleville band Old Salt Union, Clusterpluck, Elemental Shakedown and The Jungle Fire

When: 6-11 p.m. Wednesday; doors open at 5:30

Where: Lindenwood University-Belleville Auditorium

Tickets: $15 general admission; $8.50 for facutly and staff with ID; free for Lindenwood student with ID; can be purchased at the auditorium box office on Wednesday.

Future shows for Old Salt Union:

9 p.m. Sept. 5, Broadway Oyster Bar in St. Louis

Sept. 6 at Schlafly Bottleworks in St. Louis; doors open at 5, music till 10 p.m.

Who's who in Old Salt Union

John Brighton, 28, of Belleville, plays violin and mandolin.

Jesse Farrar, 24, of Belleville, plays bass. He works at Gia's Pizza in O'Fallon.

Ryan Murphey, 30, of Belleville, plays banjo. He has a horticulure degree from Southwestern Illinois College, but is now concentrating on his music career.

Justin Wallace, 28, of Belleville, plays piano and mandolin. He is an archeologist.

Dustin Eiskant, 28, of Belleville, plays guitar and does lead vocals. He is a legal assistant.

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