Shooting from the hip brought a glow of embers to players and partners in two new Paducah-roots bands
It was a Saturday in Owensboro well after midnight on the corner of West Second and Allen Streets, and the air was still. Most of the first floor storefronts had been dark for hours, but the four windows above the Famous Bistro were aglow with pink, , and green pools of light, punctuated by clusters of white paper lantern orbs. Every time the door leading upstairs swung open, claps and stomps and voices danced forth into the street.
It was a summer night in Owensboro, and Paducah brought the party.
Inside the folks and fans of Gideon’s Rifle and Red Ember sang, played, and danced away, and their energy was contagious. Though most people in the crowd were hearing the two Paducah bands for the first time, they couldn’t help but join in, moving their voices and bodies to the music. For Gideon’s set, the guys of Red Ember were front and center. For Red Ember, the guys and gal of Gideon’s were right there, too. For one of the night’s last songs, members of both bands crowded around the mics and led the happy, Kentucky-proud crowd in a cover of Blue Moon of Kentucky.
“It was amazing,” said Alex Coltharp, banjo player and songwriter for both Gideon’s Rifle and Red Ember. “Any time the monitor gets overwhelmed like that with the crowd’s voices, it’ll make you shake. It’s really exciting. I’m pretty sure everybody in both groups is thoroughly addicted to it.”
Though Gideon’s Rifle and Red Ember are both still relatively young bands, they play together with a strength and ease that some bands never achieve. Each individual member brings such talent and skill to the music that when they all get together to play, it’s a beautiful thing.
“Gideon’s Rifle is FUN,” said fan Terrin Hayes. “Jake’s an awesome bassist. Alex is a bad ass on the banjo. Shannon’s a great front man, and when Kim straps on a pretty dress and a mandolin she’s just the most adorable thing you’ve ever seen! Together, they’re great. They’re definitely a band that feeds off the energies of the crowd—the more into it we are, the more into it they are. I love it because they make you feel like you’re part of something.”
Both bands are friends first, and it seems to make all the difference in their music—they’re in tune with each other in a way that only friends could be. Whether they’re in the process of writing music or performing it, it comes about organically, much like the way both bands came to be in the first place.
The Gideon’s core four were best buds while in school in Louisville. “It wasn’t a business-minded decision where we formed the band picking the best musicians we knew,” Shannon Vetter explained, sitting in the shade outside Shandies next to his band mate, Kim McDaniel. “It was more like, ‘We’re going to be hanging out together anyway, and we all play music…let’s make a band!’” For personal and financial reasons, Kim, Alex, and Jake moved back home to Paducah last summer, and Shannon followed soon after.
“Since we’ve known each other, we’ve all gone through a lot of musical phases, but we find common ground through our songwriting,” Shannon said. “We’re not a jam band, we’re not a hype band, and we’re not really a bluegrass band. We’re a songwriter’s band. We’re just choosing to flesh out our songs in a country/folk/bluegrass/nugrass form because that’s the music we’re getting into right now.”
“Being friends like we are definitely affects the way we create and perform, but I think it makes us stronger,” Kim continued. “We can argue about something but still come to an agreement and still be friends. And being close with Red Ember is awesome! I love that we can all share ideas and have this great collective, creative mind together.”
“It helps that we see these guys every day, walking around downtown, wearing red pants, grey shirts, smoking cigarettes, staring at me…” Shannon said, smiling at something down the street—it was Justin Doss, mandolin player for Red Ember. He joined Kim and Shannon at the table. “How long have you known us?” Shannon asked him.
“I met Kim when we were in middle school, but I’ve known Alex since 3rd grade,” Justin answered. “ It was really crazy how it happened. Alex just walked up behind Cynthia’s one day when I was on break. I hadn’t seen him in years, and we started catching up. Said he was playing in some string band.”
When Gideon’s first made the move to Paducah, Alex didn’t know anyone in (what would become) Red Ember except for Justin. “I showed up for work at Cynthia’s, and he was sitting there on the porch wearing sandals and playing a banjo. I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Alex remembers. The last time he’d seen Justin, they were two high school kids driving around the country listening to rap. “Justin did a pretty amazing job of coming into his own at home, whereas I had to leave to figure out what I wanted to do and who I was. But we both kind of came to a similar conclusion.”
They started jamming together late nights after work at Cynthia’s—Justin and Alex, plus Foster Stacy (percussion and keys), Alex Riley (guitar), and Ryan Cothron (resonator). They started meeting up on Saturday mornings, just to play for fun, and it took many Saturdays before they even thought about playing for an audience. Then they found Brad Hammack and his funky bass.
“It was kind of amazing how everything just came together. A couple of practices with Brad, and it fit like a jigsaw,” Alex said.
Gideon’s had a gig at JPs one night, and they offered Red Ember a spot between their sets. That night the two bands shared their banjo player and put on a show that had folks singing, stomping, and shaking tambourines.
In the past year, Gideon’s has recorded an EP and gone on tour. Red Ember’s recorded a full-length album with King Sound Studio, and both bands have played every chance they could. Though they’ve put on some out-of-town shows, JP’s Bar and Grill is still their home base.
“We all came back here worried that it would be like purgatory, but it ended up being great,” Alex said. “We love it here. We love the people we’re with, we love the music we’re making, and we have enough people around us telling us to keep going. It’s a good place to be.”
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