Lindsay Rachel Rilko didn’t know anything about bluegrass music when she began sitting in with The Flatbellys in 2008, at the weekly Tuesday open mic night at Dagwood’s Tavern in Lansing, Mich.
At the time, she was still known as Lindsay Rachel Petroff — her future husband, mandolinist Joshua Rilko, had formed The Flatbellys with upright bassist Spencer Cain and become regulars at the open mic. The quartet had released a full-length album, “Get ’Round,” that year, but after graduating from college, the band’s other two members, Joshua Brand and Jesse Myers, were on their way out. Joshua Rilko invited Lindsay to sit in with the group on harmonies.
“I had sung folk music — folk and pop — but yeah, I didn’t know; I didn’t have a bluegrass repertoire,” Lindsay said. “[Joshua Rilko] started inviting me over to the house while they were jamming — that was the premise of our relationship, ‘Hey, do you want to come over and sing harmonies?’ I can sing a harmony, and bluegrass harmonies are based on family harmonies. I learned all these songs just by singing harmonies with them.”
When: Friday through Sunday
Where: Saratoga County Fairgrounds, 162 Prospect St., Ballston Spa
How Much: Adults 23 and older $50 for full weekend, $27 per day; students ages 19-22 $25 for full weekend, $15 per day, $5 evening only; free for those younger than 19 accompanied by a paying adult
More Info: 882-6809, 355-7330, www.pickingandsinging.org
The initial collaboration was short-lived, with Lindsay heading to Ecuador to study abroad. While there, she delved further into bluegrass, listening to artists such as Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs nonstop. She also began writing dozens of new songs, which upon her return to Michigan became the foundation for the slightly renamed Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys’ first album, “A Different Tune,” released in 2010.
“When I was in Ecuador, for the first time in my life — the first time since I had come to college or maybe for the first time ever, I had all of this alone time, forced alone time because I didn’t know anybody when I got there,” Lindsay said. “I didn’t have friends, I didn’t have a boyfriend, I didn’t have a job; I just went to class and then would come home, go into my bedroom, open the window and spend time with the guitar writing.”
For the past few years now, Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys — featuring the Rilkos, Cain, banjo player Keith Billik, resonator guitarist Mark Lavengood and most recent addition Patrick M’Gonigle on fiddle — have been honing their hybrid of bluegrass traditions and folk songwriting on the road, pausing just long enough to release their sophomore album “Release Your Shrouds” last year.
The group will be one of four featured performers at this year’s GottaGetGon Festival, taking place Friday through Sunday at the Saratoga County Fairgrounds. The Flatbellys will perform Saturday at 1:15 p.m. The other featured artists include California duo Holdstock & Bierl, performing Saturday at 3:15 p.m.; Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Dave Gunning, who plays Sunday at 1 p.m.; and folk couple Sally Spring and Ted Lyons, performing Sunday at 3 p.m.
“We go to a lot of Michigan festivals that are the same flavor, same ambiance and energy, it seems like, so we’re looking forward to it,” Lindsay said.
Devoted to music
This is the 45th annual GottaGetGon, which is put on each year by local folk organization Pickin’ and Singin’ Gatherin’. In addition to the featured performers, the family-friendly festival also features open jam sessions scattered throughout the weekend; a New Folk concert on Friday night featuring Aaron Welcher, Driftwood and local singer-songwriter Molly Durnin; and the traditional A Cappella Sing that closes out the festival Sunday night.
The featured performers will also host various workshops during the festival. The Flatbellys are part of two workshops on Saturday — the first, “Arranging For a Band,” follows their concert, while the second, “Accompaniment,” co-hosted with Ted Lyons, is at 4:15 p.m.
“We’ve done workshops in the past on singing harmony, and Joshua’s done mandolin workshops,” Lindsay Rilko said. “It just gives you the opportunity to share with others and talk about the things that we think about all the time. This is our primary job; we don’t have any other job besides playing music and being in a band and devoting ourselves to the songs, so it’s really cool.”
The Flatbellys has only been a full-time concern for its members for about a year now, during which time the band played 170 shows on the road. This year the band is hoping to streamline things, although the number of shows is shaping up to be about the same as last year.
“Our first year, we realized how far we can push ourselves basically and where we need to pull back and be smarter about our time,” Lindsay said. “We’re all 20-somethings, mid-to-late-20s, so we’d be starting out no matter what we’re doing. But starting out in the music business, we’re doing all right — we’re paying all the bills and not struggling too hard. It’s a learning experience, of course, like everything.”
Traveling around the country has also afforded the band the opportunity to connect with different bluegrass scenes and players.
“It’s hard to know that there are other people doing what we’re doing around the country — there aren’t very many other people doing what we’re doing in Michigan,” Lindsay said. “But then you go over to San Francisco and meet [the band] Front Country, and it’s like meeting your soul mates almost. ... We’re pretty flexible with where we stay and who we meet — if there’s someone in the audience and they say they’re in a local bluegrass band, well ... yeah, we’ll take them up and go hang out with them and jam. It’s been an intense formative time for us in terms of that.”
-- 7 p.m.: Potluck dinner
-- 8 p.m.: New Folk concert featuring Aaron Welcher, Driftwood, Molly Durnin, with M.C. Hannah Rosen
-- 10:25 a.m.: Sampler concert with all featured performers
-- 1:15 p.m.: Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys
-- 2:15 p.m.: Workshops: “Arranging For a Band” with Lindsay Lou & The Flatbellys, Townley Building; “Song Writing” with Dave Gunning and Sally Spring, Lewis Building
-- 3:15 p.m.: Holdstock & Bierl
-- 4:15 p.m.: Workshops: “Accompaniment” with Ted Lyons and The Flatbellys, Townley Building; “Stories/Ballads” with Dave Gunning, Dick Holdstock and Ray Bierl, Lewis Building; “Swing Warmup” with Dave Crump, pavilion
-- 5:15 p.m.: Dinner break
-- 5:30 p.m.: “Swinging” workshop with Dave Crump (site TBA)
-- 8 p.m.: Barn Dance, 4H Main Building
-- 9:15 p.m.: Wake Up With Gospel, with Vicki Kelsey and Bruce Pomeroy, Townley Building
-- 11 a.m.: Workshops: “Fiddle Faddle” with Ray Bierls and Patrick M’Gonigle of The Flatbellys, Townley Building; “Southern Appalachian Style Music” with Sally Spring and Ted Lyons, Lewis Building
-- 1 p.m.: Dave Gunning
-- 2 p.m.: Workshops: “What is Nova Scotia Music?” with Dave Gunning, Townley Building; “England vs California” with Dick Holdstock and Ray Bierl, Lewis Building
-- 3 p.m.: Sally Spring with Ted Lyons
-- 4:15 p.m.: Open Stage with host Don Burger
-- 6:10 p.m.: dinner break
-- 7:15 p.m.: Slow Jam at Lewis Building; Celtic Jam at 4H Main Building
-- Evening: A Cappella Sing