It’s hard to believe a band that’s released three acclaimed records, played hundreds of shows, appeared at festivals, and topped regional polls began as an accident. But eight years ago, Americana visionaries One Ton Pig were just two guys with no band contracted to play a bluegrass night at a local watering hole.
“We started with no expectations,” says primary singer-songwriter Michael Batdorf. “We made a pact for it to be a fun project, and to stop when we weren’t having fun.”
The Jackson Hole, Wyoming sextet melds the hard luck singer-songwriter tradition of artists like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Steve Earle with the dazzling musicality and imaginative genre-bending of jam band musicians for a fingerprint aesthetic that blurs the lines between folk, country, jazz, gospel, bluegrass, and rock'n'roll. One Ton Pig is Michael Batdorf, guitar, vocals, main songwriter; Tim Farris, mandolin, vocals, co-songwriter; Justin Smith guitar, vocals, co-songwriter; Matt Herron, violin; Andy Calder, bass; and Jason Baggett, drums.
“Songwriting is first and foremost,” Batdorf explains of the band’s chemistry. “The guys all come from different backgrounds musically and geographically, but they know how to support a song and tie into a cohesive sound. I’ve heard people call what we do ‘high mountain alt-grass.’”
The group’s three-album oeuvre has collectively sold 4,000 CDs, and 10,000 digital downloads. The first two of these albums were recorded live, showcasing the band’s unbridled and unvarnished creativity and virtuosity. Its most recent album is a self-titled studio album recorded at Henhouse studio featuring, Grammy-nominee Matt Flinner on banjo, Ross Martin on guitar, and esteemed producer Ben Winship. The band was able to splurge on a state-of-the-art studio production due to its robust business as a live band.
One Ton Pig has appeared at such festivals as Targhee Fest, Jackson Hole Mountain Fest, and Oyster Ridge Fest, and shared the bill with such esteemed artists as the McCourys, Wood Brothers, Chris Robinson and the New Earth Mud, Railroad Earth, and Old Crow Medicine Show. The sextet has three times been voted “Best Band in Jackson Hole” by the readers of Planet Jackson Hole. Another accolade is that coming up, One Ton Pig will have its songs featured in and appear playing live in a film entitled Mahjong and the West.
The band’s latest, its self-titled, is its finest. With a proper budget and an actual studio, One Ton Pig was able to capture the nuanced beauty and expansive dynamics of its most powerful set of songs. “Lonesome Valley” is blissfully pastoral with an interlace of stringed instrumental virtuosity supporting a jubilant countryside snapshot. “Long Gone Man” is a wearily beautiful folk tune about economic hardship paired with a stunning performance video. The swampy “Said Bob Dylan” was record live and is a wonderful slice of One Ton Pig past and present—it features quicksilver improvisatory music interludes supporting a well-crafted song with a ruggedly spiritual message. “Someone sent me a note that came off as ‘you need help,” Batdorf says with a laugh. “In response, I thought of something Bob Dylan once said about digging deep and mending your own mistakes.”
Up ahead, One Ton Pig will continue to tour while it finishes writing its fourth album. Thinking back to those humble beginnings, Batdorf says: “It amazes me how productive we’ve been. The communication and collaborative spirit in this band has been so deep and honest, and that’s why we’ve lasted.”
Big Norm is fourteen songs of country jamboree jubilations and gyrations, and should not be missed. Fans of good ‘ole honky tonk country and blue grass will thoroughly enjoy this album.
-Michael Morgan, Indiesouprunner.com
Big Norm is the sort of album you throw in your CD player or call up on your playlist and leave it there for days at a time. From an instrumental standpoint it would be difficult to find a finer working group today.
-Wildy Haskell, New York-based music critic
The band sounds well rehearsed, and the result is cohesion.
-Aaron Davis, Jackson Hole Weekly
Very good old fashioned country music. This music you can play in every country bar and in a old country barn on a Saturday evening.
-Rudy Minnaert, The Free Country Eagle
A knee slapping, hippie-honky-grassing hell of a good time. If this CD doesn't make your soul shine, listen to it again.
One Ton Pig are excellent musicians and are a very cohesive live unit, as their not-a-care-in-the-world sound on "High On The Hog" clearly proves.
-Justin Kreitzer, Indie Rock Review
If One Ton Pig comes into town they should not be missed. Their live jams are high-octane and high-emotion that will convert country bluegrass music fans the old-fashioned way: one barroom show at a time.
-Michael Morgan, Indiesouprunner.com