The bluegrass folk rock band Cast Iron Filter was a favorite on concert circuit in Charlotte and across the Southeast in the late 1990s and early 2000s before its breakup in 2004. This weekend the band returns to its old haunt, the Visulite Theater in Charlotte, and to Summit Coffee in Davidson, as part of weeklong reunion. Details below.
By DAVID BORAKS
A decade ago Cast Iron Filter was having the kind of success most young bands dream about. Founded in 1998 by students at Davidson College, the group was making records and doing national tours. Within a few years, the band had a manager in Atlanta and reviews in major newspapers. Its revved-up bluegrass/Americana sound even earned its own nickname – “Irongrass.”
The band’s front man was vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player Dustin Edge. Mandolin virtuoso Mike Orlando powered the group’s high-powered bluegrass sound. Altogether the band had nine different musicians at various times over the years, including three bassists.
Drummer Tim Helfrich said the band was full of energy on stage.
“Our lead instrument is a mandolin, played by Mike Orlando,” Mr. Helfrich said in an interview the other day behind Summit Coffee in Davidson, which he owns. “Mike himself has developed a particularly aggressive and rock-oriented mandolin playing that drove a lot on the back-beat of the music.”
The group’s energy helped it develop a following first in the Charlotte area, then in the Southeast, and eventually around the country, especially in college towns, Mr. Helfrich said. “We were young and excited and it was hard to keep the tempo down when we were up on stage. We were full speed ahead,” he said.
That would describe not only Cast Iron Filter’s music, but the band’s schedule as well. Guitarist and lead vocalist Dustin Edge says it was a lot of hard work, but fun, too.
CAST IRON FILTER
These musicians have been part of Cast Iron Filter over the years:
Dustin Edge: Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica
Paradise in Palestine (1998)
“I’d say we were on the road at least six months of the year or so, and a minimum of 150 shows a year. It was a lot of fun but it was certainly taxing at times … subpar hotels, and certainly food that left something to be desired at times,” Mr. Edge said. “But I don’t think that stuff really bothered as much. We were young and the thrill of being out on the road kind of trumped everything else.”
Cast Iron Filter formed in 1998 when Mr. Edge, Mr. Orlando and guitarist Randy Culbertson began playing together on campus. Mr. Helfrich joined not long after. The band toured regularly, cut five albums and at one point shared a house in Davidson.
In a 2003 review of “Live from the Highway,” The Washington Post called Cast Iron Filter “tireless purveyors of Irongrass” and predicted the band would be active on the jam-band circuit for years to come.
But that’s not how it worked out. After a concert at the Visulite Theater in Charlotte on New Year’s Eve in 2004 (scheduled opposite a rival gig by rising local stars The Avett Brothers), they went their separate ways.
“We had had some personnel changes over the (previous) year and a half and so we decided to just go on hiatus,” Mr. Edge said. “And that turned into more of a permanent thing and people had some other side projects that they wanted to do and other things they wanted to do in life. Everyone’s still friends, and happy. It’s just that was how things panned out”
Their “other projects” included music, businesses and families. Mr. Edge now lives in Colorado, where he’s now married and working as a solo musician. Several members have settled in Davidson including bassist Mason Bissett and Mr. Orlando, who’s involved in real estate and restaurant businesses. Helfrich now has a family in Davidson, where he runs the popular Summit Coffee shop on Main Street and teaches and coaches at a private school. He and Bissett play in Summit’s house band, Billy Jones and The Pocket.
This week’s Cast Iron Filter reunion came together after the group got a couple of offers to play, including a gig at last weekend’s Davidson College reunions. In the past week, they’ve played in Chattanooga and Nashville. They’ll wrap up this weekend with performances at the Visulite (Thursday), Summit Coffee in Davidson (during Friday’s Summit Solstice 4-Miler + Festival), and Saturday in Raleigh.
Helfrich says it’s a great to back on stage with his old buddies. “At the end of the day, when you’re up on stage and you get to play music for a couple of hours it was real treat. especially now looking back on it, even though it may have been difficult to savor at times, those are memories that I really treasure,” he said.
June 14, 2012, WFAE.org, “Davidson Band Reunites For Week Of Gigs” – a 4-minute audio feature produced by DavidsonNews.net’s David Boraks, aired on WFAE’s “Morning Edition”
On the Web: http://castironfilter.blogspot.com/
Visulite Theater – The 16+ show is Thursday, doors open 7:30 p.m., tickets $15, available online.
Summit Coffee – http://www.summitcoffee.com/ – All ages show is Friday, approximately 7 p.m. (after the Summit Solstice 4-mile road race). Tickets $5
Pour House Music Hall, Raleigh – Saturday, June 16, 8 p.m., 21+ show, tickets $12 in advance, $15 day of the show. – http://www.the-pour-house.com/index.php
Listen to an audio Q&A interview with Dustin Edge and Tim Helfrich below. Click the play button to start. Can’t see the player or hear the audio? CLICK HERE>
(MP3, 8 mins., 30 sec.)
June 14, 2012, WFAE-FM, 90.7, in Charlotte aired an audio version of this report. http://www.wfae.org/. Here’s the audio in that WFAE report:
(MP3, 1 hour, 10 min., 38 sec)