Growing up in rural Waldo County, Kelly Ravin didn’t really have a place to play music, aside from the occasional Battle of the Bands or an infrequent open mic. It’s tough being a kid musician in a small town — especially when you’re as versatile and talented a guitarist and songwriter as Ravin, who even at 16 was clearly ahead of the pack.
So, Ravin did what a lot of folks do: he left. Headed to the laid-back Burlington, Vt., in fact, a very musician-friendly town where he’s lived since he graduated Mt. View High School in 2003. After a few bands and a stint playing solo, he’s found his niche in the gritty, soulful outlaw country rock of Waylon Speed, a Burlington four-piece Ravin has performed with since the spring of 2009.
Waylon Speed will play Saturday night at Roots & Tendrils in Belfast. It’s one of many homecomings for Ravin, who makes the trek from Burlington to the tiny town of Knox once monthly to hang out with his family. And it’s a testament to the way the scene has changed on the Midcoast from when Ravin was a kid.
“I think music was a good outlet for some of us, growing up. You’ve got to have something to do,” said Ravin. “There was never any place for anyone to play when I was growing up, so now, with Roots, it’s a pretty great vibe. I love that place. It’s a venue, not a bar, and that’s really important for live music. [Belfast] has definitely changed a lot. I mean, I get homesick all the time. Someday I will move back.”
Before Waylon Speed, Ravin performed with the band Lucy Vincent, an acoustic pop trio that gained some fame regionally. He wasn’t satisfied with that kind of music, though. He wanted something a little harder, a little more challenging. Opportunity knocked, in the form of a night at a local Burlington bar.
“I would always play at Honky Tonk Tuesdays at the Radio Bean, a bar in Burlington,” he said. “The drummer and bass player from Waylon Speed always play there, and that’s how I ended up playing with them. We were instant brothers. We immediately clicked.”
Those brothers were drummer Justin and bassist Nathan Crowther, formerly of the beloved Burlington alt-country band Chuch. Chad “Reverend Chitwood” Hammaker rounded out the new group, christened Waylon Speed, which formed in April 2009 and hit the ground running. Ravin had been practicing his pedal steel playing and had a long list of songs he’d been working on, since discovering the joys of country music and bands like the Drive-By Truckers.
“I got into a lot of old country and rockabilly, and deep singer-songwriters, like James McMurtry, Merle Haggard, that kind of thing,” said Ravin. “They were totally on that vibe with me.”
The Crowther brothers had years of songwriting together under their belts, but Ravin seamlessly melded with them, stylistically.
“I bring in my songwriter-y stuff, and they dirty them up. They make them electric,” said Ravin. “Then Justin writes all these instrumental metal tunes that we play, so we go from country kind of stuff into double bass metal. It’s wild. If you see the show it ends up coming together.”
After all, outlaw country is as much about the mindset as it is the music. You say what you think, you do your own thing and you don’t give a hoot what anybody else thinks — and you don’t take any B.S. from anybody. In that regard, it’s not all that different from metal, punk or any other style of music that’s got a knife-in-the-boot attitude.
Waylon Speed tours regularly, with dates through the end of September from Maine to Texas, including a stop at the Gathering of the Vibes festival in Connecticut on Aug. 1. They’ve already shared stages with everyone from My Morning Jacket to Del McCoury. The band’s debut album, “Georgia Overdrive,” came out this past April, to acclaim from the New England music press. It’s heavy, fiery country rock, for those who like their punk rock with some twang in it — but also appreciate high quality, intelligent songwriting.