Which band member is Cletus?
March 4, 2004
Cletus and the Burners (formerly known as Cletus and the Barn Burners until a cease-and-desist order came from a Baltimore band of the same name) have such a great fan base in Colorado that they are moving here.
There just isn’t room in the Ithaca, N.Y., music scene for a band that makes bluegrass-inspired remakes of songs by Led Zeppelin, Beck and the Violent Femmes. That’s a Colorado thing.
“There’s just a better market for bluegrass out here,” banjo player Nick Aives said.
The members of the group are all 22 recent graduates of Ithaca College, where they met and became a band. They’ve been touring since they graduated in May, playing a style of music they discovered three summers ago at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“We didn’t know anything about bluegrass before we started playing it,” Aives said. “We dug the music and picked up the instruments.”
Aives started playing the banjo a week before Cletus and the Burners became a band. Until then, he played the guitar.
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“Still, I don’t really listen to bluegrass. I just play it,” Aives said.
They started by learning traditional Bill Monroe tunes and playing them for money in the Ithaca Commons, an area Aives compared with the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.
The band’s name came by accident, Aives said.
Every time they played in the Commons, the group picked a different name, such as Psoriasis and the Itchy Scalps. Cletus and the Barn Burners stuck. They were ordered to change it six months ago.
“It was a big joke for a while,” Aives said. “People where always asking, ‘Who’s Cletus?’ And each one of us sings so we would point to someone — that’s Cletus.”
After playing for years, the band members have not only learned their instruments, but also found their unique voices by covering obscure rock songs and writing original music.
“Everyone in the band writes,” Aives said. “A lot of the lyrical content is humorous. It’s not very traditional, but quick and witty.”