(June 14, 2012) 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. Thursday night they'll return to their old Charlotte haunt, the Visulite Theater, as part of weeklong reunion.
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."
Drummer Tim Helfrich says the band was full of energy on stage: "Our lead instrument is a mandolin, played by Mike Orlando, and Mike himself has developed a particularly aggressive and rock oriented mandolin playing that drove a lot on the back-beat of the music, I think. 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."
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: "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. But I don't think that stuff really bothered us as much. We were young and the thrill of being out on the road kind of trumped everything else, I'd say."
Cast Iron Filter formed in 1998 when Edge, Orlando and guitarist Randy Culbertson began playing together. Helfrich joined not long after. Over the years, the band shuffled through a total of 9 members, and cut five albums. In a 2003 review, 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 on New Year's Eve in 2004, they went their separate ways. Dustin Edge explains: "We had had some personnel changes over the past year and a half and so we decided to just go on hiatus 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, and I think you know, everyone's still friends, and happy. It's just that was how things panned out."
Edge now lives in Colorado, where he's a solo musician. Several members have settled in Davidson including bassist Mason Bissett and mandolinist Mike 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, Nashville and Raleigh and will wrap up the reunion with performances here in Charlotte.
Helfrich says it's a treat 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 hoursit was a 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."
Cast Iron Filter will be at the Visulite Theater in Charlotte on Thursday night, and at Summit Coffee in Davidson on Friday.