The Band

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Fresh off the success of their first album, and taking first place in Rockygrass’ Best New Band Competition, Colorado natives, The Railsplitters got busy touring the US, meeting wider audiences, and of course, spending hours in the tour van! As you can imagine from five members traveling across the United States, the musical array pouring out of the van onto the open highway was wildly eclectic, crossing over genre and time. From boundary breaking trip hop and electronica groups like Gorillaz and Thievery Corporation, to more direct influences like The Infamous Stringdusters and Lake Street Dive, the musical potpourri heard in their time on the road eventually began to seep into the band’s own music. With their new album, The Faster It Goes, they’re using these new sounds to break the bonds of bluegrass and unleash tradition. Lauren Stovall and the rest of the ‘Splitters suggest that using your roots to evolve is really at the heart of the genre, not unlike Bill Monroe, who himself was an innovator. With their finger on the pulse, The Railsplitters are pushing the genre forward with an adventurous spirit, carrying in the tradition of breaking boundaries with their innovative sound.

The Railsplitters’ secret weapon is two-fold: first, the innovative imagination of banjo player Dusty Rider’s songwriting, who writes with the full band in mind, imagining an entire song in his head before it’s even heard it out loud. Second, the powerfully distinct vocals of Lauren Stovall whose voice is as clean as Emmylou, as cutting as Allison Krauss, and carrying some of the attitude of Dolly herself. Lauren’s vocal lines fill The Railsplitters’ sound with something distinct and undeniable. In addition, part of The Railsplitters’ new color is brought on by the band’s newest member, Joe D'Esposito, whose New England-influenced fiddling adds new directions to the band’s sound. With masterfully executed mandolin and banjo by Peter Sharpe and Dusty Rider, and well supported by upright bassist Leslie Ziegler’s innovative style, The Faster It Goes testifies to The Railsplitters’ multipolar and collaborative songwriting, giving voice to the impressive talents of its members and a cohesive character to the sound.

From the first track, “Tilt-A-Whirl,” it’s clear the The Faster It Goes is exploring modern speeds: “My mind is like an old Tilt-A-Whirl, it never seems to stop, not even for this girl.” With the foot-stomping drive of a reworked traditional tune like, “Salt Salt Sea,” or the complex harmony and aggressive rhythms in “It’s A Little Late,” The Railsplitters are trying to keep up with life, the faster, and faster it goes. While these songs pack an edge and highlight the band’s progression into more pop-influenced numbers, The Railsplitters know that life isn’t only lived in the fast lane, taking a few moments to unwind with earthy tracks like “The Estuary,” which pays tribute to their musical mountain roots, and the album’s hidden track, “Sweet Little Miss Blue Eyes.”

Though they operate with the instrumentation of a bluegrass band, The Railsplitters are making music totally unlimited by tradition. This is music for the open road, the open dance floor, and open ears--music of the American West, made for all.

-Mindie Lind, Hearth Music

The Players

Lauren Stovall: Guitar and Vocals

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Lauren Stovall, vocalist, guitarist, and composer, born in Mississippi, fostered a connection with music before she could walk. As a child, she took part in the rich musical tradition of the south and from there, expanded her musical reach, both across genres and across the US. 

In 2005, she found her home in Colorado amidst like minded musicians, determined to enliven their community by way of American music. It was in the Rocky Mountains that her voice and musicianship encouraged a thriving bluegrass community to welcome her in. This connected Lauren with her fellow Railsplitters and put her on a path toward finding her own place in the future of this music. 

She has since graced the main stages of the many of country's largest folk festivals, and has enthralled audiences across the US and abroad. Lauren uses her musicianship and virtuosity as a vocalist to connect with audiences of all ages while conveying the need for social change and equity.

Pete Sharpe: Mandolin and Vocals

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Mandolinist and composer, Peter Sharpe, was born in Brazil and grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. He has been playing stringed instruments since age 12 when he was drawn to the electric guitar.  He played electric and acoustic guitar in a variety of bands throughout high school and college before quite literally finding a mandolin under the bed.  The mandolin was an old Gibson A style, purchased by his great-grandfather, and largely neglected since that time.  He became quickly obsessed with learning the history and technique of the instrument and was pulled into the world of bluegrass and American folk music. 

Peter came to Boulder, Colorado in the late 90's and divided his time between rock climbing, skiing, and playing music. While in Boulder he earned his Masters degree in Counseling Psychotherapy and worked extensively with adults, teens and families. While still working full time as a therapist, Peter performed in several local bands, before meeting band members Lauren Stovall, Dusty Rider, and Leslie Ziegler at a friend's weekly bluegrass pick. The chemistry in the group was undeniable and after a few years of playing part-time, he dedicated himself to touring full-time with the band. His background in psychology continues to inform his approach to music and composition.

When he's not playing music you will likely find Peter backcountry skiing in Rocky Mountain National park, or riding his mountain bike and trying not to break his hands.    

Leslie Ziegler: Upright Bass and Vocals

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Hailing from both Michigan and West Virginia, Leslie has been studying the upright bass since she was seven. A love for the Bass as well as teaching, brought her to Western Michigan University where she focused on Music Education. During her time in Michigan, she was fortunate to perform with several major symphonies including the Kalamazoo Symphony, Battle Creek, and traveled to Indiana to perform with the South Bend Symphony. After she graduated Western Michigan University she began directing an orchestra program for Kentwood Public Schools in Kentwood, MI where she not only worked with string students on standard orchestral repertoire, but exposed her students to alternative styles such as bluegrass and jazz. Outside the classroom, Leslie immersed herself in Kalamazoo's local music scene where she discovered her deep love for Bluegrass and folk music. It didn't take long before she was singing and playing in numerous bands such as The Mossy Mountain Band and Who Hit John?

In the summer of 2009 Leslie received a job directing orchestras in Boulder Valley School District in Boulder, CO, which moved her across the country. She was fortunate to move to a place where there is no shortage of talented musicians. After meeting musicians at various jams around the Denver Boulder area, Leslie began to perform with some of the Colorado's most talented acts including Spring Creek Bluegrass Band, Bonnie and the Clydes, and many others.

In the summer of 2015 Leslie decided to leave full time public school teaching to perform music full time with The Railsplitters. This gave her the opportunity to perform not only across the United States but overseas to Europe and to Canada. This departure from public school teaching did not, however, lessen her love for the connection between teacher and student that is fostered in the music classroom. Leslie strives to make music education a priority not only in her own career, but in the trajectory of the band, seeking out youth camps, and workshops both in her community and abroad.  

When The Railsplitters are not on the road she can be found substitute teaching for Boulder Valley School District and teaching private lessons.

Dusty Rider: Banjo, Pedal Steel, and Vocals

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Banjoist, Dusty Rider, grew up in rural upstate New York, and started playing banjo at the age of 13. He studied music education at the Crane School of Music, playing bass trombone under the tutelage of Dr. Mark Hartman, in addition to studying composition.

While in college, Dusty traveled to Alaska, where he helped form his first bluegrass project, High Lonesome Sound. Through that project, Dusty was presented with opportunities for public performance on the banjo, culminating in an appearance at a banjo competition where he took first place on three-finger style and clawhammer. 

Dusty moved to Colorado in 2011, where he met fellow bandmates Lauren Stovall, Leslie Ziegler, and Pete Sharpe. As a member of The Railsplitters, Rider has appeared on the main stage of festivals such as Rockygrass, Grey Fox, and DelFest. With the band, he has also taught at a variety of workshops, camps, and school appearances. 

Dusty teaches beginner through advanced classes on the banjo for adults and kids alike. With three Bluegrass Camps for Kids under his belt, Dusty has also taught at Nimblefingers Bluegrass and Old-Time Workshop in British Columbia, and co-taught a band workshop with a middle school string ensemble and symphonic band. Dusty has recently accepted a post as a faculty member at the University of Northern Colorado Greeley where he will be helping to start and develop a bluegrass major at the school. 

On his days off, Dusty enjoys flying over the mountains of Colorado and dodging cars on his bicycle. 

photo: Kyle Ussery

photo: Kyle Ussery

Joe D'Esposito: Fiddle and Vocals

Joe D’Esposito started playing violin at the age of seven and as a young teen, studied with Earl Maneein, a multi genre violinist whose projects include classical chamber music, jazz, bluegrass, and metal. 

Joe was raised in a musical family that gave him constant exposure to American jazz, Celtic, rock, bluegrass, and classical performances, in a family band setting.  These experiences fostered a love for performance in a wide variety of genres. 

Joe went on to study violin and music education at Ithaca College under Susan Waterbury.  It was in Ithaca, NY where doors began to open for Joe with Celtic, bluegrass, and contemporary string band music. He continually strives to expand the reach of  music and education to those not ordinarily lucky enough to have it as part of their lives. 

Outside of his role with The Railsplitters,  Joe is a Denver-based music educator and collaborator. His education background has opened doors for him as a teacher with Denver’s community musical school, Swallow Hill; His work for the music school includes group lessons, as well as work with many of the outreach programs, that Swallow Hill’s non-profit, community engagement component are based upon.  He also frequently performs and composes with guitarist, Mike Robinson and double bassist, Andrew Ryan, as the Freewheel Trio based out of Denver and New York City. 

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