Now coworkers, Trent Palmer, director of student engagement, and Dr. Jason Varner, assistant profesor of the history of Christianity, were once just two friends with a mutual passion for Americana and bluegrass music.
The two guitar players met regularly for “jam sessions,” and after being asked to perform at a few AU campus events, they formed the Rock Bottom Boys band.
Fast forward nearly a decade—the duo has become a trio and together, Palmer, Varner and Mike Snyder make up the Rock Bottom Boys of Madison County.
After playing at campus events and the Anderson City Market, the band has begun branching out and is currently working on their first album.
To Palmer and Varner, bluegrass music holds sentimental value.
“Growing up, that was the music I was exposed to and I found a genuine love for it,” said Palmer. “In my opinion, bluegrass music in particular really highlights instrumental excellence more than any other type of music. What great bluegrass musicians can do on a banjo, fiddle and mandolin is just mind boggling to me.”
Varner adds, “We love Americana music because it’s such a wide umbrella. There is something about music that paints this picture of the American landscape and it just feels like home.
“Trent and I have kind of different feels from where we’re coming from, but this kind of music is all about sharing,” he said. “We’re not that good, but that’s not the point with this kind of music.”
According to Varner, that idea is where the name Rock Bottom Boys came from. They later added “of Madison County” to highlight their home as well as to avoid confusion with another band. They are an Americana band, influenced by musicians like Gillian Welch, Doc Watson, Dave Rawlings, The Avett Brothers and even the Gaither Vocal Band.
Their goal isn’t necessarily to be the best; it is simply to keep the music going, and the addition of Snyder has aided in that goal.
“The guy can play anything with strings,” said Varner. “He is kind of the musical soul of our group. He has gotten us away from just our guitars and added the element we needed.”
Each member has their own role to play within the group. Snyder is the music man, playing most of the band’s solos. Palmer plays guitar, lends his vocals and has been doing a lot of the band’s booking and outreach. Varner also plays guitar and lends his vocals, and has been a huge asset when it comes to songwriting.
“I’ve always been interested in writing songs,” said Varner. “Writing has always been a creative vehicle for me. It’s almost like a default expression. My time in Scotland allowed me to learn a lot about designing a song and thinking about all of the different parts. Trent, Mike and I just bounce ideas off of each other. It’s super collaborative.”
The band currently has two original songs that they have written and recorded, and eight or nine others are in the process of getting recorded.
“Our hope for this calendar year is to come out with our own EP or at least a six to ten song album of our music,” said Palmer.
The Rock Bottom Boys of Madison County have been regular performers at on-campus events and just recently performed at Porkfest on April 6.
According to CAB member Me’Lada Morgan, the Rock Bottom Boys were the perfect choice for Porkfest because they specialize in bluegrass music. CAB is always looking to add something extra to get students excited about events, and live music is always a crowd-pleaser.
The band will also be performing at this year’s Senior Sendoff on April 27. The Rock Bottom Boys will also play at the Anderson City Market this summer and have played shows at local restaurants in the Fishers and Noblesville community. They are also in the middle of trying to collaborate with Children of Promise, an organization that all three members are passionate about.
“We all have pretty established careers and are very much engrained within this community,” said Palmer. “I can’t really imagine that this is something any more than what we like to do on the side, but it’s still so new that we haven’t gotten to the point where it’s been unmanageable yet.”
With new music in the works and new venues to play, the guys have been keeping busy but don’t forget why they started this group.
“I love having this sense of fellowship with the other guys and having this hobby,” said Varner. “But there is something about participating in this kind of music that you realize there is no other place or way to find that anywhere else. It’s a hard feeling to describe but we just want to keep making this type of music.”