Mingo Fishtrap started as a side project, when Roger Blevins Jr. asked a few of his friends in the musicians’ dorm at University of North Texas to jam with him. It was supposed to be a diversion from their studies.
Nearly 20 years later, the musicians — who have since dubbed their venture “the Beast” — have no intention of slowing down.
Fresh off a national summer tour, and putting the finishing touches on its fourth full-length album (the follow-up to 2010’s In the Meantime), the Austin-based Mingo Fishtrap returns Tuesday to North Texas, where its musical roots lie. The band will perform a New Year’s Eve show at Fort Worth’s Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge.
“I was just kind of missing the stuff that I grew up listening to, you know, all the soul music,” says bandleader/guitarist Blevins, recalling his college days in UNT’s competitive music program. “It’s a pretty intense school over there, so it was nice just to do something [Mingo Fishtrap] that wasn’t for a grade.”
Riffing on old soul tunes, the group didn’t have a name until Blevins extrapolated one from a Denton intersection: Mingo and Fishtrap road.
“There were never any thoughts of, like, ‘Let’s do this thing and take it worldwide,’ ” says saxophonist Dan Bechdolt. “It’s like, ‘Let’s just get together and play some funk tunes.’ ”
Mingo Fishtrap is an eight-piece band, with the current line-up consisting of Blevins Jr., Bechdolt, vocalist/organist/keyboardist Dane Farnsworth, drummer Chip Vayenas, percussionist Mikel Urdy, bassist Roger Blevins Sr., trumpeter Steve Butts and trombonist Zol Waterhouse.
In 2000, the members of Mingo Fishtrap picked up and moved to Austin to begin the journey that would turn them from a student jam band into an act on the national festival circuit. (All of the members of Mingo Fishtrap are currently based in Austin.)
“The band, in Denton, functioned as a student project but as the guys started graduating from the university one at a time, it became less and less of a reasonable long-term thing to stay located in Denton,” Waterhouse says. “The band looked into Dallas/Fort Worth as possible home cities, but Austin just had too much to offer as far as live music goes … gigs everywhere, famous producers live down there, and it’s just a legendary place. We decided that we needed to be near that hub.”
Shortly after moving to Austin, the band released its second album (2000’s From the Private Bag, following its 1997 debut Succotash), and “the Beast” that is Mingo Fishtrap started to gain momentum.
“I refer to the band as ‘the Beast’ a lot,” Bechdolt says, jokingly. “We had to feed the Beast, because the Beast took on a life of its own. It’s all about word of mouth. This summer, we were out feeding the Beast. We were out for two months, and the Beast was hungry.”
Mingo Fishtrap has played with big contemporary acts such as Robert Randolph, Trombone Shorty, Dumpstaphunk, MOFRO and Galactic, in addition to legends like Parliament, Sting, Little Feat, Sheryl Crow and Earth, Wind & Fire.
Superstars aside, what does Mingo Fishtrap most look forward to about coming home for the holidays?
“Friendly faces — people who have followed us for years and years,” Blevins Jr. says. “It’s always nice, kinda like coming home.
“When you’re at home, people sing the words to your tunes, and they know you on a different, more intimate level.”