Kirk Rundstrom R.I.P.

class=img_thumbleft>Kirk Rundstrom, guitarist/singer for the Wichita, Kansas bluegrass band Split Lip Rayfield, passed away today following a yearlong battle with esophageal cancer. He was 38.

From the Split Lip Rayfield website:

"With great sadness we must announce that our bandmate, friend and brother Kirk Rundstrom has lost his battle. Anybody who knew Kirk knew that he had more zest than all of us. He truly had an ethereal spirit. We have been proud and impressed with the way he went out on his own terms. It wasn't easy, it wasn't fair, and it sure as hell isn't right, but he was an inspiration. We love him and will miss him."

Split Lip Rayfield formed in 1995 and quickly became one of the most beloved bluegrass bands in the country. They are best known as creators of "the Stitchgiver," a one-string upright bass built from a Ford gas tank, but are equally admired for their lightning-fast bluegrass style and relentless live shows. They toured exhaustively and came through Minneapolis many times, usually to Lee's Liquor Lounge, where they developed a sizeable following. Full history and audio samples are available at their website.

Rundstrom learned of his illness in early 2006 while on tour in Colorado, after seeking medical attention for a pain in his throat. In April, a handful of local Twin Cities bands that share Split Lip's taste for punk-country threw a benefit concert at Lee's to help with Rundstrom's medical bills. That summer, the band agreed to call it quits to give their guitarist the time and rest he needed to recover. Rundstrom soon realized that the only thing that made him feel better was playing music, however, and by August the band was back on the road. At the time, Rundstrom was so weak from chemotherapy that he had to re-learn how to play the guitar.

The band played their final Minneapolis show on Thursday, November 2, 2006. The crowd was large and enthusiastic, with shouts of "We love you Kirk!" ringing out between every song.

The band continued to tour despite concerns for Rundstrom's health, until a severe downturn forced them to cancel all dates last week.

Rundstrom played with several groups in addition to Split Lip Rayfield, including Scroat Belly, the Kirk Rundstrom Band, and Grain & Demise. Memories of Kirk and his music can be posted in the comments.

UPDATE: A nice tribute to Kirk from