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Folk Festival 2016

BrownxRISD

Folk Festival 2016

Katherine Chavez

Original image courtesy of John Phelan

Interviews by Katherine Chavez and Jake Goodman

The annual Brown Folk Festival took place on April 22nd and 23rd this year at the Pembroke Field House and Lincoln Field, both on Brown’s campus. Amidst early, rainy weather on Saturday, the sun came out to shine on a series of exciting yet soothing performances. B-Side interviewed four of the many groups who performed and discovered that most of them rarely locate themselves solely in the folk genre.

***

Chasing Blue

Michael Reese – guitar and vocals

Maggie Mackay – banjo

Laura Orshaw – mandolin

Danny Musher – fiddle

Kat: Where are all of you from?

“We all live in Boston for the most part, except for Danny who lives down here.”

Kat: How would you guys describe yourselves and your genre?

“Bluegrass.”

“With a little bit of swing thrown in there...some country.”

“Yeah, with a twist of rock n’ roll.”

“But yeah...Bluegrass.”

Kat: How did you all get together to form the group?

Maggie: “So Michael and I met in a Bluegrass group at Berklee College of Music, which is also where we met our bass player. At a festival about four years ago we met Danny. And then Laura joined about 2 years ago.”

Jake: So you were all Berklee students?

“Yeah, at one time the entire band was all Berklee students.”

Kat: How was your experience just now playing at Folk Fest?

“It was great! The sun came out!”

“Coming to a college Folk Fest, you know it’s gonna be a good time. The sound was really good--the tech, the crew. And the audience was really nice. It’s hard not to be surrounded by good people when it’s not -20 out and snowing.”

Jake: Was this your first time playing here in Providence?

“No, we play here a lot. There’s a really good emerging Bluegrass outdoor venue in Providence at Nick-A-Nees on Wednesday nights every week. We play that probably about 4 or 5 times a year. There are a lot of really good [local] bands coming through there.”

“Yeah, it’s cool. Providence has a great scene of people.”

Kat: Since you guys first started the group, how do you think your sound has changed?

“The big change was really getting Laura in here as our new vocalist. Our other lead singer was more of a rock singer and Laura is more traditional.”

Laura: “For me coming into the band I noticed the vocal stylings at that point were maybe more from a folky-blues rock perspective of people who wanted to play bluegrass and acoustic music and so the balances and influences were a little heavier. It was still something like Bluegrass, but it had this other flavor of stuff. Being around the scene, pitching yourself as a bluegrass band, and being part of that community, you start sounding more like that genre, instead of an eclectic mix. And I really only bring Bluegrass to the band--so I tip the scale quite a bit.”

Jake: So folk music is kind of coming back in a sense. Some people are saying it’s like a ‘mini Renaissance.’ With big bands like The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons getting really popular, do you think that’s helped with your own appeal?

“For sure. We get a lot of people requesting us for weddings and stuff because they’re such big Mumford and Sons fans.”

“There’s a huge Bluegrass community that’s always been there and still is there and all this music [like Mumford and Sons] is all that that community listens to and plays on a daily basis. But I feel like more people have learned about that music.”

“It’s more exposure. If you can get thousands and thousands of people learning what a banjo sounds like, you might get a few hundred of those people who are like ‘Oh, maybe I wanna learn how to play the banjo.’ Then maybe they might start listening to artists like David Grisman and Tony Rice, and then they might get into more obscure stuff. It really is only good for the smaller genres to get that kind of exposure.”

“You know there’s a community of Rock, Metal, Funk, and R&B, but there’s an aspect of Bluegrass that is a little more inviting in terms of family-style jams. Playing music after dinner in the living room is a common thing with Bluegrass. When I got to Berklee, I played in a lot of small contemporary [Jazz] groups, but then I realized a lot of that isn’t as fun as the back-home feeling of Bluegrass. So being in a band you have to take that really relaxed aspect of music and try to hone in on the arrangements and become professional.”

“With the ‘folk revolution,’ a lot of Bluegrass players don’t really care for the popular artists like Mumford and Sons because it’s not really in that [relaxed, family-style] realm. They have a kickdrum and a banjo, but it’s not really like a Bluegrass [sound].”

Kat: Are you guys touring right now or focusing on your new album?

“We’re trying to finish up this album. We’ve been in the studio working on that, but a lot of us have groups that we’re working with on the side. Schedules get really busy. Mike has his own home studio taking in a pipeline of kids coming out of Berklee who want to do their first CD. Really the good thing about recording our own album is that we can do whatever we want, but also the bad thing about recording our own album is that we can do whatever we want.”

“We’re still doing a lot of local shows, and local festivals, and playing a lot of weddings, but our main priority right now is to finish the new record...something that can really be on Spotify and iTunes.”

***

The Novel Ideas

Daniel Radin - guitars, vocals

Danny Hoshino - guitars, pedal steel, vocals

Sarah Grella - vocals

James Parkington - bass guitar, vocals

Karl Grohmann - drums

Kat: Where are you all from?

“Boston.”

Kat: How was your experience at Folk Fest?

Sarah: “Great!”

“We love playing outdoors. Last summer we played outside so many times. This was like the first outdoor show we’ve had [in awhile].  We [even] once played a folk fest on a cruise ship, which was technically outdoors.”

Kat: Can you tell me a little bit about how you would define your sound?

“Our go-to genres are: Folk, Country, Americana. Consider ourselves a folk group, but we have elements of Country and Americana.”

Kat: Can you tell me a little about how you guys got together as a group?

Danny: “Daniel and I have known each other since Kindergarden. We played in high school together...and then after college we started working on a album which became our first CD which is called “Home.” During that process, James got involved because he went to PC with Daniel. Sarah we met on the internet. And then Karl joined over a year ago.”

Kat: How do you think your music has changed over time?

Daniel: “When [“Home”] came out, there really wasn’t a band [at that point], so adding more members and starting to play live more totally changed how we write songs and arrange songs. Especially when Sarah joined, she took over a lot of lead vocals and James joined and taught us how to write harmonies--we we’re really terrible at it [before]. I played drums on [“Home”] and I’m definitely not a drummer; having Karl in the band has brought us to a new level. We have a new EP that just came out that’s recorded live as a band; it’s really nice to showcase that these songs have been written with playing live in mind.”

Kat: Any favorite experiences while performing or traveling together?

“We had a really great experience in Colorado at this gig called the Four Corners Folk Festival. It was the most intense audience I think we’ve ever played for. Not that the students at Brown weren’t intense.”

“I think I’ve crossed off a few bucket list venues I’ve wanted to play with this band...The Iron Horse in Northampton, The Sinclair, Port City in Portland, Maine. Doing festivals and college shows...also bucket list shows.”

“We’re about to do a west coast run of shows...in July...I’m really excited to play in LA, San Francisco...the west coast.”

Kat: Anything else you would want to tell people about yourselves?

“We’re geared up to do a full studio album that hopefully will be out this year.”

***

You Won’t

Josh Arnoudse – vocals, guitar

Raky Sastri – drummer

Kat: Where are you all from?

“We both grew up in Eastern Mass.”

Kat: How was your experience performing here?

“It was a very friendly crowd. Very toasty up there. We’ve been to Providence before, and the general experience here [before] wasn’t the friendliest welcome. This was by far the friendliest show we’ve played in Providence.”

Jake: “Where have you played in Providence?”

“We’ve played Fete...Lupo’s, opening for Deer Tick.”

“We’ve never played Columbus Theatre but I like that place, the room is awesome.”

Kat: Why do you say your experience in Providence hasn’t been great before?

“I’m generalizing...but people were just rude. [But] this [Folk Festival] was like a whole new world.”

Jake: So do you find the Providence and Boston music scenes to be quite different?

“I don’t know what’s really going on around here. I get the sense that there is a scene here, but there are only pockets of a scene in Boston.”

Kat: How did you guys start playing together?

“We’ve known each other since high school. We did a lot of film and video projects. We were always both writing songs, but we weren’t playing together until about 2008 or 2009. There was a gradual movement towards trying to make something we both did and showed together to something we actually did together.”

Kat: What are your plans for the future?

“We’re putting out a new record on the 29th...it’s called “Revolutionaries,” it’s our second record. We’re doing a tour around that, starting on the East Coast and the Midwest and then eventually making our way to the West Coast.”

Jake: So folk music is kind of coming back in a sense. Some people are saying it’s like a ‘mini Renaissance.’ With big bands like The Lumineers and Mumford and Sons getting really popular, do you think that’s helped with your own appeal?

“Uh...no.”

“It might have gotten us some shows, but it probably hasn’t helped us career wise. We opened a handful of shows for The Lumineers...that was a cool experience.”

“Maybe sounds weird because we just played the Folk Festival, but I don’t really think we’re a folk band. I understand why people make that association...it has to do with how our melodies sound and how I sing...our first record had a lot of acoustic guitar on it.”

Kat: You don’t have to classify yourselves, but what do you feel your music is? How would you define it?

“I try to give people a description, rather than try to come up with a combination of genres. More like ‘we’re a two piece, the core of the band is drums and guitar, songs are really melodic, we like things to be pretty fuzzed out, kinda upbeat’”

“I feel like we’re somewhere between folk and punk….there’s like acoustic guitars, but they're generally distorted acoustic guitars.”

Kat: How do you think your music has changed over time?

“A lot! In part because we’ve both grown a lot. Also I think when you’re doing something as the thing that you’re doing, necessarily it changes a lot. There was a period where we were both just writing songs in our bedrooms and as we’ve started to play shows and be informed by that experience, I think the sound has changed a lot and...just bringing the energy of our live show and trying to translate that back both into the  recordings, but also I think Josh was writing songs for the first time for this record after spending a couple years playing the old songs on the road. I think doing that informed the kind of songs he was interested in writing.”

“Also we’re a lot louder...from having to play live.”

***

The Bones of J.R. Jones

Jonathon Linaberry, from Central NY but currently lives in Brooklyn

Jake: Is this your first time in Providence?

“Yeah! I was just talking to a local who was giving me lots of tips on where to go.”

Jake: So what brought you to Brown’s Folk Festival?

“I met a fellow named Josh who emailed me originally and [asked for me to play] and I was happy to oblige.”

Jake: But you’re mostly in the New York music scene?

“Yeah, well I travel a lot and it’s funny because I love living and being from the Northeast, but it’s always like when I leave and tour it’s always like the Midwest or the South.”

Jake: So I noticed your music has more of a blues influence than the other acts in the festival. Where would you say that comes from?

“I think I probably was turned onto the blues when I was about 18 or 19. I was given a 4 disc set called ‘American Roots Music’ from my Dad, it was a bunch of Alan Lomax...he did a lot of field recordings, a lot of chain gang like prison songs...he recorded like Son House and Robert Johnson. He searched these guys out and did a lot of home recordings. So yeah I think that’s what really turned me onto the blues.”

Jake: I’m sure you’re at least somewhat of a Jack White fan then, right?

“Yeah for sure! I’m not a fan of everything he does, but I think he definitely was a good thing for music when he first came onto the scene with The White Stripes, produced a lot of records with Third Man Records…”

Jake: He’s been really influential, along with other guys like Gary Clark Jr. in reviving Blues. Do feel like you’re part of that revival, or Renaissance?

“I’d be flattered if I was part of that. I mean, music just like everything else is cyclical--things come in and out of fashion, and there are certain American genres that I don’t think will ever die, Blues being one of them. For me, [the Blues] are so raw and so emotional a lot of people relate to it and there’s a reason why it thrives and you get these little pockets. Obviously, Jack White started that revolution with things like garage blues, and then Gary Clark Jr came along and even The Black Keys...there are a couple of bigger artists out there who are doing some really incredible stuff Blues wise. When I set out to play music, I definitely don’t think about them, but they have informed a lot of what I do.”

Jake: Sometimes there’s a very stark division between folk and blues, and sometimes it’s harder to tell. How do you see that division between the two genres?

“It’s weird. I always feel like… I have mixed feelings about [playing folk festivals] because there’s this ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ and like you said, divisions. There’s always the ‘truists’ who won’t leave that genre of [bluegrass]. But for me that feels --on a personal and artistic level--kind of onenote. For me to feel good about what I do, I try to take all the Americana that I love so much and put it all into one thing.”

Jake: Who would you say are the big artists or acts you draw from in the folk and blues categories?

“Well for contemporary acts--which I force myself to listen to because it seems all the time I end up listening to dead guys basically--I would say Valerie June. She does a really good job of bridging the folk and old blues. [Even] the Avett Brothers...they definitely bring an element of punk rock to the folk tradition, but keep it on acoustic guitar, which is always a lot of fun.”

Jake: So you played slide guitar, which is becoming more popular than it used to be. How do you think that style changes how you approach the instrument?

“Well I’m self-taught, so really for me I just love the sound the slide makes--it’s like this wailing, like something is howling on your guitar. When I set out to write a song in slide, the tunings I use are variations on open Gs and Ds and so usually...when I write I song...the slide for me fulfills that need thatt I can’t do vocally, that’s the sound that mimics the feeling for me.”

Jake: So where are you at with new records and touring?

“I just put out a new record actually called ‘Spirit’s Furnace’ last week. I also just got back from tour with G. Love and Special Sauce. I’m home now and I’m kind of doing these one off shows [in Brooklyn].”

Jake: So what’s your first impression of Providence and playing here at Brown?

“Well it’s tough for me to say. This was an outdoor festival, and I usually don’t play outdoor festivals. As a musician, outdoor festivals are kind of hit-or-miss--the crowd is always 50 yards back, the sound can be kind of awful, and you’re on stage and you can’t tell.   

But Providence seems awesome and the people have been wonderful.”