Sound Local: Rumblebucket comes to The Shea
Green River Festival 2010 was a memorable one. It was the year that Allen Toussaint brought a touch of New Orleans to town, that Cake sang about “long jackets,” and the Felice Brothers played roots music with the thrash and passion of a punk band.
But most of all, it was the year of Rubblebucket. The genre-bending octet swept through what was then called the “dance tent,” blowing the crowds over with a musical storm unlike anything that the festival had ever heard before.
The band, led by singer and saxophonist Kalmia Traver and her partner, trumpet player Alex Toth, played a wild, funky, pop mash-up that sparked a dancing frenzy in the crowd. That first show established a mutual love affair between Rubblebucket and the fans of the Green River Festival.
“I do remember that first festival well,” said Traver in a recent phone interview that occurred while the band was traveling from San Francisco to a gig at the High Sierra Mountain Festival.
“That was an example of people connecting to the music in a way that I would ideally love to have every time we play.”
In response to concert-goers requests, festival talent buyer Jim Olsen made an unprecedented move and invited the band back in 2011 and then again last year.
“That festival never failed to be above and beyond all expectations,” said Traver. “It’s kind of an anomaly. We play festivals all over the country, and at that one there is always such wild energy. It’s pretty awesome. We have always had a solid fan base in western Massachusetts, so maybe it’s a reflection of that.”
This year, Rubblebucket will not play at the festival, but will have the honor of playing the Green River Festival kickoff party at The Shea Theater in Turners Falls on Friday, July 19, at 8 p.m. And the Kids, an acclaimed local band, will open the show.
“I am totally excited for this show,” enthused Traver. “I think we actually play more shows in theaters than festivals, so we are more in our element. Sometimes, theaters tend to be more intimate and more of a journey because at festivals, people are already in party mode.”
Rubblebucket’s beginnings can be traced back to Toth and Traver’s days as music students at the University of Vermont. After graduating, they briefly played in the reggae band John Brown’s Body and then left to form Rubblebucket Orchestra in 2007.
They later dropped orchestra from their name and became more daring in their music making, adopting the philosophy that all musical rules are meant to be broken. The band combines guitar, bass, drums, B-3 organ, percussion and horns to create an Afro-beat roar that has elements of psychedelia, indie rock, funky pop and high-energy dance music.
In 2011, the band, which is based in Brooklyn, released the studio album “Omega La La” and the poppy song “Came Out of a Lady.” The song boosted the group’s profile as it gained airplay and positive press and helped the band land gigs at Bonnaroo and on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
But Rubblebucket remains best known for its frenzied live shows in which it combines the instrumental prowess and spontaneity of a jam band with the energy of a seasoned funk outfit.
This eight-piece band approaches each show like it is the last one it will ever play. By the time they stop, both the band members and the crowd are exhausted.
“We always knew that we wanted to be a band that got people moving and that they would have a significant live experience,” said Traver. “It’s been incredible to see that happen — to feel that we are inspiring people to be creative in their own way. I feel like that is my mission in life these days.”
Anyone who has ever experienced a Rubblebucket show must wonder how the band maintains its high level of energy night after night.
“I think it’s really self-perpetuating. It is a large physical output, but it is so rewarding,” said Traver, who is a dynamic front woman. “After a show, I have such a high energy that it will be two in the morning and I am bouncing off the walls. The hard thing is the sleep deprivation when we are on the road.”
Rubblebucket has maintained an almost constant touring schedule for the past three years and decided to take some time off earlier this year.
“We were wearing ourselves thin and this has given us time to recuperate,” Traver said. “It is also opening up so many doors and windows for us.”
During their down time the band members have been writing and recording and they hope to release an EP in the fall and a full album in the spring of 2014.
“We have been writing and recording like crazy,” Traver said. “We have written so many songs that we say that we are planting seeds and watering them and then will pick the flowers that make the nicest bouquet.”
The band will preview some of these new songs at the festival kickoff show and Traver says that the new songs are very danceable. There will be plenty of room to dance in front of the stage at The Shea.
“Playing new songs is one of the goals of this summer tour,” said Traver. “These shows are also stripped down and raw. (The robots that were part of the band’s stage show have been retired.) At these recent shows, we have had some nice voodoo going on and been really connecting musically, so people can expect that at this show.”
The Shea Theater is located at 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls. Advance tickets are $22.50 and are available at World Eye Bookshop, Main Street, Greenfield and at www.signaturesounds.com. At the door, $25.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org