Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem to perform in benefit concert for Whately Town Hall renovation

  • Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem will perform a benefit concert at the Whately Congregational Church on Sunday, April 22, at 4 p.m. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman

  • Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem will perform a benefit concert at the Whately Congregational Church on Sunday, April 22, at 4 p.m. Contributed photo/Joanna Chattman

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Whately needs a little help to finish creating its new Whately Community Center in the now-vacant Town Hall.

So who better to call than Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, the wildly popular band that’s hard to pigeonhole because it soars so high with “newgrass” to gospel, with a down-home, traditional groove that’s just right for this kind of grassroots community building project.

The band will perform at a benefit to support the $1.5 million renovation of Whately’s 1844 Town Hall that will turn it into a community center. The benefit is planned for April 22 at 4 p.m. in the Whately Congregational Church. Tickets are available at www.whatelyhistorical.org

Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem could almost be described as Franklin County’s house band — even though three of its four members live elsewhere (Middletown, Conn., and Northampton) because it has a laid-back yet spirited feel and an almost magical mood that The Boston Globe has called “playful and profound.”

But categorizing its blend of contemporary and traditional, fun and serious music is none to easy.

Arbo, in a 2015 interview published in a newsletter for Marblehead’s Me & Thee Coffeehouse, came closest: “Eclectic, fun, deep.”

The same defiance of commercial labeling was true also for Salamander Crossing, the bluegrass-folk band that Arbo and bass player Andrew Kinsey created in 1991, after an impromptu jam at Amherst’s Fretted Instrument Workshop while waiting for a John Hartford workshop that never materialized. Instead, Arbo, a 1990 Amherst College graduate from New York City, and Kinsey, who was working at the shop at the time, made music “and it was fun enough that we said, ‘Let’s do it again next week,’” Kinsey recalled.

“The good news/bad news was no one could categorize what we did. That made it hard to label us,”” said Kinsey, who lives in Ashfield and hung on when Rani Abro & daisy mayhem launched in 2000 “with a wider palette” that came to include Arbo’s husband, percussionist Scott Kessel, along with guitarist Anand Nayak.

Seventeen years and seven recordings later, with plenty of touring and concertizing along the way, including at the Newport Folk Festival, the California World Music Festival and the Green River Festival, Kinsey reflected, “It’s nutty that we’re still doing this. We made a conscious decision after Salamander Crossing broke up that we really wanted this to fit in our lives, rather than to fit our lives around the band.”

With the realities of raising families, changes in the recording industry and Arbo’s bout with cancer more than a decade ago, “it’s more like a part of our life,” Kinsey said.

Even though there was, with the 2007 release of “Big Old Life” a conscious mission to have “fun that’s more serious,” including a healthy dose of “agnostic gospel” blended with its life-affirming spirituality, the eclectic style of the group is loaded with energy, fun, joyous sensuality and rich harmonies.

Much of that energy comes from Nyak’s groove playing his “Drumship Enterprise,” which includes various boxes, cat food tins, a cookie tin and a suitcase, Anand’s licks on electric and acoustic guitars, Kinsey’s versatile and grounded bass, banjo and ukulele, and of course Arbo, who Acoustic Guitar said is “blessed with an unmistakable voice, both light and sultry, with a hint of tremolo and smoke.”

Holding it together are tight harmonies that Arbo said are probably rooted in her singing from age 8 in the chorus in New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine, with 30 hours of rehearsals and services each week.

How Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem, who’ve been favorites at West Whately’s Watermelon Wednesdays series, wind up feeling so at home at the Whately benefit concert is pretty natural, Kinsey said.

“We have longevity because we haven’t pushed too hard,” he said. “We follow our instincts and we accept where that takes us.”