‘Ride free’: Spirit Family Reunion

  • Spirit Family Reunion. Contributed photo/Rakel Stammer

  • Kalliope Jones Contributed photo

Published: 8/22/2019 8:28:43 AM
Modified: 8/22/2019 8:28:31 AM

The life of a touring musician isn’t always an easy one. Constantly being on the road can take a toll. That was the case with Spirit Family Reunion, a five-piece band from Brooklyn that’s influenced by the traditional sounds of old-timey gospel, folk and bluegrass music.

The band has toured heavily since forming in 2009, playing everywhere from barns to concert halls. It has opened for acts like Levon Helm, Pete Seeger and the Alabama Shakes, establishing itself as s festival favorite thanks to winning performances at festivals like the Newport Folk Festival and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.

But after wrapping up the tour for its second album, 2015’s “Hands Together,” the band, exhausted from the grind of the road, decided to call it quits.

The split didn’t last long and the band is back together with a new album called “Ride Free.” The band is currently in the midst of a brief tour that will stop at Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center at 289 Main St. in Greenfield on Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We were on the road for a long time, touring 100 to 200 shows a year and it was a lot of fun, but we just got burned out by it. We wanted to take some time off to stop being a band,” said vocalist/guitarist Nick Panken in a recent phone interview. “So we all went back to living in New York City and transitioning from being a touring musician into domestic life, which is a strange thing to do.”

But the band — who, in addition to Panken includes Stephen Weinheimer on washboard/bass drum, Maggie Carson on banjo/vocals, Ken Woodward on bass/vocals and Or Zubalsky on drums — had no sooner ended when new songs started coming and the band was anxious to record them. So, with no future plans for touring and without knowing if they would ever be publicly released, the band went into a friend’s studio and started recording.

“We just wanted to see what it would be like because our recordings have always been geared toward enabling touring,” said Panken about the band, which got its start playing on the street. Like most other bands, Spirit Family Reunion followed the formula of making a CD and then going out and touring like crazy.

But making this record was different. There were no expectations and there wasn’t any pressure. The focus was simply to have fun playing. As it turned out, the band was so pleased with the new music that the members wanted their fans to hear it. “Ride Free” was released on Aug 8.

“Because we recorded this without a purpose, I think it ended up being the most genuine translation of the material that we have ever done,” said Panken about the project. “I think in the past we were trying to replicate what people might want to hear if they heard us play on stage.”

“We wanted to listen to what the songs wanted in the studio, so it’s a little bit of a different sound,” he added. “I think it’s a more well-rounded sound.”

“Ride Free” features the uplifting sound we’ve come to expect from Spirit Family Reunion, but it’s not without some sonic departures. There is a bit more experimentation here, with the band bringing in some electric guitar and even adding horns to “Gradual Power,” an optimistic anthem that closes the disc.

Other songs, like the ultra-catchy “Ease My Mind,” showcase the group’s trademark harmonies and, like so many of the band’s tunes, has a great singalong chorus. Other highlights include a cover of the old cowboy tune “Whoopie Ti Yi Yo” and a plucky old-timey song, “When I Get Home.”

Of course, the band’s more traditional influences can be heard throughout the disc.

“I haven’t been into traditional music my entire life, but ever since I was interested in playing music myself and interpreting music it’s always where I’ve gone to because there’s so much feeling and it’s very accessible and simple in some ways,” said Panken.

This past summer was the first summer in eight years that the band didn’t play at festivals and this current tour has only eight dates.

“We gave up caring about keeping up with the Joneses,” he said. “We are just happy to have an album that we are proud of and playing for an audience that wants to hear our music.”

Looking to the future, Panken said the band will just see what happens, but one thing that’s for certain of is that the band’s show at Hawks and Reed Saturday night is a guaranteed good time.

“We try to give out a lot of energy on stage and we expect to get it back from the audience. We love to dance and sing with people,” he said. “We are punk rock energy with an old-time sensibility.”

Izzy Heltai is opening the Spirit Family Reunion Show and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Rashad Brown will be playing Keyboards with Spirit Family Reunion. Advance tickets are $13, $16 day of show. Tickets can be purchased at hawksandreed.com. For more information call 413-774-0150.

Kalliope Jones bids farewell to summer with “Beach Bash, Baby!”

Popular local pop-rockers Kalliope Jones — drummer/vocalist Alouette Batteau, bassist/vocalist Amelia Chalfant and vocalist/guitarist Isabella DeHerdt are bidding a final farewell to summer by hosting a beach-themed show called “Beach Bash, Baby!” at the Ashfield Lake House Friday night beginning at 8 p.m. This show is not only the band’s final show of the summer, it’s also the last show that the band will play for a while as all three women head off to college this fall.

The Lake House is one of the band’s favorite spots to play and is the perfect venue for a beach bash as it’s about as close to a beach as you’ll find in the hilltowns.

And when the band throws a beach bash, these ladies mean business.

“We’ll be playing outside. Isabella’s dad is building us a stage that will be attached to the dock at the Lake House and the audience will be on the beach,” said Batteau of Shelburne Falls about the show. “We are planning to have a bonfire and customized beach balls. People can swim, dance or hang out by the fire.”

In keeping with the beach theme, the band will celebrate the upcoming release of a new song written by Batteau called “Beach Day.”

“This show is going to be a pre-release for “Beach Day,” so we will be doing promo for it, taking pictures and video, ” she said about the song which is the first new release since the group’s EP “Bubblegum Heart” came out last summer. “The song will officially be released on all streaming services Sept. 1.”

The next few months are busy ones for the band members, Batteau is taking off for her freshman year at Vassar College, while Chalfant, also a freshman, is heading to Brown University. DeHerdt a junior, is spending a semester in Spain in conjunction with the Berklee School of Music. Batteau stressed that they are keeping the band together.

“We are definitely staying together and we are already thinking about booking gigs once Isabella gets back, like during breaks or around New Year’s, ” said Batteau adding that the group has been working around DeHerdt’s college schedule for the past couple of years with no problem. ”We are thinking about doing some type of audio or video podcast type of thing where the three of us could talk to each other and answer people’s questions while we are away.”

But before they head off to their studies, Kalliope Jones will rock the Lake House and the band members encourage everyone to come out and celebrate with them. The band Lemon Tree will open the show. Do come out and be prepared to swim, dance, sing and enjoy the final few days of summer. Admission is $5. Doors open at 8 p.m. The Ashfield Lake House is at 141 Buckland Road.

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 soundslocal@yahoo.com

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