The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow’s ‘homecoming show’

  • The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow Contributed photo

Published: 3/12/2020 9:35:34 AM
Modified: 3/12/2020 9:35:22 AM

If there was ever a fitting title for an album it is “Band Together,” the name of the debut full-length release by The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow. The group, which has roots here in Franklin Country, features five singer-songwriters, yet manages to function as a truly unified band. 

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is Tory Hanna, Billy Keane, David Tanklefsky, Chris Merenda and Greg Smith. The five musicians, who all have solo careers, first came together to play at the Whiskey Treaty Festival at the Arts Block (now Hawks and Reed Performing Arts Center) in Greenfield in 2012. The festival was a success and more shows followed. The musicians never intended to form a band, but there proved to be such a strong spirit of collaboration between them that they eventually became The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow.

The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow will celebrate the release of “Band Together” with a show at the Shea Theater, 71 Avenue A in Turners Falls, Saturday, March 14 at 7:30 p.m.

“Band Together” was recorded in an old factory in Dalton with musician Johnny Irion serving as producer. The album was completed last year, but the band experienced a few setbacks on the road to its release. Pledge Music closed its doors and the group lost thousands of dollars fans had pledged to help make the record. Then, a Los Angeles-based label they had hoped would release the album decided to pass.

But the group, which had previously released two EPs and a live album, knew it had made a great record and the musicians persisted in getting it released. With the help of Blackwing Music, they were able to release “Band Together” on Jan. 7. Their commitment to the project has paid off as the album has received rave reviews from publications like Rolling Stone, American Songwriter and No Depression.

“We are enjoying the beautiful wave that we are currently riding,” said Tory Hanna in a recent phone interview that also included his bandmate, David Tanklefsky. 

“We were hoping that some of our favorite music publications would be interested in the album and help us grow this grassroots audience that we have been building,” said Tanklefsky. “We are really proud of it, so it feels great to get that kind of feedback.”

Tanklefsky resides in Boston, while the rest of the band members live in the Berkshires.

The critical acclaim is well deserved. The five songwriters pool their various influences to create an album on which you’ll hear folk, soul, gospel, country and rock. From the fiercely strummed banjo on Chris Merenda’s “Perfect Day,” the anthemic rock of “Hey, Lady,” a song Billy Keene wrote after being inspired by the 2017 Women’s March in New York, the 10 tracks quickly grab the listener and they never let go. Great harmonies, strong musicianship and an overall spirit of camaraderie further add to the sonic treat that is “Band Together.” 

But you have to ask how does one even make an album with five songwriters on board?

“Basically, everyone brought a bunch of new material and demos to the table and we worked with Johnny to slim down the list,” said Tanklefsky. “We ended up gravitating  toward 10 songs that had the same energy about them and captured what we do.”

Both Hanna and Tanklefsky stressed that it was all about choosing the right songs and not about who the songwriter was. 

“I had one song on the album and Tory had one, while others had more. But nobody felt short shifted,” said Tanklefsky. “Everyone respects each other as songwriters so much that it is not really a numbers game.”

Hanna contributed a foot-stompin’ rocker of a song called “Don’t Cross My Land” about the Standing Rock protests, while Tanklefsky’s tune “Reasons” is a soft, soulful number that benefits from some nice work on the trumpet by Hanna. The addition of the trumpet is something new on “Band Together,” as it joins the electric and acoustic guitars and banjo that’s the foundation of the band’s music. 

Both agree that having Jonny Irion on board as the producer was the right move for this album. 

“There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen when you have five songwriters. We went into it saying we needed an orchestrator,” said Buckland native Hanna, adding that Irion, a fellow Berkshire-based musician, was perfect for the job. 

“Johnny is kind of a whirlwind of energy as are we, and he was a very hands-on producer,” said Tanklefsky, noting that Irion pushed them in directions the group might not have gone if working alone.

Irion also brought in guest musicians Steve Gorman of the Black Crowes to play drums and Pat Sansone of Wilco to add bass. The pair lent more than their musical talents as they gave input into the direction the songs would take. Irion, who is the great-nephew of the late author John Steinbeck, also enlisted his father-in-law Arlo Guthrie to add some harmonica to Hanna’s “Don’t Cross My Land.” 

“He came in and said, ‘Hi, I’m Arlo,’ and I was rather star-struck,” recalled Hanna. “You can’t be a folk musician and not appreciate the Guthrie family.”

Rolling Stone magazine called the song “defiant and driven, laced with everything from harmonica to roadhouse-worthy guitar solos.”

Even though we aren’t far into 2020, the band has already enjoyed some high profile gigs. In January, the group was part of The Rock Boat, a five-day musical cruise led by the band SisterHazel that traveled from Miami to Belize and Honduras. 

“We played every day and did these specialty cabin shows and there’s been crazy spillover. Our social media has been blowing up,” said Hanna in reference to the new fans they won over on the cruise. “It was crazy fun.”

A February appearance on Paste Magazine’s Live at Paste Studios Webcast further boosted the band’s visibility. 

“It felt like you were playing in somebody’s studio,” said Tanklefsky of the experience. “But once we got done, we checked the streams and there was like 10,000 streams. The other thing that was really cool about it was that it connected us with people from all different points of our growth, including a lot of people from Western Mass.” 

“And being that we are totally independent, from the day of the Arts Block to now we are getting these opportunities based on people liking our music,” added Hanna about the shows.

Music-lovers here in Western Mass. have always liked the band’s music and the musicians’ fantastic high energy live shows. Local fans have played a big role in the group’s ever-growing grassroots following. That’s why the Whiskey Treaty Roadshow is excited about the show at the Shea Theater, one that Hanna referred to as “a homecoming of sorts.”

After this show, there’s more touring for the band, which will be performing throughout the east and mid-west in the months ahead.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Tanklefsky about touring, noting that they have families, day jobs and their solo careers. “But it’s worth it. We prioritize the band because being able to tour and bring your music to people — it’s what you dream about.” 

Advance tickets are $18 and available at signaturesoundspresents.com or by phone at 413-341-3317. Tickets at the door are $22. Doors open at 7 p.m. Allison Olender opens.

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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