The Stray Birds - Chapel Hill

Comrades and music lovers, heed a young music journalist’s call this Saturday, May 4th at Carrboro’s The ArtsCenter, as a trio of harmonious troubadours takes the intimate stage in what is sure to be an enchanting performance.  The Stray Birds, hailing from Lancaster, Pennsylvania will be in town and set to warm ears and hearts around 8pm.  Tickets are set at the moderate price of $14, and for those unfamiliar with The ArtsCenter (located at 300-G East Main Street in Carrboro) it really is a special place.  I can say from personal experience that the acoustics in the building are fantastic, and should lend nicely to The Stray Birds specifically.  Now, onto a tidbit about the Birds.

In a generation where music is progressively dominated by enhancements in technology, Americana has remained one of my favorite listening friendly genres.  This blend of folk, country, and bluegrass is rich; it is music for the soul.  The Stray Birds consist of Maya de Vitry, Oliver Craven and Charles Muench, and each member shares one vocal microphone in order to create angelic harmony.  The vocals are spun over stand-up baselines courtesy of Muench, and their latest album release, which is aptly self-titled, has received some strong praise, including the garnishment of being named one of the top ten Folk/Americana albums of 2012 by National Public Radio.

Unfamiliar with Americana? Let me try to jog your memory with some names you may recognize: Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Jackie Greene, Alison Krauss, The Avett Brothers, Jerry Douglas, and Old Crow Medicine Show.  The list goes on, but the point I’m making is that Americana artists are special, they are storytellers and the genre itself is rooted in homey folklore; something residents of this part of the country should be keen to appreciate.  I have mentioned my attraction specifically to unique voices. They call to me more so than any other lone instrument, and this Saturday will be a chance for patrons to indulge in the type of singing that is hard to turn away from.  I implore you all to come and see an exceptional Americana group on the rise add their names to the aforementioned list of greats in their ascent to success.

Included below is a link to The Stray Bird’s “Twenty-Five to Life” — just one example of the homey melody and folk play that I have touched on above.  I hope you are looking forward to Saturday as much as I am, and as always, see you at the show!

The Stray Birds – “Twenty-Five to Life”

Lotus - Cat's Cradle

Let me start out by saying that at times I have been somewhat resistant to the tidal wave of electronica and the newfangled dub-step craze that fascinates the youth. However, I am never one to discount true talent and musicianship, and thus my opinions and preferences on what some have dubbed “Jamtronica” have changed through the years, and continue to shift as the musical landscape evolves. Lotus is a prime example of this transition, bridging areas of instrumental musical expertise and digital innovation to create a truly unique sound.

Lotus, formed in 1999 at Goshen College in Indiana has been pioneering the electronic sound on the jam scene that now influences countless national touring acts from their inception. As I was enjoying the sights and sounds of my most recent Lotus experience at Cat’s Cradle on a late February evening, I took note of two specific points of interest that have perhaps helped sustain and expand the brand of live sound that Lotus boasts.

Firstly, I took specific interest on how the band kept the Chapel Hill crowd interested throughout the show. This may sound like a no-brainer, but for an electronic act it really isn’t. Without lyrics in their songs, bands like Lotus have to find other ways to keep the crowd energy in flux. Imagine if a DJ at a nightclub were to play the same song on repeat. Regardless of how melodic or dance friendly it is — that simply does not work. The crowd will get restless, bored, and eventually lose interest entirely. While this is not at all the case with a Lotus show, it is an effective analogy in demonstrating just how talented an electronic artist actually has to be to keep things moving.

The composition of their tunes is always similar. There will always be a back drum beat; there will always be eclectic guitar and keyboard riffs that float in and out, almost teasing the senses until the ultimate drop and subsequent climax in their given song. The intricacies of the songs are what captures the attendee’s attention, and help build the “what comes next” anticipation that vitalizes a live show. This is something that Lotus has absolutely mastered. While “Jamtronica” acts are popping up on festival scenes right and left these days, Lotus has had over a decade to refine their sound.

And it shows. In order to alternate the pace of the music, and control the crowd, Lotus uses trancelike building sounds on the keys and quickly paced repetitive drum strokes. Lotus is able to do something that I identify to be a staple of all great bands, which is create tension followed by release. Peaks and valleys of speed and complexity really let a listener get lost in the groove.

Secondly, I was keen to always examine their light show and the way they use it as another instrument in the band. Since the sounds coming from the stage are often intermingled and similar, lacking a definitive starting or stopping point, Lotus uses their lights as another weapon in their arsenal to dominate eye sockets and keep people’s feet moving. Since Lotus’ sound is driven by the backbeat, their lights are always in rhythm until like the other pieces of the band; they too indulge in a solo per se. The lights flooded out over the Cradle crowd in a stunning fashion, which is something I was skeptical of having never seen Lotus in a small venue, but the band had no problem adjusting. The Cat’s Cradle was the most crowded I have seen it in recent months, and the body of the crowd lent nicely to the light show, creating a human canvas for the band to work with. The mood was set masterfully all night long by the Hoosier state 5-piece. I cannot stress how critical of an element this plays at this type of endeavor, for without a high energy, consistently stirring dance floor, the concert implodes altogether. It is like capturing lightning in a bottle, and being able to sustain that lighting for an entire evening. Not an easy task.

Overall, Lotus delivered a show which stands testament to the power of musical innovation. I have been slowly and cautiously stepping out of my own comfort zone of live musical preference for years now, and the rewards of discovery have been priceless. I would urge everyone to step out and give bands like Lotus a shot to deliver the “wow” attitude that I left the Cat’s Cradle with. Lotus heads out to the west coast to conclude their spring tour, before hitting the festival circuit this summer. For more info on their music and my experience there, please contact me!

Until next time folks, see you at the show!