Floodwood with special guests Stuttering Ducks The Bluebird, Bloomington, Indiana 9/9/2013
Taking the spirit of traditional bluegrass into the modern era, upstate New York’s Floodwood brought their brand of progressive string music to Bloomington, Indiana’s Bluebird for an evening of soulful songs and joyful sounds. While mixing percussion and a bit of rock mentality with bluegrass instrumentation might raise the eyebrows of traditionalists a room full of grinning faces and dancing feet seemed to know a good idea when they heard it. Located scant blocks from the Indiana University campus, The Bluebird serves as a meeting place for the ever changing student body and a have for locals who live for live music. The club’s spacious environs and tables even serve as desks for the driven academics who still wanted to hear some mighty fine pickin’ and grinnin’! So while quadratic equations and hard drivin’ string music met and merged the crowd achieved a sort of alchemy, minds engaged and spirits lifted.
Opening up the night’s festivities was Pat Fiddle’s Stuttering Ducks, in their duo format. Fiddle switched back and forth from his namesake and the mandolin, while his partner plucked the five string banjo. There are few instruments more identifiable with the type of music played on them than the banjo is to bluegrass. The deeply resonant tone is instantly identifiable, and though it has it’s roots in the African continent, has come to symbolize a southern mentality and sits squarely at the heart of the bluegrass sound. Being such a central instrument to the sound, it’s loss can cripple a band, and Floodwood’s Nick Piccininni found himself that position after his banjo broke the day before at ShoeFest. Luckily, the community of musicians had Nick’s back, and after a quick call went out, Wavy Dave Burlingame, offered his spare up not just for the day but a week or two while repairs are underway. So, properly outfitted, Floodwood took the stage fully armed and ready to entertain, and were greeted by enthusiastic cheers and applause.
Though they have only existed as a group for a short period, the musicians themselves have a rich history together in smaller sections. In fact, Floodwood’s pedigree is like the proverbial 900 pound gorilla in the room. With the aforementioned Piccinni, the band also features Zachary Fleitz on stand up and electric bass and Jason Barady on mandolin, alongside Al Schnier and Vinnie Amico on guitar and drums respectively. If those last two names sound familiar, it’s likely due to their twenty plus years touring the world with celebrated jam band moe. When established musicians pursue outside musical interests there is often an unspoken stigma attached to the “Side Band,” in that people assume either not receiving the players full attention or that it’s a vanity project for the players to dip their toes in a different genre from time to time. As the show progressed, however that illusion was wiped away by the tight musicianship and the effortless musical and personal camaraderie on display. Having just finished an overly successful KickDtarter campaign to fund their latest CD and traveling van, the band has obviously come together as their own force.
Though Schnier seemed to take the reigns of onstage leadership, vocal duties were shared as freely as leads, with each player exchanging looks and jokes with the others in an endearing show of mutual satisfaction. Amico’s jazz brush work on the drums showcased a softer side to his well known ability to thunder above all, while Barady and Piccininni cut through the mix with their sharp tones. Keeping the bottom end squared away and properly thumping, Fleitz’s playing gave a deep end that allowed Schnier’s guitar to stay loose and up in the higher end of the scale. Playing tunes from their new album, “This Is Life,” the band seemed to enjoy the evening as much as the lucky attendees. After a stomping, uproarious demand from the audience for an encore, Schnier took the microphone to thank them for the night’s exceptional reception, and to note the evening’s sad anniversary, 16 years since the death of bluegrass legend and progenitor, Bill Monroe. In his honor, the classic “Molly and Tenbrooks,” a 19th century staple that Monroe and his “Bluegrass Boys” had made all their own. That song was taken by Monroe and made to fit the music of his day, and now, decades later Floodwood did the same.
The spirit of musical evolution is alive, and it’s safe to say it’s lives in Floodwood. Watching them, there seemed to be no sense of the star mentality or any of the negatives from being considered a “Side Band.” In fact, watching these five musicians flow each play off each other so easily, and respond to each other so happily, it’s safe to say they are truly a band in and of themselves.