MusicReview

The Strumbellas Introduce Folk Pop Grass to Johnny D’s

Alexandra Kowal ’14 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Strumbellas 1
The Strumbellas. Photo Credit: Alex Kowal, Emertainment Monthly

Located in Somerville’s Davis Square, Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and Music Club live music scene always appears to be bustling with music continually pouring out of the venue.

On October 8th, Johnny D’s hosted Canadian folk pop grass band, The Strumbellas, as well as Indiana-based Traveling Broke and Out of Gas. The venue was small, meaning that practically everyone had a good view of the stage which facilitated a sort of “buddy” atmosphere. The performers were never far away and could interact with the audience as much as they wanted to.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of an audience at first. Perhaps it was because it was a Wednesday night. Perhaps “folk pop grass” proved to be too niche of a musical genre. Luckily, more patrons arrived as the night went on.

As the opening band, Traveling Broke and Out of Gas began the concert. It was the first time the Indiana-based band had performed in Boston and they gave it everything they had. The strumming solos and harmonica playing were impressive; the use of a washboard in a few of their songs was a nice variation on the usual instruments. The washboard especially gave them a unique sound.

The singing was pleasant as well, but it was when they showed off their ability to harmonize that the songs really took on a life of their own. Occasionally, the male lead singer would break out a raspy voice, which sounded very much like screaming. The music might have benefitted from more harmonization and less of that.

However, the band kept high energy throughout their performance and even unveiled a brand new song. “Take the Dime,” which hasn’t been recorded yet, was a mellow tune with nice guitar and harmonica solos. Another song that stood out was about cold beer in the summer; the lyrics were catchy and the audience was treated to an intense drum solo.

Afterwards, The Strumbellas took to the stage. More people had arrived for the main band, which only improved the performance. Much of the charm of the concert came from the interaction between the listeners and the bands. The Strumbellas frontman, Simon Ward, really engaged the audience. He joked about the band looking like people who would only do Meatloaf covers, and self-deprecatingly declared himself a diva before requesting for more volume on the lead vocals. The audience was constantly left laughing between songs. The violinist, Isabel Ritchie, would also often throw in her two cents and the dynamic between the two was very entertaining.

The Strumbellas were experts in harmonizing, and the occasional violin solos were very exciting. The band even inspired people to dance on the tiny dance floor in front of the stage. Likely, the power of the songs came from their deeply personal nature: Simon sang a beautiful, sad song about his dad, while another song was inspired by his grandfather’s experience in World War II. The Strumbellas, like Traveling Broke and Out of Gas, chose to premiere a new song as well – “Shovels and Dirt.” It had a mournful sound at first until it gained momentum and volume.

The Strumbellas. Photo Credit: Alex Kowal / Emertainment Monthly
The Strumbellas. Photo Credit: Alex Kowal / Emertainment Monthly

The folk music of both bands was relatable and really lent itself to dancing, with its energy and rhythm. However, everything seemed to sort of blend together. There appeared to be only two styles of folk songs – extremely energetic or a slow blues drawl. Often, the songs would be a combination of both, transitioning from a mellow sound into an energetic frenzy. Besides a few songs, the sound was very similar and the songs were hard to tell apart. Nothing particularly stood out.

The best thing about the concert was that it felt like concertgoers were already fast friends with the performers. Both bands were personable and engaging with the audience throughout the night. The song lyrics were relatable, often conveying deeply personal experiences, with music that expressed vivid emotions.

Overall, The Strumbellas and Traveling Broke and Out of Gas were great performers and fun bands. However, you really have to appreciate folk music for the songs to make a huge impression.

Learn more about The Strumbellas on their website. 

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