The Marcus Center's second annual outdoor music series, Live at Peck Pavilion, is coming to a close with only two performances remaining. The first of the final two concerts is Brooklyn-based homegrown American band, Spirit Family Reunion, on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m. Yesterday afternoon, Aug. 16, guitarist Nick Panken took the time to share a bit about the band's music and what makes their homegrown American music so unique and timeless in an industry set by passing fads.
Spirit Family Reunion originated in 2008 and is comprised of Panken, fiddle player Mat Davidson, drummer Peter Pezzimenti, bassist Ken Woodward, banjo player Maggie Carson, and washboard player Stephen Weinheimer. Panken, Carson, and Weinheimer knew each since high school, while Davidson, Pezzimenti, and Woodward joined the trio after doing some work in jazz music.
This will be the band's first time performing in Milwaukee, and their second time perfroming anywhere in Wisconsin (Madison being their first). Spirit Family Reunion started playing in New York farmers markets and subway stations and have now progressed to touring nationwide. This transition has been a trying, gradual one as Panken confesses,
The first time we [toured] it was like 'Oh my God, can we do this?! And it was kind of amazing and also a disaster. The first tour was only about 11 days but it felt like two months.
He went on to say that they love to travel and that the more they're touring, the less exaggerated the timeframe feels. The transition from playing street corners to stages came gradually as booking agencies would like what they found on the Spirit Family Reunion Myspace page, which eventually led to return trips to different states, which led to wider acknowledgement of their talents and, therefore, more traveling and touring.
We're taking another step which is good to keep going, keep trying.
It's no wonder that Spirit Family Reunion keeps getting asked back to venues across the nation, since they are constantly praised as having a timeless, homegrown American sound. Each of the six band members grew up on various types of music from banjo to punk rock to dixie jazz, and they have managed to fuze their tastes and come to a middle ground to create their own sound.
It just kind of comes out... We meet in the middle which is music that is inspired by traditional American music. Blues, folk... a mix-match of all that stuff.
Panken went on to say that they all listen to and respect other musicians and musical styles, but that, as a band, they don't follow typical rules. In spite of their varying tastes and backgrounds, they find common ground in The Band. Though they don't consider themselves modeled after The Band, Panken says they admire their versatility in using a range of instruments and sounds.
We aspire to have that kind of diversity in our sound.
They certainly have a diversity in their music and are set apart from other bands of our time while still appealing to an intergenertional audience. It's far more important to the band members of Spirit Family Reunion to have a small audience that enjoys their music for the genuine nature of it, than a massive crowd who listens to them because they're trending. Panken says that ignoring popular trends is helpful when trying to create timeless music. He explained,
Even as a politician or car salesman or a band, you can tell when somebody's trying to appeal to what's fashionable in the moment and that changes a year from now. That's not timeless, it's just fashionable. Good songs have a genuine message, not some sappy kind of bland message, but a genuine message.
This performance at the Marcus Center's Peck Pavilion will be Spirit Family Reunion's only Milwaukee performance on their current tour, and they will only be returning to Wisconsin for a show in Madison on Oct. 23. For more information on Spirit Family Reunion, visit http://www.spiritfamilyreunion.com/. For more information on the Live at Peck Pavilion series, visit http://www.marcuscenter.org/series/?series_name=live-at-peck/ or http://www.examiner.com/article/red-baraat-wants-milwaukee-dancing-at-the-peck-pavilion?cid=db_articles.
I hope that [newcomers] don't have any expectations except just to have a good time and hopefully dance and sing a little bit and be in the moment with us.