The Marcus Center's outdoor music series, Live at Peck Pavilion, has been introducing Milwaukee to some of the best up-and-coming performers from New York to Leeds, England. Last night, Aug. 20, New York's homegrown American band, Spirit Family Reunion, made their first appearance in Milwaukee at the Peck Pavilion. Chicago musician Al Scorch opened for the band for forty minutes, followed by about an hour and a half performance from Spirit Family Reunion.
Al Scorch showcased his incredible banjo skills while singing songs about everything from busking to long distance relationships. It was impossible for the Milwaukee audience to dislike Scorch as he emitted such a happy, congenial personality both between and during songs. Spirit Family Reunion's Ken Woodward and Stephen Weinheimer joined Scorch at the end of his set, transitioning to the main event.
Spirit Family Reunion is comprised of vocalist/guitarist/harmonica player Nick Panken, vocalist/accordion/fiddle player Mat Davidson, drummer Peter Pezzimenti, bassist Ken Woodward, vocalist/banjo player Maggie Carson, and percussionist/washbord player Stephen Weinheimer. In a recent interview with Panken (http://www.examiner.com/article/spirit-family-reunion-to-bring-timeless-homegrown-american-sound-to-milwaukee?cid=db_articles), he said that they aspire to have diversity in their sound and that,
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.
Milwaukee witnessed this musical mix-match and couldn't help but tap their feet and nod their heads along. It's incredible to watch such a multi-talented group of musicians come together to create a unified sound that works so well. Every individual band member had relentless energy and connection to the tone of each song. It is particularly moving to hear Carson, Davidson, and Panken's voices blend perfectly to create the pure, timeless sound for which the band is known. Panken performs the majority of the vocal solos and has a unique, cutting, raspy voice comparable to that of Paolo Nutini with a deep southern twist. However, it's apparent that Spirit Family Reunion doesn't revolve around any one performer, as Davidson and Carson also had solos while everyone sang along, playing closely around a single microphone. There is an overall feeling of togetherness and obvious chemistry between the band members.
The six band members have been together as Spirit Family Reunion since about 2008, but they are still new to the touring scene. Panken recently stated that they are happy to taking progressive steps as a band but,
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.
This transition from New York subway stations to staged national venues was apparent last night as there were some hollow transitions between songs and frequent sound adjustments.
This being said, their talent shone through in a way that connected the band with an audience of young and old alike. Spirit Family Reunion is known for their pure, timeless sound that appeals across generations. Last night's Milwaukee audience had a vast age range, with several people asking more about the band and looking them up on their smartphones. Panken touched on how they accomplish this timelessness by saying,
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.
Scorch joined Spirit Family Reunion for the final few songs of their set, and they received a standing ovation from everyone present.
AL SCORCH LINE-UP
Love You 'Cause You're Perfect
Unknown [busking song]
Giant Wars and Dinosaurs
SPIRIT FAMILY REUNION SET LIST
Climb up the Corn
On That Day
Troubles Just Like Mine
To All of my Friends and Relations
You Were on my Mind
The Night Replaced the Day
I Am Following the Sound
Put Your Hands Together When You Spin the Wheel
Wake Up Rounder
100 Greenback Dollar Bills
Green Rocky Road
Sorrow I've Known
I Want to be Relieved
When My Name is Spoken
I'll Find a Way
For more information about the Live at the Peck outdoor music 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. For information about Spirit Family Reunion, visit
http://www.spiritfamilyreunion.com. Visit http://www.alscorch.com/ for more information about Al Scorch.