Hot Water Music, Avail and Lucero are all bands that many people running in the punk rock circuit are sure to know. While two of these bands have gone their separate ways, so to speak, front men from each of the acts have come together to bring something a little different to people’s ears.

The idea came from former Hot Water Music front man Chuck Ragan. Bringing together Tim Barry from Avail, Ben Nichols from Lucero and various other folk musicians, they were going to play the folk rock that each of them were playing around the country. But it was apparent from the first few songs of their show at Water Street Music Hall last Wednesday that this wasn’t going to be your ordinary concert.

Instead, the night opened with all of the singers playing energetic tunes together, along with a back-up cast that included a pedal steel player, a string bass player and a fiddle player.

Then, instead of your normal opener, opener, head-liner formula that concert goers are accustom to, Ragan, Barry, Nichols and newcomer to the tour Jessie Malin from D Generation all took turns floating on and off stage, mixing their songs with each others and coming up to assist each other with back-up guitar and vocals whenever needed.

This unique formula gave the show such an organic and impromptu feeling. Where other music sets sometimes come out rehearsed and over analyzed to death, this show was so unique that you walked away with the feeling that even if you followed them to their next stop on the tour, you would get to see another dynamic evolution of each of the singer’s repertoire, and you know that the night after that would be just as lively and just as different.

Amidst Barry’s stories of growing up in New York City and moving out west from Malin and the graceful stage presence of Nichols, who had to get on and off the stage with crutches, the feeling that everybody was happy and having fun was so apparent.

There was no fighting for stage time or any worry at all if somebody got an idea and wanted to play a song, the person who was playing would gladly allow it. And each person, of course, took time to shoot jokes at the others as they traded on and off the stage.

Oh, and aside from the unique formula that worked so well, did I mention that everybody also had amazing sets? From the gruff ballads that Nichols put forward, not letting his injury hold him back, to the great folk tunes that Barry played out, it was so apparent just how much each of these songs meant to the singer, and that was translated perfectly to the audience.

I had never heard any music from these two performers before, but I found myself singing along with many of the choruses in no time at all, just being so drawn in by their profound songs and belief in what they were doing.

The star of the show really seemed to be Ragan, and every time he came out on stage, the crowd seemed to fill with new energy. Maybe it was his charismatic stage presence, his fierce pounding of the guitar or the passion that he bellowed every note with, but it was his additions to the set that shined the most.

If you listen to punk rock, alternative rock, folk rock, country, blues music or anything really, you owe it to yourself to go pick up his solo debut, ‘Feast or Famine,” which showcases this song writer at his very best, with elements of all the above mentioned styles in it.

He played through many of these songs, including fan favorites such as ‘California Burritos” and ‘Good Deciding,” which was actually a shout-out request from the audience that he gladly played.

For the end of the night, all of the musicians came back out to do a few songs together, including their rendition of ‘Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” While the song was starting, Ragan shouted to the others, asking what key this song was so he could grab the right harmonica. And then he came right in, playing away at the instrument while pounding on a mandolin. It was spontaneous passion, musicianship at its finest and great to see on stage.

And that was really what the tour was all about. There was none of the polish of mainstream music, no set lists, headliners, openers or a solid plan for how the night should go.

This was pure and unadulterated folk rock at its best. Sure, it’s gritty, rough and to some it may have seemed unorganized. But really, that is all part of just how organic and rooted this tour is, and it accomplishes that so well.

Each musician came out and laid his heart on his guitar sleeve and put on one hell of a show. So many people say that good music is dying these days, but these guys prove time and time again that it is still alive and well. Don’t miss any of these great performers next time they come around.

Clark is a member of the class of 2012.



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