by Charmie Gholson
There isn't much room with eight musicians on stage, but that's okay. The folks in Rootstand are completely comfortable with themselves, their instruments, and each other. Two separate drum sets monopolize the back half of the stage: a straight-up kit and a circus of congas, timbales, and various percussives. Up front, two guitars, a mandolin, an upright bass, a banjo, and a fiddle share what's left of the stage. There's no need for fancy showmanship; these people are too busy working, focused and smiling.
Rootstand is a jam band, morphing subtly from reggae, to bluegrass, then blues, then Celtic. From traditionals to originals, the transitions are seamless yet distinct. The lead singer, Brant, is prophetic on stage, pointing, reaching to the sky, and singing about Joshua and Zion, urging the dancers on.
Two women with long hair and skirts are holding hands, dancing together, faster with the music. All of the men on the floor stand watching and smiling everyone, that is, except Brian Tomsic. He doesn't see any of the dancers. His eyes are focused greedily on the stage, watching the band. Brian, a WCBN DJ, hosts Train to Skaville on Tuesdays, and as soon as he sees me, he starts yelling praises for the band into my ear. "These guys spend a lot of time practicing," he shouts. "You can tell what they listen to. They obviously have strong influences in reggae and ska oh, my god, there's rockabilly in this."
After the lights go up and the place clears out, Brian and I spend some time talking with the band members, who alternately break away to give out hugs. They all have the same gentle eyes, the same long, long dreads. No nasty musician attitudes. I reach back, remembering my twenties, trying to remember if I felt as secure and relaxed as they appear to be. "Their music is a real amalgam," Brian tells me later. "I loved it. I was
just amazed at how tight they were. I think they're a band that's ready to record for real."
Over the next few weeks, I think about this band a lot. I think about how this bunch of kids has been able to seamlessly marry distinct yet similar music styles. This "tight, well-oiled machine," as Brian calls it, certainly appears to embrace and honor both the similarities and differences in the music it draws on. Brant himself is multicultural American Indian and Irish. Perhaps people, like music, aren't really very different from each other, either.
One thing's for sure at a time when differences between people are highlighted, even pitted against each other, these kids are embracing them. I saw no arrogant attitudes on stage or off. It made my heart glad.
Rootstand is at the Blind Pig on Saturday, September 4, and at TC's Speakeasy on Saturday, September 25.
[Originally published in September, 2004.]