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Rootstand throws a Rootenanny

Robert Downes - September 8th, 2008
If you see the members of Rootstand wanted for arson one of these days, you’ll know they’ve set another dance floor on fire with their hot licks and burning rhythms.
A Rootstand show has the flavor of a Grange hall stomp when the harvest is finally all-in. There’s a sense of joy in the air with that old-timey music kicked up a notch. The explosive power of the band’s bluegrass-meets-reggae sound seems to literally blast people onto the dance floor from the moment they kick off their show. And that’s saying a lot, considering the band uses traditional instruments including acoustic guitars, a banjo, mandolin and harmonica.
“Our sound has evolved based on who we’re playing for,” says John Snyder, 32, who performs on acoustic guitar and harmonica. “We’re proficient in many forms of music. Depending on the crowd, we can either play bluegrass or bust out with some hip-hop stuff.”
“It’s a matter of necessity,” adds Brant Losinski, 31, acoustic guitar/lead vocals. “A lot of times people only see our bluegrass-reggae connection, but our goal is to be more diverse than that.”
Losinski and Snyder, both originally from Alpena, are the core of Rootstand. They’ve been performing together since graduation from high school in 1995. Ten years ago, they launched Rootstand while Snyder was studying at Kalamazoo College and Losinski was attending the University of Michigan.
“We’re both English majors and we both studied musicology and art,” Snyder says.
“We’ve made a study of folk music,” Losinski adds. “That’s largely a study of the tale behind the song as well as the music.”
Thus, when you see a Rootstand show, you’re likely to hear a cover of the centuries-old “Gallows Tale,” along with “Shady Grove,” another age-old ‘hit’ that resonates from the foothills of old Appalachia to its roots in English folk, but with a dance-friendly beat.

WHO’S WHO
Like a number of “local” bands, several members of Rootstand live far outside Northern Michigan.
The band includes Matt Pernar on drums, a newcomer to Traverse City by way of Ypsilanti; Paul Lippens of Indianapolis on mandolin; Tim Sheldon of Kalamazoo on banjo; and Doug Albright, who divides his time playing bass with pursuing a Masters degree at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“We’re all from different cities,” Snyder says. “We have a big old bus and meet up together someplace and head down the road.”
That can lead to some memorable stories. Last year, for instance, the band was driving from Wisconsin to perform at the Dunegrass Festival in Empire. When their bus ran out of gas south of the Mackinac Bridge, they somehow found a cab to drive them and their instruments 100 miles to the festival with just minutes to spare. “That turned out to be one of our best shows,” Losinski says.
Recently married (to Sicily and Katie, respectively), Losinski and Snyder are branching out with the band’s sound while struggling to make it in the state’s tough music scene.
“Our goal has always been to play music -- we’re driven,” Snyder says. “But that means it would be nice to pay our bills.”
The band is delving into more folk and Celtic sounds, Losinski says. “We have an album coming out this fall that’s going to have a heavy Celtic sound. I call it a ‘highland island’ sound with Scotch and Celtic reels combined with blues and reggae.”
The band is also upgrading its website and working on a boxed CD set. When complete, the CD covers will form a pirate’s treasure map of Michigan.

ROOTIN’ TOOTIN’
This Friday and Saturday, Sept. 12-13, the band will headline the fourth annual Rootenanny, featuring nearly 20 performers at a private “Teepee Jamsite” off Voice Road outside Kingsley.
“Rootstand is our attempt at an independent production and our own outdoor festival,” Losinski says. “This year we’ve got a lot of Michigan bands playing and a few from Ohio. We’re trying to do our own productions.”
“We’re trying to take control of our own destiny,” Snyder adds.
Rootenanny draws a few hundred people each year as the summer winds down, most of whom are devotees of acoustic rock, worldbeat and jam-band sounds. There’s a donation of $20 per day, or $35 for the weekend, with camping available on the property.
Beyond that, you can count on Rootstand to appear at a club near you, especially those which reward original music. “We definitely feel a lot of comfort playing our original stuff on this side of the state,” Losinski says. “The west side of Michigan is a good place to play in general.”
The band is also catching the attention of the larger music scene: recently, they opened for The Doobie Brothers at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. Although much of their time was tied up in personal and professional projects this summer, you can count on Rootstand and their old bus to be in for the long haul.

For information and directions on how to attend Rootenanny, check out www.rootstand.com.

 
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