A great little band you’ve probably never heard is making its way to northern Michigan, stopping at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey, the Ramsdell Theatre in Manistee, and Sleder’s Tavern in Traverse City.
They’re called Driftwood, and the alt-folk world is starting to pay attention.
FINDING A SOUND
Influenced in part by fellow upstate New Yorker bands such as Old Crow Medicine Show and The Horseflies, Driftwood is an unusual combo of traditional American folk plus jazz, prog-rock, bluegrass, and a collective love of harmonies.
Violinist Claire Byrne’s aggressive fiddle playing helps define the band’s striking sound.
“The sound stems from a few different things,” said Byrne, who also leads and backs up on vocals. “We have all studied classically, and I think that, combined with our various musical influences, anything from Hendrix to Doc Watson, gives us the sound we have. Since we don’t have a drummer, we also try to utilize dynamics as much as possible.”
Those dynamics – and some solid songwriting – are on full display in the band’s eponymous album. It features eleven songs in all, and was produced by Grammy winner Robby Hunter.
“Driftwood,” recorded in an Ithaca, N.Y. church with questionable heat and a noisy fire station next door, covers everything from youthful pursuits to politics to romance. It almost captures the band’s energetic, noholds-barred, difficult-to-cage stage sound, which is bringing them solid sales.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
The band formed when guitarist Dan Forsyth and banjo player Joe Kollar met in a Binghamton, NY high school and began playing together.
When Forsyth temporarily moved to Colorado, he discovered bluegrass, and brought those sounds back home with him.
After adding Joey Arcuri on bass, the group later picked up Byrne on the side of the road – literally – when she needed a ride to a distant gig. On that car ride, the conversation turned to music, and Byrne was folded in to Driftwood.
“The dream was to travel around the country playing music,” Byrne said. “That has always sounded appealing to me and to Joey as well, so it was a good fit.”
FOLLOWING THE ROAD
In the past three years, the band has played more than 475 shows.
“People seem to really like the album, which is encouraging to us as artists,” Byrne said. “It’s doing quite well, and we’re also working with a radio promoter and publicist this time around. We’ve noticed that we are getting airplay in markets that we haven’t toured through yet, so it is exciting to be bringing the music to new cities.”
And that, of course, brings us back to Driftwood’s upcoming Michigan shows, a follow up to their 2013 appearance at Blissfest.
They’ll be taking the stage at the newly renovated Ramsdell Theater in Manistee on April 4; performing as part of the Blissfest Music Series at the Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey on April 5; and jamming at Sleder’s Tavern in Traverse City on April 6.
“We’ll be playing mostly original sets of music, with high points and softer spots as well,” Byrne said. “It’s nice to play in settings where we feel like we can play ballads and fiddle tunes in the same show. We like to focus on the songs, but also have the opportunity to stretch out and jam.”
And fans of this particular trio of shows might also get an extra treat - namely a sneak listen to some of Driftwood’s newest songs.
“We are writing new material, although none of it is recorded yet,” Byrne said. “It’s always fun to play developing tunes at shows, so Michigan fans can definitely look forward to that.”
Byrne said Driftwood is ready to come back, both as musicians and as tourists – sun or snow.
“It feels good to be returning and hopefully getting to know the area a little better,” Byrne said. “And being from upstate New York, the weather doesn’t concern us, either.”
For more info on Driftwood, visit driftwoodtheband.com or the group’s Facebook page. Visit crookedtree.org, ramsdelltheatre.org, or sleders.com for ticket information and show times.