November 6, 2011

Ithaca is Rusted Root

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I believe there are two types of people in this world: Those who are fans of Rusted Root and those who are fans of Rusted Root’s hit song “Send Me On My Way.” While you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t dig “Send Me On My Way”— with its folksy instrumentals and melody that makes you nostalgic for childhood movies like Matilda or Ice Age — you would have more trouble finding someone who would label himself or herself as an authentic “Rusted Root Fan.”  Yet on Friday night at The Haunt, the majority of the attending audience seemed to sincerely love Rusted Root, beyond their one or two commercially popular hits.

Anchored by lead man Michael Glabicki’s fluctuating vocals and a steady assortment of banjo, piccolo and cowbell to go along with one’s more customary instruments of guitars, bass and drums, Rusted Root, while far from spectacular, provided everything The Haunt crowd was expecting. From start to finish, many in the audience were mouthing the lyrics to the group’s lesser-known songs, the most notable of which were the catchy “Driving” and the sway-inducing ballad “Back to Earth.”

The concert hit its energetic peak with a lengthy rendition of “Ecstasy.”  With the song’s fast-paced guitar and Glabicki’s patent piercing shrill, the crowd was fervently bopping up and down to the song’s hypnotic chorus. Yet disappointedly, Rusted Root did not follow up “Ecstasy” with another high-energy crowd favorite.  Instead, the band walked off stage to take an unnecessary encore, which killed the energy. Glabicki said good night to the crowd, but everyone obviously knew that he and the rest of the band still had to come back to play “Send Me On My Way.”  To make matters worse, after a five-minute break, they started their encore with two unimpressive songs from their upcoming new album. When they finally got to the  “Send Me On My Way” finale, the energy the crowd had from “Ecstasy” was gone.  “Send Me On My Way” is still beautiful to listen to (even more so live), and proved a perfect end to the concert. If only it had been played twenty minutes earlier.

Naturally, a band will hold off from playing their hit songs until the end of the concert, in order to build anticipation and keep attention among the crowd. But it seemed a bit cruel of Rusted Root to play the new and mediocre “Fortunate Freaks” and “Monkey Pants” when all the crowd of 200 or so wanted to do after two-and-a-half-hours of standing was to hear the band’s trademark song.

The crowd at the earthy The Haunt was mostly subdued throughout the concert, with many hanging out in the back near the bar. Only the front five to six rows of people seemed to be getting a little rowdy. Attendance was mainly comprised of those in the over-35 demographic, with a handful of college-aged kids scattered about.

Rusted Root had requested that their opening act be a local band, and thus three of the six members of Ithaca’s own Sim Redman Band entertained the crowd for the first hour.  Veterans of Trumansburg’s annual Grassroots Festival, the trio delighted the crowd with a blend of easy listening country and folk. Like a warm shower, the group’s sound of finger-picking guitar and soothing male and female vocals was incredibly pleasant, while incredibly unremarkable at the same time.  The Haunt crowd was largely supportive of their hometown favorites. Apart from one fan yelling “Bring on Rusted Root” about half way through Sim Redman Band’s performance, the crowd exhibited little of the restless irritation one sometimes experiences when an opening act drags on.

While the Sim Redman trio was the local act of the night, Rusted Root, originating in the Pittsburgh area, resonated strongly with many Ithacans because the group embodies much of what Ithaca is all about. Like the town itself, Rusted Root is made up of a very eclectic group of musicians. Glabicki is tall, and maintains the imposing presence of a rock star. The dark-skinned potbellied Patrick Norman carries lead bass, and looks more like a comic book collector than a rock star. The band’s lone female presence in Berlin, Liz, joins Norman, along Dirk Miller, the Waspy-looking Colter Harper on guitar and the black dreadlocked Preach Freedom on drums (Shouting out “Preach” after each song was a favorite for some in the crowd). The cultural and ethnic diversity is only part of how this group epitomizes Ithaca. Supporting the local community by asking for a local band to be the opener is a very Ithacan thing to do (Farmers Market anyone?). The largely liberal and anti-corporate sentiments of the Ithacan crowd were on full display when Rusted Root received a long and loud applause after announcing that they are now an independent band, after having recently dropped their label company. There is a reason why the band plays in this region so often. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing “Ithaca is Rusted Root” t-shirts sprouting up around town.

Original Author: Brian Gordon