The first time I saw Spirit Family Reunion was the product of total boredom and uselessness. I had surrendered to the notion that my day was to be spent in my underwear playing video games. Then my friend called and asked if I wanted to see Levon Helm in Woodstock, NY. It wasn’t much of a choice, especially because the event was a Fall Festival and I happen to hold the festivals of harvest season dear to my heart. There’s usually good whiskey, soup, and cider. Plus there’s a shit ton of pumpkin inspired food items.
So we headed north to Woodstock where we boarded buses and were taken to the appropriate spot. It was a family affair and there was a pumpkin cannon firing pumpkins way too far to see where they had went. We grabbed some corn chowder and cider, and bummed beers whenever possible. We were horribly unprepared, but I guess that’s the price of spontaneity. Nevertheless, our spirits were in the right place. We watched (like excited children) the propulsive glory of the pumpkin cannon, and as we did, we heard a certain, joyous sound coming from behind us.
They say friends develop a certain intuitive sense of each other over time, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the eerily synchronized timing at which we turned to face the noise. No, we were not that in tune. Instead, it was the music coming from the stage that grabbed our attention with such an urgency that we immediately stopped giving a shit about the pumpkin cannon, which we were cheering for moments prior.
It was Levon Helm’s opener, Spirit Family Reunion, and they were playing a raw kind of bluegrass that just wrapped around you and penetrated your soul. It was lively and fun, and it took us about an hour of asking around to figure out who the hell they were. I couldn’t help but find everything about them endearing as it just exuded this vibe that was utterly genuine.
Now flash forward a couple years later. Mark, one of the owners of The Blairstown Theater, called and asked me to book the supporting acts for this band Spirit Family Reunion. The name sounded familiar and it wasn’t until I told my friend Evan when he reminded me, “That’s the band we saw open for Levon, man.” It was as though I had seen the pumpkin cannon fire the fattest pumpkin into the atmosphere. Suddenly, I was stoked.
So I booked the support, and despite it being a Wednesday the crowd was there and they were as great as they could’ve been. They moved and stacked chairs just so they could dance, and they did it with such a communal efficiency.
When I got the call from Pete (Spirit Family Reunion’s drummer) a day later that he had forgotten his coat at the theater I knew the best option was to just bring it to their show at Bowery Ballroom in New York City. After all, mailing stuff to a band on tour can be a pain in the ass. Besides, I like going to the city. I was born there and there’s this certain special feeling I get when I’m there so I figured what the hell.
And similar to when I caught Spirit Family on a whim the first time, catching them at Bowery Ballroom was quite possibly one of the smartest, “Yea, what the hell,” moments I’ve had in recent years. As their tour manager, John, put it, the show was basically their homecoming. Bowery Ballroom was sold out, and it may have been filled with some of the most music loving folks I have ever seen.
During the opener, Blind Boy Paxton (who I’m convinced is a time traveler), people actually shushed collectively to get the people chatting to shut up and watch the music. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a New York City crowd as respectful as that. However, I have to admit it seems there’s been a shift in the demeanor of city crowds over the past couple of years. They’ve grown abnormally respectful and enthusiastic, which is a welcomed change from the indifferent and seemingly judgmental crowds I used to witness.
But that’s neither here nor there. The point I had been building up to is that Spirit Family Reunion came into my life by pure chance. It wasn’t a premeditated experience, and then at a later point they did it again—with equally positive results.
They are a band of young people playing a style of music many generations older than their own, and they are doing it with such authenticity that you simply can’t help but feel the force of it. After seeing them simply kill it in front of a sold out crowd at Bowery Ballroom (two nights after seeing them kill on a Wednesday in Blairstown), I felt compelled to tell whoever happens to read this to check them out. Listen to their music (links below), but more importantly keep an eye out for when they’re around, call your friends sitting in their underwear doing nothing, and go see them at a show. You will be happy you did–and so will your friends for that matter.