By: Kevin Rutherford, Editorial Director
Photos By: Chris Dobstaff, News Editor
OK, let me get this out of the way, first...
YO DAWG, WE HEARD YOU LIKE THE RIDGES SO WE PUT THE RIDGES INSIDE YOUR RIDGES SO YOU CAN RIDGES WHILE YOU RIDGES.
For the second year in a row, rising Ohio stars The Ridges played an intimate show at The Ridges, the former insane asylum which ominously overlooks Ohio University, on the Friday of Halloween weekend.
Attendees were encouraged to don Halloween costume with the promise of a costume contest after the band's set. Picture quite a few delightful outfits, including a human trophy complete with his own platform on which to stand.
But the real stars of the show were The Ridges (the band), as is customary with pretty much any show the current and former OU students play. Since their inception, the band has taken the Athens music scene by storm, and thensome: most recently with fellow Ohio indie rock breaking artists Indigo Wild.
The Ridges took their name from the former asylum, and recorded their debut eponymous EP in its hallowed halls as well. The album was spooky, old-timey and--best of all--inherently Athens-esque, three adjectives that describe the asylum, too.
So, a return to the place where one might be able to say it all began (or, a place that the band seems to owe much to, as they may have not been the same band without it) is always enticing. It's like if a band wrote an entire album about Athens (and Appalachia, as an extension) and then returned to the city to perform said record. See: Southeast Engine.
"We're The Ridges. We're at The Ridges.... beer is involved," announced Ridges frontman Victor Rasgaitis at the beginning of their set. He announced that from within a room of the asylum that juts out from the others, a larger room that probably didn't actually house any patients, but certainly saw quite a few in its time. Rasgaitis, who has a boyish exuberance when it comes to his band, and who is almost chronically smiling, was flanked by the rest of the official members of the band--cellist Talor Smith and percussionist Johnny Barton.
The band has auxiliary members who join them for every show, and included in this night's tally was another cellist, two violinists and an accordionist. Oh, and add in group vocals from just about every member of the band, as well as multiple members of the audience.
A Ridges show is certainly an inclusive affair. Even if it is one's first time seeing them live, as it was for a few in my group, one feels included and encouraged to sing along, no matter what. Whether the band is playing their own material or covers from folk artists such as Damien Rice and Sufjan Stevens, shows with The Ridges are both entertaining and enrapturing no matter one's familiarity with the music. That is something I think bands, especially on a more local level, should strive for, but having been in Athens for nearly four years now and thus having seen countless small-time acts, I feel confident saying that not many bands can do this like The Ridges.
What certainly helps is the band's likability. The music is not abrasive, and the personalities of the performers are warm, eager and welcoming. Plus, I've never met a person who told me that they dislike The Ridges. You don't get that often. Their appeal is infectious.
The Ridges rolled through 11 songs before the set's close. In addition to playing all songs off their debut EP (save for the brilliant "The Insomniac's Song," my personal favorite), staples such as "Jackson Pollock" and "Dawn of Night" also worked their way into inclusion, the latter an especially magnificent tune which will hopefully be included on a future release.
With an eagerness to play comes infectious energy. Rasgaitis was all over the place, sometimes even atop the chair on which Smith usually sat, singing to and directing the crowd in expansive sing-alongs. Barton is also entertaining to watch, even garnering a few raucous cheers from his xylophone solo. It may have been the first xylophone solo I've ever heard, I should add. Other members of the band are extremely calculating with the utmost precision, hitting each note with ease. Many of the members of the band are actually classically trained, and it shows.
Nervous laughs were heard halfway through the set, at which point Rasgaitis announced to the crowd that "our cars are being towed!" The accordion player promptly exited the room. Following his return, Rasgaitis announced again, "our cars will not be towed!" to much rejoicing.
After a fantastic cover of Damien Rice's "Volcano," the band ended their set with a cover of Sufjan Stevens' "Chicago." The cover had particular meaning, because of the band's recent trip to the city. Last weekend, The Ridges traveled to Chicago to record their first Daytrotter session. Say what you might about Daytrotter these days, especially given their recent announcement of charging folks for downloads of particular songs. Nonetheless, Daytrotter is important, a milestone achievement for a little band out of southern Ohio.
A lot of covers exist out there, but I can honestly say that The Ridges' "Chicago" cover is one of my favorites. Having seen their general excitement performing the song a few weeks ago prior to Daytrotter, and now seeing it live, it's clear that the band believes that this may be their biggest shot yet at breaking out of Ohio and into the public consciousness.
I don't like to say this often, and I may sacrifice my journalistic integrity doing so, but fuck it--I think they will. In fact, when it comes to local music, I may not have had as great a feeling as I do about The Ridges, with the aforementioned Indigo Wild coming a close second. This band of musicians---and note I said musicians, because they truly are, not just your average guys that can kiiiinda play guitar and bass and such--seem to have bigger and better press each month, thus far culminating with Daytrotter.
To say that is not saying that good things will come to the band, but that's what music journalism is sometimes all about. You make assumptions and declarations on bands you think will go big. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes not. Check out Rolling Stone and SPIN's past lists on the matter. Wiz Khalifa got huge, as was expected. Ferraby Lionheart? Not so much.
But we still make these declarations regardless. Sometimes because we just think we'll be right, and sometimes because we WANT to be right. In the case of The Ridges, it's both. Not only do I want this band to break it big, I really do think they will.
Only time will tell. Until then, if you haven't already, check them out. If you live in Ohio, see them when they come your way. When their Daytrotter session finally goes live in a month or two, download it. You won't regret it.