By: Nick Rose-Stamey, Contributor
While West Virginia-based 600 lbs of Sin fumble through the electric menagerie in the back of their tour van, a faint thump pulls the listener away and up the street from the cover-charged Casa Cantina
gig. A block away, a ragtag bluegrass band known collectively as Hunnabee & The Sandy Tar Boys lit up the night. Or was it just the fluorescent lamps that they played under?
Reformed from the ashes of (the now dead) Mbanza, Hunnabee & The Sandy Tar Boys features Hunnabee Simonetti on fiddle, Jake Loew on four-string banjo, Ben Kain chunking away on a ¾ guitar, Sweet Baby Jake (the group’s everyman) and Aaron Smith providing the thump on upright bass. This smaller setup works to the group’s advantage (Mbanza, in its prime, shifted between 9-11 members), offering an intimate and mobile experience. Blazing through bluegrass standards such as “Hey Black-Eyed Suzy," “The Craw Dad Song," and “Little Bird,” it took no time for the group to generate an audience. Did I mention that they were busking?
For whoever it may concern, busking is the art of spontaneous street performance by either an individual or, in this case, a group of individuals for “gratuities.”
The group’s performance, being about as planned out as the album Free Jazz, delivered. Why? Well, for one, the group is tight. Not one rhythm or melody line fell out of place during their hour plus-long set. This is a bunch whose efforts during their rehearsals show because of the relative comfort that they have with their material. It is because of this that their comfort then translates into the audience’s comfort, which pulls everyone into the bluegrass sound, the heart of the experience. When the band can have fun throwing a series of songs out in the same key (“D-songs” as bassist Aaron Smith called them) and motivate an audience to move to them all, that proves the band’s second greatest feature: their X factor.
“We all sing,” explains the group to a passerby. Confused, the young man with his gauges tries again. “Yeah, but who's the singer?” It’s a fair question given the group’s name. Anyone would assume that Hunnabee leads the crew, but that isn’t the case. And that is the only stumbling point of this potential-endowed band: not one of its members will take the reigns for longer than a chorus. So, even with just five members, the group has too many voices. But this is a minor complaint and could be a case of over criticism. Thoughts?
Anyway, it would be unfair to critique Hunnabee & The Sandy Tar Boys' performance by a paid gig standard because payment was optional. But they have earned a professional review because of the bluegrass soul that they fearlessly expressed and the sheer joie de vivre that they created on a lonely street corner one night in Athens, Ohio.
Now, look up Hunnabee & The Sandy Tar Boys on Facebook and check them out on Saturday, September 15 at the Pawpaw Festival!
Get hit in yo’ soul!