A small but enthusiastic crowd gathered at The Southern Café and Music Hall on Saturday night for Driftwood and Cicada Rhythm, Americana acts from opposite ends of the east coast.
Hailing from Athens Georgia, Cicada Rhythm is the project of singer/upright bassist Andrea DeMarcus and singer/guitarist Dave Kirslis, joined on tour by a percussionist. DeMarcus trained at Julliard, and she has the chops to prove it, sometimes plucking the rhythm, and other times bowing rich melodies which bring a greater depth to the tunes than the typical folk duo can boast.
An early highlight of the show was “In the Garden,” a buoyant track with a bluegrass feel in its vocal harmonies and bassline. There’s some great guitar picking by Kirslis and some jaunty claps and drum rim hits for percussion.
The songs’ chord progressions take interesting turns for the genre. When I asked DeMarcus after the show about the pair’s biggest influences, she referenced blues for Kirslis and jazz for herself, saying she likes to call their style “Appalachian Jazz.”
The Appalachian element certainly plays a large role in the group’s lyrics. “Before the plastic promises that sold us what was free / I remember a better side of this country,” sang Kirslis on “Do Not Destroy,” a poignant ode to the disappearing open spaces of rural America.
The combination of thoughtful songwriting and easygoing stage chemistry made Cicada Rhythm a great opening act whose music I recommend looking into.
Driftwood (Binghampton, New York) opened their set with “Fishbowl,” the first track from their newly released fourth album, “City Lights.” It started with a long, suspenseful buildup moving from banjo player Joe Kollar, to guitarist Dan Forsyth, to bassist Joey Arcuri. Finally, fiddler Claire Byrne burst into the mix, releasing the tension and beginning the song in earnest.
The band’s greatest strength, outside airtight folk and pop songwriting from three talented singer-composers (Kollar, Forsyth, and Byrne), is their mastery of dynamics and arrangements. You can feel that at any moment, a song could explode with euphoric, clap-along energy, but the group knows when to hold its cards close.
Contrast makes the loudest moments almost overpowering, as in the chorus of “Lemonade,” a raucously fun, Forsyth-led track from the new record featuring tremolo banjo-strumming and a furious, rising fiddle-line.
“Those sweet days of summer are over,” Forsyth began, preparing a subtle lead-in to the song.
“Lemonade!” called out one devoted audience member.
“You get the picture,” Forsyth said. And away the band went.
One can only imagine how much fun Driftwood must have playing together offstage and preparing for shows, coordinating moments like the extended bass and banjo jam session in the middle of “Buffalo Street” or the gorgeous triple vocal harmonies which come through in the a cappella break on “Outer Space.”
It can’t be as much fun as watching those moments unfold onstage—or offstage, as in the band’s encore, which they played in the middle of the crowd. Driftwood is a band to get excited about, and their touring schedule is one to watch.