Photography by Steven Philips, Words by Eric Slaugh
No strangers to south-central PA, The Everyone Orchestra played to an energetic audience at the Ardmore Music Hall on Friday evening. Though largely inaccessible by any late night public transportation, Ardmore Music Hall is quietly and quickly becoming the epicenter for the funk and jam scene in the Philadelphia Region. Known for years to Deadheads and locals as Brownies 23 East, Ardmore Music Hall (AMH) has redefined itself in recent months with the help of a physical sprucing up, new booking agents (Point Entertainment), great sound, mostly mixed by the talented Ivan Funk, and new menu of good food, courtesy of Firinji, a local restaurant. Now the AMH team has been joined by some former Blockely team members, including Chris Perella, who did an amazing job with this night’s show. Hopefully this means more great things to come.
Setting the stage for a night of funky grooves, New Jersey locals Sakima, a four-piece band, took to the stage and graced an eager crowd with their tight melodic approach and classic jam band style. Kevin Coopers keyboards and vocals were excellent. Jason Hosier’s guitar licks were refreshingly original. And the rhythm section was tight, with Corey Kimball (bass) and Troy Clark (drums) throwing down the funky beats all set. With a burgeoning crowd eagerly awaiting and the beer taps flowing, a set break was the chance for everyone to catch up, chat, smoke, and relax, although Lancaster ave is not the ideal spot for this. Here’s Sakima posing in front of the crowd.
Matt Butler took to the stage with a seeming hodgepodge lineup of musicians from your favorite jam and funk bands. As the conductor and band creator (choosing the participants for each Everyone Orchestra show, he reached deep for this latest lineup, which included: Umphree’s McGee Keyboardist Joel Cummings; Ashish Vyas, bassist for Thievery Corporation; Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff, rhythm guitarist of Lettuce; Cris Jacobs, guitarist and vocalist from The Bridge; and Russ Lawton, Jen Hartswick and Natalie Cressman, all members of Trey Anastasio Band. Coming fresh off a show in Buffalo the night prior, the band easily fell into Butler’s orchestrated groove, as he set the tone for the evening with a funky jazz piece that gave each musician room to coalesce into a single entity.
The set continued into a reggae piece that got the dance floor shakin’. Lawton’s tight syncopated rhythms guided everyone into a single stream of consciousness. While the first set was largely orchestrated by Butler and given as pointed a direction as an Everyone Orchestra show can have, the second set opened up with a slow layered jam largely developed by Cummings as the crowd filtered back inside while Schmeeans and Jacobs traded funky guitar riffs. The set moved effortlessly through a progression as smooth and distinct as a storybook. Butler gave each member an opportunity to lead a section of the night, with each musician focused on moving in the same direction set forth by their fellow players. Hartswick and Cressman drove the much of the musical direction, developing unison fills on the spot, which both maintaininged the chaos and led the evening into a jazz foray.
For me, the highlight of the night came about when Jacobs took his turn at the helm leading the band into an airy and melodic jam with Hartswick’s beautiful jazz vocals, using improvised lyrics and skat singing. Though it has been said that Butler is a prop in a jam session, his leadership, energy, and eccentric personality is a key part of what makes the Everyone Orchestra more than a garage jam band. He fosters the “Everyone” aspect of the music, and acts as a general, leading his troops to the beyond, with the expectancy that we follow and have a general appreciation of the chaos that can manifest into beauty.
Conversations with the band members, who stuck around after the show to relax and converse with fans as well as each other, confirmed that this was some of the most fun they get to have playing, being able to express themselves while creating a whole that’s definitely greater than the sum of the individual parts.