Colorado acoustic group offers alternative to electronica at Avon music festival.
By Phil Lindeman
Around the time the five members of acoustic act Elephant Revival were congregating in Nederland (a small town southwest of Boulder) a pair of aging elephants were about to be separated.
As guitarist and vocalist Dan Rodriguez recalls, the two animals had lived in the same cage at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo for roughly 15 years. In the winter of 2005, a request came from the Park City Zoo in Utah for one of the elephants, and it was shipped away. The displaced animal died in transit, followed soon after by its left-behind companion, Peaches, the country’s oldest elephant at 55 years old.
After hearing this story, the fledgling band had a name and a purpose. The original members (Bonnie Paine, washboard and vocals; and Sage Cook on banjo) now tour relentlessly, playing festivals in nearly every corner of the country. The group has garnered a passionate following with an eclectic blend of rootsy folk, naturalistic rhythms and powerful vocals, all lumped under the bizarre label of “transcendental folk.”
Elephant Revival comes to Avon with two performances, beginning Thursday night at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek. They take the main stage at Snowball Music Festival in Avon Friday at 4 p.m., wedged between such unlikely acts as Fort Collins reggae group DubSkin and rapper Big Boi.
While on the road between Oklahoma and Colorado, Rodriguez spoke with SneakPEAK about the evolution of Elephant Revival’s sound, why reggae is in his roots, and his hopes for a meeting with Snoop Dogg.
Sneak Peak: A distinguishing feature of Elephant Revival is old-school instruments: fiddle, washboard and double bass. Why stick to strict acoustic when most bands trend toward remixes and some kind of electronic flair?
Daniel Rodriguez: I think it’s tough to say the exact reasons we’re drawn to those instruments. They’re part and parcel of who we are. You can take acoustic instruments anywhere with you – they’re always there, kind of an escape from the digital world. You can go out to a tree in the woods and start plucking away. Dynamically, we can work a lot with the acoustic instruments. There’s a lot of nuance there that can be captured.
SP: Even with all acoustic instruments, the band still sounds very modern – you aren’t just rehashing old covers or styles. Do you feel your music has a lasting quality?
DR: It does. We’re drawing from the roots of the music we’re playing, while also creating an evolution of it at the same time. The level of songwriting among all of us has creativity that I hope will stand the test of time. I like the songs enough I’ll be singing them for years.
SP: Does everyone in the band share songwriting duties?
DR: Yeah, we either write on our own and bring full songs, or come up with bits and pieces and hash them out as a group. We each played in other groups or musical situations before coming together: our bass player played with The Mammals, which had Pete Segeer’s grandson in it, and I played reggae out in Connecticut where I grew up.
We bring those aspects from around the country to the group, which lends it a certain uniqueness you don’t find elsewhere.
SP: Reggae is an interesting place to start for a folk musician. How’d you get into that?
DR: I played rhythm guitar and bass backing up a guy from Suriname, and it was the origins of my interest in being in a band. I still love reggae and am really drawn to it. There was something about that real rootsy island stuff I enjoy, the thick reggae bass lines with good vocal harmonies. I’m not a fan of the homogenized reggae.
SP: Elephant Revival hits the touring and festival circuit pretty hard. Can you credit this dedication for the band’s rapid success?
DR: I would certainly say the touring and hard work has paid off, but it does that in any field. If you dedicate your days and hours to what you do, it’s going to pay off somehow. Us getting out there and driving to small town across the country made people familiar with who we are and our vibe. Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, you didn’t have to do that because your album was in every store. Now, you have to basically show up on people’s doorsteps.