Everest Rising gets diverse listeners
By Brian McElhiney
The Daily Gazette – Schenectady, NY – Thursday, June 27, 2013
Everest Rising has proven to be more fulfilling for its four members than any of their previous musical projects, both creatively and commercially.
Prior to the band’s formation in 2010, three of its four members — banjoist Bill Flanagan, upright bassist Pete Gernert-Dott and vocalist/harmonica player Dale Wade Keszey — had spent roughly a decade playing together in the more straight-ahead bluegrass group Riverview Ramblers.
Guitarist Trevor Wood joined the ranks toward the end of the band’s run, and the four musicians soon discovered a creative chemistry as they began working on new music combining elements of folk and bluegrass with progressive rock, jazz and classical music.
The new, varied music of Everest Rising soon began drawing attention from a larger audience, one not as interested in pure bluegrass.
“We found when we were playing just bluegrass, we were pigeonholed as a bluegrass band, which you either want or you don’t,” Flanagan said.
“We deliberately wanted to go for more of a crossover audience. Caffe Lena is a perfect example — it’s a folk club, but they bring in a lot of newer roots-related music, and we’ve specifically targeted that demographic. A person who would go to see folk would enjoy us, a person who would go to see bluegrass would enjoy us, and the progressive elements are sufficiently calmed due to the acoustic instrumentation.”
In August, the band made its first appearance at Caffe Lena, which promptly sold out — “They had to turn people away at the door,” Flanagan said. On Saturday the band will return to the venerable folk coffee house, and is once again looking forward to a sellout.
“[The last performance] was a Sunday, and this is a Saturday, so it’s even more important for people to buy tickets in advance,” Flanagan said. “We’re very excited. Our set list that we’ve put together actually contains quite a bit of new material — 40 percent of it is new material compared to the last time we performed there.”
Everest Rising’s eclectic sound developed naturally out of the musical interests of its members — Flanagan is a fan of U2 and progressive rockers Porcupine Tree, Wood draws from metal and classical influences and Gernert-Dott is a fan of R.E.M. and The Pretenders. Wade-Keszey, the band’s primary songwriter, is lyrically inspired by both his own life and historical figures.
“None of us really come from a bluegrass background, per se — we have a lot of other influences that work [their] way in,” Flanagan said.
“A lot of the original material we do, if you listen to the original demo, it sounds like a folk song. Then we all get involved, we add this, change that, add an instrumental interlude — we like to add instrumental influences, maybe inspired by something we hear listening to progressive rock, in a weird timing, or jazz-influenced.”
Wood, who also writes songs in the band, is the mastermind behind many of the band’s more technical moments, although none of the members are classically trained. While some of the band’s songs can feature complicated instrumental parts, everything played is in service to the songs.
“We want the music to serve the feeling of the lyrics we’re trying to convey,” Flanagan said. “We very carefully craft the arrangement around the song, so some songs will be very flashy with very fancy instrumental things going on, while on other songs we’ll be playing parts that might actually be very easy to play, but exactly the right notes to serve the song at that point in time.”
The same approach goes to the band’s cover material, which includes everything from Bob Dylan (“The Times They Are A-Changin’ ”) to Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Have You Ever Seen the Rain”) to The Beatles (“Blackbird,” which will be debuted at the Caffe Lena show). Bluegrass songs also make up a portion of the band’s set, in keeping with the members’ Riverview Ramblers past.
The band released a nine-song debut album in October of 2011, “New Home Found,” which was recorded at Blue Sky Recording Studio in Delmar with producer Scott Apicelli.
At this point, the band members’ careers and families limit their performance schedule to only 10 to 15 shows per year, so the group sticks to higher profile local gigs — earlier this month, the band played the Rhythm on the Ridge festival at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, and the band is set to appear at the Melodies of Christmas concert at Proctors in December.
Time is also a constraint when it comes to recording a new album, although the band has enough material. But the band is fine with moving at its own pace and finding an audience that appreciates what it’s doing.
“We have a big following among other musicians we interact with,” Flanagan said. “I think they recognize that we’re doing something on a little bit higher level, and I think people are starting to see that there’s some special talent going on here.”