It will be a dynamic evening Saturday, September 21, when Bobtown performs in concert for Flying Cat Music at the Empire State Railway Museum. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. with the door opening at 7:00. Tickets are $13 with RSVP or $15 at the door. For information or reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453. The museum is located at 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia, NY 12464.
Bobtown is a hoot and a holler, and a shiver down your spine. This vibrant five member group is deeply wired, in a pre-electrical sense, to transcendent musical roots with field hollers foremost among them. Field hollers were a pre-Civil War vocal and percussive call-and-response music, thought to have pre-dated spirituals, which originated with African-American slaves working in the fields. Bobtown founder Katherine Etzel credits her fascination with field hollers to her experience as a youth working in Iowa bean and corn fields. With four vocalists and an eclectic assortment of instruments, Bobtown will set any room to rocking when the spirit calls them, but that is just one of many penetrating moods this versatile band summons from their audience.
Drawing on the strength of four superb songwriters, almost all of the material Bobtown performs is original though most of it sounds achingly traditional tapping from several hallowed roots Americana genres. Describing Bobtown’s music is in itself a challenge. In a review of a live Bobtown concert, LucidCulture.com speaks of their “mixing elements of country gospel, bluegrass and field hollers with an often macabre Nashville gothic tinge and soaring four-part harmonies.” That’s about as straightforward and concise a description of Bobtown’s music as one is likely to find, but even that fails to note the Celtic sonic quality of some of their ballads or their remarkable occasional homage to the Andrew sisters.
Bobtown is relatively new on the music scene with only two CDs released but it hasn’t taken the world long to notice them. Their self-titled 2010 debut CD was reviewed as far a field as Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. Building on that effort Bobtown released a follow-up CD, Trouble I Wrought, which was hailed recently by New York Music Daily: “The new record expands on the eclectically haunting sound of their brilliant 2010 debut.”
Had the term “neo-traditional” not previously been used it could have been invented to describe what Bobtown does so beautifully, because there is something startlingly fresh about how the members of Bobtown reinvigorate traditional music without distancing themselves from its origins. In one of their lively call-and-response compositions from Trouble I Wrought titled, “Flood Water Rising,” that phrase is followed by a litany of victims:
‘Money lenders – down in the water
‘Vestment bankers – down in the water
Herbert Hoover – down in the water
Sodom, Gomorrah – down in the water
Inland Empire – down in the water
New York City – down in the water
And then there comes the joyous refrain: “Here comes Jesus walking on the water, here comes Jesus walking on the water!” It might seem irreverent but it’s in no way sacrilegious, there’s nothing in there that a fundamentalist true believer couldn’t happily embrace. And so it is with all of Bobtown’s songs for any true lover of traditional music. There is good reason why traditional music never dies; it is much too filled with life, and no one gets that better than Bobtown.