By Brian D’Ambrosio
On August 15, 2015, the Montana Brewers Association welcomes Montana brewers from across the state to Helena. Sampling Montana-made beer is, of course, the self-explanatory attraction of the day.
But the suds will be escorted by the sounds of live music from three bands sure to add a little pep and pleasure to the experience:
Tom Catmull’s Radio Static, the John Floridis Trio and the Ben Rice Band.
We will let the beer speak for itself; here’s an introduction to the musicians.
Tom Catmull is one of the most visible, dependable faces of the Montana music scene. He’s fronted bands like Tom Catmull and the Clerics, performed solo, and now his latest ensemble, Radio Static, stretches back to the vibe of 1960’s classic rock.
Tom’s cohorts, bassist John Sporman and drummer Travis Yost, provide a backbone to the Missoula-based band. Catmull and company recently released a free full-length album, revealing a strong blend of roots, rockabilly, and rock all swirled into a sound instantly engaging. Catmull is a reliable work horse, the kind of artist you can count on to deliver a solid offering every night.
Catmull and crew keep a busy schedule, including a gig at the Red Ants Pants Festival, an acoustic album in October 2014, and an acoustic trio performance on Montana PBS’ “11th & Grant” that drew them positive reviews.
“I like staying up to date. I don’t want to follow trends, but I don’t want to be participating in a musical trend that reminds me of 1995,” said Catmull.
John Floridis is a Missoula-based guitarist, singer-songwriter and composer. He has been a resident of Montana since 1993 having moved from Cleveland, Ohio. He has released seven recordings, mixing bluesy, folk-rock vocals with solo acoustic guitar compositions, including two seasonal recordings “December’s Quiet Joy” and “The Peaceful Season.”
He has been named Missoula’s best musician by the Missoula Independent. He has performed with artists as varied as Shawn Colvin, Derek Trucks, Patty Griffin, Richard Thompson, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Cockburn, Kelly Joe Phelps, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Patty Larkin. John also fronts Burning River, a blues-funk-rock concept. He is also a producer of programs for Montana Public Radio.
“I’ve experimented with all kinds of styles,” said Floridis. “Rock, jazz, show tunes, fusion, reggae, R&B, pop-rock, Motown. I was the ‘hired gun’ lead guitarist, playing mostly electric but starting to dabble in acoustic music. I discovered Michael Hedges in there along with Shawn Colvin, and I started turning in that direction.
Floridis performs all across the West, primarily in the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. For the most part, he plays as a soloist, but he also performs with other arrangements.
One regional reviewer neatly summed up Floridis: “Blending an aggressive and percussive accompaniment with adventurous melodic guitar playing, John Floridis combines instrumental pieces with vocal tunes featuring his strong, blues inflected singing. Lyrically, his songs are often “slice of life” stories; some autobiographical, some slightly less than fictitious, some free-associations from the subconscious.”
Floridis has a knack for putting creative twists on derivatives.
“I write my own material,” said Floridis, “but I also love interpreting the work of others, be they Ben Harper, Lyle Lovett, Patty Larkin, Robert Johnson, an old folk tune from England of centuries ago, a jazz standard, maybe a song by one of my peers from Missoula. It’s an attempt to honor other writers as well as a chance to try the music on for size.”
Listeners can expect something that resonates on multiple levels.
“Big Sky of Montana meets the Rust Belt of Cleveland,” said Floridis. “It is acoustic, electric, masculine, feminine, rural and urban. It will be adult, but not without adventure. I love subtlety, but I also love energy. They are not mutually exclusive. It’s still an interesting journey for me. It’s still inspiring. It’s still a fun ride. Jump in and come with me.”
The Ben Rice Band has influences too numerous and assorted to count. In fact, the band has been described as “blues rockabilly,” “swamp rock,” and “soul-infused country.”
Rice says that the band’s music is the “kitchen sink of blues, mixed with his bandmates’ influences of punk, hip-hop, and classic rock.”
Their sound is molded by the diversity of instruments: Ben plays a Dobro, lap steel, and cigar box guitar. Bassist Alex McEntee blends his support in the lower registers, with Ryan Rustrum’s big drum sound creating a familiar bluesy heritage sound.
The Ben Rice Trio’s latest album, “Pour Me Some Whiskey” features songs exemplifying various sub-genres of blues: fast swinging jump blues; west coast blues; Memphis soul.
Rice grew up in Oregon, not exactly a bastion of the blues like, say, Chicago or Kansas City or the Mississippi Delta. However, while his buddies were listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, Rice was absorbing Al Green, Marvin Gaye, The Isley Brothers and Robert Johnson. Soul and blues simply sounded better and more relatable.
“I think it was the groove, the ability to take your time and express yourself,” said Rice.
Ultimately, he has tried to nurture a sound that appeals to all kinds of music lovers.
“We love playing music and feeding off of the audience,” said Rice. “We try to keep our music sets interesting and engaging for listeners, and varied.”
General admission to the Helena Summer Brewers Festival at Memorial Park: $25 in advance; $30 day of the festival. Admission includes unlimited beer samples. Event time: 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Contact: 406-948-BREW (2739). Website: www.montanabrewers.org