Quirky isn’t the word to describe the style of the Keene-based trio The Calerpittars: neither are weird, strange or kitschy. Truly, there isn’t one single word to describe this band; they’re simply themselves.
And while their self-made promotional flier seen all over campus has a surfing cow on it, they’re actually a serious group with serious chops.
At Fritz’s Restaurant on Thursday, Oct. 13, they attracted a near-full house and showed off their musical talents that range from blues, jazz, rock and folk styles.
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The group, consisting of Joey Mintel, Dan Kuhn and Andrew Reynolds, opened the set with one of their oldest songs, “No Hero.” The tune brought to mind an autumn vibe as Kuhn sang “Please take my sweater for the chill,” with his eyes closed.
Their set consisted of a well-balanced mix of covers and Calerpittars originals by using acoustic guitar, ukulele, bass and keyboards.
They covered songs by Pink Floyd, Leadbelly, Old Crow Medicine Show, Roberta Flack and the Pixies.
According to Kuhn, the three members approach the band from three different musical perspectives. Kuhn is the lyricist, Mintel builds the guitar structures and Reynolds is the heart and soul that brings them all together.
“I couldn’t ask for a better songwriting process than with [Reynolds and Mintel],” Kuhn said. “What happens is Joey or Andrew will have a riff or a chord progression or something, and they’ll keep playing it and I’ll be like ‘Hold on a second, keep playing that part over and over again.’”
They formed over a year ago when a member of the KSC Ultimate Frisbee team asked The Calerpittars – at the time they were a duo, with Reynolds and Kuhn – to play at their Ultimate Jam event.
Reynolds and Kuhn initially bonded over a Toots and the Maytals song at a house party. When they realized they had practically mirroring musical tastes, they became friends and eventually roommates.
After the Ultimate Jam, they began practicing with Mintel – a classical guitar major at KSC – and formed the dynamic trio they are today.
Now, the band is geographically split: Mintel and Kuhn are finishing up their degrees at Keene State and Reynolds works back in his home state of Connecticut.
This is tough, Kuhn explained, but they never fail to pick up where they left off the last time they practiced together.
Largely a democratic band, The Caterpillars each step into the spotlight when it’s time to showcase their individual talents during live performance.
All of the songs Thursday night at Fritz’s – except for Reynolds’ solo cover of the Leadbelly song “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – featured heart-wrenching harmonies, a key asset to their aesthetic and something they do extraordinarily well.
While Kuhn sings lead on most of the songs, he said he isn’t by any means the figurehead or focal point of the trio.
“Even though I consider myself to be the primary singer, I never wanted to see myself as the front man,” Kuhn admitted.
And this shows. Musically, they learn from one another constantly, Kuhn explained. During practice, Mintel will guide Reynolds on the guitar and Kuhn will help Mintel with harmonizing. A big part of their lyrical development comes from Mintel playing a riff or progression over and over until ideas pop into Kuhn’s head.
The highlight of their performance at Fritz’s was a rendition of the song “Wagon Wheel.” Their take on the Old Medicine Crow Show original rocked the entire restaurant.
It stirred up the energy of the crowd so much that Keene resident Peter Harrison pulled a harmonica out of his coat and blurted out a few riffs from a table. Kuhn, so impressed with the spontaneity of the harmonica outburst, invited Harrison onstage to jam “Wagon Wheel” with the Calerpittars.
Harrison, a 1976 graduate of Keene State College, is a modest blues and bluegrass musician. Harrison said he doesn’t make a living off playing music, but it makes his life feel full. “After earning an income, music is simply icing on the cake” he explained. “And I feel it makes you a less aggressive person overall.”
During the middle of “Wagon Wheel,” Kuhn clutched a digital camera from his shirt pocket and snapped a photo of the crowd. And just in time for the third chorus, Kuhn picked his ukulele back up and joked with the audience mid-song: “Sing the words, and if you don’t know the words by now, then I just don’t know,” he smiled.
It’s moments like that where it’s easy to discern true and genuine performers from ego-driven parasites who feed off attention and praise. After Thursday’s performance it’s obvious the trio is the former.
“We like to have fun on stage,” Kuhn admitted. “We’re always up for chitter chatter on the microphone, and me as an acting major, I’m always comfortable on stage. I love talking to the audience.”
When the band performed Sunday, Oct. 16, at Keene State’s fourth annual Harvest Festival on Oya Hill, it was easy to tell they like to have fun.
In between each song they joked and gave endless praise to everyone who came out to support their band and the Festival as whole.
The Calerpittars expanded upon their instrumentation by adding an accordion and Keene State drummer Chris Meyer.
Meyer enhanced their sound tremendously on Sunday, and his energetic drumming echoed off of the surrounding campus buildings which provided outdoor ambience.
Considering The Calerpittar’s wide-ranging covers and musical abilities, it’s easy to see dynamics as one of their biggest assets.
Not many bands can go between playing small, intimate shows in restaurants to rocking the bricks off buildings at an outdoor festival and do the transition justice.
Their energetic, spine-tingling version of Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing in the Name Of,” is hardly the expected counterbalance to say covering a Leadbelly tune.
On Sunday Kuhn so flawlessly screamed the lyrics to “Killing in the Name Of,” that he could be mistaken for a singer in a hard rock or metal band. Yet that’s what they do and that’s why they’re so talented.
KSC Art Collective President Sean Bowes took a break from running the Collective’s spray paint wall on Sunday to run over and dance during “Killing in the Name Of.”
“I didn’t expect them to whip out Rage Against the Machine,” Bowes said. “I didn’t see that one coming at all.”
From here, Kuhn said the Calerpittars are continuing to record a four or five song EP at the Keene recording studio Handsome Grandson and trying to book as many gigs as their hectic schedules will permit.
Truly, live performances are where their magic exists and they feed off that tremendously. “I always see heads bobbing and I always see smiles on peoples’ faces, and what more could you ask for?” Kuhn said with a smile.
Aaron Mitta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org