A hall that once held billiards now holds music. Friday, January 15th a band that is quickly becoming a Northeast institution took time out from recording some new music to spend an evening in Saratoga Springs. The foursome made the trip from their base in Lowell, Massachusetts, opening the night for Tao & Company, a amalgamation of members from several different groups.
The Northeast has fostered hundreds of string, jam, acoustic, bluegrass and all other derivations of the genre over the years. At any outdoor, or indoor for that matter in these cold winter months, festival you’ll see and hear a wide variety of bands that fit within a loosely defined grouping of musicians that hail from Pennsylvania to Maine. They love what they do and get the most out of their instruments, paying homage to those that came before while continuing to evolve their earthy sounds and rhythms.
With their last album, a live recording from Saranac’s staple, the Waterhole, in 2009 the band coined an apt term to describe their one of a kind, boot stomping harmonies and hig octane live performances. Zoograss is as close a description as you can give someone who’s never listened to the band before. As a small crowd of a few dozen looked on Hot Day took the stage. While it’s not abnormal for them to open a show it’s rare that they aren’t the main attraction before the night is finished.
The Putnam Den served for many years as Backstreet Billiards, a pool hall in downtown Saratoga, a block away from Caroline Street. With a modest face lift the building has morphed into a venue, bringing in a wide variety of acts from string bands to DJ’s. They also host an open mic night every Monday for Saratoga’s own, growing local music scene. A $10 cover paid for the bands, and I was given a playing card in exchange for my coat and $1 from a smiling young lady before heading toward the bar as the band tuned.
My explanation to friends whom I bring to see Hot Day for the first time is always the same. It’s how I’ve always imagined what going to a hoedown would be like. Fingers are firing furiously across strings as the four, different instruments quickly blend into a wave of sound, crashing constantly as the musicians play their pieces, intermingling and climbing on top of one another. The tempo shifts constantly, some pieces straining to reach the finish while others meander along, telling a story as they make their way lazily along.
Their live performances are quickly becoming legendary as the quartet celebrated their eighth anniversary at the end of January. Tonight was no exception. This is a band that loves what they do and it is apparent from the beginning of a performance until the end. That end may be many hours away at the start of a show as well. They’ve been known to play entire evenings with only themselves on stage, taking a break in between sets as they string four, five or six hours worth of music together in a torrent, leaving you gasping for breath. If you’re extra lucky someone may end up in just their boxers on stage.
Beneath the constantly changing colored illumination Hot Day proceeded to perform with their usual excellence. The four parts collide wonderfully, matching space and filling in each others blanks. Jed Rosen’s beautiful upright bass creates a thumping beat, bouncing along, the current the rest of the band is carried along with. They croon together at times, creating an incredibly full, earthy, four part harmony that rings as they hold their notes. All the while they continue to pluck
Their songs are stories drawn from the American experience. Tales about getting lost away from home and the occasional cover of their own interpretation of classics, such as Foxy Lady by Hendrix, build sets that launch from song to song, moving easily between fast and slow as they draw you in.
A few girls sporting long dreadlocks moved with the music near the stage, dancing and spinning along with the beat. Hot Day strummed through their normal set while we watched from the bar. Their unique bluegrass sound surprised a friend of mine from high school who I brought along. I was almost shocked to see him grinning and moving along with the songs.
We left before the headliner, having our fill and heading back out into the snow. Another excellent performance at a venue I’d never attended. A hot day in the dead of winter.