Tag Archives: Hot Day at the Zoo

Hot Day at the Zoo, 10/14 Donegal Saloon, Kearny NJ

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Hot Day at the Zoo is a progressive bluegrass band, but Kearny, NJ and the Donegal Saloon are neither progressive nor bluegrass, yet somehow, the two make quite a match.

Just a stones throw outside New York City, Kearny is a fairly shady town that does a decent job covering up its sketchy scene with a cute main street. The Donegal Saloon is a hole in the wall bar, poorly marked and not particularly welcoming to newcomers- on the outside. Behind the dark, heavy door is an open room with an oval bar, and down-home faces filling the stools.  It was mostly an older crowd, and the crew I expected to see at a Hot Day show hadn’t made their appearance yet.

Then my eyes landed on a leather cowboy hat, a few flannel button ups, a pair of boots- clearly, the act I had come to see. If I didn’t already know HDatZ, it would have been painfully obvious then, even though the local folks matched their suburban style fairly well.  As the four men loaded their gear into the small back area and set up their “stage.”

The opening musician seemed like he was just messing around at first, but turned out to be thoroughly impressive and drew a large crowd. Just an acoustic guitar and a book of songs, the meager singer wailed out covers ranging from “They Love Each Other” (Grateful Dead) to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” (Otis Redding). He was energetic and soulful, a perfect way to introduce the electrified bluegrass.

Blurry as hell, but still Hot Day

Hot Day kicked off their set with a few high tempo selections, including a Carole King cover and their original “Sweet Baby (Boom Boom Boom).” They switched the line-up a little when mandolin player JT Lawrence stepped- or should I say, sat down- on a dobro-like lap guitar, which added a twangy, deep-southern vibe to their New England roots music. A few songs after all four Zoo-grassers got back on strings, the line-up switched again and guitarist Michael Dion switched to drums, a rhythmic part they don’t usually have. It was a great addition to their overall sound, but somewhat unnecessary in the over all performance; I found that the songs with drums we’re less exciting and I was missing Dion’s vocals and harmonica playing.

A short set break rejuvenated the thinning crowd and Hot Day riled people back up with a stellar cover of The Beatles’ “Get Back.” Second set was much more a dirt-kicker-upper in the way of song selection, and the boys kept it interesting with banjo-player Jon Cumming on dobro, but it was dramatically shorter than first set, even with the encore. Luckily, perhaps at the beckon of stand-up bass player Jed Rosen, they came back on about 15 minutes later and introduced their final song as a cover of “Stairway to Heaven.” They actually played Old Crow Medicine Show’s song “Wagon Wheel,” which I personally requested to Dion and which they haven’t played in over 5 years. A great show, well worth the trek out to dingy Kearny.

Excuse my terrible pictures, I took them with my phone and am no photographer.

Wormtown Music Festival Review

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For most of us, September marks the end of summer. For some, it means no more dancing in sweltering hot fields, sleeping on the ground, or eating hotdogs. No more Jerry Roll, no more dollar beers on lot, and no more 2 am sets- at least until next summer.

While there are still a lot of good music festivals going on, the cap on my festival season is Wormtown. Hosted by Wormtown Trading Company at tiny Camp Kee-Wanee in Greenfield, MA, this festival takes place in the middle of September, right when it starts to get chilly at night. With two small stages next to each other, and 2 more in the woods, plus 2 cabins hosting the late night scene, it’s a weekend long party that helps kick start a dedicated fan base for small-time bands and musicians.

People were trickling in all day on Friday, setting up camp in the woods and throughout the campgrounds. Everywhere you looked, there were streamers, ribbons, signs, anything else you could hang from a tree, and hundreds of happy campers excited to be there. The first heavily attended show on the main stage was Zach Deputy’s first set of the evening, which had the energy and enthusiasm our Friday night needed. Wormtown was the first festival Zach ever played and to see him grow popular enough for 2 Friday night sets is an exciting thing for the Worm family. He delivered a danceable, but quick set, ultimately a tease for what was to come.

Hot Day at the Zoo was another Friday night highlight. Their progressive bluegrass style is a pre-packaged dance party, and the four-piece has an eclectic energy that fuels their live performance. Each of Hot Day’s songs are well rounded, with a stand-up bass that roots them, and mandolin and banjo parts that create waves of excitement. It doesn’t hurt that the guitarist and harmonica player (who sat in on drums for a few songs) has this raspy, emotion-filled singing voice, and is really easy on the eyes. Unlike many bands, they all sing with completely unique, yet blend-able voices, allowing them to take traditional bluegrass to a higher, and more amplified, level.

JT Lawrence from Hot Day at the Zoo

Michael Dion of Hot Day at the Zoo

The late night scene was largely dominated by The Brew, who is just wildly good at their instruments and so fascinating to watch up close, and to close the night, Sauce. Had they been scheduled a little earlier, there may have been a bigger draw, but their funky beats and sexy melodies kept the 4 am crowd dancing into the morning.

Yarn took the main stage around 1 pm on Saturday to kick off the day with another energetic bluegrass set. Then the festival-goers had to chose between The McLovins and the Zach Deputy Super Jam, which was not an easy choice in my opinion. To catch a little of each didn’t do either justice, but nevertheless, The McLovins impressed with tight and fancy jams from a group of 15 year olds. The Super Jam was also a wildly skillful moment of music making, where Zach Deputy was leading the crew, but by no means overtaking it. The exploratory jams flowed organically and weaved into spontaneous songs featuring Wormtown chants.

Shakedown’s 4:20 set was finally the touch of Dead this event needed. Maybe it’s due to the overwhelming presence of Further and/ or Dark Star Orchestra at most of the festivals I attended this summer, but I felt that this festival was seriously lacking in Grateful Dead music, so thankfully Shakedown came in to resolve that issue, and resolved it well- my Dead craving was quite satisfied, although with no particularly memorable covers.

The main event of Saturday was Max Creek, and while he always plays a great set, I wanted to take that time to hear the multitude of new bands performing in that same slot. Wolfman Conspiracy was a standout set, with a prominent horn section and a reggae-rock vibe that you don’t find often. Each song was a bit different, and instead of it coming off as a band with an identity crisis, they seemed multi-faceted and dynamic.

The Phreaks were also absolutely stellar. As a Phish cover band, they are attempting something that may be a little presumptuous, being that the band still tours actively, and while they won’t get to DSO status, it’s immensely impressive that if you close your eyes, and they’re just jamming, it really feels like being at Phish show. Their sound is so big it blew the fuses on the smaller stage multiple times, but their set kept people hanging around. They were playing amazingly replicated covers of Phish’s most technical songs, from “Reba” to “Tube” to bust-outs like “Mike’s Song>Gumbo>I Am Hydrogen>Weekapaug Groove.” Truly, for Wormtown, epic. And if you think no one can play like our boys, well… these guys can and do. To a tee.

One of the first bands to play on Sunday morning was Fundimensionals, with a 10 am set on the RiverWorm Stage. A surprising amount of people made it out, and regardless of the power problems that the Phreaks also experienced, they plugged in the generator to rage a full set. Fundimensionals have an energy to their music that doesn’t compare to many other acts. With each song comes a new journey, and you don’t have to be a genius to follow along. Many bands who are using synth effects and doing “jam-tronica” are a little hard to keep up with because their jams are so advanced and moog’d out, but Fundimensionals produce innovative electro-rock songs that even the least-savvy music listener can enjoy.

Closing the festival was another Wormtown staple, Ryan Montbleau Band. The perfect way to cap off a Sunday, RMB played a mellow but inspiring set that allowed for Ryan’s lyrics to be the highlight. More than lyrics, his poetry seemed to resonate with everyone in the crowd, from 5-year-old girls to 50-something biker dudes, all singing along. Truly, Ryan’s lyrics are unmatched in the jam band scene and his band is the perfect supplement. Careful not to overpower, they linger patiently in the background until their time to shine, when Ryan may even step off stage momentarily so the focus is truly on the sick lead guitarist, funky bassist, seamless drummer, and smiling pianist.

In it’s 13th year, Wormtown Music Festival was again a success. It’s a great opportunity for new bands to break into the scene, for up-and-coming artists to get the support they need (and to repay their loyal fans with intimate sets), and for the Worms to come together as a family again. See ya next year, Wormies!!

Note: more pictures to come!!!

Hot Day at the Zoo!

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Here’s an article I wrote for BreakThru Radio back in January, introducing the listenership to my absolutely favorite zoograss band, Hot Day at the Zoo. If you don’t know who they are, listen to this, watch this and this, and enjoy the article below! More from guitarist Michael Dion coming up next!

It’s a hot Thursday morning in Bridgeport, CT and people are flooding in to Sea Side Park for day one of Gathering of the Vibes. Campers are pitching their tents, neighbors are setting up shaded chill-out spots, and suddenly, music comes floating across the bay. A banjo rings out, acoustic guitar, a distinct stand-up bass, and delightful mandolin- the perfect lineup for a great bluegrass band.

This four-piece string band is Hot Day At The Zoo, and their unique northern zoograss is a force to be reckoned with. With the release of their first full-length album a whole year behind them, they have gained the attention they deserve and the fan base to support them on their climb to the top of the jam scene.

You may be saying to yourself, “jam scene? I thought you said they were a bluegrass band?” But that is where HDATZ gets the wonderful name for their sound, and the name of their album, Zoograss.

Zoograss is our interpretation of bluegrass,” says stand-up bass player Jed Rosen of their original sound. “We have the makeup of a traditional bluegrass band, but we’re more rock ‘n’ roll and blues fused together with elements of jazz and a bit of jamming.”

 Hot Day At The Zoo comes to us from the Boston, MA area, where they have been building a following throughout the greater region for years. Through two line-up changes and countless experimental shows, people have followed HDATZ from one monumental show to the next.

 Jon Cumming, banjo player and one of the band’s songwriters, recalls a show they did at Snoe.down Festival in 2007 as being one of the first where he really knew Hot Day at the Zoo was a force to be reckoned with. “It was only five or six in the evening and man, I couldn’t believe how many people showed up and were groovin’ all over the place. I realized then, wow the word is getting out, people are responding to what we’re doing and reacting in a genuine way.”

Rosen agreed that the great response from their audience was almost immediate. “When we started playing in Lowell (MA), we were already more than a bar band. Even shy of a year, we were all feeling the positive energy not only from us, but from the audience as well.”

Hot Day At The Zoo is comprised of four extremely talented, high energy guys: Cumming on banjo, vocals, and a unique type of guitar called a dobro. Rosen takes on duties of bass and vocals. Michael Dion writes most of the songs for the band and plays guitar and harmonica. The final member is the multitalented JT Lawrence on mandolin and vocals (and sometimes drums, keys, guitar, or flute).

Dion’s beautiful, image-driven lyrical skills bring another personality to many of the songs he composes, as opposed to those from Cumming, which feature straight-to-the-point, moving poetry. Combine the poignant words they master with the arranging and technical skills of Lawrence and Rosen, and you have zoograss, a fascinanting, moving, and wildy fun new type of music from the fellas of Hot Day At The Zoo.

When these four guys get on stage, the energy they bring is electric, and the sound they create is engulfing. Different music experts like Relix Magazine and Jambase.com have compared them to artists like Phish, the Grateful Dead, Sam Bush, Yonder Mountain String Band, and the Avett Brothers- “good company to be in,” admits Cumming. Whether they are headlining a show or playing alongside music greats like Levon Helm (The Band), David Grisman, or moe., they always rouse the crowd and kick up some dust, so to speak.

In 2011, Hot Day At The Zoo expects to gain a lot more popularity and expand their fan base beyond the Northeast. They plan on doing more shows, extending their touring boarders into the south, and being heavy on the festival circuit. Expect to see a lot from HDATZ this summer, perhaps even a new album with all the new material they’ve been working on during their time off.

There’s no need to wait for the creative process to come full circle; you can download their phenomenal New Year’s Eve show here, which features 30+ great, original songs and a few killer covers from Hendrix to the Beatles. There’s something for everybody to love from Hot Day At The Zoo.