The energy of rock n’ roll is impossible to categorize – mercurial, specific to its beholder and profoundly reflective. From the Binghamton, New York music scene comes Driftwood, a band with a rock n’ roll soul and a folk art mind. Carving out a name for themselves with electrifying live performances, they bring one of the most unique, raw sounds to the Americana/roots music scene. Incorporating upright bass, banjo, acoustic guitar and violin, the ghost of traditional American folk music lives in their palette. But the melodies, the harmonies and the lyrics are something else entirely. “We started off playing rock in high school. Then studying jazz and classical music in college. Then we dove headfirst into folk and bluegrass. At some point I guess we kind of met in the middle”, says guitarist/songwriter Dan Forsyth. Drawing on aspects of everything from 0ld-time recordings to 1960’s R&B, the music is crafted to serve the songs. With fast-growing audiences singing along at live shows, it’s easy to tell the primary focus is on song. “We recognized early on that one of our strongest points was songwriting. The greatest songs transcend genre and time and this was one of the motivating ideas behind the band at the start”, says banjo player/songwriter Joe Kollar. Trading lead vocals between Forsyth, Kollar and violinist Claire Byrne, the group’s stage dynamics are as captivating as the songs. “I give so much of myself when I play because I deem it necessary in order to do the music justice”, says Byrne, whose violin-shredding performances galvanize fans. Songs or shredding, “There’s a reason people won’t let them off the stage”, says Jess Novak from The Syracuse New Times.
Coming from a town not often recognized for music but predominantly for industry, being the home of Twilight Zone author Rod Serling and donning the title of the “Carousel Capital of the World”, it’s easy to wonder how this not-so-traditional string band came out of the Binghamton music scene. “What people don’t often realize is that bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, The Horseflies and The Highwoods String Band came out of this same area and had a huge influence on us”, says Forsyth. “We played a lot of old-time in the beginning and it was a huge part of our band learning to play music together”.
Formed in 2005, the band spent four years playing just about anywhere they could. “We just wanted to be able to play for any crowd and turn heads”, says banjo player Joe Kollar. “We played everywhere. Coffee houses, bars, churches, rock clubs, Bluegrass festivals and the streets…a lot on the streets. We didn’t make any money, but what we learned was invaluable”.
After the release of their Debut CD “Rally Day” in 2009, the band has spent most of the last 4 years on the road. With club and festival appearances alongside of artists such as Bela Fleck, Old Crow Medicine Show, Rusted Root, Del McCoury, Brett Dennen, The Wailers, Railroad Earth, Robert Randolph, Rubblebucket, Leon Russell, Emmylou Harris and Donna the Buffalo, Driftwood is making serious waves on the East Coast scene. In the last three years they’ve played over 500 shows. With the release of their second CD “A Rock & Roll Heart” in 2011, the band landed spins on a slew of great radio shows and stations such as WFUV’s Sunday Breakfast with John Platt (New York, NY); KZSU (Stanford, CA), WCBE (Columbus, OH), WNRN (Charlottesville, VA), WUNC (Chapel Hill), NC and WDVX (Knoxville, TN).
In November 2012, Driftwood started work on their third and latest CD. Despite a grueling tour schedule and very little time at home, the recordings were finished in the summer of 2013. The self-titled new disc was recorded in a church outside of Ithaca, NY with Grammy-winning engineer Robby Hunter. It was released on December 3rd, 2013.
A note from Dan about how we started…
Joe, JD (Driftwood’s original bassist) and I all attended high school together just outside of Binghamton in a little town called Chenango Forks. In 1997 we started playing music together and eventually formed our first band, a Rock band called The D-Side. We recorded an album and played every dive bar we could. Those days were incredible. It was sometime around 1999 when Joe gave me a cassette tape with some songs from Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series on it. I will never forget how much that tape changed my life. With that tape and an old guitar, I moved to Colorado in the fall of 2001. Joe came to visit in the spring and we attended The Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Seeing artists such as David Grisman, Bela Fleck and Chris Thile inspired us tremendously. I moved home the next year and immediately started playing music with Joe and JD again, this time in a Jam band.
For the next few years we would get together to play Bluegrass and Folk on the side and attend local Bluegrass festivals. In the spring of 2005 we decided to call the new acoustic project Driftwood. Joe was enrolled at Berklee College of Music in Boston at the time and we brought two of his classmates into the band, Mike Torres on drums and Chris Duddy on mandolin. The following year we won The Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance band competition and played a few shows. Because of the distance between us, the lineup was never able to go full time. In 2008 Joe and I were playing shows as a duo and our friends Nate and Kate (an Ithaca, NY based folk duo) asked us to go on tour. They said they had a fiddle player who wanted to come but she needed a ride. Joe and I picked up Claire on a Tuesday afternoon.
We talked music on the ride to the first show and we discovered we knew a lot of the same songs. Naturally, we asked her to sit in. Needless to say, she blew our minds and we’ve been playing together ever since. For the next year we worked on recordings and played out when we could. We were lucky enough to score a weekly gig at The Belmar, a dark, hipster pub on Main Street in Binghamton. We played every Sunday for two years and had a wonderful cast of musicians from the local scene sitting in. This was a big part of us learning how to play together. In 2009 we released our first album “Rally Day”. Later that year we won The Grassroots Band Competition for a second time. Seems like yesterday but we have been hitting it hard ever since. Every year we get busier and every day we grow closer.
In the fall of 2010 we left for our first National Tour. Over the course of two months we played everywhere, from Nashville to Austin to Portland, Oregon. We played shows, performed on the streets, got yelled at by old ladies in national parks, stayed in the van and camped out. Upon returning from the tour, we set up a recording session in January at a Studio in Brooklyn and in November, 2011 we released our second album “A Rock & Roll Heart”. Later that month, our dearest friend JD left the band and took a job in Cincinnati. In December, bassist Joey Arcuri joined the Driftwood team. I am happy to say, he hasn’t missed one show and there couldn’t be a better person for the job.
2012 was our busiest year to date. We played 170 shows, spent a lot of time away from home and put an obscene amount of miles on The Big Blue Van. 2013 will see the release of our self-produced, third and much anticipated CD. I can’t even begin to say how proud I am to be a part of this band. As our shows grow and our music develops, I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be surrounded by such an amazing group of people. I love you all and I can’t wait to hit the road with you tomorrow morning!
Here’s a word about what we believe. Spoken by our beloved Claire Byrne..
Driftwood creates an environment in which I feel I can fully express myself. I feel that this open expression plays a key role in my happiness. I give so much of myself when I play because I deem it necessary in order to do the music justice. What I experience in return is an overwhelming amount of love and openness from the people I meet. It is these interactions with others that have lead me to realize just how similar we all are, all driven by the desire to be happy. Music provides that outlet for us regardless of what genre we love. It moves us in ways words and actions cannot. For me, there is no other way to really express myself.
There are few constants when you are on the road, even the music is always evolving. The experience can at times be turbulent, but our dedication to the music, the band and each other is what enables us to continue traveling and playing. It is more fulfilling than I ever imagined anything in life would be.