Interviews How About Some Jazz Vermont Bands Concert Reviews
The Connecticut based band Max Creek uses the slogan "A Rumor In Their Own Time" to describe their sound and existence. This is a very accurate description for the band that is celebrating their 27th anniversary this year. In the era of aging rockers doing reunion tours every other year, this fact may seem unimpressive. The fact of the matter is that Max Creek doesn't need a reunion tour, for they have been touring steadily since their inception. Playing mostly small New England clubs and bars during this time, the band has remained a "rumor" for they have always been on the verge of receiving nationwide attention. Although the band has remained a regional act, they have created a devout following worthy of a top grossing band.
Max Creek first became part of my vocabulary when they shared the billing with Vermont reggae rockers Lambs Bread. This show was played at Manchester's own Burr and Burton Seminary in 1985 and I learned my first rock concert lesson: never wear Sorels boots to a dance concert. This concert was the first of many experiences that I have had with the band.
Throughout my years at Westminster School in Simsbury, Connecticut, Max Creek served as the only form of escape from the rigid guidelines of boarding school life. Me and my buddies would look forward to Max Creek playing at West Hartford's Agora Ballroom almost every weekend. During our earlier years of seeing the band at the Agora, it was a little difficult to get in for you had to be sixteen years old. Luckily, I was sixteen and I had three temporary driver licenses. Through careful manipulation, we always seemed to get 4 or 5 Brian Knights into the show.
Once entering the Agora, the band took over, playing a fine combination of cover tunes and originals. Playing songs from their first three albums (Max Creek, Rainbow and Drink the Stars) as well as many unrecorded songs, the band played well into the morning and left all of the audience mindblown from the musical journey that they experienced.
One memorable night at the Agora involved a game of Double Dragon. Little did me and my cohorts know that the video game would have an impact on our evening. While we waited for the band to get on stage , we soon discovered that through careful manipulation of the video console, we would get 99 free games. The rest off night consisted of a systematic approach to winning the game. Every time the game ended, we were able to continue within the allotted nine seconds.. The difficult part of the evening was that the music was much better the game. As a result, we had to designate a person to play the game at intervals while the rest of the crew listened and danced to the music. We eventually beat the game two times over and enjoyed a rippin' concert.
My years attending the Agora shows continued on with additional treks to Providence, Rhode Island to see the band at the infamous Living Room and at Lupos. When the Grateful Dead played the Providence Civic Center for three nights in 1987, Max Creek would play at Lupos after every show. Lupos was a small bar and the music carried well into the street. Subsequently, the street had to be closed as hundreds of Deadheads danced to the music under the stars.
Max Creek would often play at Woodbury Ski and Racket somewhere in Connecticut. The band would set up at the bottom of the ski slope while thousands of fans sat up on the hill. Here, Max Creek would often be the openers for bands like Hot Tuna. Just like the Agora shows, my friends and I would use our sneaky ways to get in the show. Although we were old enough, we had to use every means possible to get by on our parental allotted budgets. The Woodbury shows were often accessed by entering the river upstream and doing the "Deliverance" thing and eventually blending in with the swimmers on the inside the grounds. It was a very Rambo-like experience that was perfected many years later for both Max Creek and Phish shows at the park in Townshend, Vermont.
After high school and my journey to Burlington, Vermont, Max Creek remained part of my life. Admittedly, my musical ventures were more focused around the likes of the Grateful Dead and Phish, so Max Creek lost priority. While at the University of Vermont, a new concept entered my life: Beer. This altered my outlook on everything. One fall evening, Max Creek came to The Front and shared the billing with 25 cent drafts. It was here that my point of view of Max Creek turned from being the ultimate psychedelic jam experience to Creek being a great bar band. This past fall, I popped into Burlington's Club Toast to see Max Creek again. What I saw that night was a pleasant combination of good old rock and roll with psychedelic exploration. On my next journey to my parent's house, I dug through my tape collection and pulled out some old tapes and virtually rediscovered the band.
This past Wednesday evening, I was able to chat with the band.. Before the concert, I talked to Mark Mercier, Scott Allshouse and John Rider. The conversation ranged from band's early days to the advent of the groove rock bands of today. It was at this point that I realized that these guys were not unapproachable rock stars, but rather regular guys who loved to play music. The band was formed by bassist John Rider at the University of Hartford twenty-seven years ago! Originally a bluegrass outfit, they were named after Rider's hometown of Max Creek, Virginia. With the growing popularity of jam music, the band switched their sound from country to a more progressive sound. Despite this switch, the band return to their bluegrass roots with "countrified" songs such as "Back Porch Boogie Blues" and "Miles and Miles". Keyboardist Mark Mercier comments about the band's transition: "When we first started, rock music definitely had a country tinge to it. It was brought about by Gram Parsons, The Rolling Stones, and Crosby Stills and Nash. It was all very country oriented and we got into the improvisory (sic) aspect. We got into Quicksilver, we got into the Grateful Dead. We got into the Band. We got into bands that jammed. That was the way were back then. That was the way everybody was."
Max Creek released their first album, Max Creek, in 1977 and have recorded four albums since, including one live recording. The band has gone through some lineup changes through the years, but the core of the band has remained. The band is led by the powerful vocals of guitarist Scott Murawski, bassist John Rider and keyboardist Mark Mercier while drummer Scott Allshouse and percussionist Rob Fried maintain the beat for the band.
The band draws from various spheres of influence. John Rider and Mark Mercier roomed together at Hartt College of Music where they studied variety of styles. Rob Fried and Scott Murawski took the "self taught" approach to music and never "studied" music. Scott Allshouse, the newest and youngest member of the band, grew up listening to the Creek. By providing a fresh viewpoint of the band, Allshouse is able to take their existing tunes and push them a little further.
That night's performance at Club Toast reconfirmed the band's passion. Following their traditional combination of rockin' covers and mind-bending originals, the band jammed the night away. The band played some older songs like "Just a Rose" and "Jones" as well as some original interpretations of Donovan's "Season of the Witch", Simon and Garfunkel's "Cecilia" and Little Feat's "Sailin' Shoes". Although the songs are the works of another band, the band placed a mark on the songs that made them distinctly "Creek". The second set was highlighted by a guest appearance by Phish's Mike Gordon. Gordon stayed on stage through the set and jammed with the boys. Max Creek has shared the stage with Phish many times over the years and the bands have a mutual respect of each other. This past summer Scott Murawski and Mike Gordon performed an acoustic set together at a bluegrass festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mark Mercier spoke of Vermont's homegrown band: "they are extremely skilled. They have an X-factor appeal. There is a chemistry between those guys, that people pick up on, and transfers beyond the band and onto the audience."
The band sounded as good as the first time I saw them, always pushing a song to its limit. John Rider described the last 27 years as a "rollercoaster ride." He continued, "there were some good times and there were some times that we seriously doubted ourselves. The whole music industry is like that." Mark Mercier added: "There was the always the fate that somehow or another what we were doing was very valid. It was very important and something we really wanted to pursue. We felt that something was happening and eventually somebody was going to pick up on it."
Over the years, many have picked up on the sound and Max Creek has provided countless people with intense musical moments. The beauty of these moments is that they are captured in small intimate clubs and not large arenas. This makes Creek such an amazing and unique experience; they keep coming back and rocking to their fullest capabilities. Throughout the years, I have grown with Max Creek and the band serves as a memory bank for my formative years. Today I learned something new about the band: the band-members are just as accessible as their music.