From the islands to the mountains

Last month, local reggae, folk and soul fusion outfit Soulgrass Rebellion performed a nine-day run in the Virgin Islands, and they had a really, really good time.

Going big: The band recently returned from a stint in the Virgin Islands, where the musicians of reggae-folk-rock-fusion collective stretched their talents and potential — and came back stronger than ever. Photo by Jonathan Welch.

"I was crying in my truck when we got back," jokes singer/guitarist Oso Rey. "It was freezing cold and raining."

"Now, when our booking agents ask us where we want to play, we say 'beach, beach, beach and then also book us at the beach,'" adds guitarist Silas Durocher with a half-serious grin.

And while they won't deny that hanging around the beach and playing music is not exactly working, it was more than just an excuse to vacation in the tropics. Nine consecutive shows for the same crowd in the same place is a recipe for getting stale, and the musicians knew they would have to stretch the limits of their chemistry and potential as performers to keep audiences coming back. And, somewhat to their own surprise, they did. 

"There were at least three nights where we purposely didn't do a set list just to see what we could do, where we could go and how we could get ourselves out of situations," says Rey. "We took chances we'd never take before we were put in a position to have to wing it for nine days straight."

"There was one night in particular where we definitely had our biggest mistakes ever and probably the highest moments I've ever had in music," Durocher says. "Moments where I had no idea my hands could do that, where I had no idea the band could do that, like, 'What the hell are we even playing?'"

But what solidified just how well they had pulled it off, he says, was a compliment from some friends who had been there for all nine shows. "At the end of it they said, 'We never saw the same show twice.' And it's just so fun to have been through all that and then be able to bring it back to the shows here."

This weekend Soulgrass Rebellion will share the island sprit with the rest of us, taking the stage of the Grey Eagle for what promises to be a night of unadulterated feel-goodery and dancing. For them, a gig is more than just showing up to play, it's an event.

"It has to be special," says Rey matter-of-factly.

"We really construct a show," says Durocher. "We don't just write a set list before the gig. We've got big ideas with the guest musicians and the opening bands and the publicity and everything else. It's all one big creative project for us."

This time around, guests are slated to include percussionist Jonathan Scales, along with openers Bobby Lee Rodgers and local folk favorites Now You See Them. Luckily, notes Durocher, the Grey Eagle has a big stage.

"I'm sure we'll have everybody jump up and sit in with us," he says. "We love having people up. Our last night in St.Thomas we had all our friends that we met playing down there up on stage for a huge thing. There was a solid 20 people or so onstage."

Whoever ends up onstage and wherever that takes the music, Soulgrass is ready to adapt. The band has back from the Virgin Islands with more confidence than ever, eager to bring that energy to their hometown crowd. (That crowd, too, has so far been so eager for Soulgrass that the band has sold out every show it's played.)

It's just so fun to have been through all that and then be able to bring it back to the shows here," Durocher says. "We changed a lot down there, and we grew a lot. So I feel like there's a fairly big difference between our Emerald Lounge show, which was before the trip, and our Grey Eagle show, now after the trip … in a really good way."

"It was a week-and-a-half of happy accidents," Rey adds of the trip. "Normally that only happens occasionally."

[Dane Smith can be reached at rocknrolldane@gmail.com.]

who: Soulgrass Rebellion, with special guests
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Friday, March 26 (9 p.m. $7. thegreyeagle.com)

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