Rusted Root
at the Ram's Head,
Annapolis, Md. (20 January 2014)

Rusted Root pretty much left the foundations of the Ram's Head quivering last night. The band sold out the house on a cold Monday night, with a threat of snow in the air, and their audience was one of the most committed, enthusiastic and friendly ones I'd been a part of in some time. In a way, it was like visiting for the first time the meeting of a club who gathered together regularly to participate in a shared activity that they all loved. Newcomers like me were welcomed; all of the strangers at the my table introduced themselves and discussed how much they loved the band before the show started. One young woman, there with her father, filled us in on the origins of Rusted Root.

Then the show started. Swampcandy, a blues and Americana duo that I was not familiar with, opened. Watching them was something like finding a nugget of gold in a creek: completely unexpected and wonderful. The duo consists of Ruben Dobbs on lead vocals and guitar, playing mostly slide on a resonator guitar, and his playing showed me some of the best slide guitar I've heard since the Allman Brothers. Joey Mitchell played upright bass while simultaneously beating a bass drum with his right foot. The sound these two created was as sweet as early Muddy Waters but much more energetic. Swampcandy not only played the blues, they transformed the genre, taking one of American music's oldest forms and rendering it brand new.

After a break, the members of Rusted Root wandered unannounced onto the stage. A blast of drums and they were into the first song,a long and complex African number that allowed everyone to stretch out and solo. Lead singer and guitarist Michael Glabicki was a dynamo, singing as if his voice was the only thing keeping the devil at bay, and harmony singer Liz Berlin tossed in some gorgeous percussion effects on a variety of instruments.

As the song ended, drummer Preach Freedom kept on playing, leading into the next song. That set the pattern. For the first hour of the show, not a word was spoken. It was like hearing the longest medley in concert history. When Glabicki finally spoke, it was simply to thank the audience. No songs were introduced or explained, just played -- and the band played the hell out of them.

The entranced audience never had a chance to catch its breath, nor did it want to. Rusted Root drove the crowd like a sports car for close to two hours, while maintaining a commitment to their music. They entertained but didn't feel like mere entertainers; instead they appeared to be sharing their soul, and that's why everybody was there: to participate in a communal experience. By the end of the night the crowd was dancing in the aisles, something I'd never seen in the normally staid Ram's Head.

For the finale, Glabicki introduced each band member, stretching out the final song for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes. Then they were gone to thunderous applause, and when they returned for an encore, they played another 20 minutes. After they had left the stage, the audience remained and mingled for a few minutes, not wanting the evening to end.

All told, a magnificent night of music by two great bands in a great club.

by Michael Scott Cain
8 February 2014