New York’s all string folk-rock group Driftwood deliver a raw, but brilliant perfomance at Floydfest 2015

by | Aug 7, 2015 | ALT COUNTRY / FOLK / BLUES

“There are a lot of bands out there that you could replace a member and no one would notice and that’s the difference with Driftwood.

“There are a lot of bands out there that you could replace a member and no one would notice and that’s the difference with Driftwood. We rely so heavily on each of us, and we contribute so equally that you can’t really replace anybody without changing the band drastically.Our footprint. Our drift-print, if you will.”

Folk-rock extraordinaires, Driftwood, rocked at Floydfest 14: Fire on the Mountain and they’re going to continue their 5+ year rock journey up and down the east coast until they’re demanded elsewhere. With a brilliant collection of string instruments, mixed gender vocal harmonies and an upright bass substitution for a drum set, Driftwood has a sound that will make listeners want to get up out of their seat, swallow their pride, and actually dance.

“We grew up rockin’ and rollin’,” said Driftwood vocalist/banjo player, Joe Kollar. “We went to the same guitar teacher, Dan and I did, and I pretty much believed that I was Jimi Hendrix reincarnated. So I would play behind my head, and play with my teeth, and play electric. We did that for a long time and eventually Dan moved to Colorado and it was just sort of this mystical place. I had no idea what Colorado was, so I wanted to visit.”

Kollar said he and guitarist/vocalist, Dan Forsyth went to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado and he experienced things he’d never seen like mandolins and banjos.

“It was like an honesty to the music and a purity that I have never experienced before and I just got the bug from there like, ‘What is this. We have to figure this out,’” he said. “So it was kind of like a side project…It just seemed very attractive to us.”

With influences like ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ and Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, the members of Driftwood were hooked and reeled into the scene. Driftwood has mastered the art of folk-revival, constructing their own modernized version with features like funky and jazz-style bass.

“We have all sorts of styles in different songs that we do,” said upright bassist, Joey Arcuri. “Coming from a bass perspective, our instrumentation is a string band/bluegrass instrumentation, so sometimes people will tell me ‘Oh I didn’t expect you to play really funky bass.’ I’ll take a solo here and there and I’ll play funk and it’s different than the kind of bluegrass stuff we get in a groove with.”

The contribution of Joey Arcuri’s upright bass completely replaces the need for a drummer and adds a less harsh cadence that compliments the relaxing strumb of the rest of the ensemble. Along with the satisfaction of a fanbase dedicated to the lyric-oriented melodies contrived in Driftwood’s songs, the band enjoys how easily transferable their instruments are which has allowed them to easily broaden their venue horizons.

The other part of [it] was that we could travel and we could play different places because we were playing acoustic music, but we didn’t just have to stick to rock clubs anymore,” said Forsyth. “We could play at bluegrass festivals and folk festivals, and coffee shops.”

“And we can play on the street and make money, and we couldn’t do that in a rock band,” added Kollar.

Along with her strong voice, Claire Byrne’s fiddle solos are the perfect blend of light-hearted and cutthroat, creating a distinguishable accent to the band’s sound.
“My parents were a very big influence on me, musically,” said Byrne. “They were always playing music in the house. My dad played a little guitar and sang and there was just always music around. Some of most vivid, intense memories of being super into music, like really, really feeling it the way…well, I’m more familiar with that feeling because it happens more, but those first couple times were in my home listening to records with my folks.”

“‘Abbey Road’ by The Beatles,” added Byrne. “That was the biggie…’She Came In Through the Bathroom Window.’”

“I think we’re all fortunate enough to have lived in school districts where there were music programs that were really well-funded, for me at least,” said Arcuri. “Claire and I were orchestra people.”

Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” sparked a fire in Arcuri.

“That song rocked me as a kid,” he said. “I would just sit in front of the speakers and think about the world. Michael Jackson was huge for me as a child and still I love him.

He said he learned about jazz through his friends as he got older.

With comparable artists including The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Elephant Revival, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, etc., and having elements of indie-folk, the band has a very favorable sound. Consisting entirely of string instruments, the band is content with the sound they have and prefer to work with the instruments they have before adding anything or anyone new.

“I really like the limitations,” said Forsyth. “I feel like limitations force you to explore limits and find out what you can do that may not have been done before.” If we had a cello and a viola player, or an extra strings section, that could be cool. There is something really cool about the acoustics, something really effective…I think on the albums we want to get a bigger sound so we’ll add drums or a thousand layers of hand claps or tambourines.”

The harmony created when the member’s utilize their voice as an instrument can reflect off the band’s desires to keep the sound modification in-house. “I’m the most recent member, and I was really intrigued with them because they all sing and you don’t find that in too many bands, where everyone will take a turn to sing,” said Arcuri. “I’m singing a little bit now too. But, I thought that was really unique when I first joined.

Aside from sleep deprivation caused by excessive touring, the band has minimal complaints and they continue to have a great time with each other, maintaining the light-hearted attitude expressed in their music.

“I’ve been trying to figure out for years what to do with my eyes when I’m playing,” said Kollar. *laughs* “It’s harder than it looks. For a while I was looking at the microphone and then I started noticing all these pictures on Facebook where I’m cross-eyed because the microphone is so close. But I have a tendency to look down and just recently I’ve been connecting. Recently, I’ve been looking up and being like, ‘I know that person. Hello. I’m up here, you’re down there.’”

Becky Ingram

Becky Ingram

Becky Ingram was with RVA Mag in the Summer of 2015 and has continued writing for and ever since, mainly submitting festival coverage. She has recently relocated to Berlin, Germany where she works as a photo-journalist for a fashion photographer. She hopes that her B.S. in Economics from VCU and her international journalism experience will help her acquire a content manager position for VICE Video some day. Her interests include surf cinematography, gonzo journalism, and funky bass lines.

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