* JIM DONOVAN JOINS THE BAND ONSTAGE DURING BIG BROTHERS/BIG SISTERS BENEFIT SHOW *
This article was submitted by guest contributor Ryan Delaney, a Pittsburgh area resident and big Rusted Root fan.
A NIGHT OUT WITH RUSTED ROOT
Rusted Root benefit for Big Brothers/Big Sisters – Palace Theatre – Greensburg, PA – 11/10/12
Edited by: Ryan Neeley; photos contributed by artists
Growing up in the Greater Pittsburgh area since I was a wee lad with a Deadhead for a father, it could easily be said that I was raised on Rusted Root. From the moment their early hit “Ecstasy” tore through the local scene, my father was hooked and being his mini-me, I was too. As the years passed, I was privileged to see Rusted Root all over western Pennsylvania, from their annual summer shows at Hartwood Acres, Allegheny county, PA’s largest park where they hold summer concerts each year, to college gigs in Clarion and Slippery Rock, PA. One of my all-time favorite concert memories is dancing to Send Me On My Way at Hartwood Acres in 2003 during a down pour. Its moments like that I consider life changing, and I still get goose bumps to this day just thinking about it.
So, when my father-in-law suggested that the entire family make a venture out to see Rusted Root at the Palace Theater in Greensburg, I was instantly sold on the idea, eager to see Rusted Root and experience their latest studio offering live and in person, but more importantly so I could share the magic that is Rusted Root with my eldest daughter, as this would be her first ‘rock concert.’ And nobody would guess what special guest would grace the stage this night.
The evening was cold and dismal, but that could not stifle our spirits. We arrived at the Palace Theater around 6:30pm, a bit on the early side but certainly in enough time to take a tour of the beautiful venue and locate our seats with ease. Additionally, the evening was sponsored by the Big Brothers, Big Sisters’ organization, so there were raffle tickets for various prizes, including an autograph guitar and a meet ‘n’ greet with the band following the show. As a pleasant surprise, there was two openers for the evening, the first of which took the stage shortly after 7pm.
The band was called Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk, and they were so mind-blowingly amazing that I bought both of their CDs as I was exiting the theater. The amount of instruments on stage was impressive and mystifying. While perhaps the switching around of who’s playing what might have killed any rhythm they were building, the sheer masterful song crafting made up for it. For a vastly empty theater at this point, Lauren Mann and the Fairly Odd Folk received a massive amount of applause and certainly won over many hearts with their incredible enthusiastic performance.
After a brief intermission, it was time for the second opening act, State College, PA’s Table Ten, a aleternative reggae-acoustic group that has packed Penn State University students into bars in their hometown for years. They have no drum set, but have incredible percussion arrangements on an array of hand drums, congas and djembes. I was hooked the moment they hit the stage and dropped right into the Grateful Dead’s Shakedown Street. From a power trio, this rendition of a Dead classic would make any Head proud. They truly found a way to make the song their own, as they also did later on with other covers of Stayin’ Alive and You Can Call Me Al. While the covers certainly laid the groundwork for the fans admiration, their original work helped complete the picture. The biggest selling point, much like Lauren Mann, was the energy and enthusiasm they brought on the stage.
During intermission, the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization finished their raffle by pulling the numbers. There were some very enthusiastic winners as the theater was now nearing capacity. Only moments away from Rusted Root taking the stage and there was pure electricity in the air. And the band must have felt it too.
Rusted Root hit the stage with the same energy and passion they did twenty years ago when they were playing a small club named Graffiti in downtown Pittsburgh. The main man behind all the madness, Michael Glabacki, was as impressive as always, strumming and playing with such vigor and zest by the end of the night that his acoustic guitar had no strings left. Liz Berlin, still looking majestic and beautiful. traded rhythmic shakers and tambourines for djembe and congo drums, all while maintaining a beautiful voice, helping to continue to create the wonderful harmonies Rusted Root fans crave. Patrick Norman was standing tall, bouncing back and forth, smiling from ear to ear letting the bass notes fly. Colton Harper put his guitar skills on display, wooing and wowing the crowd with tight solo’s that satisfied the ears. He also showed masterful skills with the djembe drum, helping to round out Root’ sonic landscape on certain songs.
The set list itself was immaculate. For being the last night of the tour, the band didn’t take a number off and delivered with amazing intensity from start to finish, including a massive three song encore. The biggest thing that made my heart sing was the balance between new and old. They still played a good bit off of their new album The Movement, including some of my favorites from the disc Monkey Pants, Up and All Around, Forunate Freaks and Cover Me Up, along with the album’s title track The Movement along with a very moving ballad Fossil Man. While it may seem like a lot brand new songs, Root made sure to space everything out, so none of the new tunes were clustered together. Also, I think it speaks volumes to the quality of Root’s new album as there was little difference in enthusiasm between the new songs and the old ones.
There were a few major highlights of Rusted Root’s set, all of which came towards the end of the night. The first would be when Rusted Root started off its massive encore with “Send Me On My Way”, perhaps their biggest hit ever. To help them out with the harmonies on this song, Glabacki made to the local Greensburg Children’s Choir joined them on stage, both in voice and with shakers. It was heartwarming to see a young group of children utterly thrilled to the gills to be up on stage, singing to the thousands in attendance. One little boy enjoyed himself so much he returned during the final song, “Ecstasy”, and helped keep the beat throughout the powerful dance number.
Another major highlight of the night would be how Rusted Root returned to the stage for their encore. They did not simply walk up on stage and grab their instruments. Preach Freedom started everything off by taking a drumming journey around the stage. I mean, literally, he grabbed a pair of drumsticks and drummed across the entire stage. It was an incredible sight watching this rather tall adult crouch down and play everything he could, from the monitor speakers to mic stands to even Norman’s bass. The crowd enjoyed it. The band utterly loved it, including Glabacki, who followed Preach around most of the stage with a microphone. And when Preach returned to his kit, everyone one was on stage, including members of the opening acts, thus the launching of into Send me On my Way was complete and the entire theater was in utter bliss.
The last memory that will stick with me for eons was another special guest Rusted Root had on stage towards the end of everything, mainly the closer for the evening Ecstasy. This was no ordinary special guest, at least for us older Rusted Root fans, as one of the founding members, award winning percussionist and teacher Jim Donovan, who left the band in 2005, made his way up on stage, taking over Harper’s djembe with a roar of approval from the crowd, then proceeded to play with such enthusiasm the support straps on the djembe’s stand popped off and needed to be restrapped halfway through the performance. The entire band from Michael to Liz to Preach looked completely happy to have Jim back on stage, drumming away with them once again, even if it was just one song. And being one of Jim’s students for the drumming classes he offers, it was quite a pleasure seeing my teacher live in action, totally caught in the moment.
As the entire Rusted Root band and crew took a bow, they received a rousing standing ovation. There were smiles plastered across everyone’s faces, including my eldest daughter whose first night out at a big rock concert was coming to an end. No grumbling or complaining could be heard as everyone shifted towards the exit. The patrons only had good, positive things to show, sharing their favorites peeks and valleys of tonight’s performance. As a seasoned Rusted Root fan, nothing warms my heart more than seeing a band that was on the brink of nonexistence still retain that fire and passion that made them so great in the first place. My daughter gave them the best compliment of the night, though, when she asked me. “Daddy, when we can go see Rusted Root again?”
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