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The Giving Tree Band, The Ragbirds and Old Shoe, House of Blues, Chicago, IL – 10/4

Photos by Norman Sands

So much divisiveness is being displayed in the political arena as our country leads up to election day. It’s a breath of fresh air to escape for an evening and listen to bands that practice harmony and preach the importance of family whatever your creed, race, or religion. The night was a celebration for The Giving Tree Band’s new album Vacilador and they invited two bands along in The Ragbirds and Old Shoe that are part of the folk rock family building steam as they tour the Midwest. House of Blues has a quote above its main stage that reads “Unity in Diversity” and has emblems all faiths and beliefs. Fittingly enough right from the start there was a warmth and communal feeling in the crowd. The stage was set as the curtain was drawn to reveal the first act of the night, Chicago’s own Old Shoe.

Old Shoe are the hosts of the annual Shoe Fest music festival which The Giving Tree band played in early September. The band’s current arrangement of Matt Robinson (vocals, Guitar), Paul Priest (vocals, Guitar), Dan Huber (bass), Joe Day (Vocals, Keys), and Family Groove Company’s Mattias Blanck (Drums) opened with “Crazy Ride”. The third track off their self titled 2009 release, Robinson immediately brought every listener 15 feet closer to the stage with his lyrics telling of the spontaneity of a youthful sojourn on the back of a motocycle. “When you travel young, you always get up for more” is a verse in the song that one could say describes the bands outlook towards living. The experience in each band members musical repertoire belies their energy and effort to get to this point. The trajectory of a band in its third year shows why they have been so successful building organically while maintaining their core values. Each member brings a rich tapestry of sound and different elements to the mix that blends to create a mind melding masterpiece in its entirety. On “Song For Dad,” an instrumental number heavily laying on Day’s signature Nord/Leslie combination, they show that beauty doesn’t have to be spoken to be heard. The song builds towards the end after a ballad laden crescendo into a Latin samba influenced tempo as Priest’s electric Fender dances over the rhythm section with Huber on upright bass furiously handling the back end to perfection.

A nod to the Grateful Dead followed as they invited Todd Fink (Banjo) from the GTB to join them for a rendition of Simon/Garfunkel penned “Peggy-O.” Priest’s handling of the vocals would make the late great gentle giant Garcia proud, and Fink’s acoustic banjo solo harkens back to the more traditional sound on the Columbia Recording Sessions during its original composition in the mid-sixties. Mattias Blanck’s snare started “Michigan” as sung by Day. The pace of this song ebbs and flows like a river winding through the forests of the mitten shaped state. Day’s range is palpable and quite frankly comparable to some of the best crooners in the industry. You can tell he is born with a gift which he nurtures with countless hours of practice and an understanding of when to put it to use. The easy going number is immediately contrasted by the familiar Widespread Panic classic “Tall Boy.” Old Shoe knew that the night was a party and this tune with its fully expansive guitar solos by Priest reflected just that. As Robinson and Day play their best John Bell impersonation to a packed room of many who sang along for the ride. Following up the southern classic, which the bartenders surely appreciated towards their sales for the evening, was “Let Yourself In.” The title track of the bands most recent release was a dance party waiting to happen. Day’s keyboard effects complemented the power chord laced guitar riffs and the crowd didn’t let the opportunity to get down pass them by and gave Old Shoe much deserved adoration as the curtain closed.

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