WILLIAMSPORT — Poetic lyrics, emotional vocals and a strong dose of blues are the components for a musical experiment that will come to life tonight in Williamsport. And if all goes well, an evening of cool tunes will ensue, thanks to the wayward sounds of the Wayfarer Experiment.
From the land of Amish farms and outlet stores, the Lancaster-based band will make its area debut at the Bullfrog Brewery where they hope to impress the crowd with music they descriptively call a mash-up of new grass, folk fusion and acoustic trip hop — sounds of all cultures with roots firmly planted in the blues.
“Our name came to me when and I was driving around thinking of a band name for a group that has no permanent members,” said Bjorn Jacobsen, a musical multi-tasker taking on the mandolin, harmonica, guitar, vocals and the music world’s most picked upon instrument, the banjo. “Experiment was a better word than ‘band’ and ‘Wayfarer’ was perfect for two reasons, the drifting members and the lifestyle my friend and I were living.”
That revolving door of musicians is the unexpected wildcard with the band that keeps their sound and musical style ever-changing and evolving as new song styles and ideas infuse the band with newness on a regular basis.
At the very core of Wayfarer Experiment is a base-sound inspired by such eclectic acts as Jerry Garcia, Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles and Jimi Hendrix.
While none of the band members have ever hopped a ride on a westbound train to explore the wonders of the world, wisdom and wild women, their music tends to have that vagabond sound.
“I think somebody should see the show because it’s a cultural punch to the face. From bluegrass to klezmer, it’s all over the place,” he said. “The musicians involved only want to entertain you and will bleed for it.”
For many folks, the Wayfarer Experiment is also an enlightening experience since klezmer, older Jewish music, is something not heard that often.
“We dive into many genres but klezmer or ‘roma’ is very special, especially to the violin and mandolin. As a group with so many instruments involved, I believe it is important to stick to their origins. Not every song is 100 percent to the roots but if you listen to each instrument, you’ll find what I am talking about,” he said. “For example, the banjo would be bluegrass and Celtic music, drums, African and hip hop influences. Violin, classical and klezmer influenced the guitar, jazz and blues. If you make a song and leave the instruments to their roots, you get a fantastic sound that anybody can get into. The Yiddish aspect stuck so well due to the fact that a lot of it is in a minor key but still manages to be so intricate and exciting. It helps us put a darker side to blues and folk music as we know it.”
Now in its fourth year, the Wayfarer Experiment has established itself as a band that draws from the musical past and combines it with a modern touch that creates a sound that is fresh and highly entertaining.
Their new album, “Death of the Wayfarer,” showcases the band’s strength as it strives to bring this style of music to new fans.
“It’s kind of difficult to explain the genres we’ve developed. I would say gypsy-with-grass and dark-folk-style with the inevitable use of blues,” he said. “We usually stick to originals as far as the performance goes. Sometimes we throw in some Dylan or a little Old Crow Medicine Show, but it’s only a song or two. It’s tough to find similar music to fit in the show.”
Helping to make that music is Nate Arndt on acoustic guitar and stage bells, Matt King on cajon, a wooden box-type instrument, and two violinists, Alyssa Martin and Robin Chambers.
Together the group has experienced some of the best band moments, intriguingly and mysteriously, not in grand venues, but in basements, garages and on the gritty streets in random cities.
“Some good stages we’ve played were the Spring Pickin Bluegrass Festival and I guess the Chameleon was an achievement, and of course, a few chances to get a few moments on Harrisburg’s The River 97.3,” he said. “Playing for new crowds is a great task. They could love us or hate us, they could dance or they could talk. The truth is, they’ve probably never seen anything similar to it. I enjoy seeing the reactions. Getting away from home is always a plus, especially when it consists of going somewhere we’ve never been.”
Just like the ever-changing roster of band members, the band’s playlist is continually changing so every performance is different.
Many times the vibe of the show depends on the crowd’s reaction as to what direction the night will follow and how pumped up the band will become.
“I would say, every night we play out is memorable in one way or another. We’ve had shows where we have broken 20 guitar strings some nights and had nights when everything went flawlessly.” Jacobsen said. “We’ve had drunks tell us to become a Bob Denver cover band so they could enjoy it and then had women ask us to expose ourselves to them. There are a lot of crazy nights with this job.”