By Jeffrey Allen Federowicz
For The Daily Item
MILLHEIM — “We don’t do anything that is heartbreaking, we are not swashbuckling. We wouldn’t know how to swash a buckle if it was right in front of us. We would swing from rafters, if that was an option. We’re not good at playing requests, except for those in the know who know what we know.”
And so begins the descent into the mind of Kai Schafft, ringleader for the somewhat flighty band Chicken Tractor Deluxe.
Intense, unique, puzzling and totally unexpected is a mere sampling of the terms one would use to describe this band, which, according to Schafft, who provides guitar, banjo and vocals, isn’t always like a band.
“The band is more like a herd of cats than an anarchic collective, although it’s a little of both. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am the band’s leader. I would describe myself as the lead director of traffic for a collective effort that has few or no rules of the road.”
Tonight these musical misfits will flock to Millheim for a hootenanny of a show that combines down home music with a dash of pure showmanship and a strong quirky undertone.
Calling the hills of Penns Valley its home base, Chicken Tractor Deluxe has become known for its homespun brand of music that’s as American as apple pie, beer and maybe even a fried pork chop if the mood and the venue fancies them.
“We play Americana, mostly American rural and vernacular music, and we like playing fast, loose and loud,” said Shafft, an assistant professor at Penn State during the day and music maker at night.
Rockabilly often plays a role in the band’s musical mash up, ditto for backwoods country with a strong kick of rock and roll that creeps into their music to create a sound as complex and quirky as the band itself.
And Saturday’s gig will be filled with the thrill and danger of dueling drummers beating out tune after tune, an oddity only seen in western musicals.
“We’ll have not only our usual and excellent Gary Gyekis playing perfect drums and percussion, but the extraordinary jazz player Caroline Taylor on a kit of her own, hence: a two kit, four-fisted sonic assault,” he said “We play some originals but we mostly mine the back catalogs of American vernacular music, blowing the dust off and the pipes out.”
What makes Chicken Tractor Deluxe something to crow about is the quality of the musicians in the band, including Jimmy James Baughman on upright bass and vocals, Nell Hanssen on guitar, trumpet and vocals, Gary Gyekis on drums and some other stray instruments that might be lying around.
High points for the band include organizing and hosting the great Harry Smith Festival at the Elk Creek Café for the past five years, playing in Ithaca with the band Freakwater in addition to playing hundreds of gigs all over Pennsylvania and New York.
Yet the gig that stands out as far as oddity took place last summer in Eagles Mere when the band sang “I’m Just Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail,” with Graham Spanier in attendance.
Oddly enough, Shafft noted the band tends to play songs that people can hopefully relate to, if not crow about.