The Wood Brothers consists of lead singer and guitarist, Oliver Wood, brother and bassist/vocal/dancing, Chris Wood, and an engineering genius, Jano Rix. I must confess, as I walked to stage, I couldn’t help but be drawn to Jano Rix’s made-up instruments. The 'shuitar', which as I was edumacated by YouTube, was a really crappy guitar made into a percussive instrument. My inner geek-nerd was more than intrigued. This is just one of many instruments he’s made-up. AWESOME! How did a 70’s country-western rocker-like Oliver Wood, playing a piercing low-fi solid vintage guitar, and his clean-shaven overly-energetic younger brother Chris, creating this crazy outer-space sound on a bass, come together with this engineering freak-storm (and I mean all this in the nicest of ways). Talk about diversity.
The story of how The Wood Brothers came together is very interesting. I was fortunate enough to catch up with the band after their performance. The Brothers were in separate bands for years before reconnecting their roots from young about 10 years ago and eventually added Jano to the mix. Older Brother Oliver bought the records: Rock & Roll, 60’s rock. They’ve a musical Father who played in the late 50’s Cambridge folk scene, with Joan Baez, John Hartford, and who also has a musical Father. Grandpa Woods, a drummer who played with Dylan and lots of different people, STILL plays. Their earliest influencers, Dad’s who played music, possessed a music collection just waiting to be explored by their young boys, tracing all the way back to the roots and blues like Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Jimmy Reed. Oliver started with bass, progressing to acoustic guitar leaving a perfectly good bass for younger Brother Chris. Jano Rix, The Woods’ spiritual Brother, is a self-proclaimed tinkerer whose guidance counselor directed him on an engineering path, and alas...also has a musical Father. Music is all they’ve ever done; all they’ve ever known.
Being all about ‘just the music’, which lifts them up just as much as they do us, The Wood Brothers allowed me to wander during their entire set, allowing space to come back into my own. I needed their set for a moment of introspection.
When asked to name a blues artist unknown to most, the Brothers take on the challenge and race to answer J.B. Lenoir, a huge inspiration. Their songs range from funk to rock to classics. One of my favorite songs of all-time, “Luckiest Man”, was performed by no other but The Wood Brothers with a lot of help from the crowd.
Oliver introduces themselves towards the end of their set: “If you like us we are The Wood Brothers. If you don’t, my name is Bart Fubbles.” Apparently, it's an inside joke we all wish we were in on.
This was the first time they’d played outdoors in Santa Cruz, they mentioned needing the vitamin D. These guys are quick, concise and to the point. They move in to do their job and they do it super well. No time for chit-chat, they keep us in perpetual motion taking us on their musical journey. It’s so good. We seem to engage individually, yet together; each one of us in our own worlds together with the Brothers.
They were in Chicago when they got word Gregg Allman passed, only minutes after playing, “Midnight Rider”. With that intro, and just one day after the news, they go into one of the best renditions of the song I’d ever heard outside, of course, The Allman Brothers themselves. A fan approached me in his Gregg Allman T-shirt; a most-excellent “Midnight Rider” t-shirt that his girlfriend bought him when Gregg played this same festival just 3 years back in 2014. The lyrics of the song perfectly displayed on the back “No, I'm not gonna let 'em catch me, no I'm not gonna let them catch the midnight rider”. She told him to never forget the lyrics. Another ironic festival moment. Gregg Allman is here in spirit, in each one of our hearts. His undying influence stays with us forever.
The Wood Brothers make the crowd think long and hard. It takes intelligence to do this. I love that about music and I appreciate them! While performing “American Heartache”, Oliver snaps us back to reality with the question, “You know what we’re talking about?” Shit. The American Dream. After the song he provides some statistics, “We know for a fact that song in California alone”, he pauses to build anticipation, “sold well under a million copies”. Chuckles abound in the crowd.
Oliver invited the T Sisters onstage and mentions the debaucherous trouble the Brothers and Sisters got into while touring the nation together, followed by a “Yeah sure”. They go onto educate us through song...if you get worried, lost, broken, sing about your trouble and it just might pass. Thank you ladies and gents for saving a life in the crowd.
Feeling extremely lucky to be playing the same event as Mavis Staples and becoming relevantly sappy on us, Oliver explains how mentors in the music industry allow an inside revelation to, “see not only how they conduct themselves, but how they conduct their art. And that includes Mavis and Gregg Allman.” “Postcards From Hell”, a true story, is dedicated to mentors. His words are heard so unbelievably clear, so heartfelt; bootstraps for all musicians playing seemingly unheard. “I got a soul that I won’t sell”.
I asked The Wood Brothers to pick only one venue to play, where they’d feel the most soul with all their superfans present, they named Chicago, and they were 100% serious! Something about the musical heritage and big city feel, work ethic with a laid back feel...Chicago just ‘gets it’. Yeah boys, we certainly do :)
They finish their set and offer the crowd to come say hello to them at the Merchandise tent. They are on tour with Tedeschi Trucks Band this summer, yep that's Derek Trucks of the Allman Brothers, meanest slide in the biz. Two amazing bands storming the country. You gotta check these guys out.
The Wood Brothers Setlist:
“I Got Loaded”
“Keep Me Around”
“Tried and Tempted”
“Midnight Rider” (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
“Sing About It” (special guests, T Sisters)
“One More Day”
“Postcards From Hell”
The Wood Brothers Concert Review by Elizabeth Lauer – Santa Cruz American Music Festival 2017 at Aptos Village Park in Aptos, California
The Wood Brothers photo credit Elizabeth Lauer