Not too long ago, I heard a quote attributed to Carl Sagan about how as humans, we seem to have this need to attach a significance to everything that happens in our lives. The wonderful thing about Americana is that musicians take these insignificant moments of our lives, weave them together, and before long you have the melody of a lifetime. Described as “modern retro-billy,” The Serenaders exemplify Americana. They shine a light on these insignificant moments, and reveal glimpses of the gears that make our world go around.
The setting for the show couldn’t have been more ideal. It was the first genuine fall evening – couldn’t shake the chill from my bones. As I shuffled across the parking lot towards the entrance to Atlanta’s Park Tavern at Piedmont Park, chin tucked and hands in pockets, the sounds of a high school football marching band, and the cheers of fans wafted through the brisk October breeze. And about halfway down the concrete steps, stadium chants met with the raw and soulful voice of Marshall Ruffin who was busy mesmerizing the crowd with his cover of Matthew Wilder’s hit, “Break my Stride,” a cover which told a completely different story than did the original 80’s pop tune.
The moment The Serenaders took the stage and began to play at Park Tavern’s “Americana in the Park” series, I wanted to kick off my shoes, get up and dance. Barton Caplan, and his crew are loads of fun – smiley, and engaging – nonstop entertainment. Instantly invoking images of jug bands and jubilees, the Serenaders fall in a category of Americana that I can only describe as pluck. And this is by no means Pollyanna pluck. Rather, imagine if Mark Twain, O Henry, and Foghorn Leghorn formed a band – and you get a group that approaches music with a wink, a chuckle, and a mischievous grin, exemplified by their retro-billy cover of the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive."
Listening to these two groups helped me to understand how music that is so stylistically different can still fit so comfortably in the same genre. Warming up to the Serenaders was like drinking hot apple cider spiked with bourbon: a warm welcome to cool autumn air. And as they rollicked through their set, the range of the spectrum of musical stories that compose americana became evident. While Ruffin told stories in plaintively beautiful hues, The Serenaders matched Ruffin’s beauty with bright festivity. And when the third and final act, Waller, dove into their brand of Americana – a brand marked with velvet harmonies and a strong country foundation, the audience experienced just about the full range of Americana music. The diversity of American root music – country, blues, bluegrass, and jazz shone brightly in three sets that were artistically distinctive but genetically inseparable. But the make you want to get up and move award hands down went to The Serenaders.
Yes, when you ask fans of the genre to describe Americana music, you never get an answer. You always get a story, about American musical traditions, and root music, and apple pie, jilted lovers, hot summer days, and cool autumn nights. Part country, part blues, part jam-band, part jazz, Americana swallows the age, gender, and class boundaries that tend to define other music genres, chews them up, and sings back songs which are tuneful and timeless. And the Serenaders’ music was simply fabulous.