On Saturday night at this year’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, Acoustic Live had finished its unplugged showcases at its booth. I was ready to begin preparation for supper. Just then, the sound of the aptly titled performance bloc, “Bandemonium,” came from the nearby workshop stage. Upstate Rubdown and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams were the two featured acts. After an opening salvo from the Slambovians, I heard an a cappella version of “Tonight You Belong to Me,” a ’50s chestnut which had made the charts when sung long ago by the duo, Patience and Prudence. I had really liked that song and I was intrigued by the tightly woven version I was currently hearing. Supper would have to wait. I grabbed my camera and swiftly made my way to stage side left. Three women vocalists were fronting four male musicians who played sax, upright bass and mandolin — plus one energetic hair-flailing maniac thrashing a cajon with metronomic steadiness. The three-part harmonies were tight and when they rose and swooped in unison, their combined tone gave the sensation of listening to another horn, something like a trombone. I was hooked. Upstate Rubdown had made what was probably its customary journey into a listener’s bloodstream — in this case, mine. Their main stage performance later that evening shook the hillside. A brief video I made can be accessed here.

Roots and Evolution

Upstate Rubdown was born at the State University of New York at New Paltz. All of its original members met there as college students and everyone was from upstate New York, thus the resulting moniker.  As founding member, vocalist and songwriter Melanie Glenn told The Troy Record newspaper in a 2016 interview, “Our bassist and saxophone player studied music. The rest of us didn’t, but we kind of just use the people who did study music as a translator for [those of] us who don’t know music theory. However, the people who don’t know music theory still write a lot.” ’

The group has gone through some personnel changes, beginning as a trio and expanding to a seven-piece ensemble. Some members have come and gone. Every time someone moved away, the thought that the group had reached its end was dispelled by a new member who would fill in and bring new skills.

The current lineup features vocalists Mary Kenney, Melanie Glenn and recent Nashville transplant Allison Olender. The rest of the band includes acoustic bass player Harry D’Agostino, mandolin player Ryan Chappell, cajon player Dean Mahoney and Christian Joao on saxophone and flute. Their sound is a mix of gospel, funk, bluegrass and swing. Three years ago, The Poughkeepsie Journal stated: “Imagine The Andrews Sisters fronting a band that swings with the dizzying drive of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt.” That’s still the case, perhaps even more so.

Their debut CD, A Remedy (2015), is an upbeat, no-frills affair that relies solely on their stellar harmonies and musicianship. The tight harmonies and the effective use of sharp and flat notes will remind many of The Roches. Many songs are cheerful dissections of broken relationships, like “No Slack”: How’ve you been; let’s see / Can you get your story straight with me / You reassured me it was just coffee / But when you called to tell me, she was waiting on the other line.

It’s difficult to hold a band of this size together (I remember sadly the truncated lifespan of Ollabelle). Let’s get behind this group and hope they play on for many years to come.

Website: www.upstaterubdown.com