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FROM THE FOOTHILLS

by Jordan Green

Pat Maholland, who plays upright bass in the New Familiars, had crossed paths with his future bandmates in his old band. Justin Fedor, the band’s guitarist and mandolin player, remembers the night well: “A four-piece band showed up as a duo.” “We were like, ‘What are we going to play? Maybe we should pull over and run through it’” Maholland recalls. “We were hanging out after shows when our two bands were touring. We’d just keep playing until 6 a.m.”

They finish each other’s sentences, so natural is their chemistry and so deep is the joyous pull of their desire to make music. In Albany, Ga., Maholland remembers, “We were differently venting about our situations, and….” Fedor finishes, “We mutually made that decision.” In Richmond, Va., Fedor says, “We were walking down that alley. His band was having turmoil. Our band was having turmoil.” Maholland joined the New Familiars in January of 2008. He moved down to Charlotte from Philadelphia, and they played 15 shows in a month. One of them was with Greensboro’s Holy Ghost Tent Revival. “That’s where I gave them my card,” says drummer Daniel Flynn. (He learned his instrument from his father, Bruce Flynn, who played with Percy Sledge. “You play it like the record,” was the soul man’s illtempered injunction.) “It’s either this or nothing,” Daniel Flynn says. By then the members’ passions and commitments were about equally matched. With the band scarcely a year old, they knew they were in it for the long haul. “We signed with a booking agent,” says Josh Daniel, who plays guitar and resonator. “It was just a matter of getting the band in shape to fulfill the shows. Everybody knows what to do.” Relentless road dogs, the New Familiars have been up and down the East Coast. They’ve got a full slate of festivals book across the South, and later this year they plan to make their first foray out to Colorado. They’re working on their first full-length album, which they’ll release when they’re good and ready. None of them have quit their day jobs, and they acknowledge that the life they’ve chosen requires steep sacrifices, but they appear to embrace even the hardships with masochistic zeal. “I moved down from Philadelphia,” Maholland says. “I left a good job. I have to be at work at four in the morning. I’m playing until two.” Two hours a night, sometimes more, they consecrate a ritual of joy. “If they’re screaming for you to do more, you be having fun too,” Fedor says. “You should keep pushing that fun envelope until everybody’s worn out. Or you’ve broken all your strings. Or the bass player needs to go to the bathroom.”

A little before 11:30 on a recent Friday night they start their set at the Garage in Winston-Salem, these bearded song-and-dance types from the Appalachian foothills who shake the foundations with acoustic stringed instruments. Daniel, wearing an Amish beard, round glasses, a sweater and shirttails, tunes the resonator; Fedor, with a mop of blond hair, straps an acoustic guitar over his shoulders; the studious looking Maholland rights the hoss bass; and Flynn sits behind the kit and gets ready to go to work. Without much ceremony, they launch in and by the second song they’re playing their top MySpace track, “Got This Disease.” The drums are crackling while the resonator makes protestations and the bass jumps. Daniel is sing-shouting in a timeless rock-and-roll fashion that invokes Little Richard. Or he could be a Confederate Army deserter singing around a campfire. Daniel thrusts his instrument to the side like a bayonet. Fedor spins while slashing chords on his acoustic guitar. Maholland corkscrews behind the hoss bass. Flynn hunches behind his kit like a bantamweight fighter. “I’m going down, down, got this disease,” Daniel sings. He comes back around to it near the end, singing the first part, “I’m going down, down,” but lets the resonator finish the phrase in place of the rest of the lyric. If that sounds like a description of the Band, there’s a good reason for it. They welcome the comparison and do nothing to distance from themselves from it. Like the Band, they have no obvious front man, instead trading vocals, sharing songwriting duties and favoring smoking interplay over grandiose soloing. Their musicianship is advanced and their phrasing subtle. In their young years, they’ve progressed and matured enough to be able to get loose and organic in a fashion that isn’t gratuitous but rather allows for new possibilities. In that sense, they could be the Grateful Dead circa 1970. They’re gracious performers, giving props to the band they share billing with tonight, Asheville’s Mad Tea Party. Later in the show they’ll bring out Mad Tea Party’s Jason Krekel to play some fiddle. It’s their habit to collaborate with guests whenever the opportunity arises. “Let’s hear it, let’s hear it for Mad Tea Party,” Daniel says. “Good Lord! That’s not the last you’re gonna hear of them tonight.” Around 12:30, they play their last with Krekel on fiddle, then return for an encore. “We got some CDs and T-shirts, but we’ll also just chat if you want to do that,” Fedor says. And with that, they rip into what is likely the most explosive cover of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” ever executed on acoustic guitar, mandolin, fiddle and upright bass.

Josh Daniel, Daniel Flynn, Justin Fedor and Pat Maholland (l-r) have conditioned themselves into a power-house live band with fans up and down the east coast. (photo by Quentin L. Richardson)

The New Familiars and No Strings Attached play at the Blind Tiger,2115 Walker Ave. in Greensboro, on April 9. Call 336.272.9888 for moreinformation.

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