At Zebulon Café, the air is filled with a deep, raspy voice, full of emotion. The Woes’ energy and passion seeps out of the music and fills the bar. The musicians are Osei Essed, singer, composer, guitarist, and banjo player, Kevin Russell on Clarinet, Aaron Shafer-Haiss the drummer, Andrew Platt the bass guitarist, Phil Sterk playing pedal steel, Will Orzo on french horn, Mike Irwin on the trumpet, and Bob Pycior on the electric violin. Their music has been called post-apocalyptic traditional music, blues, folk, and good old American music, but when asked what genre they would classify it as, they merely say, “We are waiting for someone else to tell us what we play.”
The Woes usually feature 6 to 7 people at a performance, but they have a rotating cast of roughly 30 performers. Most of The Woes play in other bands as well, but they support each other’s efforts. I found it amazing that they could sound so cohesive on stage not knowing who they will be playing with, or what instruments will be present at a gig. Even at rehearsals, they never know if they are rehearsing with the band members they will actually be performing with. Having a slight background in music myself, I’ve always found it important to rehearse with the people I would be performing with to make sure we were in sync. But while I would expect chaos to come out of such unpredictable preparation, The Woes are perfectly timed, perfectly blended, and could not fit together better. The band leader, Osei says that sometimes they joke around during rehearsals just to make sure they can play through distractions.
The Woes enjoy spending time with each other outside of their music as well. In fact, the band’s name – - “The Woes” – - was chosen while its members were drinking and discussing their troubles. They all joke around about spending a lot of time together in “The Van. “ Osei says that they spend 50% of their time in the van, 30% sleeping on the floor, 15% lugging their instruments onto the stage, and 5% actually playing.
Zebulon Café, where I saw the band perform, is a dingy little bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn full of live music enthusiasts. Along with bars, The Woes also play in venues ranging from people’s apartments to Bowery Ballroom to the street. Not only can they easily accommodate a variety of performers, but they can also acclimate their performances to an extreme range of venues. They come prepared for everything and anything. When asked what their ideal performance space would be, they say Radio City during the Christmas Spectacular, or The Mirage in Las Vegas.
The Woes say that their ideal reaction to their music is when people get up and dance; they love an interactive audience. However, when asked if they meet a lot of women through their music, Aaron Shafer-Haiss said, “See you later” and then sped away.
The Woes are currently working on a double live album and a studio LP that will be released by the end of 2011. They currently have four records out. Records are so uncommon today that I couldn’t help asking why they released their music on records when so few people have record players anymore. They responded that “a record is a much more beautiful artifact than a CD.” For those without a record player, their music is also available on iTunes. But I wouldn’t recommend hearing The Woes for the first time on a record or iTunes; they are far more exciting to listen to in person. Their upcoming performances are March 3rd at Higher Ground in Burlington, VT, March 4th at Oak & The Axe in Biddeford, ME, and March 17th at Rockshop in Brooklyn.
The Woes are a fantastic live band. While they play, the audience cheers them on and requests encores. Men grab their dates and start dancing. The band works together well, but more importantly they seem at home on stage. It’s like watching a bunch of friends blowing off steam after a long day at work. And as you sip your drink, or spin around the dance floor, all of your worries get lost in that bluesy, folksy, post-apocalyptic, good old American music that no one’s found a way to describe yet.