One year at Gathering of the Vibes my ears were treated to some magic. It was a couple of years ago when the heat was stifling and I spent a lot of my time lounging in the VIP tent with a fan blowing directly on me just so I wouldn’t over heat. While I was sipping on some cold water, I heard some old-time music in my ears and it was coming my way. I look up and a band is marching towards me playing the most upbeat and get you out of your chair type music, so I did what I had to. I got up and performed an entire improv dance routine with my dancer friend Andrea.
We were so into the vibe of the music, we followed the band around the grounds dancing like everyone was watching, but we didn’t care. We also didn’t care that it was over one hundred degrees out. Primate Fiasco has that effect on people. Their music is contagious, makes you smile, gets you off your butt and has your body moving like there’s no tomorrow. It’s magic.
Primate Fiasco is playing in my town of Burlington, VT tonight at Nectar’s. If you want to experience the magic, get yourself to Nectar’s at 9pm. See you on the dance floor.
Founder of Primate Fiasco, Dave Russo took time out of his da,y when he was supposed to be building something crazy, to make old time instruments sound good on modern day equipment to chat about his band with me. Here’s what happened.
TW: What was your big WHY for starting Primate Fiasco?
Dave: I discovered these instruments and this festive sound when I took a job at Six Flags as the banjo player in their roaming dixieland band. I saw how it had a nice affect on the mood of the listeners, especially me. I also liked that it could be done on foot, with no electricity, no stage, no permission. Seemed more human that way. Of course Six Flags wanted us to look and sound old-timey, as if this music couldn’t be relevant today. But I really wanted to see what this arrangement could do in the indi/jam world that I was also part of at the time with my solo music career. There was a weekend that summer (2001) when I took a few days off and went to Gathering Of The Vibes. The vision was pretty clear that weekend. ￼
TW: Yes! Taking time off for recreation is often when the great ideas hit us. I’m so grateful you took that time in 2001. Thank you! So…starting a band can be difficult. What was an obstacle you faced when trying to get Primate Fiasco off the ground and how did you overcome it?
Dave: The first obstacle was finding musicians. Anyone who can play these types of instruments (well enough) has a degree in it. This means that they can’t afford to be in a band. They all have to teach or work some sort of non-music job to pay off their student loans. Baffling. I had to work with a lot of people who weren’t a great fit, simply because they were the only ones available. And we had to pass up sweet music fests and venues so that we could play high paying weddings and corporate events. Many horn players do it for money more than for fun or artistic expression. This is why the band took years to leave New England. But people with that agenda have moved on and we are now on track to do something more meaningful.
TW: Totally. And when you go all in with what makes your heart sing, the money always comes in bigger ways than you ever imagined. It’s all happening. I’m proud of you for listening to your heart and letting it happen. What other obstacles have you faced and overcome?
Dave: Another major obstacle we have is that our culture is very conditioned by pull-down menus and categorization. They want to know what to call everything and they identify themselves by what they like. You’re a punk or hippie or whatever. But no one automatically identifies us as the type of music they listen to, because it’s not a type. It’s easy for a DJ or a guitar band to break into a new scene. For us, we constantly have to convince an audience (or venue) that we’re not a jazz band. Maybe we should get straighter brims on our hats.
And lets not forget the technical obstacles when you try blasting 150 year old instruments through a 100 bazillawatt sound system. We’ve had to invent most of our gear. Actually, after I’m done with this interview, I have to go to my garage and finnish building some home made gear that magically allows a tenor banjo and a Fender guitar amp to be friends.
The rest of the obstacles are the same as any other band. It’s 21st century America. It would be less effort and more lucrative to pan-handle on top of Mt Everest. ￼
TW: There are no new ideas, but it’s you that makes it unique. When you allow yourself to be the full expression of your authentic self, people can’t help but pay attention. You guys have got that! Ok…What advice would you give to people who have a big dream in life and feel stuck?
Dave: GIVE UP. GET A JOB WITH BENEFITS. YOU WILL NEVER PULL IT OFF. I say this because there are a few stubborn people who will ignore what I say and keep pushing. Those are the people who will get unstuck. Anyone who has the psychological option of giving up should do it ASAP to get out of the way for us crazies. ￼
TW: I love that! My readers are those stubborn badasses and what you’re sharing is so inspiring for all of us to keep going. Can you share a moment from playing with Primate Fiasco when you looked around at the crowd and thought, “Holy crap. I brought these people together!!!”
Dave: The time that comes to mind is our first gig at The Iron Horse in Northampton MA. At the time, we were still a street band and had not been on stage, or even indoors, much. After playing a lot of street shows, we didn’t know what type of crowd to expect. The sold out show was an even mix of all ages and demographics ranging through several extremes. They were all looking at each other as if to say “what are you doing here? I thought we were here to see a _____ band”. But they all raged equally hard. It was at that moment that I realized there was something to be said about genre, demographic, labels, etc and this band was saying it. So even though we’ll be pushing uphill for years to come, the dream was already accomplished that day.
TW: It’s all happening and I’m grateful to be right here right now to witness it. See you tonight at Nectar’s at 9pm!!!
When people say “Give up. Get a job with benefits. You’ll never pull it off” when it comes to your big dream are you one of the stubborn badasses that push forward anyway?
The awesome in me sees and bows to the awesome in you.