Raucous Neo-Folk/Bluegrass Band Friendly Savages Charm at The High Watt

Nashville – If you think the Macy Gray hit “I Try” should be confined to karaoke bars, you haven’t heard Friendly Savages cover it with their assortment of folky instruments and The Avett Brothers-esque harmonies. Their version doesn’t reveal some sort of hidden brilliance that we’ve all missed up to this point, but it is a funny counterpoint to their own intelligent songs, and it’s a testament to how much fun the band members have playing together. They smile at each other; they jam together; they even hug a lot (very friendly of them, eh?). It’s all in the name of good music and good times.

The folk haven of Austin was the fateful meeting point that brought Friendly Savages together from all over the country, New Jersey to Ft. Worth, TX. Malcolm met Scott, Scot met John, John knew Josh, Josh knew Michael, and so the magic goes. Their debut album O, Joshua! was a homegrown effort released in April of this year. The album’s catchy songs like “Locket On A Chain” were passed around word-of-mouth, and a groundswell of followers grew in the southeast.

Nashville had a large showing for their Thursday night performance at The High Watt, the new little brother of the joint venues Mercy Lounge & Cannery Ballroom. A sing-all-the-lyrics kind of crowd came to show their love for the Austin band, two of whom attended college in Nashville at Vanderbilt University. The night’s most popular song was easily “Natchez Trace,” a song named after Tennessee’s Natchez Trace Parkway. The build and climax of “Natchez Trace” are the marks of a songwriter who is able to create a string of instantly likeable singles. Although rhythmic structure is the strong spine of Friendly Savages’ best songs (such as “Natchez Trace” and “Locket On a Chain”), colorful instruments flesh them out to completion. A banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and even an accordion are on the stage in addition to acoustic guitars and drums.

The band appeals to those of us who buckle at the knees over a little banjo-picking, lyrics that could be Josh Ritter’s, or crystalline vocals overlapping for catchy harmonies. After hearing lead singer John McDonald perform live, it’s apparent that his vocals on Friendly Savages’ album were barely touched during the mixing process. His fantastic voice and words were given enough space to be heard clearly despite the assortment of instruments on stage. Harmonies from bassist Michael Summers and mandolin player Josh Coulter complemented the foot-stomping melodies.

The kind of support they had at The High Watt is not foreign to Friendly Savages who made $10,000 in one week with a Kickstarter campaign for their next record. That kind of outpouring is a testament to how much Friendly Savages’ fans love what they’re doing. It could also be an indication of how much fans enjoy their covers: the incentive for giving $100 to the campaign was a personal video of Friendly Savages covering a song of the donor’s choosing. They played a couple of these at the show to great effect. Along with the Macy Gray rendition, they played The Rolling Stones “Gimme Shelter” and The Head and the Heart’s “Lost In My Mind”. No word on if the new album will also include these or when it will be released, but this band of raucous folk/bluegrass songwriters will surely not disappoint.

Caroline McDonald

Caroline McDonald

My first memory is of singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” quietly to myself during preschool naptime. Perhaps it’s because I’m from Nashville where an instrument lives in every home, but music has gripped me for as long as I can remember.

After dabbling in many parts of the music industry—recording studios, PR, management, labels, publishing—I’m expanding into music journalism because I’m yet to find anything more rewarding that finding and sharing new music.

A longtime sucker for girls with guitars, my musical taste unabashedly follows the songwriting lineage of Dolly Parton and includes Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch, and Neko Case. But not to pigeonhole myself, my music love is big love that stretches from R.L. Burnside to Animal Collective to Lord Huron.

I’ve recently moved home to Nashville after living in Boston and Big Sur for several years. I’d forgotten how music pours onto the streets ten hours a day, seven days a week. I’m honored to share the creative explosion happening here. If your band is in the area or of the area, please reach out!
Caroline McDonald

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