By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
The Shrewsbury Community Meeting House in Cuttingsville is the place to be at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 27, for a double bill concert with The Plumb Bobs (Bobs) and Miss Guided Angels (MGA). I had the pleasure of speaking with both George Nostrand of MGA and Marcos Levy of the Bobs: two local bands, “Back together again, for the first time,” said Levy.
While Friday will be the first time The Plumb Bobs and Miss Guided Angels officially share a bill, musicians in both bands have, in different line-ups, shared many a tune together. Whether it was as Extra Stout at McGrath’s Irish Pub in Killington, as George’s Back Pocket in any number of bars late on a Friday, or around a woodstove in Shrewsbury mid-winter, the Bobs and the Angels have shared the stage and many tunes more times than they can remember. This will be the first show the two play together, and it promises to be one to remember. While I have not seen either band, I have seen all the great musicians that make up the bands and that alone is the reason I can highly recommend this show.
The Plumb Bobs have been together for about four years. They are: Levy (acoustic guitar, lead and backup vocals), Jonathan Czar (electric guitar, mandolin, lead and backup vocals), Aaron Schneider (electric bass, lead and backup vocals) and Mary Barron (melodica, harmonica, recorder, violin, snare, lead and backup vocals). The name came about years ago when Levy was in high school and his friend Tony made this thing in metal class. Levy asked what it was and he said it was a “Plumb Bob.” Levy had never heard that word before and it stuck with him.’
The Bobs got together in a round-about sort of way. Levy and Barron were half of the Cold River Band back in 1998. Levy said that they were going to be called The Plumb Bobs back then, but they were too young and inexperienced to carry a name like that. The two of them also play in Extra Stout, and have been for the past 21 years. Cold River Band went down to just a duo with Levy and Barron. They met Czar when he did sound for Extra Stout 13 years ago. Czar, from Poultney, has had a band in the area for the past 30 years called Faceplant. In 2014, Levy and Barron were ready to start a new band and ready to be The Plumb Bobs. Levy said, “We’re going to do what we want and that’s the name that says we can get it done. It doesn’t tie us to anything at all and that’s awesome.” They recruited Czar and the format was going to be songs that they all liked, but had not played in other projects. “Deep cuts,” said Levy. Schneider joined the band by way of the Shrewsbury dump where he met Levy. The band started out playing at Pierce’s Store in Shrewsbury. They would play Thursday mornings before they all went to work. Levy said,”Jonathan is just a monster on the guitar. He can dial in the sound that we want. Mary, we don’t just tab as a violinist, because she plays so many instruments with more still to come.”
The band plays mostly covers with a few originals sprinkled in. They have their first song, “Spider in the Shower,” which they all love. Levy said, “It’s awesome. It’s a band-written song. Jonathan wrote the little lick that he liked. I said it should be you’re the spider in the shower. You like this gal, but she thinks you’re like, nothing. That’s how that song came about.”
The Bobs are known for being a tight band that likes to use harmonies. Their tagline is, “We play songs you may not have heard, but want to hear again.” Levy said, “We gently rock the audience depending on which audience we’re rockin’. We take on songs that earlier I would’ve found impossible.” Some examples of that are “Boy in the Bubble” by Paul Simon, which Barron plays on the melodica; Cake’s “Wheels,” which is Levy’s favorite; and “Walkin’ on the Sun” by Smashmouth. Those songs right there make me really want to see this band, especially looking at their instrumentation. Levy said, “We take a song and really work it and make it our own.” Their latest covers are “Man on the Moon” by R.E.M., “Home” by Phillip Phillips and “Midnight Rider” by the Allman Brothers, which Levy said Schneider has a good feel for that type of music.
After a year of playing together, they developed their own sound and got a good review one day at the farmer’s market. Someone came up and said that they liked a Johnny Cash song that they did, but that it sounds more like them than him. Levy said, “It’s the first comment we got that excited us. We said ‘Hey, we have a sound!’ Whatever that is, it’s us.” They’re happy just looking out in the crowd and seeing someone tapping their feet to the music. They know that they’re reaching people.
Levy is not the guy you would expect to be a live performer. He said, “I love being out there. I’m not this person who loves being at a party with a lot of people. I’m usually the guy who talks to one or two people in the corner. But, being out in front of people performing is a rush. As far as the band, there is no substitute. You don’t just get good in your garage or the studio. You don’t get good at a live performance unless you go out and do ‘live.’ Even thought the four of us have played live for years in different bands, it was still nerve wracking the first time we went out as The Plumb Bobs. You don’t just assume it’s going to be great. Pat from Extra Stout once told me ‘You can’t wait. You just have to go out there and do it.’ If you bomb a song, it’s only four minutes. You go on to the next one. It’s not going to be for the whole gig. Live is where we hone our skills. I love that about playing live. It’s a way of not staying in your comfort zone like all the time, it’s a way to grow.”
Miss Guided Angels came together from a weekly gig that Nostrand had at the Highline Inn in Killington. Lisa Gardner joined Nostrand early on, and they became a duo. “She had never really played a gig before, so that was pretty cool,” said Nostrand. They played their first ever gig together at the Wild Fern in Stockbridge, but then all the rest at the Highline.
In their second season, they invited Bob Campbell to join them on percussion. He’s a good friend of Nostrand’s and he plays the cajon and also makes his own instruments. Nostrand said, “It was a great sound for an acoustic lineup there. He had a drum kit, but it was totally overwhelming, so the percussion works very well.” Rounding out the group is Jimmy Kalb, a fiddle player from Louisville, Ky. Nostrand said, “As soon as I heard that, I snagged him and added him to the mix.”
Nostrand had started an album and the three of them rounded it up. They’re now three quarters of the way through and hope to release it early June. It has a bunch of special guests like Joey Leone, Marcos and Mary from the Bobs, and a pedal steel player. The album is being produced by local folkster/singer-songwriter, Phil Henry.
They have some cool shows coming up but are most excited about being on the bill for the Roots on the River Festival in Rockingham.
Nostrand described the band: “We’re an Americana-style band, which means it’s a mix of blues, folk, country. We lean more towards folk and country.” For this concert he said, “We’re going to be playing a lot of mine and Lisa’s originals.” They do covers ranging from Dolly Parton to Motown to CCR. Some of their latest adds are “Man Down Under” by Men at Work and “Amie” by Pure Prairie League.
Nostrand has been playing for 25 years with all different kinds of lineups. One of his favorite songs to do is “You’re No Good” by Linda Ronstadt. He said, “It’s definitely one you wouldn’t expect. People really like it.” Nostrand said they play a pretty good mix of songs.
Nostrand said the idea of the double bill concert came about because his band recently opened for Crazyhearse and Gang of Thieves. He said, “We really enjoyed that experience of being able to go play with other bands, hang out with other bands and hear what they’re playing. You don’t get to hear many other bands when you’re playing out all the time. When you share a bill, you can just put out your best stuff. You don’t have to play everything for four hours. It’s a good opportunity.”
Levy and Nostrand met at a local downtown Rutland bar. It was Nostrand’s gig that he was basically playing for beers. It turned into an open jam, and Levy and Barron both sat in with him. Nostrand said, “Marcos in particular sat in with me quite a bit. He and I really connected. When I worked on my first album, both of them were guests on that. When I put my band together, they were both in it initially, as well. He and I go way back and he’s been part of the process one way or another. They’ve both been musical friends for a long time.”
Nostrand really enjoys what he does on so many levels. He said, “People really appreciate music around here. Most places are pretty small so you get to know people pretty quick and get to know the staff and the owners. I like being able to entertain people, make them smile, laugh and have a good time. There’s a lot of stress in people’s lives. It’s nice to have an outlet through good music both playing and performing and watching and everything like that. It’s like a language of its own. People really seem to relate.”