River Bones Band: Not Your Average LBI Cover Band

Jul 04, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

River Bones Band doesn’t share many attributes with the standard Sublime-reciting, sandal-wearing LBI cover band. Huddled around a vintage, circular microphone with a mandolin, washboard, fiddle, standing bass and guitar amongst their musical wares, the five-member band is a delightful blast of nostalgia.

The musicians of River Bones Band met on Craigslist – at least three of them did. The ad read something like “Bluegrass musicians seeking other like-minded individuals in the city of Philadelphia.” Shortly after, the remaining two members were discovered and the band was complete. “We tricked them into thinking we were normal people,” laughingly said Luke Wolfrom, the band’s guitarist.

Wolfrom’s right. The band isn’t normal, but only in the best sense of the word’s antithesis: unconventional. The musicians’ departure from normalcy is what makes them so spectacularly fresh, so enjoyable.

With Wolfrom on guitar, Brandon Warrick on mandolin, Sean Dorn on bass, Hannah Taylor on washboard and Michael Durkan on the fiddle, River Bones Band is an eclectic, energetic mix of musicians. Taylor, the group’s female vocalist, was a vision in bold makeup and a teal halter-top. Her pink hair was fashioned into a tall bouffant just above her forehead. Clad in fedoras and sporting beards, thick-framed glasses and tasteful attire, the rest of the band might have traveled straight from the trendy depths of Nashville, rolling onto the Jersey Shore on a wistful wave of bluegrass music.

Having been a five-piece band only for about a year now, the members hadn’t played bluegrass much until finding one another, a surprise considering their skill, enthusiasm and general look. The “River Bones” in their name pays homage to the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. The group had heard a morbid NPR story about the Philadelphia mob and the disposal of corpses into the river in the ’60s. Drawn to the melancholy imagery of a watery grave, the band decided on “River Bones,” which seemed to them a fitting emblem for their music.

Taylor taught herself to play the washboard about a year ago. “They roped me into it. There’s no drums in this kind of music, so it kind of fills that space.” Wolfrom, who had previously played in metal, blues and rock bands, found that bluegrass came with age. “For me, as I got older, it sort of appealed to me more. I think I just like the technical nature of it. The skill set I’ve sort of developed.”

Dorn, the bass player, had switched to upright bass in 2000 and started out playing traditional blues until he felt the need for speed and sought out a different genre. “I wanted to play that instrument much faster.”

The group’s Facebook page “About” section reads, “Bluegrass in your face.” When asked what this means, Taylor said, “You’ll just have to see it. We have high energy. We get loud. We get rowdy. And people get rowdy listening to us.”

At Ship Bottom Brewery in Beach Haven last Saturday evening, the band played everything from classic bluegrass hits to originals, spanning decades and decades of music. They kicked off their set with a rendition of “San Antonio Rose,” a 1940s hit from Western Swing artist Bob Wills. Later was an upbeat original, “Boss Makes a Dollar (I Make a Dime),” from their newly released EP titled Billy in the High Ground. The tune was filled with skillful solos and vocals. Durkan, the fiddler, sent gritty, intricate riffs over the speedy pizzicato of Dorn’s bass. Taylor and Warrick pleased the crowd with their vocals, which seemed to run side by side in that signature cascading harmony indicative of the bluegrass genre. Their songs painted vivid narratives, with swinging, delightful rhymes that sent brewery goers swaying in their seats and tapping their shoes as if they were cowboy boots.

Dorn said River Bones Bland is used to playing in bars where patrons are expecting a rock cover band. Their energetic, bouncing, plucky sets strive to convince these unsuspecting patrons that this type of mountain music, though not what they expected, is what they want. “You kinda gotta pull ’em in.” They had no problem pulling in the Ship Bottom Brewery crowd.

The brewery was a fitting establishment for the performance. A diverse crowd of families, friend groups and children sprinkled the high tops and wooden, lacquered picnic tables. Thirsty patrons toted surfboard-shaped flight trays from the bar counter to their seats, a coconut porter here, a watermelon wheat ale there.

“It’s a unique, different sound for this type of area that you don’t get ever,” said brewery employee Tom Wadsworth, who looks forward to having the band back at the end of the summer. River Bones Band will return to Ship Bottom Brewery Aug. 4. Details regarding their upcoming performances can be found online at riverbonesband.com/.

— Sarah Hodgson


Set List Snippet:

“San Antonio Rose,” Bob Wills

“The Old Home Place,” The Dillards

“Paradise,” John Prine

“Boss Makes a Dollar (I Make a Dime),” River Bones Band

“Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” Nina Simone

“Farmer John,” Don Dewey

“Moonshiner,” Bob Dylan

“Comrade Maple’s Bolshevik Boogie,” River Bones Band

“Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” Robert Plant


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