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Darkness & light: Touring again, Wood Brothers make stop at Chautauqua’s Amp with blend of folk, Americana

SARA TOTH – EDITOR

The Wood Brothers

On Jan. 24, 2020, The Wood Brothers released their latest studio album, Kingdom In My Mind. They started to tour — an entire year of shows lined up — and then, while on the West Coast stint of their tour, showcasing the 11-song collection examining circumstance, mortality and human nature, well, circumstance intervened.

The band flew home, and “that was it,” Oliver Wood told Lauren LaRocca of The Frederick News-Post earlier this summer.

The songs on Kingdom In My Mind — the band’s seventh studio release — grapple with the power of external forces to shape internal worlds, or, as Chris Wood said with the release of the album, the “little kingdoms” in our minds.

“The songs on this album all explore the ways we find peace in (the little kingdoms),” Chris Wood said. “They look at how we deal with our dreams and our regrets and our fears and our loves. They look at the stories we tell ourselves and the ways we balance the darkness and the light.” 

In a time admittedly filled with both darkness and light, The Wood Brothers will perform an evening of music for Chautauqua at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 20 in the Amphitheater. The Grammy-nominated band is made up of brothers bassist Chris and guitarist Oliver, and multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix; they have been dubbed “masters of soulful folk” by Paste magazine. 

Both Chris and Oliver Wood had separate, successful musical careers before joining forces with Rix — Chris Wood was one-third of jazz-funk veterans Medeski Martin & Wood, and Oliver Wood toured with Tinsley Ellis before forming his own blues-rock outfit, King Johnson. The Wood Brothers would typically perform 130 shows a year, Oliver Wood told LaRocca, and have just started to tour again this summer as a band. 

Their very first stop was the renowned Spoleto Festival USA, on June 8, where Don Whitley of The Post and Courier noted how ready both the band and audience were for a live music experience.

Not only during the pandemic did we have this quarantine experience, but we also had a lot of social upheaval and liberation, to some degree. When you live through those things, they soak into everyday stuff, and they seep into your subconscious, and they certainly come out in art and writing and music.”

—Oliver Wood
The Wood Brothers

“The Wood Brothers have mixed together many genres of music, but the main flavors that night were folksy and funky. One might think that these couldn’t, or shouldn’t, mix. The band showed that such a mixture could be more than just the sum of its parts,” Whitley wrote. “These master alchemists are able to handle these subtle ambrosias, not diluting the funk, and not losing the camaraderie that is the essence of folk.”

During the time spent in COVID-19 lockdown, The Wood Brothers reissued and performed their 2013 album The Muse, and Oliver Wood spent time making a solo album. LaRocca asked if listeners would pick up on the fact that some of the songs on that solo album were written during the pandemic.

“There’s a few hints in there, absolutely. There are clues,” he said. “ … I think there is a thread there. Not only during the pandemic did we have this quarantine experience, but we also had a lot of social upheaval and liberation, to some degree. When you live through those things, they soak into everyday stuff, and they seep into your subconscious, and they certainly come out in art and writing and music.”

Ultimately, Oliver Wood told The Frederick News-Post, “the whole music for the screen thing is limiting, and doesn’t give you that connection that we’re talking about,” so the band is grateful to be performing live again.

And if The Wood Brothers’ Spoleto performance is any indication, the band’s Amp performance will be one of both celebration and catharsis.

“Even though the concert crowd broke into a dancing crowd near the end of the show, overall the outburst of joy was flavored with a little wisp of world-weary blues,” Whitley wrote. “We have survived. We all know what Oliver Wood meant when he asked, ‘Does anyone feel just a little bit broken from this last year?’ ”

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The author Sara Toth

Sara Toth is entering her fourth summer as editor of The Chautauquan Daily — this season once again back in the newsroom producing a physical newspaper — and works year-round in Chautauqua Institution’s Department of Education. Previously, Sara served four years as the Daily’s assistant and then managing editor. An alum of the Daily internship program, she is a native of Pittsburgh(ish), attended Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and worked for nearly four years as a reporter in the Baltimore Sun Media Group.