What: Elephant Revival
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030
Elephant Revival started with two strangers dancing on a rooftop and two others dancing in a puddle. They’re named for the bond elephants share and travel the country in an old church bus that runs on biofuel.
It’s almost too idyllic and charming to be true, but it all is. Bonnie Paine – who plays washboard, djembe and musical saw – met guitar and banjo player Daniel Rodriguez while dancing on a rooftop in New London, Conn. The next time they met, Paine said, they played until sunrise. Fiddler Bridget Law met mandolin and banjo player Dango Rose while they were dancing in a puddle at a bluegrass festival. Finally, the entire band came together at the Winfield Bluegrass Festival, with addition of banjo, guitar, mandolin and viola player Sage Cook. A year later, they were playing as a band.
Rewind just a bit, though. The band members were spread across the country, and Rose was busking at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. During that time, a pair of elephants there were separated and died — one during transportation to another zoo and the other of unknown causes. Elephants are loyal, tribal animals, so the guess is that this one died of heartbreak. Rose emailed everyone a list of dates with the subject “Elephant Revival Concept?”
“He saw that as a sign that we should all come together,” Paine said.
For the past five years, Elephant Revival has been touring and recording with their brand of folk that’s been labeled “neo-acoustic” and “transcendental.” Paine is a little hesitant to accept the labels, though she doesn’t outright reject them either.
“I don’t use that term (transcendental) because I’m not quite sure — there’s a reporter that coined that term and we’ve had a comments like, ‘That’s perfect! You guys are starting a new genre!’” she said. “I’m with it, but i feel like I should try to understand the term if I’m going to represent it.”
The term is floating around Elephant Revival because their music really does transcend different sounds. Their repertoire meanders through folk, country, Celtic, and indie rock, with hints of reggae and jazz. The “neo-acoustic” label is a bit more confusing. Most of Elephant Revival’s instrumentation is acoustic, but there are definitely electric instruments being played in their songs.
“I guess ‘neo’ in the sense that they’re new and they’re just being written,” Paine speculated, unsure. “I should work on that, because I never know what to say when people ask.”
Whatever it’s called, the music is good, and with two studio albums and endless touring under their belts, they’re ready for the next record.
“The material is there. We have enough material to probably record 10 more albums,” Paine said. “I think we’re gonna set five days aside where we all stay in the same house together and just work up some different string section ideas, maybe some feels we wanna communicate.”
Much like other bands who are constantly on the road, Elephant Revival feels a lot of the band’s strength is in the live sound. With mostly-acoustic music made with instruments, rather than computers, that feeling is often spot-on. For the next album, the group might try to capture that style.
“It’s gonna be different because myself and a few other people have expressed wanting to capture more of our live energy and we’re still undecided as to whether we’ll do that in front of an audience or just record live in the studio,” Paine said. “We might do this thing where you can rent out a room and like 150 people can come and watch the show. So we would do two days of that and then two days without anyone in the studio.”
For now, the Nederland-based group is touring Colorado, with upcoming dates in Denver, Boulder, Telluride, Colorado Springs, Carbondale, Rollinsville, Crested Butte and Durango.
“I love our home shows for sure. It’s where we started out,” Paine said. “It’s good to be home, there’s always that sense of – what’s the word – it’s like family when we play here.”