Carbon Leaf ldquo a rock band with musical ADD rdquo plays Altamont

By Zach Simeone

ALTAMONT — Following Carbon Leaf’s show at the Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival here on Friday, a line of fans stretched out the back of the performance tent, waiting to buy CDs, get autographs, and take pictures with the Virginia quintet at it’s merchandise booth. The fairgrounds were littered with T-shirts emblazoned with the band’s name.

Attendees clutched their clear-plastic cups of beer throughout the evening — some full, some empty, and some spilling over because the people holding them were dancing instead of drinking. Oversized hickory-smoked turkey legs were in-hand, and the smell of kettle corn was in the air; much of the corn itself was on the ground.

Just after the sunset, Carbon Leaf hit the stage with soaring two-part vocal harmonies and instrumental work versatile enough to satisfy fans of pretty much any genre.

“I guess I didn’t get the memo,” said lead singer Barry Privett during the show. “Why is it Irish 2000? No one knows, and no one cares. Maybe 2000 was so awesome, this is a way to relive it.”

Then, he howled at the moon — rather, the ceiling of the tent.

“The crowd was amazing,” said Terry Clark, the band’s rhythm guitarist. “We have never played in Altamont or Albany, and it was amazing to see so many people in the audience. There were also a ton of people who know our music and were singing along. Quite a cool, unexpected surprise.”

The jazz-bluegrass-rock-fusion five-piece played for over an hour to a cheering crowd, although the members don’t see themselves as being in an Irish band.

“We’re a rock band that gets bored easily, so we keep interjecting other things that we like,” said Clark. “My family is Irish, and I grew up with a lot of Irish music.” He used to go to an Irish pub in Old Town Alexandria, Va. with his high school friends.

“They were a little bit lax with checking IDs,” he said. “One of the guys that we used to sneak in to go see play all the time was Seamus Kennedy.” Clark was thrilled to see Kennedy perform at the Irish 2000 festival.

Clark describes Carbon Leaf’s music as “acoustic music, Americana, country, bluegrass, jazz, traditional Celtic, and Finnish death polka metal.”

The band’s drummer, Jason Neal, calls it “a little bluesy, a little funky, a little traditional.”

“I guess that we’re a rock band with musical ADD,” said Clark.

To remedy the band’s “attention deficit,” Privett took short breaks from singing and pulled out his flute throughout the performance, adding a touch of delay on the microphone for an echo effect. Virtuoso lead guitarist Carter Gravatt seized every opportunity to jam out on his mandolin, when he wasn’t soloing on his orange ’58 Gibson Les Paul re-issue.

The band’s performance of “Let Your Troubles Roll By” left the crowd chanting the chorus: “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by.”

The set ended with “Mary Mac,” versions of which were played by multiple bands throughout the evening. “It’s a traditional Scottish song,” said Clark. “It’s definitely a song that you will hear more than once at an event like the Irish 2000 Music and Arts Festival.”

The beginnings of Carbon Leaf can be tracked back to Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. “When we started, it was just for something fun to do on the weekends, and it grew from there,” Clark said.

The group’s current moniker fell into place just before its first gig.

“We had our first show coming up — a house party, and we didn't have a name,” said Clark. “The week before [the show], Barry and I were on a climbing trip to Tennessee, and were throwing out words on the ride back. Somehow, ‘Leaf’ and ‘Carbon’ came out separately, and then we stuck them together. The girl that was having the party put ‘Carbon Leaf’ on the flyers, and it just stuck.”

Now, the band is working on its eighth album. “We tour coast-to-coast,” said Neal, “but not so much lately, because we’re making a new record.” The album is due out in March 2009, he said.

The members have said that they place value on disagreement, as it shows that each member is still passionate about the band’s sound.

Clark said of Privett, the band’s lead singer, “Barry and I seem to be the ones with the strongest opinions, and are usually very vocal about them. A lot of times, we come from completely [different] places…but then end up in the same place. We're all perfectionists, and push each other to work harder…at the end of the day, we really respect each other’s views.”

— Quotes from Barry Privett and Jason Neal contributed by Jordan J. Michael.

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