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The Dartmouth
May 28, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Pat McGee Band brings uncommon talent to Collis

I remember sitting shotgun in a friend's car, driving around Bethesda, Md., and bemoaning the burdens of our junior year of high school. The CD playing in the background penetrated through my cloudy ruminations and drew my attention to the car's speakers. I nudged the volume knob up a bit, then a bit more. I turned and asked my companion, "Who is this making such sweet, sweet music?" -- or something to that effect.

The Pat McGee Band, with their roots in Virginia, sprouted up in Richmond in 1996, when McGee rounded up a group of young, enthusiastic fellow musicians from bars and venues in the area. Despite its humble beginnings, the band has continued to make music with the determination and talent to make any record label salivate.

The band has come a long way, and they've worked hard for every success they've encountered. Their first two albums, "Revel" and "General Admission," garnered moderate local success.

After three years of managing and promoting the band himself, McGee handed over the brunt of that work to Giant Records, allowing him to direct all his focus on making great music. The release of their most recent record, "Shine," boosted their national reputation and earned them radio time with singles like "Runaway" and "Rebecca." Their tunes have become popular in part because of their ubiquitous appropriateness; they are mellow enough to study to but sufficiently upbeat to inspire a frenzy of dancing.

McGee and the other band members are intent on "making sure that the perception of the band keeps moving forward," he said. The band is now focusing on their new album, which is due out sometime next year. McGee said he's excited about the new songs. He claimed he's become a more mature and intelligent songwriter, although he said that at times a song will simply "come to him" after a concert. When it does, he runs to his cell phone to sing the tune into his voicemail for later development. Whatever techniques he uses, the new record promises to be full of energy and emotion.

The Pat McGee Band's albums capture much of the band's essence. But as excellent as they are, they are shadows of the band's talent, which can only be fully appreciated in person.

McGee and his band have toured with musicians such as The Who, James Taylor, Counting Crows, Sister Hazel and Blues Traveler. McGee said he's glad the band can "hold [their] own in different genres of music."

That said, the band's sound is refreshingly unique, transcending genre. At the same time their music is comfortably familiar. It's country without the twang, classic rock without the edge, pop without the sterility, with a bit of blues mixed in. They take everything that makes music good and infuse it into their soothing lyrics, feel-good melodies and hypnotic harmonies.

The band is very well traveled in the United States, and have played a variety of venues -- from Wolftrap Pavilion in Northern Virginia, where they filled 7,000 seats, to Dartmouth's own Collis Common-ground, where they played to a crowd of no more than 350 students. They are prolific on tour as well, having been known to play over 250 shows on one trip.

Friday night's concert in Collis Commonground just may have awoken Dartmouth's appetite for this band from the South.

The Pat McGee Band satisfied fans with favorites from their previous albums and debuted several songs they plan to record for their upcoming album. The band gave testimony to their ability to incorporate many styles by including Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" and Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" in the set list.

As surprising as the additions were, the band respected the integrity of the songs while interpreting them in their own language of wailing guitar, throbbing percussion and bass and McGee's honey-smooth voice.

McGee is happy that the band is able to "hold on to [its] credibility as a grass-roots band that on some nights does jams. It's about the songs first and then the jams." The band was comfortable and playful on stage. Throughout the evening, energy reverberated between the band and the small but peppy crowd, with McGee as a mediator.

At times when the crowd started settling, McGee would give a rousing call to join in singing or raise up hands. McGee on his acoustic, along with lead guitarist Brian Fechino, would occasionally break away from the main set and fly into an improvisational two-man dance.

Later in the show they wailed on a synchronized ladder of notes, reminiscent of the Allman Brothers. John Small, playing a six-string bass, slapped out a solo during the jam on "Rebecca." Chris Williams and Chardy McEwan, on drums and percussion respectively, were obviously enjoying themselves in the back, jumping up to cheer the audience on and entertaining themselves with a variety of objects, from paper bags to a stuffed monkey.

A few unfortunate incidents, such as McGee's mid-show mic failure and one or two missed high notes due to an overstrained voice, hardly left a mark on the evening's enjoyment.

From McGee's perspective, how successful a concert is depends on the mood people are in, he said.

"Concerts aren't always predictable. The fans have a lot to do with how the show turns out," he said.

From the general atmosphere felt on Saturday night to the band's reaction, it appears the show was a great success.

"The band was just as into the music as we were, which was cool," Lisa Schmidt '04 said.

The Pat McGee Band is well positioned to enter the upper stratosphere of musical stardom. If success is in the cards for them, their challenge will be to maintain their intimate, hometown feel and stay connected with their strong, loyal fan base.

The band will finish up their current tour with dates in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and New York, among other locations.