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The Dartmouth
June 19, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Collis gets down with the Leaf

Playing guitars, drums, bowed bass, a mandolin, a tambourine and a penny-whistle, American Music Award winners Carbon Leaf enlivened Collis Commonground Friday night with a high-energy performance of Celtic-roots rock music.

They kicked off their set with the mandolin-driven "Wanderin' Around" and didn't let up until nearly two hours later with an encore performance of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train." Then they took time to talk to The Dartmouth about their fledgling career.

The Richmond, Va. band consists of Terry Clark on guitar, Carter Gravatt on mandolin and guitar, Scott Milstead on percussion, Jordan Medas on bass and guitar and singer Barry Privett.

The quintet originally formed at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. They say they have been around since 1999, although their first album "Meander" dates from three years earlier.

Since recording "Meander," the band has added its signature mandolin and developed a "more organic" sound.

By 1999, Carbon Leaf had established a unique blend of Celtic and bluegrass-influenced rock, and the title for their third album, "Ether-Electric Porch Music" was "Barry's attempt to describe what we were playing," according to Medas. "'Porch music like acoustic artsy music -- stuff you might want to play in your porch."

One of the band's trademarks is the variety of instruments, which keeps the sound fresh.

"We don't have to be bound to the same instruments for each song," Privett said. "The more combinations you can have, the better."

On their latest album, "Echo Echo," Gravatt alone is credited with eight different instruments, but the songs are a group effort.

"Someone generally brings an idea to the table, and everyone throws in their own two cents," Clark said. One member might come up with a country-sounding song, and by the time each member has given his input, the song might be completely rock-sounding or bluegrass-sounding.

"Musically, it's certainly not one person's vision. Every song gets a little bit of something different from everybody," Clark said.

Band members noted that certain styles of writing can intensify the way people are feeling, but not everyone will think of the songs in the same way.

"When you're writing something, it's one thing to you -- you think you have Sting, but some people might think that it's AC/DC," Medas said.

The band has achieved success with the single "The Boxer," which Privett calls a "good luck charm."

It was the first song the band recorded with their new producer, but Carbon Leaf submitted it to a Coca-Cola-sponsored contest seeking out the best new music, and it beat out over 800 other entries to win the award. After performing the song on the American Music Awards, adult alternative radio stations in Boston and Seattle began playing it. Last year, the song was also featured in a commercial for the Pontiac Vibe.

The band is currently touring on the weekends and recording material on weekdays for a new album to be released for this fall.

They are also set to release a live double CD on April 29.