The Mammals to perform at Skinny Pancake tonight

by Kylee Sibilia | 4/14/17 12:00am


Local residents and students can experience Hanover’s burgeoning live music scene at tonight’s performance by The Mammals, an American folk group based in Woodstock, New York.

While The Mammals are primarily known for mixing the tones of barnyard fiddle and acoustic guitar, the group also incorporates rock and roll into its sounds, as well as elements of bluegrass and old-time music. Mike Merenda, who performs vocals and co-founded the band, called the group’s music a combination of traditional and contemporary styles.

“We’ve been calling it a rock and roll string band,” Merenda said. “The foundation of a string band is generally guitar, banjo and fiddle. We add sort of a rock and roll rhythm section to that, which enables us to jump around from genre to genre, but the through line is American roots music.”

The combination of different sounds allows the group to perform traditional instrumental numbers while incorporating high-energy music into its performances. Many of the group’s concerts are so spirited, in fact, that they are followed by a square dance.

Co-founder Ruth Ungar, who performs on vocals, fiddle and ukulele, commented on the multifaceted nature of the group’s music.

“We have a big dynamic range,” Ungar said. “We usually find that people comment later that they really like the harmonies, and they really like the instrumentation, and they really like the fact that sometimes it’s super loud and sometimes it’s super quiet.”

Merenda and Ungar have been married since 2006, although they originally formed The Mammals with folk musician Tao Rodríguez-Seeger in 2001. After cycling through numerous variations in its lineup, The Mammals went on hiatus in 2008. For the next nine years, Merenda and Ungar performed as Mike + Ruthy, a touring folk duo based in Hudson Valley, New York. They produced five albums and toured across the country in addition to raising their two young children.

This year, however, Merenda and Ungar are bringing The Mammals’ name back — mainly because of the group’s history of speaking out on political issues. In their early years, The Mammals were known for their activist leanings, particularly making their position on the Iraq war very clear by singing many anti-war songs. One song by Merenda, called “The Bush Boys,” even caused the group to be censored at many festival venues. In light of recent political events, Merenda and Ungar feel that bringing The Mammals back is the best way to express their feelings on America’s current political landscape. Most recently, The Mammals released “Culture Wars,” a single that touches on topics such as climate change, electronic voting and the use of genetically modified organisms.

“It seems like the time to be politically outspoken is now more than ever with the current administration,” Merenda said. “And political opinions on stage couple really well with high-energy dance music. That’s just two things The Mammals are known for. So we’re using that formula again to speak our minds but still really present a party atmosphere.”

Their ability to create a party atmosphere is a big part of what drew The Skinny Pancake to book The Mammals for the show in Hanover tonight. Michael Cyr, brand manager for The Skinny Pancake, noted the group’s appeal for the venue.

“[Merenda and Ungar] are husband and wife, and you can recognize that chemistry on stage,” Cyr said. “They’re a super high quality act, and they have a lot of energy.”

The Skinny Pancake has been bringing in big acts like The Mammals with increasing frequency as of late. Since opening a little under a year ago, the restaurant has vastly expanded Hanover’s live music scene.

“There was really no scene for this sort of music a year ago — we’re coming on our one-year anniversary in three weeks — and just the fact that we’ve been able to get here in a year is amazing to look back on,” Cyr said. “And we’re super grateful that Hanover’s been coming out for it.”

More and more Dartmouth students have been attending these performances as well, enjoying the opportunity to get off campus and try some local food.

“I really love doing things around Hanover,” Katie Bernardez ’20 said. “It’s always nice to have a chance to get off campus, and it would be cool to hear live music.”

Merenda and Ungar believe in the power of live music to brighten people’s lives, and they encourage Hanover residents and Dartmouth students alike to come out and hear them play.

“People seem to think that we have a really awesome energy, and people who come to our shows tend to leave with that really great cathartic feeling that comes from seeing live music,” Ungar said. “These days it’s really easy to stay home and watch Netflix, but if you make that very small extra effort to go out and see live music, you will not be disappointed.”

The Mammals’ performance will begin at 9 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $12.