by Jeremiah Shea, photos by Chris Daniele and Barry Bellamy
The opportunity of a lifetime. “No overdubs, no second chances – just a moment captured in time”, says guitarist Danny Mayer. History was made in just 85 minutes of creative passion. The Alan Evans Trio caught lightning in a bottle with what looked like relative ease. The band embarked on the first ever Woodstock Sessions last weekend, where they got the chance to record a live album with thirty exclusive guests at Applehead Recording Studios.
Anticipation ran high as something special was surely going to be made that Saturday night. The scenic drive up offered only brief distractions. This was more than just a concert, and overwhelmingly felt that way. There aren’t many things on the same level as your wedding day or the day your child is born, but this was approaching that intensity. You could feel how special this truly was from the second you drove up the dirt access road. It was both making history and laying the groundwork for future sessions at the same time. We weren’t on the actual grounds in Bethel, but maybe there was a reason they were calling this the Woodstock Sessions.
The atmosphere as you arrived felt intimate and inviting, which would set the tone for the evening. The studio itself sat hidden in what appeared to be an old barn, set quite a ways back from the road. Drummer Alan Evans said, “The Woodstock Sessions had a little bit of everything. It felt like a small festival, it felt like a family get together, it felt like a gig. It was really unique.” Thirty guests from all over the country descended upon the property and slowly trickled in one by one. The band, relaxed and easily blending in, greeted everyone as they arrived and began settling in. As the food was cooked and setup, Alan, Danny, and Beau were just hanging out, drinking beer, and shooting the breeze. There might not have been any true family relation, but there was definitely a shared appreciation for creative expression, musical intelligence, and one class-act band that brought everyone together. Studio owner Michael Birnbaum noted, “We wanted to accommodate the intimacy of the relationship between an artist and their fans and have the people be an energetic accelerant for the entire process.”
As dinner wrapped up and the sun slowly began to set, everyone knew that it was time. We slowly funneled into the studio for what was going to be the experience of a lifetime. The inside was in striking contrast to the exterior and drew everyone’s eyes up and down as they stepped through the doors. The wood that covered the interior was warm and rich in color, a winding staircase gave a birds-eye view, and there was nothing but equipment that separated you from the band. As you sat in anticipation, you realized how real this was becoming. Guitarist Danny Mayer, says, “The vibe in the room when we played was almost the same as the barbecue, but with a significant amount of excitement in the air.” It was like an MTV Unplugged session, but imagine sitting on the stage. There were no barriers. The instruction was to just have a good time, nothing else. The band looked around at each other to make sure all were ready to begin. The time was finally here.
And just like that, the band exploded into the set with the relentless attack of “They Call Me Velvet”. At any normal show, the guys would just be getting their feet under them, but they hit the ground running on this night. As the set evolved, the band had such command over the feel and sound. At times, they sent you blasting off into the atmosphere with their forceful play and other times they would reel you back down to Earth. The dynamics were simply beautiful. The band was firing on all cylinders, churning out a mix of the tightest funk, the most emotional of blues, and expressed to the jazz degree. They were more locked in and focused than most had ever seen them. Bandleader Alan Evans commanded the tempo like few drummers have the ability to do. His poise and power behind the kit delivered a beat that grabbed your foot and tapped it for you. Ears and souls were satisfied to the fullest. Michael Birnbaum, says, “It was shocking how powerful the recording sounded when we played it back.” At the end of the final song, there was an apex and one last sendoff as Alan used his kick drum in a manner that sounded like fireworks to appropriately close the session.
The expression of “What just hit me?” was plastered over everyone’s face around the room. Music fans of the world, take note, this band and this studio just made a profound discovery that everyone needs to know: this is the way music is supposed to be recorded and the quintessential way for music to be listened to. Music is supposed to have human error and flaws; it’s what keeps things real. There was no auto tuning applied, fixing of solos or patching anywhere. This was raw and done in just one take, as they achieved something as close to flawless as real music is supposed to go. It truly achieved perfection though through the deep expression of the band and the energy that the guests gave right back.
To steal a line from Ralphie, this was “electric sex”. Instead of light glowing through a window though, this was a penetrating sound that was experienced within feet. It hinged on feeling like a religious experience as your soul felt enlightened after experiencing music in a way it had never been experienced before as a fan. The humbleness and appreciation the band expressed was second to none as well. Al might have moved away from his hometown of Buffalo, but The City of Good Neighbors has clearly left a resonating impression that he carries with him today. Seconds after the closing note, each of the guys jumped into deep conversations with the fans who attended on topics ranging from their gear to how the experience felt. This was family now as this group shared something that will bond them together forever.
As some camped out that night and others went back to their hotels, there was a collective high and feeling of privileged unity as we all bore witness to a performance that had never been captured quite like that. The drive home felt as though you were awaking from one of those dreams you clench your eyes to get back into. The reflective solitude of silence after something like that is powerful. Thankfully for everyone that didn’t get the opportunity to share in this, the studio plans on making live attended recording sessions a regular occurrence. And while other bands will surely share something intimate with their fans in future iterations, there’s just something about the first time.