We sit around in the green room at The Hollow in Albany, NY, listening to the muffled sounds of Dr. Jah and the Love Prophets play their opening set of the 4/20 Party above us. From my left to my right sit Formula 5’s Joe Davis (guitar, vocals), Greg Marek (drums), Matt Richards (keys, synth, vocals), and James Woods (bass). They’re a great group of guys who have an incredible rapport, making fun of one another and seldom not laughing or smiling. It’s no wonder they have a symbiotic stage presence and ability to make the music talk to the crowd.
We start talking about the fact that they are playing their first official 4/20 party and what kind of importance the day has. Aside from the obvious sociopolitical talking points and stoner jokes, Joe quickly says, “It’s just another day,” which receives instant consensus from his bandmates. They talk about how the day does mean a lot to many people and it’s a great opportunity to play a show on a day that’s so widely celebrated.
Formula 5 is no stranger to playing in front of large crowds during massive celebrations. The Monday before, they played in front of 4,000 people at the Albany Rally for Bernie Sanders, at which the 2016 Democratic Presidential Candidate gave an invigorating and inspiring speech. When asked about their individual experiences they all gave answers filled with excitement and pride, reflecting on a day that they really didn’t see coming.
Matt’s friend, Brian Maier, organized the rally and invited Formula 5 to be the musical act to support Bernie. Since the event was planned and announced in short order, the band found out only two days before, on Saturday. “It all happened really quickly,” said Woods. “Matt let us know (Saturday night) that [the rally] was Monday morning.”
Load-in was Sunday night and first set started at 11 AM on Monday. It was an experience few bands ever get; organizing with Secret Service, playing for a large room where people attending were there for something other than music, and the intensity of meeting one of the most popular Presidential candidates in the history of the US.
“It was a sweet experience for us,” said Joe. “I had never been to a political rally or anything like that before. To go to one in my hometown and to be a part of it was pretty sweet.” He went on to talk about how, contrary to what he thought an event like that might be like, the energy was very high and attributed it to Bernie’s ability to really get a crowd excited about changing the country for the better.
Greg added that their exposure as a band has grown quite tremendously since being able to support Bernie Sanders at his rally. Playing for 4,000 people and getting publicly thanked by Bernie at the commencement of his speech has boosted their social media support by the hundreds and grew their video exposure by the thousands. “It was a very surreal experience playing to that many people,” he said. “It was very different from any show we’ve ever played; not just the experience, but the atmosphere itself.”
Being entertainment for the day, while not being the main attraction, along with the typical club security experience being replaced by Secret Service police officers made for a truly unique adventure. Matt was probably the most excited to talk about dealing with the Secret Service. “It was kind of cool just being backstage in an area where no one is allowed to be,” which is quite different from even the most strict security at the green room door. Matt continued to boast about Secret Service commanding him that he wasn’t allowed to be backstage and being able to reply, “No, I can. I actually can. I’m in the band.”
Even with Matt’s ability to tell those federal police officers what was what, they still had to follow strict protocol, especially when getting to meet Bernie after his speech was done. They were guided in very structured fashion to what they called, in unison, the “safe room.”
After we wrapped up our conversation they took the stage. They instantly galvanized the crowd by opening up with a flow of “Q&A” into Phish’s “Makisupa Policeman,” followed by “Pokeman Battle Theme” and then back into “Q&A.” For a relatively young band Formula 5 has an ability to act as one musical organism as if their 4 years was more like 14. They paid homage to the day of celebration by playing “Low Rider,” featuring Mister F’s Scott Hannay on synth, as well as laying down a crowd favorite “Legalize It” jam.
If you didn’t get a chance to see this 4/20 show, don’t fret. The momentum of Formula 5’s schedule won’t be stifled any time soon. Their summer is filled with great shows and festivals, some of which they couldn’t even share because of impending announcements. Their announced festival billings include Disc Jam and Ohana Music and Art Festival. They also have some exciting shows coming up including a few with Dude of Life, Steve Pollak, and his band, Fluid Druids. Keep an eye on Formula 5’s Facebook page and website to keep track of updates to their growing summer schedule.