Freaks Ball: Then and Now

Born from one man’s desire to unite the familiar-faced strangers seen at the shows he was regularly attending solo, the Freaks List has become one of, if not the most, influential internet groups in the jam scene, or any other scene for that matter.

A Long Island-based scientist named Aaron Stein was sick of going to concerts by himself and knew he couldn’t be the only one. Tipped off by the fact that each night, in each venue, for each band, the same fans were standing in the same rooms, in the same city. It was in response to this, that eighteen years ago this week, like-minded concertgoers across the greater New York City area were given a place to meet each other. The Freaks List was born, and with it came a now eighteen-year running party known as The Freaks Ball.

In the early years, The Freaks list has was credited with jumpstarting the popularity of such acts as Robert Randolph and the Family Band and The Benevento/Russo Duo. The list’s members began talking about these emerging acts popping up in the New York City club scene, and having them play the annual The Freaks Ball. Scott Metzger’s RANA, The New Mastersounds, Apollo Sunshine, Chris Harford & the Band of Changes (featuring Dean Ween), The Squad (a variation of Lettuce), Ollabelle, Tom Hamilton’s American Babies, Skerik, Mike Dillon, Anders Osborne and more were all featured in the yearly Freaks celebration within the first decade of conception. The event had been held in venues such as Tribeca Blues, Southpaw, The Bowery Ballroom, and Sullivan Hall just to name a few. In more recent years The Freaks Ball has called Brooklyn Bowl its home.

Freaks Ball XII featured the Freaks Ball-Stars that included Eddie Roberts (The New Mastersounds), Joe Russo, Marco Benevento, Ron Johnson (Warren Haynes Band), Eric Deutch and special guests Eric Krasno, Scott Metzger and Warren Haynes. Also in 2012 Bustle In Your Hedgerow (Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz & Scott Metzger) paid an absolutely astonishing tribute to Led Zeppelin. After putting together a seemingly impossible lineup to top XII, the 2013 Freaks Ball would bring Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, Dave Dreiwitz & Scott Metzger together again for what was meant to be a one-off tribute to the Grateful Dead. They called it Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. And so it was, some thirteen years after giving The Benevento/Russo Duo and RANA an opening spot behind Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Bowery Ballroom, The Freaks Ball would birth what we are now simply calling JRAD. Maybe you have heard of them?

In the last handful of years, The Ball would feature JRAD two more times as well as WOLF!, Stirrers (Eric Krasno, Neal Evans & Joe Russo), Superhuman Happiness, and last year hosted just the third Benevento/Russo Duo performance since 2010. Boasting a resume as strong as this, one can only ask themselves, “what could possibly come next?” On Friday, January 19th The Freaks got their answer.

This year’s Freaks Ball was headlined by the Neal Casal-led, Grateful Dead-inspired group from California and Colorado, Circles Around The Sun. The Westcoast psychedelic improvisational group drew support from Brooklyn-based DJ Kevin Kendrick, as well as a rare appearance from the band Hola! featuring none other than (you guessed it) Joe Russo and Scott Metzger alongside Andy Hess, and Avi Bortnick. It is safe to say that Circles Around the Sun, Hola!, and DJ Kevin Kendrick are not acts to pass on if given the opportunity. None of them have extensive touring schedules in 2018. All have them have just been added to the elite roster of bands and musicians chosen by The Freaks, for The Freaks.