Lake Street Dive is one of those bands that resides in a place where rock meets jazz meets soul – territory occupied by the likes of Steely Dan, Van Morrison, and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The multi-talented quintet joins an all-star lineup at the Sonoma Harvest Music Festival at B.R. Cohn Winery in Glen Ellen on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 22 and 23.
The four founding members of Lake Street Dive – vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese—met as students at the New England Conservatory of Music in 2004. Last year, keyboardist Akie Bermiss joined as a full-time recording and performing member.
On the phone from a tour stop in Omaha earlier this month, Price talked about how, in this era of pop and hip-hop, a rock band infused with swing and jazz has developed such a large and passionate following. “I think people like to see people play their instruments,” she said. “Nothing against seeing live music that incorporates loops or tracks, or things like that, but I just think that people like a band; it’s an exciting thing.”
Lake Street Dive is, indeed, an exciting thing. While Price is a vivacious and powerhouse vocalist, this band is not a lead singer with a back-up group. These are five crack musicians, each a composer and a masterful player, adding up to a terrific unit in live performance. They proved it on the main stage at BottleRock this year.
Starting with Olson, to whom she refers simply as “McDuck,” Price sang the praises of her bandmates. “There’s so many things that make McDuck musically special,” she said. “He started out on trumpet, that was his first instrument. So he has an immense melodic sense. And when you transfer that to being a guitar player, I think you get something that’s really special.
“McDuck doesn’t play guitar like ‘guitar players.’ He’s not really interested in those stereotypical styles. He plays unusually. His main goal and role is to be melodically supportive in the band. A lot of guitar players are more interested in being flashy. His sense about how to play with a melody on the guitar is really different than other guitar players.”
Price admires drummer Calabrese particularly for his versatility and responsiveness to her as a singer. “Mike is amazing because he is so well versed in so many styles,” she said. “You don’t generally find somebody who is so well trained in jazz, but also is such an impeccable rock drummer. He’s also really well versed in hip-hop and R&B.
“And as a singer, I can tell that Mike listens to me the entire time. Like I can tell that if I sing something, he’s going to react to it, and vice versa. It’s fun for me to know that I get to have a conversation with Mike the whole time.”
The vocalist is equally wowed by Lake Street Dive’s bass player. “Basically nobody plays rock ‘n’ roll on the upright bass like Bridget,” Price said. “She’s completely fearless. She has no boundaries whatsoever, and it’s a hard instrument to play. A lot of people would say that that instrument has a lot of boundaries, but not the way that she approaches it.”
Bermiss is the only “non-founding” member. “Akie joined us about a year ago,” she said. “We’ve always had keys on our records, and in our hearts as far as how we want the songs to sound. So it’s almost funny that it took us this long to think about bringing a keyboard player out on the road.
“Akie has a similar background to us in that he’s really well versed in jazz, but also in many other styles. So we speak sort of the same musical language. He’s an incredible musician; he listens really well. He’s a terrific singer and he has his own solo material.”
The members of Lake Street Dive have been road warriors for over a decade, with a heavy touring schedule including North America, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. They’ve recorded eight studio albums, and along the way amassed their large fan base. Price said that the magnitude of their success has been unexpected.
“Success has been, in a lot of ways, a surprise. Every little thing that we get, we’re like, ‘Oh wow.’ We didn’t know that that was going to be the thing that was going to move us forward. That part of it feels sort of lucky, just sort of like a fortunate thing.”
“We can look back and analyze the things that made it work,” she added. “But we weren’t really doing those things on purpose. We weren’t asking, like how can we succeed? Our motivations have been the same from the beginning, which is just to be a band and to play our original songs the best that we can.”
Saturday, Sept. 22, 3:15 p.m. One-day pass $135 (sold out). Sonoma Harvest Music Festival. B.R. Cohn Winery, Glen Ellen. SonomaHarvestMusicFestival.com.
David Kerns is a Napa-based novelist and freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.