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Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010

The Felice Brothers: Restless Spirits and Rustic Stories

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With a sound steeped in tradition, songwriting that’s earned them comparisons to Woody Guthrie and a young Bruce Springsteen, and a combination of perseverance and gutsy determination, New York’s tightknit back-porch Americana/folk rock troubadours The Felice Brothers have gone from playing family barbecues in their Catskill Mountains-based hometown to headlining their own tours and playing major music festivals around the world.

Formed in 2006, the band is made up of brothers Ian and James Felice (and until last year their brother Simone), their friend Christmas Clapton (previously a traveling dice player), fiddle player Greg Farley and drummer Dave Turbeville. The music they create is an extension of the rugged and adventurous lives they’ve traveled.

Many of their adventures have taken place on the road. Driving one night between shows, for instance, the pin that secured the trailer they were pulling behind their Winnebago RV popped off, causing the trailer to fly wildly around. It was raining as the band addressed the problem, and water began to leak through the roof of the RV. With no spare pin for the trailer and rain puddling around them, the band improvised.

“The pin on the trailer came off, so we didn’t have a way of keeping the trailer on,” James Felice recalls. “So we dug into the drum stuff and broke in half one of the pins and duct-taped it. We drove all night, the rest of the way to the show, and then we rocked.”

The band faced a similar dilemma at the 2008 Newport Folk Festival when a downpour cut the power to their stage. Instead of calling it quits, the band jumped off the stage into the mud to play more than an hour of acoustic, mud-stomping versions of their songs.

“No matter what the odds are, we’re going to find a way to overcome it and do what we want to do,” Felice says. “Even being the underdogs hasn’t held us back.”

While not all related by blood, their bond as a band is tight from years of playing together and countless hours of hanging out and making friendly bets on dice.

“We’re like a real family because we all grew up together and are all friends,” Felice says. “It’s for real; we’re like the only friends we’ve got. We really love each other.”

The band is almost always writing songs, drawing on a wide range of musical influences like classical music, American folk, blues and rock ’n’ roll. Felice says that his brother Ian, the band’s primary songwriter, has an iron determination.

“He’ll sit in a room for like three months and fucking write like 50 songs,” Felice says. “He’s extremely dedicated. The amount of hard work and hours he puts into those songs is incredible.”

There’s no plan for a layoff, with the band wrapping up their next album and looking for a label to release it. Similar to 2008, when they chose to record an album in a studio built from the remains of an abandoned chicken coop, the band picked a rustic recording location in tune with their sound: an auditorium in an abandoned high school in New York.

In the meantime, the band is enjoying being on the road, where every destination contains potential fodder for songs.

“We’re blessed to be able to take advantage of traveling all over the country and see all the beauty that America has to offer,” Felice says. “A typical day is us taking advantage of wherever we are and having a good time.”

The Felice Brothers play the Turner Hall Ballroom at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 14, with opener Adam Haworth Stephens (of Two Gallants).
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