Young bands come, and young bands grow. Sometimes the growth is benign, to borrow a phrase, and the band soon fades into all-but undocumented history. Other times the growth is stunning. This young band, Mountain of Venus, has got something good and now they've come West for what often turns out to be a make-or-break proposition.
The five-piece ensemble, currently working out of the gig-rich Northeast, has a decided advantage over some hometown bands - a genesis in the Rockies and the desire to travel. While recognizing the advantages of working on the East Coast, the players (Jody Cohen, Mike Pascale, Tanya Shylock, Dave Gesualdo, and Eric Barry) definitely carry an heir of desire to return to the slower way of life found in the West. Nowhere was this more evident than their recent and quite triumphant appearance at the High Sierra Music Festival.
Mid-day Saturday on the Americana Stage, tucked in between the two major campgrounds on the Quincy festival site, Mountain of Venus came with their collective A-Game, playing a forty-some minute set. What was remarkable from my vantage point was watching the band shake off the nerves of the road, settle in and drop their blend of folk-laced jam-rock on the welcoming ears of festival-goers. My count reached roughly 120 folks stage side, while who knows how many were enjoying the set from the comfort of their camp, via Grizzly Radio.
As their first musical peak rang out and washed over the campground, I watched lead singer Tanya Shylock literally melt into the moment. My favorite moment came about ten minutes into their set. As their first musical peak rang out and washed over the campground, I watched Tanya literally melt into the moment. When I have written about "that smile," with regard to arriving at festival, this was exactly it. She swung her hair back, hopped in rhythm and within a three-count, released whatever anxious energy had been inside. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the entire festival.
Instead of holding the microphone with two hands, swaying slowly, Tanya was dancing and smiling "that" smile. In time she would again sing out with her soulful, honey-sweet voice. Her joy was contagious as the growing audience loosened up as well. That wide smile grew on my face too, and that is when I knew Mountain of Venus has the special something.
Mountain of Venus creates a refreshing blend of musical styles that quite obviously pay homage to their influences in rock and folk music alike. Shylock and guitarist Jody Cohen sing in beautiful harmonies and contemplative lyrics that may initially challenge the listener with an added layer of thoughts that accompany exceptional musicianship. Mike Pascale and David Gesualdo, lead guitar and bass, respectively, seem always poised to take off once the stories are sung, while Eric Barry slaps a deep groove from the drums in the back.
A high point for the band came later that evening when they played a renegade "tweener" set at about 9:30 pm, between Keller Williams and Bruce Hornsby, outside the back corner of the main stage meadow. I strolled by as the band was carrying gear through the performers' camping area. They were giddy like children getting into mischief, laughing as they went.
They paired up with their New England brethren, Psychedelic Breakfast, and played an abbreviated set of cover songs while some ridiculously talented players circled in and out of the set. Members of Umphrey's McGee, Living Daylights, Ray's Music Exchange and Free Peoples stepped in and out as the musicians worked a small crowd of passersby. This is another beauty of the High Sierra Music Festival and the band clearly relished the opportunity too!
I was fortunate to catch a second helping of MOV when their West Coast run came to Eugene the following Friday (the first day of the Oregon Country Fair). Sam Bond's Garage is the quintessential Eugene home-grown tavern. The feel is cozy and rustic, much like the warmth provided by a good microbrew and good company, neither of which are in short supply at this Whitaker Neighborhood icon. Sure, the average length of the patrons' hair probably exceeds legal limits in many places, but this scene seemed to suite the players just fine. They had friends from Southern Oregon in the house for immediate support and the likes of myself and the small gathering of friends I called in for the show as well. But no matter, because Mountain of Venus lit up the room just as they had the stage at High Sierra.
This band, Mountain of Venus, clearly possesses talent and passion and they will go as far as the crowds that come out to see them. Will they have a nomadic draw like so many others working the jamband scene? Probably not, but they are easily worth your hard earned entertainment dollars. Their songs are uncommonly addictive. I truly enjoy when I hear "Higher Ground" or "Said & Done" ringing through my thoughts. Generally speaking, MOV provides a pleasant refrain in my brain.
Mountain of Venus has now come to the West Coast. Currently they are back in New England for the balance of summer and into the middle of autumn. I will be looking forward to hearing what's next from them and I am sure to keep an eye out for any more dates on the left coast. So should you, wherever you are there's a clear view of Venus, if you know where to look!
For more information about the band, free downloads of streaming audio, and more, visit www.mountainofvenus.com.
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