The Everyone Orchestra | February 21st & 22nd | Taft Theatre | Cincinnati

In a music scene known for ambition, improvisation and collaboration, Matt Butler may have found the perfect combination.

After years on the road with Jambay and of being a regular in the West Coast music scene, Butler has shifted his attention to developing The Everyone Orchestra, a powerhouse ensemble of regional musicians with a rotating cast of players. Following up November’s successful turn at the Fez Ballroom, The Orchestra has scheduled two late-night shows on February 21st and 22nd featuring a mind-boggling line-up to play at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre, conveniently located across the street from U.S. Bank Arena where Phish will be performing on those nights.

Included in this edition of The Everyone Orchestra are: ekoostik hookah (full band), The Recipe (full band), percussionist Cyro Baptista (Trey Anastasio Band), drummer Matt Butler and multi-instrumentalists Mike Sugar and Chris Haugen (Jambay), horn players Hope Clayburn, Rob Somerville and Bryan Smith (Deep Banana Blackout), Tye North (former bass player of Leftover Salmon), guitarist/vocalist Mike Perkins (The Shantee), multi-instrumentalist Brandon Creasman (Electric Magi), keyboardist/vocalist Zach Gill (ALO), and vocalist Chris Davis (Deepwater Junction).

But it’s not all about the grooves. The Everyone Orchestra is also committed to assisting worthy causes, in this case the Buckeye Forest Council. The Orchestra’s November 2002 show in Portland also benefited the trees by supporting the Cascadia Forest Alliance. And the fun isn’t limited to the artists on stage: one lucky raffle winner will have the opportunity to conduct The Orchestra for a song during the performance on the 22nd, opening up unlimited possibilities like ekoostik hookah’s Steve Sweney vs. the horn section or a Baptista-led percussion assault. had the opportunity to speak with Butler recently to get the scoop on The Everyone Orchestra, as well as some of Butler’s philosophies on music and improvisation. Tell me how the Everyone Orchestra concept came about.

Matt Butler: I was traveling in India and I went to an open mic and it was like this totally multinational open mic. There were about 15 languages that were being expressed there and it was really moving. And some people got everybody to sing along with them in crazy languages and it was a pinnacle moment as a musician. It was community being built through music. And we were doing some open mics in the Bay Area. I was hosting it and just kind of playing that facilitator role and jams would just start to happen. So we came up with the idea of using drums and rhythm as a foundation and getting massive amounts of musicians that can really play their instruments - and some that maybe aren’t master musicians but can hang - to all groove together and be in the same moment and be present and not be playing stuff necessarily that they know. Just playing together being the main focus.

And then, I’m friends with Jeff Sipe from Aquarium Rescue Unit, Leftover and stuff, and he has this thing called Zambiland Orchestra, which is very similar to our whole concept, and he invited me to come out there. I’m not sure what year it was, ’97 or something. So I went out there and participated in that, and that was 60 musicians on stage, total cacophony, conductor, grooves for four hours and different ensembles and stuff. It was mostly freeform. I think Sam Bush did one cover tune, and that was the one “song” I heard all night. And I put all of those experiences together and have been doing it on the West Coast. We’re kind of our own version of Zambiland: the open mic concept of letting featured artists bring forth their art, their music, their songs, you know? What they’re trying to say. And so we did it. Actually the first year we did it, I didn’t actually get to participate. I invited about 15 musicians to New Year’s out in the Bay Area, and my appendix popped and they all showed up and they didn’t know what they were supposed to do, because I couldn’t be there. So that was the first one, and then the next year we did it in our living room, then we did Portland in November with the Taarka people and Jambay and ALO, and now this one. In listening to the Fez Ballroom show, I was really struck by the fluidity of it. Do you rehearse with the people beforehand or send out some general themes?

MB: I have put together a setlist in the past and communicated that to people. The concept is for each artist that’s going to participate in it, that they don’t necessarily have to worry about learning a bunch of other people’s music for it. The part where everybody’s playing together is about just being there. You don’t have to prepare for it other than just prepare to be as present as possible. But there are core bands, and core bands can lead either the orchestra or a group of people through songs that they know. That’s the open mic element that I brought in there, like featuring their art. And one thing about the Fez show, listening back to it, everybody can just play and be.

And so it’s kind of like that thing, like a really good band is doing improvisation, like Phish or something. You think, “Wow they just worked that one out. Who wrote that song?” And they’re like, “We’ve never played it before.” But everybody thinks it’s a song. So you try to bring off a caliber (of playing) where that sort of stuff can happen as much as possible. It doesn’t always happen. And that’s the risk of improvisation. But I think for me, the root is rhythm and just keeping people connected through rhythm. And that’s kind of my job being the drummer and facilitator.

Do you think that’s part of the appeal of this to musicians, that element of being in the moment and not knowing what’s going to come next?

I think it’s probably an appeal and also could possibly turn some people off. Just because they’re working really hard to just do this thing that they do, and you bring them out and be like, “I just want you to be up on stage and you’re in the practice room with all of these other great musicians.” And you’re kind of on a playing field, in front of an audience, so you’re kind of naked. So I think it’s a little bit of both. I’m finding that out right now, because this is new. And we’re projecting it out and as I communicate to different musicians, different musicians have different preconceptions of what’s going to happen and how it’s all going to work. But I think mostly, the musicians respond to the idea of being on stage in an orchestra-style setting, like a jamband orchestra setting.

I noticed that this version of the Orchestra has some new personnel and a new part of the country. Can you tell me a little about the selection process?

The ones in the past have been primarily just friends of mine and people I knew or knew of. This one in particular has been a little bit of both. Jambay had played with hookah a few times, so I had a connection with Dave Katz from hookah, and Neil (Mandel, Nimrod Productions) just saw an opportunity. We were like, “What if we build this with hookah and anchor it with their audience?” And then of course there’s the stellar location of the gig in relation to the Phish show, it’s literally across the street, so that should be fun. It’s strange to see this go from 100 people to my living room to 400 people to whatever we end up with. It’s kind of cosmic, because it’s bigger than anyone involved. So anyway, I’ve been in touch with ekoostik hookah and The Recipe, and they play a lot together. And then there’s my core guys of Chris, Mike and Zach. Then you have the singer-songwriter element with Chris Davis from Deepwater Junction, and the Electric Magi’s Brandon Creasman, and Michael Perkins from The Shantee. Tye North is conducting. We’re really excited to have the element of a horn section. When I’m conceptualizing how to get a group of musicians together, I don’t want a hundred guitarists, so I’m like, “Neil, what about some horns?” He thought of Deep Banana Blackout, and now I’m in contact with those people. So I’m meeting a lot of these people just now.

Have the organizational aspects been difficult?

If I hadn’t been in Jambay and traveled all over the US and played 1300 shows and met so many musicians, I don’t think I’d be able to put this together. And the whole concept of coming together with a higher purpose like saving the trees also makes it attractive and something that people can relate to. We’re taking money from each ticket to go to the benefit, we’re giving the Buckeye Forest Council lots of exposure, and bringing in one of their spokespeople to be a part of the Orchestra. And we’re going to be selling raffle tickets, and hopefully this’ll catch on – the idea of being able to conduct the Orchestra. In a way, it could be really, really intimidating for most people but the idea is that here’s all of these incredible musicians up on stage ready to do whatever. So we’re selling raffle tickets to hopefully raise more money for Buckeye for someone to come up and conduct for a song. It’s an experiment. And that experimental nature, we have to give a lot of the credit to Zambiland, a lot of credit to Col. Bruce (Hampton), and to Jeff Sipe for teaching me some of those elements, basically. The flexibility to take this out and do it in other places and to work with organizations like Buckeye Forest Council in regional areas and try to incorporate that spiritual nature of the trees into it, it’s kind of like our angle.

How do you choose the organizations like Buckeye that benefit from the shows?

You know, I called Julia Butterfly. I asked her and her organization, “Look, we’re going to Ohio, we’re doing this event and we want to find an organization to support and work with.” We want an organization that’s established and doing good work and that can also help us in the infrastructure out there and be excited and be a part of the Orchestra concept. If we can raise some money for them, they can benefit. And also if a lot of money isn’t raised for them, the exposure will help them in what they’re trying to do.

What can people expect? I’ve seen pictures with placards and different directional cues... Coming into The Taft, what are people going to see?

They’re going to see lots of drums (laughing). Multiple drumsets, multiple percussion rigs. I mean, we have Cyro Baptista playing with us. I’ve yet to connect with him, but I’ve heard his music and I know he’s a master musician and extremely flexible about what is abilities are. That’s just kind of an example of how far out rhythmically we’ll be able to take it, which makes me really, really excited. The last time I did this was with [Michael] Travis (SCI) and Jarrod [Kaplan] from Hanuman, Taarka – have you ever seen those guys?

I haven’t, no.

Djimbe, multi-percussionist, crazy. Just a huge rhythmic sound. So lots of drums. The stage is going to have everybody set up on it. I think we’re looking at like 26 stations basically. There are going to be featured sets with the various bands involved as well as short singer-songwriter spots where they’ll do a song or two, and then there’s going to be the Orchestra. During the orchestra, conductor Tye is going to start with just grooves, big fat grooves. There’s going to be three or four bass players up there. Everyone’s going to have to be listening and communicating and being together. Being together and being present are the concept here. And we’re going to just go in and out of jams. And Tye will conduct, like bringing out soloists. He’ll make us into a cacophonic kind of swirl. He’ll make it go slower and faster, quieter and louder, play with all of the different elements. We have stuff on the cue cards like, “Basses vs. Mandolins,” and then we have stuff like “Spacious Beauty,” “Everybody Pray for Peace,” or something like that. So people can kind of invoke their belief through their instrument and together, and all of the sudden this thing happens that can be magnificent. And then we’re going to do some cover songs that are undefined as of yet. As facilitator I’m trying to communicate with everybody and trying to find some cover songs that the Orchestra, or at least a large segment of it, can play together and get on the same page without it taking too much work to get people on that page. It’s a big job, man!

It sounds like it. Do you find that the make up of the Orchestra has an influence on the styles being played, or is anything fair game?

Anything is fair game, but the make up absolutely defines what the styles are. There’s going to be that back porch bluegrass thing because The Recipe is there. There’s going to be that hookah sound, because they’re the meat of this one. We’re there to surround them and add to it and blast off through hookah’s strengths. Jambay will be there being nimble, quirky and poppy with Zach Gill, who is a keyboard funkster guy. And then Chris Davis has soaring vocals. It’s so eclectic. It’s the epitome of eclectic. I’m trying to let everybody have a little bit of a voice, all together and individually, and keep it so it has a flow and isn’t some very jolty, edgy, chopped thing.

What’s down the road for the Everyone Orchestra?

When we were first talking about this thing, we thought about doing this once a year at a different time than Zambiland on the West Coast. That was my original thought. And then, I was talking to Neil and Zach Gill about it, and they thought that we could do this in some other towns and bring Jambay and ALO as the core band, and then bring in regional musicians and wail, kind of train people in this concept. So we did Portland and now it’s happening in Cincinnati and we’re talking about doing a smaller one at Jazzfest and we’re working on a camp-out festival for the week after Oregon Country Fair in July. We’re working on that. From my perspective, from little old me, it’s kind of exploding in front of me. I can’t say the concept is a brand new concept. I’m bringing a bunch of concepts I’ve learned over the years and putting them together, packaging them together, and branding it in a way. With Everyone Orchestra, I feel like when I describe it to people conceptually, it’s like they’ve heard it before. So taking it to this next level, the sky’s the limit.

The Everyone Orchestra will be playing on February 21 and 22 at The Taft Theater in downtown Cincinnati. For more information, please visit

Todd Justus
JamBase | Ohio
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[Published on: 2/13/03]

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