New Monsoon Celebrates 25th Anniversary: 10 Key Moments
Co-founding members Bo Carper and Jeff Miller weigh in on significant events in the band’s history.
2023 marks a big year for veteran Bay Area quintet New Monsoon. The band is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their formation with gigs at festivals and venues that have played an important role in their career.
Next up for New Monsoon is their debut performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. The group will play the free festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on Sunday, October 1.
To celebrate 25 years of New Monsoon, JamBase reached out to co-founders Jeff Miller and Bo Carper. The two musicians have been in the band since it was formed. Jeff and Bo share memories of 10 significant moments/periods in New Monsoon history with keyboardist Phil Ferlino also chiming in on how he became a member.
Jeff Miller Meets Bo Carper in Bolinas Upon Arrival In California
Bo Carper: Jeff was living in Boston and had talked about possibly moving to San Francisco. We had theorized “maybe we could start a band.” We had a lot of the same influences, namely Santana and the Allman Brothers, but other than that we had no idea whether we had chemistry as collaborators. He later calls me out of the blue and says, “Hey I’m visiting San Francisco, do you want to get together?”
I was living in Bolinas and I had to leave that afternoon for SFO because I was traveling to Oregon. I said “well, if you can get here in an hour I’ll have about 30 mins to spend with you before I have to leave.” He showed up and my first thought was “we have 30 minutes to figure out if there’s real musical potential for us.” After about two minutes of small talk we got the guitars out. I played the groove for a song that later became “Are You Listening.” It’s in an odd time signature, which is pretty common for me as a writer. Jeff wrote a perfect melody on the spot, and then soloed over it like it was nothing. We put down the guitars and I said, basically “I gotta leave for the airport now. Call me when you move here. Let’s do this.”
Jeff Miller: The backstory of my moving to California is I had been living in Boston in pursuit of a jazz music career or at minimum, the experience of learning and playing jazz guitar. I did manage to “cut my teeth” so to speak woodshedding guitar and working a full-time day job. The winter prior to my moving to California was particularly brutal and my music career was not exactly panning out as I had hoped. My desire to leave Boston was strong and in a moment of what felt like desperation, I called Bo (a mutual Penn State friend and bandmate of Phil Ferlino our keyboard player) and without hesitation Bo said, “just move out here. Man, it’s great … you’ll love it and everything will work out.” For some reason I trusted the guy (laughs). Little did I know, until now, that secretly he was planning to audition me in 30 minutes for his new band! I’m glad I passed the audition, and the rest is history as they say.
February 3, 2012: Are You Listening
Bo Carper & Jeff Miller’s First Duo Gigs At Sweetwater & Bolinas Fire Department
Bo Carper: Living in Bolinas from 1994 till 2001 was magical. That is where the band was born. Our very first gig as New Monsoon was at Smiley’s in Bolinas. But before we had the band, we did gigs as a guitar duo. One of the first and most memorable (circa early 1998) was a fundraiser that was held on the big mesa near the Bolinas Fire Department. Vinyl was the headliner. We were graciously invited to play some guitar music between acts. Ultrasound brought the PA!
Michael Carabello from Santana and Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead sat in with Vinyl. It was an incredible experience, especially for a first gig. I did not have a lot of experience playing gigs at that time. My hands were literally shaking with nervousness. It wasn’t until we had played at least 100 gigs that I noticed “wow I am not nervous anymore.” That moment came as we were walking onto the stage at Bonnaroo in 2004. Those two performances are bookends for me personally as a performer.
Jeff Miller: I had come from a full-band performing background, playing with a rhythm section, drums and bass. The concept of playing duo with just guitars was foreign to me and frankly a bit scary. Bo plays a finger-style of guitar that is very rhythmic and fills out what can be more like bass lines. Our styles complimented each other in a way I hadn’t really experienced with another guitarist. Playing melody lines and improv with his rhythm really became the engine of the band, but those first gigs were just us.
Having come from the brutal Nor’easter in Boston to playing outdoor in Bolinas by the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful sunny day with legends Phil Lesh and Michael Carabello standing there backstage, I definitely felt like I had “arrived” and things were looking up! The original Sweetwater in Mill Valley, California also was a magical venue … you could feel the vibe and the history of the legends that played there. Our first gigs there were really special.
Formation Of The Band
Jeff Miller: When I moved out here, my first apartment was in San Francisco. I did not have a car, so Bo would drive down from Bolinas and we’d just jam into the wee-hours. Those sessions were some of the most prolifiic writing sessions. All the stuff was mostly instrumental, but there was alot of room for vocals and later what became the full seven-piece band. Santana and other world music were influences that Bo and I shared … little did we know at the time we would eventually have three percussionists!
Bo Carper: Another Bolinas story: By this time, Jeff’s friend Heath Carlisle from Penn State had joined us, and he was multi-talented. He could play anything. This original formation as a trio consisted of Jeff and I on guitars and Heath playing drum kit, typically using bundle sticks, which gave the music a very warm sound and left headroom for the guitars. Heath also sang and was a great recording engineer. But we needed a bass player. I was always on the lookout.
At the time Smiley’s had one of the greatest Sunday night open mics imaginable. One night I saw a guy playing bass that sounded like Jaco Pastorius. He was incredible. I asked Sarah Franklyn, who hosted the open mics, who was this guy and please give me his number. His name was Marty Holland. But she gave me the wrong number — the number for a drummer named Marty Ylitalo (Oo-lee-ta-lo), who had apparently been in Bolinas for all of two days, on a break from touring with West Marin legend Steve Trivelpiece. I called Marty and bent his ear about “please come play bass with us.” He let me ramble on for 30 minutes and then says “sounds great, but you got the wrong number. I’m a drummer from Canada and I can’t even imagine how you heard of me or got my number.”
To save face, I invited him to play percussion with us at a party in Bolinas. He was a force of nature, and after that party Heath said “I’ll switch to bass, Marty can play drums.” The rest is history. Wrong number, right guy.
As an aside, years later Marty Holland made a surprise visit to me at soundcheck at the Fillmore (he was playing a jazz gig at Yoshi’s San Francisco, I think). We had a laugh about it and he met Marty the drummer. Much respect to him — an exceptional bass player.
Jeff Miller: The timeline gets a bit hazy in this period of time as simultaneously I had made a connection through my day gig with Rajiv Parikh, a North Indian Tabla player. Raj and I became friends, essentially over the phone on work calls, but spended most of the time talking about music. I introduced him to Bo and the three of us started getting together as well and ended up doing trio gigs, mainly in Fairfax, California. Separately, before we had solidified Marty as the kit drummer, I had placed an ad, I think it was on Craigslist, looking for a drummer and Brian Carey popped up. A multi-instrumental percussionist with a history of playing in jambands seemed like the perfect fit for us as a drummer, but with Marty on board Brian became our Latin percussionist playing congas and timbales. With Rajiv on tablas, we had ourselves a six-piece band. The Universe had conspired to bring us together.
Phil Ferlino Moves From Pennsylvania, High Sierra Music Festival Vaudeville Tent, Fritz Frisbee
Jeff Miller: Phil is the linchpin between myself and Bo. I met Phil at Penn State in the early ’90s through some mutual musician friends and ever since we have been playing music. We had a bar band called “Mosaic” which was kind of a jazz fusion funky band. Phil was also in a band with Bo right around the same time called “All Shapes Ensemble.” I went to see them play a set on “Old Main” Lawn on campus and was impressed.
The music was instrumental, original and pretty sophisticated. That was the first time I’d seen Bo play. Maybe there was a healthy competition for Phil’s musical involvement? So it was ironic that Bo and I had moved to California before Phil and he ended up moving here literally just in time to complete the seven-piece and perform with us at High Sierra! His cross country journey from Pennsylvania to California, despite a major setback/delay with a vehicle breakdown, was one for the history books.
Phil Ferlino: Prior to moving to California to join New Monsoon, I already knew that I had a strong musical connection to Bo and Jeff after having played music in bands with each of them. After discussing their music and listening to what was happening, I was invited out for a visit where I had the opportunity to sit in on some gigs and experience the music first hand. I’ll never forget that feeling of being in a foreign place that felt so comfortable with endless possibilities to look forward to and the smell of the eucalyptus trees in Bolinas.
After waking from what seemed like a dream and returning to Pennsylvania from my California visit, I began to manifest the idea of a move out west. After about a year, Bo called me one day to say that it was a good time to make a move since they were gaining traction as a band, and were playing the High Sierra Music Festival. The move to California involved me loading up my studio, instruments, stuff in a trailer I towed with my 1999 Dodge Dakota pickup, which I still drive. I had the fortune of having my great friend Chris McCabe accompany me on the drive. The day we were about to leave, Chris told me that he couldn’t go yet because he had been bitten by a brown recluse spider that had stowed away in his SUV. After four days of the poison venom, sickness, anti-venom, recovery, we finally were able to leave.
Not to be further unchallenged, somewhere in Wyoming, the trailer I was towing had a massive blowout on the open road where the trailer fish-tailed to a stop on the shoulder. After realizing that all tire irons are not created equal, and unable to change the tire in a pre-smart phone era, we flagged down a willing participant who was able to lend us a tool to remove the tire, replace the spare, and get back on the road. Ultimately, we finally made it to the Bay Area in the nick of time to unload all my stuff, unhitch the trailer, load up the gear and head for High Sierra Music Festival. It was a challenge to get to California and it felt like everything was working against the very idea of it, but after perserverance and a lot of help, the trip was a success.
Bo Carper: One of my all time highlights is from our Vaudeville Tent set at our first High Sierra in 2001. The tent, which was smaller in those days, had an absolutely electric energy. I still get chills thinking of it. The incomparable Fritz Frisbee, who had given us our first headlining gigs in San Francisco at the Connecticut Yankee, was in the center, one arm raised high above the crowd. He’s tall and lanky and when he threw his fist in the air at the finale of “Country Interlude,” I felt our real journey about to begin.
First Tour, Connecting & Signing With Madison House
Bo Carper: I have a fond memory of meeting with Nadia Prescher and the late Jesse Aratow (RIP) at the Madison House office in Boulder. They had offered to become our booking agency and that meeting made it official. It was thrilling. I have such respect for that organization. Jesse did so much for us during his tenure as our primary agent. And he had a great relationship with our manager Adam Haft. It was such a loss when Jesse died suddenly.
Jeff Miller: It was the ultimate yin and yang. We were on a winter tour in Colorado hit by a crippling snowstorm. We were literally stranded for days off route 70, gigs cancelled and lost any money we had on motel rooms. But we still had the most important, and what was to become the turning point show at the old Don Quixote’s in Denver. (Michael) Travis and Jason (Hann) from The String Cheese Incident walked in the door onto the stage and we just started jamming to the packed house and blew the roof off. The Wick was lit as they say.
As a sidenote, recently losing Jesse Aratow so suddenly was beyond devastating. Jesse was the best and working with him was a gift. Playing last year’s Hog Farm Hideaway and remembering Jesse was a very special recent experience that we were honored to be a part of.
Bonnaroo, Telluride, ACL, High Sierra, Oregon Country Fair Festival Sets
Bo Carper: During the summer of 2004 we played Bonnaroo, Telluride, Austin City Limits, High Sierra, Oregon Country Fair, all in one summer. It was a dream come true.
Jeff Miller: It felt like we were finally making it in the music business and life was good. Everything seemed to be going our way.
2005 & 2006: The Fillmore: Opening For Franti & Then Selling Out Venue
Jeff Miller: Playing the Fillmore for the first time, opening for Michael Franti and Spearhead to a SOLD OUT crowd was indescribable. I imagine it’s somewhat like being a climber and making it to the top of Mt. Everest. Looking back it all seemed to happen so fast. I wish I could’ve bottled it up to savor now.
Bo Carper: I will never forget our time headlining The Fillmore. It was a co-bill with Hot Buttered Rum. We played a joint encore set to the sold-out crowd. We kicked it off with “Kashmir.” Butter did a seated string section. We rented a gong. We had tablas and congas and wrote a huge drum break into the tune. To this day I still have people tell me that was one of their top ten live music moments. That makes me so happy. It certainly is one of my top ten.
2005: Meeting Santana’s Michael Shrieve (Santana) & Recording The Sound
Bo Carper: Michael is a legend that we all admired. When he signed on to produce our next recording it was thrilling. He had a great connection to our percussionists and of course to Jeff’s guitar playing, which has so much of Carlos Santana’s influence imbued in it. I don’t think Michael was a big fan of my banjo, but perhaps there’s still time!
Jeff Miller: Meeting and befriending Michael Shrieve was certainly yet another realized and unexpected dream. We were playing this club in Seattle called The Tractor Tavern and the room was buzzing. Off in the corner I saw Michael … I think we all knew we had to “kill it” as we would often say on tour. I do believe we did that night and after the show Michael came backstage and started talking to us like we’d always known him. He said “you guys should come by the house and check out my drums. Yes, you got it, the original drumkit that he played at Woodstock! Santana’s performance of “Soul Sacrifice” at Woodstock was a huge inspiration to me growing up as it was to us all. Michael went on to produce our next recording The Sound.
Bo Carper: We got to share the stage and various festival bills with some truly legendary people. But for me personally, our first opening gig at the Warfield is my most treasured memory on that front. Toots and the Maytals. I’ll never forget Toots greeting me with a hug backstage as if we were old friends. His personality was as warm and full of heart as was his music. I treasure that memory.
Big Summer Classic Tour / Playing Red Rocks
Bo Carper: New Monsoon joined forces with The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Michael Franti, Yonder Mountain String Band and Keller Williams for the Big Summer Classic Tour in 2005. We played Red Rocks in July. It was blazing hot. I wore shorts and crocs. What was I thinking? So many memories of this tour.
We were the only band that was not traveling in a leased tour bus with a professional driver. We were in our 1980 vintage Wanderlodge and holding it together with duct tape and chewing gum while chasing the caravan of trucks and Prevosts. I just ran into Ryan Stasik from Umphrey’s and we had a good laugh reflecting on what an incredibly fun and formative experience that tour was for both of our bands. And remembering that the New Monsoon bus became the post-gig default destination for all the debauchery that the professional buses would not tolerate. We almost got kicked off the tour (I’m looking at you Jim Tobin).
Jeff Miller:: That tour definitely felt like the big time, even though we were the low men on the totem pole. We were the only band driving around in our own vehicle — not a huge Prevost Bus — a recently purchased used Wanderlodge RV bus. It frequently needed oil and other costly service and almost made us miss some of the shows, but miraculously it made it through the tour and the other bands loved to hang out on it after the shows because it was against the rules on the big leased buses. Oh did we have fun late night on the Wanderlodge!
But really, playing on the same bill with all these bigger bands, hanging out backstage at some of the biggest best venues in the country, sitting-in with The String Incident, Keller Williams (seeing myself on a Jumbotron was a trip) and of course playing RED ROCKS! By the way, I did have the worst flu-like strep throat thing for that gig, having flown red eye straight from High Sierra for a 10 a.m. load-in … brutal! Yet the feeling of playing at Red Rocks — shorts, crocs and all — was like no other feeling of achievement.
Making It To 25 Years!
Bo Carper: Having a 25th anniversary feels so good. I’m proud of us. And I’m grateful for the special gigs we’ve had this year. Sweetwater Music Hall, Fairfax Fest, High Sierra Music Festival, Redwood Ramble and now Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. HSB is unlike any festival in the country. I’ve seen my musical heroes there over the decades. Doc Watson, Emmylou Harris, Chris Smither, Robert Plant! What an honor to play that festival, and what an occasion to finally get the nod, on our 25th year as a band!
Jeff Miller:: What Bo Said! And a huge shout out to our awesome rhythm section of drummer Dale Fanning and bassist Mark “Murph” Murphy. It’s a true joy to make music with these “new guys” and see what the future holds in the next 25 years of New Monsooon!
Jeff, Bo and Phil also want to thank other band members and crew, not mentioned above, who toured with throughout the years including Marshall Harrell (bass), Ben Bernstein (bass), Michael Pinkham (drums), Sean Hutchinson (drums), Nathan Omernick (FOH), Don Combee (tour mgr), Lisa Brown (tour mgr), Bahram Hooshmand (tour mgr), Kyle Gorath (FOH),Terry La Pointe (FOH), Travis Epsteen (FOH), John Dean (FOH), and Ron Johnson (bass). Jeff, Bo and Phil also want to thank all Jeff, Bo and Phil also want to thank other band members and crew, not mentioned above, who toured with throughout the years including Marshall Harrell (bass), Ben Bernstein (bass), Michael Pinkham (drums), Sean Hutchinson (drums), Nathan Omernick (FOH), Don Combee (tour mgr), Lisa Brown (tour mgr), Bahram Hooshmand (tour mgr), Kyle Gorath (FOH),Terry La Pointe (FOH), Travis Epsteen (FOH), John Dean (FOH), and Ron Johnson (bass).
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