Free Range Reveleers: At home on the road
by Hayden Eller
Banjo Youngblood and Ani Banani of Free Range Reveleers exemplify exactly what their name suggests – individuals that use music and entertainment to illustrate both their love of travel and their lighthearted approach to life. And with six US tours under their belt (not including numerous short runs through Oregon and WA) the band’s success is much more than a happy accident.
The pair were first introduced at Folklife in 2014 (where they were performing separately), during one of the festival’s traditional late night hospitality tent jam sessions. “Banjo was leading a late night jam of ‘St James Infirmary’ and I came up and added a kazoo part, after which I noticed some guy glaring at me (I always get funny looks when I show up at a jam with a kazoo and a ukulele), so after the song I left. The next morning this guy with big chops and a red ruffled shirt comes up to me before I’ve had my morning coffee and quickly starts introducing himself as “Hey you were playing the kazoo at that jam last night, I’m Banjo like the dog,’” Banani explained.
But it wasn’t until they reconnected in Eugene (where Banjo was living at the time) a few months after their initial encounter that they started playing music together more seriously. “We played so much (that night in Eugene) that I actually lost my voice from kazooing…I didn’t even know that was possible. That night we realized how much we like playing music together – It was a few months still before we came up with a band name and started taking it seriously, but it didn’t take too much longer before we started recording,” said Banani.
Both coming from musical backgrounds, it’s not surprising that the pair have been able to accomplish so much after banding together just under three years ago. “One of my earliest memories was my mom driving me to preschool while Minnie Mouse and I sang ‘Would you like to swing on a star…’ I was a church kid, too, so I sang in the choir and all that,” said Banani. As the two go back and forth, it’s readily apparent that their unique (yet equally infectious) style of Ragtime Blues is a distinct combination of their individual musical influences. “I’d say Ani’s influenced me in the way of Jazz about as much as I’ve influenced her in Ragtime, but there are definitely roots in Blues for both of us,” Banjo said.
Outside of their more direct/traditional artistic influences, both are quick to note numerous other life events (specifically outside of the arts) when questioned about development as entertainers. “I know, for me, living in southern Appalachia in my early 20s had a huge effect on my musical taste, and I’ve learned a lot from my musical friends as well, especially Banjo. Bellingham has had the biggest influence on me, musically. It was here that Strangely (the Bham-based One Man Cabaret Riot) first gave me a ukulele and taught me four chords so I could busk up enough gas money to get myself and my little Vespa home to Olympia, just three years ago.”
While the group’s performances are sometimes held in conventional venues, they (both individually and together) can routinely be found busking on street corners. “I love busking,” said Ani, “It’s a test of character sometimes, but it’s had a remarkable effect on my life. It’s when you’re playing to everyone and no one that you really find a connection with your audience.” Banjo is quick to agree, adding “My absolute Favorite is setting up the stage from the side of the RV, Helga (Coming soon, Banjo’s Famous 5 String Medicine Show!). Whether it be a Private event, a Festival, or even just a Random spot of a whim with some friends, we provide a whole cultural experience of an Old World America that is seldom today breached. That stage is magic, and no Union Dues.”
Whether it’s at the Farmers Market, a city street corner, or anywhere in between catching a performance by The Free Range Revelers is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Put simply by Banani herself, “Our goal is to entertain, laughter is the currency of our lifestyle.”
MORE DETAILS: The Free Range Reveleers play at the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturdays. Stay tuned to their Facebook page for other dates or check out http://thefreerangereveleers.reverbnation.com/.