Chandler Travis rounds up his band to open Riverlink concerts

It can sometimes be hard to get all nine members of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic together in one
Chandler Travis Philharmonic opens the summer-long Riverlink concert series in Amsterdam on Saturday. Holly & Evan are also on the bill. (photo: ED CONWAY)
Chandler Travis Philharmonic opens the summer-long Riverlink concert series in Amsterdam on Saturday. Holly & Evan are also on the bill. (photo: ED CONWAY)

It can sometimes be hard to get all nine members of the Chandler Travis Philharmonic together in one place.

In fact, the band’s latest album, cheekily titled “The Chandler Travis Philharmonic Blows,” is the first album to feature live in-studio performances by the band since their 2000 debut, “Let’s Have a Pancake.” That album only featured four songs with the whole band playing live; the 12 songs on “Blows” were recorded completely live, with no overdubs.

“Having the whole band play together in the studio is one of the greatest things on Earth, but it’s difficult logistically,” said songwriter and head honcho Chandler Travis recently from his home on Cape Cod.

Riverlink schedule

All shows are on Saturdays, beginning at 7 p.m., except where noted. For more info, go to

July 9, 6:30 p.m.: Chandler Travis Philharmonic, with Holly & Evan.

July 16: Tony’s Polka Band.

July 23: Nancy Walker Trio.

July 30: Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys.

Aug. 6, 3 p.m.: Third annual Riverlink Jamboree, with MC Peggy Lecuyer, Three Day Threshold, The Nellies, Moonshine Holler.

Aug. 13, 5 p.m.:Second annual Singer/Songwriter Festival, with MC Michael Eck, M.R. Poulopolis, Matt Durfee, Tom Lindsay.

Aug. 20: One Sweet World

Aug. 27: Kidz Theater (underwritten by the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame)

“Needless to say, I can’t pay the musicians a lot when I’m paying nine or 10 of them, and the logistics of it are daunting. When it finally happens, so far, without exception, it’s been amazing. I love it, and I can’t wait to do it again.”

When the band kicks off the annual Riverlink Summer Concert Series at Riverlink Park in Amsterdam on Saturday, they won’t even have all of their members. The lineup for that show will consist of Travis, string bassist John Clark, saxophonist and clarinetist Berke McKelvey, trombonist Bob Pilkington, keyboardist Cliff Spencer, drummer Ricky Bates and a “mystery trumpet player.”

“It’s the fairly full Philharmonic,” Travis said with a laugh.

Since the 1970s, Travis has built a reputation nationally, and especially in the Northeast, for quirky, humorous rock ’n’ roll that has been championed by George Carlin (who he opened for throughout much of the ’70s and ’80s) and the members of NRBQ. In the ’70s, he kicked off his career with Steve Shook in Travis Shook and the Club Wow, and later formed the Incredible Casuals with Shook and Johnny Spampinato, brother to former NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato and an eventual NRBQ-er himself.

The Philharmonic, one of Travis’ main projects since 1996, is perhaps his most varied project yet, combining his rock sensibilities with New Orleans swing and jazz into a sound he has alternately dubbed “alternative Dixieland,” “omni-pop” and “gospel music for atheists.”

Perfect choice

All of which makes the band an ideal candidate for the Riverlink series. For the past decade, ever since the park opened, it has hosted the series each summer, drawing from mostly local bands while occasionally landing a bigger name, such as Travis or another former NRBQ member, Terry Adams, a few years back.

While sticking heavily with roots music, the series likes to mix it up. This year’s shows, which take place on Saturdays throughout the months of July and August, include Amsterdam’s Tony’s Polka Band (July 16), the country-rock of Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys (July 30), and in a first for the series, a Broadway revue-style performance from Kidz Theater closing out the season on Aug. 27.

“I like what I like, but that doesn’t mean everybody likes it, so you’re always — you need to look at things that way,” said Paul Gavry, president of the board of the Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, which coordinates the concert series each summer.

“So we try and bring in stuff that might be of interest with different musical styles, like Tony’s Polka Band. I’m quite sure that will draw quite a local crowd, and not that I don’t like polka music — I do — but we’ve never had those guys.”

Gavry has been working with the board for the past four or five years, long enough to be around when the series was formalized with the title Riverlink Summer Concert Series. Over the years, he’s seen a regular fan base for the series develop, although one group he’s hoping to reach this year is the younger, high school- and college-age crowd.

“We haven’t tended to have acts that would appeal to younger kids,” he said. “We do have One Sweet World [on Aug. 20], and their whole performance is Dave Matthews Band covers. . . . That kind of performance, group, hopefully will draw a younger crowd, but that remains to be seen.”

Eager to launch series

Travis is looking forward to kicking off the season. “We like doing those outdoors things, with families, things like that. We can hit a wider variety of age groups, which for us is great.”

Audience members can probably expect to hear songs from “Blows,” which run the gamut from the almost Latin-tinged rhythms of “Fruit Bat Fun” to more contemplative numbers such as “Anne,” all with a healthy dose of the oddball humor Travis is known for. Musically, the album covers a lot of ground as well, with Elvis Costello (another Travis supporter) rock grooves existing comfortably with horn interludes and meandering acoustic numbers.

“I’m a voracious listener of music — I love music; I listen to all kinds of music all the time,” Travis said. “When I hear something from, say, some crazy weird country band that just lights fire, I just want to be able to play it. The Philharmonic is great for that. We can play anything.”

He also records solo — his last solo album, 2009’s “After She Left,” is a much more sedate, romantic affair. Recently, he formed a more rock-oriented project, The Catbirds, which is working on a new album. His writing is often affected by each of these different projects.

“Mostly, tunes come in your head, and the ones that sound like they need horns and keyboards go to the Philharmonic,” he said. “Then there are ones that are big rock ’n’ roll songs with guitars and stuff, and those go somewhere else. But as soon as I get a new band, then I write something that doesn’t belong in any of the bands I’m doing, just from sheer lack of discipline and restraint.”

Travis doesn’t really want to give anyone any expectations about the Philharmonic’s performance.

“I don’t know what anyone is expecting, but I hope we don’t do it,” he said. “You can probably expect some colorful dress — we tend towards pajamas and bathrobes. So expect a band that looks like hell, in a riotous way.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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