[purchase Live at the Wetlands]
No, that isn’t a typo—The title of the song is the theme for the week. One of the most noticeable things about a Robert Randolph and the Family Band concert is the joy in the music and in the attitude of the musicians. That has to be something that is ingrained in their personalities, and must also be fed by the fact that Randolph’s band includes two of his cousins and his sister on background vocals. Now, I know that many families are dysfunctional and don’t get along, but based solely on watching them on the stage, I would like to go to a Randolph family barbecue.
Randolph’s story is interesting. A pedal-steel guitarist who learned his craft in a church in New Jersey, Randolph was discovered at a “sacred steel” convention and was asked to join John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars in a project called “The Word,” which included gospel and original, but still gospel-sounding, music. Shortly after that album was released, Randolph and the Family Band released “Live at the Wetlands,” which included a version of “The March.” As you can see in the video (from a more recent performance), there is a dance associated with the song, and Randolph leaves his instrument to lead the audience in the dance.
My wife and I saw Randolph in 2003 at Roseland, with the just-breaking Los Lonely Boys as the opening act. As you can imagine, it was a great show. My son and I saw the band again at the Tarrytown Music Hall recently, and while it was a good show, it didn’t measure up to the memory of the Roseland gig. Maybe it was just an off night, or maybe my memory is playing tricks on me. Or maybe Randolph needs to be seen in a place where you can stand and dance, not sit in a seat, to be best appreciated.
Randolph often wears sports jerseys on stage, and is a New York Knicks fan. In fact, Madison Square Garden has, for a few years, featured him and the band as part of a “Friday Night Knicks” promotion, where his music is played. Unfortunately, the team has had a bad record on Fridays, and many fans think that there is a curse—which Randolph himself has apparently acknowledged (although others just blame James Dolan, the owner). But I don’t believe in those things, knock on wood.