After developing a loyal following at live shows, 20 Grand heads to recording studio
Funk Finds a Home in the Flathead
By Myers Reece, 4-11-12
Click the image or use the arrows to see more photos from the 20 Grand show at the Bierstube at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
WHITEFISH – On any given night, depending on the mood and makeup of the crowd, the funk band 20 Grand might transition from Aretha Franklin to Rage Against the Machine, alternating from the soulful Kerri Joy singing lead to emcee E Rock grabbing the mic. Despite the diversity of the set list, the band’s nine members – to use an appropriate idiom – never miss a beat. And the crowd never, ever stops dancing.
Over the last three years, 20 Grand has developed a loyal following around Whitefish, and increasingly beyond, though the following is hardly homogenous. Some nights, the crowd might be predominantly 20-somethings. The next weekend there might be a lot more people in their 40s and 50s. The band alters its set list accordingly.
It’s a nice luxury to have nine members with the talent and diversity of musical backgrounds necessary to adjust on the fly and cover whatever genre is appropriate for the evening’s moment. For all of the band members, a good show is dependent upon their ability to judge the crowd: its demographics and its collective reactions to particular songs.
“When we’re up there, it’s like a quarterback calling an audible,” drummer Vinnie Rannazzisi said. “The demographics of the crowd with this band are a lot wider than with a lot of the bands I’ve played with. You’ll see 60-year-olds out there getting down to us.”
Emcee E Rock calls it “playing to the room.”
“We have versatility,” E Rock said. “You just feel out the crowd.”
Rannazzisi is a good example of the band’s ability to adapt. He has previously played in a jazz group, where he met a few of the 20 Grand members, and also plays with Moonshine Mountain, a five-piece band that boasts influences ranging from bluegrass to punk to reggae. Guitar player Jamie Simpson and bass player Chris Arndt from 20 Grand also play in Moonshine Mountain, which released its first studio album in March.
Simpson, who Rannazzisi calls the band’s “music director,” brings a background of New Orleans soul, while E Rock gives the group a hip-hop element and Joy has the ability to quiet a rowdy bar crowd with her soulful voice. A brass section gives the band a solid horn presence and Arndt’s bass lines are, night in and night out, reliably funky.
When all of those elements come together on stage, it might appear to be the result of many days of practicing together. But the truth is, with such a large number of band members and many of them having families, 20 Grand isn’t able to get together all that often. So the band members are assigned homework – songs to practice at home until the full band can meet up.
But when 20 Grand stands before a crowd, like last weekend at the Bierstube to celebrate the end of ski season at Whitefish Mountain Resort, the group sounds polished. Yet the key to their sound isn’t tied to practiced arrangements as much as it is improvisational spontaneity. As E Rock said, it’s a matter of reading the crowd. And if people are dancing, the band knows it’s doing something right.
“Being in a funk band is like doing a service to the community,” E Rock said. “Everywhere needs a good, danceable funk band.”
“We just want people to listen to our music and have fun,” he added.
The sound that the band has carefully crafted over these last three years, including one year with the current members, will make its way to the recording studio. The band plans to record its first studio album of original songs in the fall after its busy summer concert season is finished. The group is already booked through the summer, from Lakeside to Kalispell to Whitefish.
Eric Gates, a saxophone player, said the band is excited to get in the recording studio.
“We’ll see where that takes us,” Gates said. “A year from now, the world may look different for 20 Grand. Or maybe not. We’ll see.”