Jam Rockers Rusted Root Continue to Tour in Support of Their 25th Anniversary

Concert Preview

click to enlarge Jam Rockers Rusted Root Continue to Tour in Support of Their 25th Anniversary
Courtesy of Devious Planet Media
During the last 25 years, Rusted Root has played on some big stages supporting acts such as Santana, the Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, the Allman Brothers Band, the HORDE Festival and the Jimmy Page/Robert Plant reunion tour. Its music has been featured in films like Ice Age, Twister and Matilda as well as in TV shows like New Girl, Ally McBeal, Charmed and Chuck. The band’s music even found its way into Enterprise Rent-A-Car commercials.

Rusted Root played Cleveland a handful of times last year as it toured to mark 25 years as a band. Singer-guitarist Michael Glabicki, who brings the band back to Northeast Ohio on Jan. 7, says the shows demonstrated just how enduring the band’s music really is. 

“If feels like it’s finally starting to come together,” says Glabicki via phone from his Pittsburgh home when asked about the year of touring. “Our intention all along was to be in the moment musically. We want to improv and improv off the energy of the crowd and be completely there. We’re finally in it and relaxed. Anything can happen on any given night. Each show has been pretty amazing.”

When group first formed in Pittsburgh some 25 years ago, the city’s music scene was characterized by a slew of bands that all sounded quite different from one another. Glabicki says some bands even played “Depeche Mode-techno-sounding stuff.” A number of groups fell into the R&B, blues and rock category. Rusted Root took off very quickly and Glabicki has said the time period was “pretty special” because fans were so open-minded to different types of music. The most loyal patrons would bring food to the shows and turn them into veritable pot lucks.

“There was a lot of political work we did regarding Central America and South Africa,” he says. “We traveled with like-minded groups in Pittsburgh. We did so many benefits, like one a week. We expanded out of that and then our own shows would be us renting out warehouses. We had fans that would bring food and we crossed out of that community into another community of people. There was a potluck going on before the show. We would build the stage and build a sound system. It was a lot of work, but it was all exciting and fun. Every part of it was awesome.”

Back then, Glabicki says he “listened to anything.” He started out with Cat Stevens when he was four or five, and then dove into the Beatles and Stones. He even went through a phase of listening to Black Sabbath and Van Halen. He wasn’t that aware of world music while growing up in Pittsburgh but one of his cousins taught him drums and the other taught him guitar. One cousin was in a reggae band and the other was filtering African percussion into his sounds, so he became a world music junkie. He cites Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon, who embraced world music respectively with So and Graceland, as influences.

“World music found me through different avenues,” he says. “My cousin taught me drums and he was in a reggae band and they were experimenting with African percussion. His brother was in his own band and that was also an African drumming outfit. It felt underground — the world beat stuff. It felt like it was something exciting that wasn’t happening yet. You could find aspects of it on the college campuses. I remember seeing one concert on the Pitt campus. It was an African drumming group. I remember hearing the cowbell and how it played so differently. I fixated on it. I thought, ‘There is something here that should be brought to the masses.’”

He started writing songs on acoustic guitar and writing rhythmically. He and his friend would play along to a cassette tape of African drumming.

“We would play for days and days trying to mimic those sounds,” he says. “I would mainly focus on that. I wanted to feel the drums through the acoustic guitar. That’s how I got started in it. I went out and sought musicians who could recreate that feeling.”

After self-releasing its 1992 debut Cruel Sun, the band signed to a major for 1994’s When I Woke. That relationship wouldn’t last long, however, even though the album delivered singles such as “Send Me On My Way” and “Ecstasy.” Glabicki has described the album as a “real pain in the ass” because the label wanted it so quickly. The band hit another snag after the release of 2002’s Welcome to My Party. Glabicki says he needed to “get off the grind,” so he did some solo shows and the band stayed out of the studio. During those years, he just wanted to “have fun and party.”

“We got burnt out a little bit but we kept touring,” he says. “Management and the band members wanted me to write more tunes. I would reply, ‘I’m on vacation right now.’ I just want to play live rather than write a new album. It was more that than a hiatus.”

Stereo Rodeo came out in 2008 and that represented the band getting back together and coming up with different ideas.

“That’s when things started clicking for us,” says Glabicki. “Fans were anticipating new music and started coming back.”

The subsequent album, 2012’s The Movement, represents the first time Glabicki produced and engineered a Rusted Root album entirely on his own. It also has a new depth and reflects the band’s willingness to embrace a range of musical styles.

“It was a lot of running around,” he says of the recording process. “I would put my guitar on and get ready. It was kind of insane. By the time the mix came around, I was pretty burnt and sobbing. We accomplished what we needed to accomplish. That was my first time but I’ll have more shortcuts next time around. I think it would only go up from there.”

The band had already written the tunes for a new studio album. It’s already debuted tracks such as “Save Me Back” “Promised Land” “Such A Man” and “Tumbleweed.” Glabicki says he wants to create the foundation for another 25 years.

“It’s going in every direction,” he says of the new songs. “Over the past three years of touring, we started to settle into this thing where it’s almost like we don’t care and are completely having fun. But we do care and we’re hitting some odd spiritual moments on stage as well as some different grooves that we’ve never played before. I’ve taken mental notes of those moments. It might be one song one night or a month of playing a certain song a certain way. It’s all expanding out and at the same time settling. I know what we can do and we want to go way out on some songs and then take ideas from different songs and mix them up in a weird way. It’s going to be a different album for us.”

Rusted Root, 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 7, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $20 ADV, $25 DOS, houseofblues.com.

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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