With the College of Santa Fe's recent layoffs, program cancellations and an unsure future, the spring concert series is an escape from the turmoil.
Unfortunately, at the Jan. 31 Paper Birds' show, it was an escape of which the students didn't take advantage (full disclosure: I am an adjunct faculty member at CSF this semester).
Instead, nearly 2⁄3 of the Denver band's audience was in its late 40s and early 50s. In a way, that makes sense; Paper Birds plays an old-timey brand of acoustic Americana that fits more on the front porch of a rickety Southern house than at a college. The seven-piece band relies on three singers, banjo, harmonica, trumpet, trombone, stand-up bass and acoustic guitar for its instrumentation, making use of whatever else is lying around for the occasional percussive element. Because the band's structure is such a basic throwback, there's something experimental to the group. Rarely does a group of such youth (only one of the members looks as if he could be older than 25) forsake current trends to travel down its own path. Of course, those who do so tend to excel, and Paper Birds has received a good amount of attention back home for this attitude.
Speaking of attitude, Paper Birds is about the most delightful group around. The band members joked uncomfortably with the audience and acknowledged at one point that they're usually "even more awkward than this." Seeing such an older crowd seemed to throw the band off a bit during the lapses between songs but, during the performance, each member was spot-on. None of the three singers have exceptionally strong voices but, when they harmonize, the different vocal traits of the women melt together into the beautiful sound of a mid-century female barbershop-quartet that would be cheapened by pitch-perfect voices.
Especially fun to watch is Paper Birds' banjo player, Caleb Summeril, who holds his banjo like he's playing '80s metal riffs, while his body moves in time to some other song. The band's charm derives from the band's family dynamic, a dynamic that showed when members teased Summeril's posture.
The music of Paper Birds fits with the deserted atmosphere of the school, though the cheery songs were a little more upbeat than the outlying campus. Hopefully the remaining February shows, which include Colorado bands Zebra Junction and Boulder Acoustic Society, as well as Tuscon's Bold Bird, can help remind students and community alike what's so special about the College of Santa Fe and the scene it helps maintain in town.
Bold Bird at CSF SUB
8 pmTuesday, Feb. 24
Boulder Acoustic Society at CSF SUB
8 pmFriday, Feb. 27
Zebra Junction at O'Shaughnessy Performance Space
8 pmSaturday, Feb. 28