By Greg Tutwiler – Festivals, carnivals, county fairs, and outdoor gatherings have always been one of this country’s ways of relaxing and getting away from the routines of life. In recent years, for various reasons, there has been an increase in music festivals. Used to be, there was a good chance you’d have to travel several hours to find a weekend music festival. Now days, on any given weekend from early April well into early November, you can find multiple choices, all with good entertainment and atmosphere.
Some of these events are designed to attract and accommodate large gatherings of folks while others are more like a friends and family event. Neither one is really better than the other. It’s all in the manner of your liking. I find the smaller ones quite interesting from the stand point of you never know what the experience will be until you get there. That adds some excitement to it.
Late this past summer a young couple contacted us about a small, start-up festival they were planning, and invited us to join in. Their event, Jam Fish Festival, was held on a small farm in the country in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and was expected to draw around 100 attendees and feature about a dozen, mostly local, bands. Sounded like a treat – and it was.
Additionally though, I was fascinated by a young trio that rolled in about 45 minutes before their set was to begin. Traveling in an old VW bus they lovingly called Trusty Rusty, these kids seemed to be having a blast. While I hadn’t heard them perform yet, I was inspired by their story of being on the road and chasing the dream of being touring musicians. The Coteries, as they call themselves, were everything I hoped they would be on stage, and after their set, I knew I needed to hear the rest of the story.
And So It Goes
As it turns out, a scheduled performance had postponed, and they diverted their trip coming from the northern part of the states to make a replacement date at this event. They were in the midst of a cross country tour in their inaugural year as a full time traveling band. Now, with nearly 200 performances behind them, an EP, and a new CD in the works, The Coteries have carved a niche’ for themselves that just might find them approaching the top of their game. The Folk Rock trio of Emily (lead vocals/harmonica), Matt (guitar/mandolin), and Ben (stomp box/guitar), have gone from farmers markets, sidewalks, and corners of bars, to playing major music festivals like Divide Music Festival, and Harmonium Music Fest, and playing along side artists like Edward Sharp, The Fray, and even Blondie. Inspired by their travels along the back roads and countryside of America, their music is creative, fun, bright, and enthusiastic.
Finding One Another
“Matt and Ben had know each other since high school,” Emily told me, “But weren’t really friends until their senior year in collage at Rutgers University. They were done with the college bar scene and started playing music together.”
Emily was interning in NYC at a music publishing company and wasn’t going to be able to afford New York City living. Her boss had a home in New Jersey where he let Emily stay during her internship. Through a mutual friend, the three all met one evening and eventually conspired to play music together. “We made really terrible noise for about six months in an electric rock band,” she recalled.” It wasn’t really going very well.” “Everything kind of collapsed for us in New Jersey,” Matt added.
11,000 Miles To Go
They realized that band wasn’t getting them anywhere, and began feeling “pretty lost,” as Emily put it. So they pooled their resources. “We drained our checking accounts,” Emily said, “and bought this VW Bus together, and hit the road. We knew we had enough resources for about three months, and we knew we needed to do this.”
They eventually traveled 11,000 miles through 25 states and three providences in North America. “It was more of a wanderlust trip where we were really trying to find our footing in life,” Ben said. “It was like we would wake up every morning and ask – where do we want to go today?”
“We figured out a lot about ourselves, and we discovered some things about the country, but most importantly, could we stand each other in that way for an extended period of time, enough to maybe make a band out of it,” Emily said. “When we got back we really started writing, and putting everything we had into making our dream a reality.”
Making It Possible
The band has opted to do all of their own PR, booking, and marketing. It’s part of the self sustaining process, and obviously more affordable. But, it’s not a task for the lazy minded for sure. “We travel with phones, of course, but we find local libraries when we pass through these small towns where we’ll go in and sit at their computers for countless hours doing research and emailing and making connections.” Ben said. “Collectively we’ve put in 100’s of hours just doing the business end of this.”
And it’s paying off for the Coteries. “There is a very large learning curve right now,” Emily said. “But this past year we’ve played in over 30 states and around 180 shows so far, at about 80 festivals and events, so it really is paying off.”
“Without that aspect of it, we’d literally be sitting around in New Jersey playing restaurants and going into New York City paying to play places,” Matt said. “It’s that work ethic for us that makes this possible, it’s really allowed us to push forward the creative side and actually being able to play music and share what we do with a much larger audience. Without that, we probably wouldn’t be traveling and playing right now.”
Things Are Working
“We’re touring the same areas right now that we played through last year around the same time. The difference is that instead of breaking even, we’re actually able to pay ourselves along the way. So it really feels like we’re growing as a band and that the return on that is showing up in the reception we are getting from previous engagements,” Matt added. “It’s become feasible to now to do this. The work is paying off.”
“From a creative standpoint, while we do still play some restaurant/bar gigs, it’s nice not having someone yell our “Free Bird” all the time, and instead begin to embrace and recognize some of our originals, and actually tune into to us as a band they really want to listen to,” Emily said. “It’s a confidence booster too,” Matt added. “We do feel like the hard work is paying off.”
And we agree, Emily, Ben, and Matt, from where I sit, I see great things ahead for you guys. And what I see even more is a model for other young folks who wonder if they could possibly do this too. Talent obviously plays an integral part of the equation. You have to be able to deliver. But beyond that, The Coteries represent the dream so many have. Their dedication, investment, and determination prove that any dream is possible if you work at it hard enough.
If you’d like to know more, you can visit their web site at www.TheCoteries.com, and watch for my full conversation with these guys out shortly on our iTunes podcast, Americana Music Profiles.