If you’ve seen River City Extension play, you are familiar with the set up. A small stage is filled to
the brim with band members howling with delight and raw emotion through every blood-pumping
lyric and note. If you’ve never seen this large ensemble play, you are truly missing out on a wild and
theatrical display from a group of breathtakingly talented musicians.
The band returned to Akron’s Musica June 30 with an opening set by Ben Henderson, which the crowd
learned would be his last on this particular tour. Henderson’s quiet acoustic strumming was accented
with his gritty yet soulful vocals and wistful harmonica playing. Through set of sweet songs that came
from the heart, a surprise emerged during his last tune when his River City Extension buddies filled the
stage with spontaneous dancing, singing, clapping and instrumentation.
“We’re an emotional bunch here,” Henderson said.
Next on the bill were The Drowning Men, a five-piece group of weird folksmen who took to the
stage like some sort of working class mad scientists. Frontman Nato Bardeen hypnotized the crowd
with noises that sounded like outer space mating calls while guitarist James Smith produced riffs that
sounded like B-movie laser beams.
From one song to the next, the sound was ever evolving and diverse, from baseball stadium organ
playing to gypsy music to epic Americana anthems. The Drowning Men put on a fascinating set that
gave the crowd a steady buzz and revved up their engines for the sonic theatrics ahead.
Members of River City Extension entered the stage looking like actors in the opening scene of a dust
bowl-era play. Once they picked up their instruments, it was clear that the room was filled with a sort
of talent almost too vast to comprehend. The band put a punk mentality to a folksy sound with their
ruckus blend of instruments, movement, passion and political protest through the joyful medium of
Faces glistened onstage in in the crowd as the whole room sang along with every tune, from dedicated
fans to first timers who were simply mesmerized and wanted to participate. Near the end of the set,
the stage grew dark and the band escaped into the night. Uneven chants of “’Nother song!” and “One
more!” broke out instantly, and the band returned to the stage then ran into the crowd to finish the show
with a whole-venue singalong right in the center of Musica’s floor. Audience participation at its finest,
The lineup will continue to bring joyful noise throughout Canada and the East Coast through July 31
when they make their way back to Columbus.
Story by Brittany Nader
Photos by Jim Lightcap