When we last checked in with Chesapeake indie-folk act The Last Bison, the group was preparing to play FloydFest with help from members of the Colonial Williamsburg Fifes and Drums. That show was one part of a summer tour that included stops at some of the nation's biggest outdoor music events.
Now, members of The Last Bison back home and looking back on a summer that was both exciting and ... wet.
"We had a great summer," said mandolin player and spokesman Dan Hardesty. "But when we look back on it, it’s almost like we’re the band that always brought rain to festivals. Out of six or seven festivals we played, it rained at five of them."
The Newport Folk Festival was soggy. So was Stills in the Hills, an Appalachian music jamboree in Pennsylvania. It didn't actually rain on them at Wakarusa, a festival in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, but it had rained days before. "The mud was literally up to your calves. People started calling Wakapocalypse," Hardesty said, laughing.
The most memorable moment came at the Firefly Festival in Delaware, when the group played to a crowd of nearly 4,000. "A few songs in, the rain just busted out, it was torrential," Hardesty said. "It was coming onto the stage ... We just kept playing. We thought, 'We’re not giving up this opportunity.' So we played right through the storm. It’s good that we did."
The crowd grew larger as the band continued to play despite the downpour. "It seemed that the crowd got all the more energized," Hardesty said. When the band played its tune “Dark Am I,” a massive clap of thunder coincided with some of the song's massive, tribal downbeats. "It was amazing," Hardesty said, "very providential."
For weeks afterwards, when the band played other Northeast dates, fans would approach the musicians and talk about the experience. "There would always be somebody who came up to us and said, ‘Man, we caught you at Firefly and we had to come see you again.' ”
Currently the band is preparing to head out for a few shows in Anchorage, Alaska, but they'll be back home soon. They'll spend coming weeks polishing new material that they hope to introduce at their Nov. 30 show at The NorVa, which will benefit the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia.
"We’re staying home and writing new music and looking to record the first of next year some time," Hardesty said. "We've looked at Nov. 30 as the moment when we will have a handful of new songs to be able to showcase for our hometown crowd. For the ones who started with us, we want to say, 'Here’s our new music.' "
Ben Hardesty, Dan's son and The Last Bison's primary songwriter, has amassed a pile of new tunes. Ben has also written one with the group's organist, Andrew Benfante. "So, right now, it’s fleshing those out," Dan Hardesty said. "We’re in a room together, working out arrangements."
He said the group is trying out some new instrumentation, piano and upright bass, but nothing as radical as an electric guitar.
"Ben is staunch on that point," the father said. "He's like, ‘Everything must be acoustic, man.’ He pretty much holds his ground. He wants us to figure out how can we make unique sounds with acoustic instruments."