July 28, 4:45 p.m., Gathering of the Vibes, Seaside Park, Bridgeport, gatheringofthevibes.com
Is boisterous punk-funk at home at a mellow jamband festival? We'll see, when Fishbone, legendarily eclectic and energetic genre mashers from Southern California bring their whiplash blend of Prince, Cab Calloway, Sly Stone, Bad Brains, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown to the tie-dyed crowd at the beach in Bridgeport.
We spoke with Fishbone bassist and founding member Norwood Fisher by phone from his home in Southern California, about the band's connection with the wide-ranging jamband culture and about Fishbone's activities since the successful 2012 documentary Everyday Sunshine brought renewed attention to the long-running band.
"Since the documentary was publicly released, we put in a lot of work," says Fisher. "We saw a lot of growth in our business. It's amazing." The band released an EP, Crazy Glue, another EP is on the way for 2013, and they have plans next year to release a full-length album of new material, a concept album based on a poem by frontman Angelo Moore.
"Right now we're mainly just kicking back and getting into the writing process," says Fisher. "We've been looking forward to a prosperous 2014. We've worked hard for the last two years."
Fishbone won't be alone representing the glories of groove-heavy African-American traditions at Gathering of the Vibes, with the Roots and the Funky Meters playing the festival. Wide-ranging stylistic cross-currents, genre-jumping and unexpected switcheroos might now be standard from a lot of jam bands. No one blinks when bands sprinkle in bits of jazz, reggae, klezmer, polka, funk, and weirdness in with their classic-rock foundations. But Fishbone were pioneers in this kind of rapid-fire musical presto-chango. The band could go from doo-wop harmonies to gospel shouts, to metal shredding and soul crooning with a swiftness and skill that was either delirious and exhilarating or dizzyingly confusing, depending on your tastes and metabolism.
As the documentary about the band tells it, that blurring of categories, along with the race-based pigeon-hole marketing that many record labels practiced, led to Fishbone's never quite hitting it big, despite playing shows with like-minded big-name punk-funk explorers the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction, and despite videos on MTV and an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Those bills may have been more drenched with adrenaline and testosterone, and more anarchic than your average weed-scented improv-heavy folk-and-jazz-based jam meisters, but Fisher, 47, points out that the connection has been there all along, and it might be stronger now than ever.
"There absolutely are more people that are embracing the eclectic sound," says Fisher.
And the band's activism in the effort to legalize marijuana has helped forge many connections. "We had a great relationship with the people at High Times magazine," says Fisher. Other issues, says Fisher, like the fight to label, regulate or ban genetically modified crops are a part of the way that the revolutionary ethos of the '60s has continued to reverberate, beyond just music. Fisher recently took part in a March against agricultural giant Monsanto.
"I'm very encouraged by what seems to be a larger awakening of consciousness about what people put in their bodies," says Fisher. "I was born in 1965, at the heat of when these ideas were emerging. It took between 40 and 50 years for them to come to realization. And they're still being realized. And if people don't pay closer attention, they can all be stripped away as well."
More and more, in 2013, music festivals are places where all of these concerns collide and mix. Fishbone fits nicely at a place defined by a spirit of environmental activism, healthy food, and live music with a spirit of crossing boundaries and linking disparate traditions. Even the band's stylistic all-over-the-placeness can be seen as an effort to unify everyone.
When asked if maintaining the stamina for a high-energy Fishbone show has become more of a challenge, as the band members cruise through their 40s, Fisher rejects the idea.
"We've trained all our lives for this."