The Accidentals Feel Right at Home at Denver House Concert
Ellin Rosenthal really knows how to throw a House Party. Especially when the invited guests are treated to 90 minutes of spirited live music, personal revelations and sneak previews presented by three rising stars known as the Accidentals.
The talented trio of early twenty-somethings — Savannah “Sav” Buist, Katie Larson and Michael Dause — were on the road again near the end of May, concluding a weeklong run through Colorado with a house concert on Gilpin Street in Denver.
“My favorite thing about touring is that it really gets you outside of your comfort zone,” Larson said about halfway through the Accidentals’ 14-song set on their current #No Fear Tour. “We don’t really try to hide the fact that we’re a bunch of introverts and we’re super-nerdy.”
It’s amazing what a couple of years of concerts will do to turn two wallflowers with stage fright into budding conversationalists who are willing to share TMI moments. An example of their freedom of speech: One of them recently peed in a Starbucks cup while their van was still moving. For a band playing up to 240 shows a year, there’s no time to stop for such routine tasks.
When you gotta go, you gotta go.
The Accidentals have been going strong since Buist and Larson formed the band shortly after meeting at their Northern Michigan high school in 2011. Both classically trained multi-instrumentalists, they picked up Dause to play the drums and became household names beyond the “Great Lake State” with the release of their Parking Lot EP last year.
Love for their home state is evident in the song and music video “Michigan and Again,” which is a mainstay at their shows, but the Accidentals are expanding their horizons as the group’s popularity and songbook grow.
It’s aptly named because the journey has been a remarkable one for Larson and Buist, band co-founders and co-leaders who began writing songs for homework at Interlochen Center for the Arts, about 15 miles south of Traverse City, Mich., where they grew up. Lately, they’ve dodged a tornado that cut short their May 20 set at the River Roots festival in Madison, Ind. In the chaos of a raging downpour, the party of five nearly drove away without passenger No. 6 — sound engineer Evan Klee-Peregon. But nobody in the Accidentals gets left behind.
In introducing the title track from Odyssey — one of 10 songs they played from the new album — Buist, wearing Savvy Kat tights, said the storm that they thought “was going to destroy all of us” gave the song new meaning.
“We want to move forward boldly, not in the absence of fear but in spite of it,” she said.
That’s one reason why Buist didn’t hesitate to open up about her terrifying 10-year struggle with lucid dreams, “which sounds super-fun at first but it really wasn’t because I would go to sleep and I was never really sure if I was gonna wake up,” she explained, tears welling up in her eyes. “I was 100 percent sure that I was dreaming but unable to control anything in my surroundings.”
Methods to overcome Buist’s predicament included cleaning out her entire room and using Himalayan salt lamps, then trying supplements such as melatonin before going to sleep, which eventually stopped the phenomenon. The serious subject quieted the crowd but the tears turned to cheers as Buist, feeling strong but “super-vulnerable,” delivered her message to young and old alike: “We’re all going through something like that. And the more that we talk about it, the more that we normalize it.”
Having defeated her demons, a relieved Buist wrote “Earthbound” in celebration of her accomplishment.
After she got the crowd laughing again by announcing that the Accidentals wore NASA suits during their show the previous day at the MeadowGrass festival in Colorado Springs, they turned to the song that kicked off the last half-hour of the set.
I cried to stay awake / Light dies quicker in the wintertime / Wolves line the city streets / All that’s left is a tired crime
It’s not everyday that you get personal stories and personal songs presented in such a frank yet touching manner.
No wonder the Accidentals got the attention of Rosenthal, who hosted the Denver house concert on May 28 that packed a passionate crowd of 80 into a spacious living room with cathedral ceilings. For a modest donation of $20 to $25 each, with 100 percent of the door going to the band, the guests enjoyed a potluck dinner and the scrumptious sounds of a promising group that already has plenty to offer.
Obviously a big-time fan and major supporter of the Accidentals, Rosenthal was introduced to them about three years ago by Val Haller, founder of the app Val’s List. A relationship developed with Swallow Hill, the Denver music organization that set out “to build community by connecting people to diverse music traditions on the stage and in the classroom.”
A Denver show at Cameron United Methodist Church on South Pearl Street in April 2015 led to the Accidentals’ first Rosenthal house concert in August 2016.
“When we had the opportunity to have them here last year to raise money for Swallow Hill’s Scholarship Fund, we jumped!” Rosenthal wrote in response to a series of email questions for this article. “That fundraiser was, as you might imagine, amazing! Same setup — a potluck followed by a concert, but we had 60 people, so there was a bit more room. Oh and we dressed things up a bit by adding a few linen-covered cabaret tables!”
Since September 2010, Rosenthal has been hosting four to six house concerts a year that she describes as “Swallow-Hilly” — roots, acoustic, folk and indie-folk — two of the most memorable headlined by Steve Poltz and A.J. Croce, Jim Croce’s son who played “Operator” on the Rosenthal piano during a morning sound check.
Her favorite group right now, though, is the Accidentals.
“We have a huge soft spot for old souls, and that’s what Sav, Katie and Michael are,” Rosenthal said. “They are plugged into the universe and the way they share their insights, questions, vulnerabilities and hopes via music touches our hearts. And their hearts are huge — they loved being able to raise money so that more kids could take music lessons. Finally, they are hard workers who are surrounded by hard workers. Amber (Buist), the band’s manager and Sav’s mom, is absolutely focused on helping bring out the best in the band and in making sure that they get what they need from the world.”
The Accidentals’ enthusiasm and energy certainly are contagious.
A feel-good band with smart tunes and versatile musicality is a terrific treat in this age of pappy pop. Buist’s principal instrument is the violin, Larson’s the cello, but they capably and seamlessly share other instruments — acoustic, electric and bass guitars, even cello bows — along with lead vocal duties throughout the night. Dause sticks to the drums — letting his voice be heard on the Andrew Bird cover “Capsized” — but also plays guitar, bass, flute and piano, and (despite its title) released a nice solo album called The Sound of Self-Destruction last year.
The fact that they’re all willing to improve and up the ante by recording Odyssey with such renowned artists as Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists, singer-songwriter Keller Williams and percussive guitar player Kaki King can only help set them further apart from the formidable competition.
Even on this tour, the Accidentals raised their stakes by performing with Jake Allen, an exciting finger-style/looping guitarist who opened the show with some riveting playing and a mellifluous voice, then sat in for the band’s entire set.
“He’s pretty much the best guitar player in Michigan that we know, so naturally we asked him to play keys throughout the show. He’s good at that, too,” Larson, in an Arcade Fire T-shirt, said after Allen’s fiery acoustic attack on “KW,” the Accidentals’ tribute of sorts to Williams, who put his signature touch on the recorded version.
Yet Allen, a fellow Northern Michigander who was inspired in his late teens by acoustic guitar virtuosos like Michael Hedges and Andy McKee, made quite an artistic impression in bringing the marvelous mashup of two songs by Dick Wagner, “Sunshine” and “Oceans,” to the set, both of which the band magnificently covered.
The Accidentals aren’t shy about adding their touch to classic songs by class acts like the Beatles (“Taxman”), Jack White (“Lazaretto”) and Rush (“Tom Sawyer,” with Dause’s fine vocal impression of Geddy Lee), which they did the first time they wowed me at the 2016 Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons. That appearance helped land them near the top of my Sweet 16 of 2016 list of the year’s favorite musical artists.
But the Wagner collaboration was an unexpected thing of beauty, with orchestral maneuvers, incredible harmonies and Strawberry Alarm Clock psychedelia all rolled into six minutes of pure bliss. Wagner, an acclaimed lead guitarist who grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Aerosmith, Kiss and many others, was a musical hero and “surrogate father” to Allen, who was so determined to perform at the late artist’s memorial concert, that he asked the Accidentals to let him play with them.
He and they clearly play very well together. Who knows if that relationship will continue down the road, but Larson alluded to the “bromance” Daust and Allen have developed on this road trip. There was a whole lotta love shown for the Accidentals during these Colorado tour stops, and the feeling was mutual.
Fittingly, in the middle of a holiday weekend, the recently released single “Memorial Day,” Larson’s wistful nod to the memories of May days fading away, was another Odyssey highlight. Though those days are indeed gone (at least for another year), the reflective song should also serve as a gentle reminder that the Accidentals are here to stay. Let the good times continue to roll for them, whether they’re in Colorado (back Sept. 1 at the Four Corners Folk Festival) or elsewhere.
In summarizing their week along the Front Range, Buist and Larson wrote in an email: “It really is a beautiful place and is our second home. We feel like we’ve cultivated a real family of music lovers there, and Michael, Evan (Klee-Peregon) and Jake played the best round of disc golf ever in the shadow of the Flatirons (a rock formation in Boulder). Truly, Colorado was a highlight of this tour.”
It sounds like the Accidentals are ready to make another house call.
Michael Bialas is a journalist and photographer who enjoys writing about entertainment and sports for a number of online publications, including No Depression and HuffPost. Follow him on Twitter: @mjbialas
This article was first published at HuffPost. House concert photos by Michael Bialas. NASA suit photo courtesy of the artist.
The Accidentals House Concert, Denver; May 28, 2017
• 1. “Chekhov’s Gun”
• 2. “KW”
• 3. “The Silence”
• 4. “Stitches and Seams”
• 5. “Odyssey”
• 6. “The Sound a Watch Makes When Enveloped in Cotton”
• 7. “In the Morning”
• 8. “Memorial Day”
• 9. “Crow’s Feet”
• 10. “Sunshine”/“Oceans”
• 11. “Earthbound”
• 12. “Michigan and Again”
• 13. “Capsized”
• 14. “Ballad Tendered Gun”