Until recently they called themselves the Water Tower Bucket Boys. “But it sounded too much like we kicked the bucket, and that was a hokey association.” The band now known as Water Tower likes the simpler name, which might be disarmingly simple for this band that always seems to be challenging itself to add something new.
A couple of weeks ago I talked to Kenny Feinstein who was living in an RV in Santa Cruz with the rest of the band while on an extended residency in Northern California. They were busking during the day, and playing shows at night, watching their audience grow from week to week. “Our favorite audience age is four or five, because they always bring their parents.”
Kids are also a lot less concerned about genre labels than some of us grownups. Water Tower has a consistent sound, but it’s hard to put a label on a band that draws from bluegrass, roots rock, jazz, pop, “and anything else that needs to come in” as Feinstein puts it. “Roots music is always in the background,” he adds, “but we’re keeping it fresh and modern.” When I asked what label he put on the music, the answer came without hesitation: “Indie Folk.”
I asked Kenny if he grew up listening to oldtime music. “No, I listened to the Beatles. And punk rock and rap. And Willie Nelson.” He went on to get a degree in music, focusing on jazz guitar. Two other band members have degrees in music (one in jazz trumpet) and the fourth has a degree in sound engineering. Maybe this explains why they draw from so many influences.
They also share their knowledge openly with others. Feinstein does a lot of teaching from his home in Portland. Various band members work with music and art camps and other groups of students. “Sometimes I see myself as the teacher of last resort,” says Feinstein. “I’m the guy they come to when their other teachers have given up. I love working with these students, being part of their growth. I’m part guitar teacher, part therapist.”
The style of music Water Tower focuses on can change, sometimes on a daily basis. “We’ll busk with oldtime songs in the afternoon, and then we’ll play a rockin’ punk show that night. And at both shows we might end with ‘Hound Dog’ because everyone loves a singalong.”
Feinstein said this does make it more difficult when someone wants to book the band for an event like a wedding. “We’ll ask what kind of music they want, and they’ll say ‘The same type of music you were playing when we saw you busking at that one place.’” Which means the band is always paying close attention to the crowd, always trying to reach out and connect with the listeners in the audience at the moment.
Water Tower is looking forward to connecting with the Hermit Music Festival audiences.
Here’s a pair of videos that demonstrate some different aspects of Water Tower: first the more contemporary “Meet Me Where The Crow Don’t Fly” followed by the bluegrass standard “Uncle Pen.”
Learn more at the Water Tower website: http://www.watertowerbucketboys.com/.