When Dan Forsyth left upstate New York and moved to Colorado around 2001, he was looking for a change of scenery. What he found was a new musical direction, which he brought back home and used as the foundation for what would become Driftwood.
“I took an old acoustic guitar out there with me,” Forsyth recalls, “and my roommate was a big bluegrass fan. It was a combination of not having an amplifier, not having a band to play with, getting into this music and this roommate loading me up with people I had never heard of, like Doc Watson and Bill Monroe.”
Bitten by the bluegrass-folk bug, Forsyth contacted Joe Kollar, a bandmate from his high school days, about visiting him in Colorado and checking out the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The music quickly clicked with Kollar, who shortly thereafter purchased a banjo.
But when Forsyth returned to New York, he and Kollar treated their acoustic/folk interests as a side project for a few years, during which they refined their technique and approach to the music.
“To strip the electric stuff away and just pick up an acoustic guitar and a banjo: It was a lot more challenging for us, but it was also a little bit more rewarding,” Forsyth says. “The dynamic range on an acoustic guitar is pretty small compared to an electric guitar. So the first thing was we learned to play with dynamics — touch and restraint. In a string band, without a drummer, all you really have is dynamic. You can take it up, or you can take it down, but once you get to a certain point, you can’t go anywhere else.”
At the same time they were adjusting to the nuances of playing stripped-down music, Forsyth and Kollar were also dealing with public indifference in their home base of Binghamton, N.Y.
“One of the first times we played out as a duo was this place on Main Street,” Forsyth recalls. “They put us behind a pool table, and nobody clapped. We got done with the show and didn’t even want to talk about it.
“I went into the bathroom,” he adds, “and right when I walked in, a Van Halen song started playing on the jukebox. And a guy standing next to me said, ‘Thank God — some real f—ing music.’ I’ll never forget that.”
Thanks to a Sunday-night residency in Binghamton that lasted more than two years, Driftwood (which officially launched in 2005) honed its chops and eventually developed a hometown following. Violinist Claire Byrne was added in 2008, and the following year, Driftwood released its debut album, Rally Day.
In late 2011, shortly after the release of A Rock & Roll Heart, upright bassist Joey Arcuri joined Driftwood, which toured extensively last year in support of the album. The current lineup can be heard on Driftwood, released Dec. 3.
Initially, Forsyth says, Driftwood was going to record its third album at an analog facility in Binghamton. Then Donna the Buffalo guitarist Jeb Puryear told him about a Baptist church in Enfield that Puryear’s band used to record with Grammy-winning engineer Robby Hunter. So Driftwood headed to Enfield and hired Hunter to produce the sessions.
“There were a lot of cool things about [recording there],” Forsyth says. “But because they had weekly service, we had to set up on a Monday or Tuesday, record for a couple of days, then take everything down and put it back to normal.
“And it was wintertime, so there were some real cold spells when we started [in late 2012]. We’d set up a bunch of gear, then we would crank up the heater. The furnace was so loud, and there was traffic from the road. We would record for 40 minutes, then it would get really cold, so we would stop, turn on the heat, have a cup of tea or something to eat, then do it all over again.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Driftwood on tour (schedule subject to change):
* Dec. 5: Mojo’s — Jamestown, N.Y.
* Dec. 6: The Sportsmen’s Tavern — Buffalo, N.Y.
* Dec. 7: The Waterhole — Saranac Lake, N.Y.
* Dec. 13: The Haunt — Ithaca, N.Y.
* Dec. 14: Elk Creek Café — Millheim, Pa.
* Dec. 20: Dante’s — Frostburg, Md.
* Dec. 21: HMAC Stage on Herr — Harrisburg, Pa.
* Dec. 31: First Night Saranac — Saranac Lake, N.Y.
* Jan. 3: AS220 — Providence, R.I.
* Jan. 4: Club Passim — Cambridge, Mass.
* Jan. 5: The Firebox — Hartford, Conn.
* Jan. 8: Time Out — Fremont, Ohio
* Jan. 9: Southgate House Revival — Newport, Ky.
* Jan. 10: Woodlands Tavern — Columbus, Ohio
* Jan. 11: Mahall’s 20 — Cleveland
* Jan. 17: Music Friday’s — Lancaster, Pa.
* Jan. 18: The Jalopy Theater — Brooklyn, N.Y.
* Jan. 24: Snug’s — New Paltz, N.Y.
* Jan. 25: Sticky Lips BBQ — Rochester, N.Y.
* Jan. 31: Red Square — Albany, N.Y.