Speak Into My Good Eye

River City Extension Headed To PNC Arts Center, Unpublished Bonnaroo ’11 Interview Finally Included

Chris Rotolo March 3, 2012 Features No Comments

Monsters of Folk will descend upon our fair city of Holmdel on Friday September 23rd in the form of the Gypsy-Rock four-piece, Devotchka, and the mighty headliner The Avett Brothers.  On Monday local Folk-Punk collective, River City Extension, made the surprise announcement that it to would be joining the ranks stating simply, “What?  You guys asked for a New Jersey performance.”

Could this be the performance referenced by front-man Joe Michelini in an interview conducted by yours truly at Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival back in June for a story that never ran in the Asbury Park Press…continue reading to find out more about that and River City Extension’s follow up to the outfit’s 2010 debut release The Unmistakable Man as well as other interesting musings from the band’s front-man.

In the meantime enjoy this set of cuts from the collectives Roo set:

MANCHESTER, TN – “I don’t even know that we have fans,” said River City Extension front man Joe Michelini, drained of all his energy and vigor, expended only hours before during his sweat-drenched set inside Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival’s dust coated This Tent.  “We have friends, and friends we don’t know yet.”

As we sit in the arid, wooden, and weather beaten lounge chairs provided in the press compound, Donald Glover to our left ushering in different members of the media from various outlets all wanting a piece of him, Abigail Washburn to our right playing a live track as Country Music Television reps film, and Best Coast serenading the assemblage of Roo patrons at The Other Tent, Michelini seems somewhat overwhelmed by it all, unsure of how it got to this point so quickly, but eager to venture deeper into the unknown.

“From playing coffee houses in Toms River, to playing clubs in Asbury Park, to playing Bonnaroo, it’s strange,” explains Michelini.  “It’s strange and it’s special.  Like anything great in life, this requires growth, and anything that requires growth requires a new understanding.  If everything felt normal to you from birth until now there would be no growth, there would be no push.”

River City extension seems to relish in that “push,” they have the drive, and are willing to literally drive…to SXSW in Austin, TX where the buzz around this eight-person musical collective truly began earlier this year.  Word spreads fast in that town, especially when you receive positive press from such notable outlets as Paste and SPIN magazines propelling the group from headlining gigs at The Stone Pony to festival opening slots at Bonnaroo.

“To be honest with you,” replies Michelini when asked about who he looks forward to seeing at Roo.  “i’m not even sure who’s here.  I was so nervous about playing, and we were so stressed out about it, we just kept rehearsing and rehearsing the entire two weeks leading up to Bonnaroo, and I didn’t even have a chance to look at the lineup.”

“You hear about Bonnaroo, and all the great acts that have played here,” continued the songsmith, “and it’s natural to get nervous.  This is our first time playing a festival like this and when it comes down to it, you can rehearse all you want for something like this but when you’re going at it for the first time, you’re still entering the unknown.  Anything can happen out on the stage, you don’t know how the crowd will react, you just don’t.”

As mentioned prior, Michelini and company were the first act to step foot on one of the three main tent stages making the musical Folk-Punk collective the unofficial opener, a fact Michelini was glad had not been brought to his attention prior.

“We didn’t even realize that, good thing too.  That would’ve made it even more nerve racking.”

While immersed in the crowd during the band’s hour-long set, one couldn’t help but take notice of the mixed bag audience, NOFX t-shirts matching the number of the Avett Brothers, begging the question, how is River City is able to cross over, reaching such a wide array of music enthusiast?

“We’re just making music man,” answered Michelini, unable to explain it to himself.  “I know that answer sounds artsy fartsy but we’re not trying to appeal to anyone besides ourselves.  What else can you do?  It’s not like you know anyone that well.  This music for us is self-reflection, we make it the very best we possibly can.  We’ve gained so much support in New Jersey from so many different people, and it means the world to us.  And to come out here and play Bonnaroo in front of so many different people is wonderful.”

“Music is universal,” he continued.  “You have to be a certain type of person to like a style, you have to dress a certain way to enjoy a fad, but you don’t have to be a certain anything to love any kind of music.  And that’s the real message we want to communicate.  Regardless of what type of person comes out to our shows, I want to reach all people through music, through a universal feeling, through lyrics, through our playing.  And I believe it’s our collective effort to communicate that.”

Everything this band does takes a collective effort, with eight members, nothing less than dedication and trust in one another would allow the group to progress forward.  From the frosty evening in 2007 that Michelini spent at Jen Tacon’s Rutgers-New Brunswick apartment, snowed in, and phoning the members of this current lineup to let them know River City Extension had been formed, to this steamy dust encrusted interview in the middle of Tennessee on a 600-acre farm, this band has acted as something more than that, something more intimate…it’s been a family.

“We go out to drink with out publicist,” explains Michelini, sitting forward in his seat and removing removing his dampened straw fedora to better accentuate the passion with which he speaks.  “We hang out with our label [XOXO], and our manager picks us up from the bar…or we pick him up.  It’s family, it’s community, we take care of each other in every possible way we know how to.”

“We’re going to be doing this for the rest of our lives,” he adds, placing the cap back atop his frizzled black mop.  “So our thought is, why would you want to be anything other than family to the people around you?”

Before exchanging hand shakes and heading back into the Dust Bowl that has become the 10th Annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, Michelini I discuss home, Asbury Park, and when the outfit plans to make its triumphant return, and he assures me it’s coming.

“We have a big Jersey show in the works,” he says, “in the Asbury Park area.  Nothing’s in stone yet, but we’re definitely coming home soon.”

As for the follow up to River City’s renown debut full-length release The Unmistakable Man…that too is on its way.

“I can’t say much about it out of respect to the folks who are recording it,” explains the front-man, “but what I can tell you is that there is an excellent them to this record, that I think will surprise a lot of our listeners.  Hopefully they’ll enjoy it.”

“I can assure you this record isn’t going to sound like the last one,” he continued.  “And the one after that won’t sound like this one.  We don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade but a record, it’s merely a check point that should show your growth.  You should be a part of it in a different way than you ever were before.”

“The same people that hate on a band because their first record doesn’t sound like their second record are the same folks who will hate based on the fact their first record sounds too much like the second record.  I think if we can lose the hate altogether, and grow together, and enjoy each other, we’d be much better off.”

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About The Author

Chris graduated from The College Of New Jersey in May of 2011 with a Bachelors Degree in both Journalism/Professional Writing and Communication Studies. He's held down a position in the Asbury Park Press’ Sports Department since September of 2010 and is a contributor to the outlet’s Arts & Entertainment section as well as Consequence of Sound (http://consequenceofsound.net).

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