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February 26, 2009 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Crammed into a basement full of pounding speakers, scattered mics and a lone tambourine, the guys of Reelfoot jam with relaxed concentration on their faces. Repping some Grateful Dead tie-dye and a faded MU T-shirt, they methodically take turns heading up a mellow jam. A sick guitar riff blends into a stellar drum solo while the keyboard dances around the bass beats. The guys spew rhythms for at least 15 minutes; they exchange looks of satisfaction as the walls hum. They are in their own world, one of rumbling beats, ethereal melodies and endless songs that never get old.
Barely four months old, this fledgling band is already walking, talking and making music. Bassist Tim Kotovsky, 19; drummer Sam Niehaus, 20; keyboardist Ted Paletta, 20; and guitarist Andrew Allen, 21, make up the jam band Reelfoot. These musicians have only played in Columbia twice, but they already have a loyal entourage that grooves to their funky, Phish-like beats.
Allen, Niehaus and Kotovsky played together in St. Louis with their former band, Space Moose, but once in Columbia, the musicians found a better fit for their psychedelic beats. “Columbia is a lot better — [it’s] more concentrated,” Allen says. Bassist Kotovsky agrees: “Everyone is closer, so it is easier to get fans to the show.”
After completing the quartet by meeting Paletta, their man on the ivories, in an MU geology class, Reelfoot developed a fresh style. “More jazz ... more instruments, more improv,” Allen says of its looser sound. Musical categories flowed from the guys as they they tried to explain which genre Reelfoot fits into. “We base our stuff off of blues and funk, but we like to take influences from reggae, trance, jazz and some rock,” Kotovsky says. Allen agrees: “We try to use as many influences as we can.”
Reelfoot has played gigs around town, such as the Waka Winter Classic 2009 at The Blue Note earlier this month. To these musicians, the Waka Winter Classic battle is a stepping stone to hitting it big at the Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival.
Fifteen Waka battles are held throughout the Midwest, and if a band wins one, it moves on to rock out at the big-name music festival. “We have a lot of submissions and pick the top five that would do well at Wakarusa,” says Tasha Riggins, the public relations director for the festival, which takes place June 4 – 7 in Ozark, Ark. A band would be stoked to play in the battle, but to win it? “[It’s] great exposure for the band,” Riggins says. “The festival is really acknowledged in the music industry.”
The guys of Reelfoot share the same thoughts about their career-boosting win at this year’s Waka Winter Classic. “It was one of the biggest rushes I’ve had in my life,” Kotovsky says. “When I started playing bass, I couldn’t even dream I’d be in the position I am right now.”
At Wakarusa, Reelfoot will sweat it out on the same stage as Sound Tribe Sector 9, Yonder Mountain String Band and The Black Crowes. “I was overwhelmed with thoughts about how much work we have to do to prepare,” Paletta says. Allen agrees they’ll need to dedicate more time to practicing in order to hone their skills. Not freezing up is another thing the band will work on. “I get nerve-wracked when in front of a big crowd,” says drummer Niehaus, and with last year’s Wakarusa averaging 15,000 to 17,000 attendees a day, the band will have to try to hold it together.
Columbia will get another taste of Reelfoot’s groove Tuesday at Mojo’s, where the band will battle for a spot at the Summer Camp Music Festival in May. The band with the most audience votes at the show gets the spot in the festival. Reelfoot has high expectations for this next challenge. “I expect to win,” Niehaus says. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t.”
What: Reelfoot at Summer Camp: On the Road Tour
When: Tuesday, March 3 at 7:30 pm.