Riverhawk Party Band Can Kick Some Brass

Riverhawk Party Band sax players, from left, Liz Lawrence, Seth Bailin and Alex Allman, pump up the volume at Somerville's HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands.

Riverhawk Party Band sax players, from left, Liz Lawrence, Seth Bailin and Alex Allman, pump up the volume at Somerville's HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands.

Lowell Sun
11/07/2013
By Samantha Allen

LOWELL -- Seth Bailin, the leader of the new Lowell-based music ensemble The Party Band, likes to say his group of more than 20 musicians doesn't do "that well" on stage. 

Rather, he says the overwhelmingly large crew of brass instrument-wielding and rhythmic-jiving band members are at their best out on the floor, mingling and dancing with a pumped-up crowd as they play a show. 

"Party Bander" and baritone saxophonist Alex Allman, a 22-year-old UMass Lowell student who lives in Chelmsford, says some of the best shows he's played are when he's right in the thick of the audience, keeping in time. 

"Every show, we try to break down the barrier," he says. "Some of the best shows I've been to are where I just lose myself and I can't even see Seth." 
The group writes original tunes in the style of old folk New Orleans jazz music and has several well-known covers on their set list, too. Their sound brings together a mix of the coolest high school marching band you've ever heard and a Louisiana ensemble wailing soulfully behind a traditional funeral procession. 

The band also describes themselves as "jazz boogie bounce," "hot rhythm" and "swing." 

The Riverhawk Party Band -- its official name to distinguish from the many other New Orleans-style bands cropping up in the Boston area -- was launched by Bailin in January. He says the inspiration came from Somerville's "HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands," an event where thousands flock to Davis Square each year to catch the energetic music. 

The 26-year-old tenor saxophone player who lives in Lowell is a graduate student at UMass Lowell studying "community music," and his hope is that the group not only grows and develops together, but continues to share its passion with the youth of the Mill City. 

You may have seen Bailin and his mix of "honkers" around town -- they've played locals bars like the Blue Shamrock, Ward 8 and even the café Brewd Awakening.

They've walked Main Street, blasting their music away during the Lowell Folk Festival. And they've played a few local elementary and middle schools for large assemblies. 

Bailin says his band -- which on a good day has anywhere from 20 to 25 players -- is in this for more than the thrill of playing a live show. The group recently applied for a $10,000 grant with the Lowell Cultural Organization, on a quest to share rhythm, dance and melody with Lowell students. 

"Some of us want to do that more than the parties and the bars," Bailin says, noting the band first played for a few young teens at the Stoklosa Middle School in the spring. That's where the idea of educating the community got started. 

"A lot of kids have this idea that they just can't play music, but to me, that's just wrong. It's wrong. It's mistaken," Bailin added. "Everyone has the capacity to be musical. Everyone is musical, inherently. ... People have different tastes or different abilities, but I don't think we should be telling any kid that they can't 'do music.'" 

Among the lineup of an impressive array of instruments is a full percussion section with tambourine and cowbell, a brass section featuring trombones, trumpets, saxes and tubas, along with an oboe and a melodica. The clarinetist in the band is Bailin's brother, Matt Bailin, of Brighton. 

Allman met Bailin in March when the grad student asked a few of the college's concert band members to join him after-hours for a jam session. From there, Allman says the band grew into something larger than he imagined, and not just in size. He says you can't talk about The Party Band now without using the word "community." 

Even though it's largely composed of UMass Lowell students and graduates, the players come from all over -- after playing in Somerville's HONK! last month, Bailin says a high schooler from Ayer approached him to ask if she could join with her piccolo. Next, a man who graduated from UMass Lowell more than a decade ago signed up after he caught a show. And then a local barista who thought he'd left his saxophone-playing days behind him reached out to Bailin for some lessons just after hearing the band. He now plays in the group, too. 

Bailin has some big ideas for the future, and hopes his band is at the forefront of bringing the music scene together in the city. 

"The shows have shown us people really do come together for this type of music," he says, "and not even for the music, but just for the friendship and the community." 

The Party Band will next play in Lowell at the Blue Shamrock on Saturday, Nov. 16, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., in a show titled, "Pure Cosmic Bop/Heavy Space Jams III." There is no cover charge. 

For more information visit www.nicebassproductions.com/party-band or find the group on its Facebook page titled "The Riverhawk Party Band."