By Kevin Bruch
CALGARY — Take a look at the well-groomed gentlemen of Birds of Bellwoods. I bet you’re hearing a traditional foot-stompin’ bluegrass band, with mandolin rounding out the double bass, banjo and guitar. And while they’ll still get your feet stomping, it might not manifest in the manner you imagine. Toronto’s Birds of Bellwoods perform acoustic music with a sound that belies the traditional aesthetic of their instrumentation.
You can tell that they grew up together; these folks are a true ensemble, with songwriting credit spread liberally between the four. Stevie Joffe may be the lead vocalist, but the Birds sharply avoid crediting a bandleader. “Everyone will bring little guitar riffs and things they want to do, which becomes the start of a song,” upright bassist/vocalist Kintaro Akiyama tells us. Joffe continues, “It’s like the tip of the spear, yeah there’s fine point at the end, but it’s nothing without the rest.”
Bellwoods is a reference to the neighbourhood park in Toronto where the band often plays together. “It’s a piece of the rural in an urban centre, a bit of peace in the city,” says Akiyama. You could say the same of the Birds, whose songs range from a little of the folk that so suits the stained woods of their vintage instruments, with emotional four-part harmonies, to a percussive, avant-garde cover of Radiohead’s iconic “Idioteque.” The real thoroughfare in their varied tracklist is the earnest energy that pervades every element of their performance. The group brings classical elegance to emotive pop performances with very little investment in twine and twang.
And the folkies are taking notice. Their first trip out west in 2015 to the Jasper Folk Music Festival earned them an invitation to come back this year “by popular demand.” Touring is new for the band, but it’s an environment they’ve settled well into. Playing to an adoring crowd in the shadow of the mountain at Jasper Folk Fest “was like living a dream.”
Birds of Bellwoods play in Calgary on September 8th at the Gateway, and in Edmonton September 9th at the Kaleido Family Arts Festival.AB, Alberta, Birds of Bellwoods, Kaleido Fest, The Gateway