The Appleseed Collective hails from Ann Arbor, Mich., but its “progressive string swing” has its roots in New Orleans.
It was in the Crescent City that Andrew Brown, the collective’s founder, drew much of the inspiration for his band’s sound, including its percussion — “I’d never even heard of a washboard player until I went to New Orleans,” he said.
Then, back in Ann Arbor, by chance, Brown literally walked into the band that would become The Appleseed Collective.
“I’d just gotten back from New Orleans and was really into the swing stuff and I ran into our fiddle player Brandon (Smith) on the street, randomly,” said Brown, who sings and plays guitar. “He was busking outside a cafe downtown. I played with him and then ... we got the band together.”
The other members, who signed up in 2010, are Vincent Russo, the band’s percussionist who spends most of his time playing, you got it, washboard, and upright bassist Eric Dawe.
For the past five-plus years, the quartet has been recording and incessantly touring, building its reputation in the burgeoning folk and roots world.
“I feel like the roots music revival has been happening for a long time, but in the last 10 years, it’s really come to the forefront,” Brown said. “The movie ‘O Brother! Where Art Thou’ really brought it out and then there have been all these folk and bluegrass festivals. The thing I like about our band is we fit in there, but we’re just a little bit different.”
Those differences come because The Appleseed Collective are far from purists. That can be heard on its two studio albums (“Baby To Beast” and “Young Love”) and two live recordings, including the recently released “The Tour Tapes.”
In addition to its original songs — “We were writing these songs that are influenced by the old music, but then we moved it forward,” Brown said — the quartet plays some illuminating covers in its live show.
“We do a Van Morrison, Michael Jackson, a Weezer medley,” Brown said. “Last night, I played some Jimi Hendrix. We do some gypsy jazz, Django Reinhardt. We like to keep the place jumping.”
That mixture, Brown said, helps The Appleseed Collective draw a wide ranging audience.
“We have a lot of stuff the older crowd likes and a lot for younger people too,” he said. “Everybody from kids to teenagers to young adults to midlife to people in their 60s and up like the band. The thing that I like about that is it’s not like we’re trying to do that.”
The Appleseed Collective spent eight months of 2015 and 2016 on the road — “Definitely, we are becoming seasoned,” Brown said — and are back out on a run of shows that continues through mid-June.
And their shows, well, they’re long and no two are ever alike.
“Our goal is try to have each show sort of be unique,” Brown said. “We have the stuff that been recorded that gets played. But we have a lot of opportunity for improvisation in a single, soloist sense and as a band. We usually play 90 minutes or more, unless they want us to play shorter, like an hour. But if we have our way, we go for awhile. My only problem is trying to get these guys to stop.”
Perhaps in live performance is where The Appleseed Collective reflects something of its Michigan roots, the home of Iggy Pop and The Stooges and the MC5, Bob Seger and The White Stripes.
“We like to think we’ve got a little Stooges and MC5 blood in us,” Brown said. “But we kind of got interested in pre World War II music. After doing that, we wanted to blend it with more modern influences, rock and pop and soul. But we do it intensely and passionately, like the Stooges.”
IF YOU GO
The Appleseed Collective will perform and members will participate in workshops during Huntingdon County Arts Council’s Folk College. The three-day event also features coaching sessions on a broad spectrum of styles — old time, Celtic, blues, international. In addition to The Appleseed Collective, other Folk College faculty includes Happy Traum, Bumper Jacksons, Richard Sleigh and The Fiddling Thomsons. Visit folkcollege.com for more information.