Friday, March 20, 2015

The Way Down Wanderers: Soaring to new highs while remembering their roots - 3/17/15 @ Peoria Pizza Works - Peoria, IL (Review)

A Review By: Kyle Sutton
While most of the country spent their St. Paddy’s Day slamming Jameson and killing brain cells with an Irish fury, a small group of us shared a very special night in Peoria, Ill. with The Way Down Wanderers, an up and coming Alt-folk/Americana group based out of Chicago.

The WDWs are a rising young band with roots in Peoria that have been on an absolute tear as of late. In 2014, they released their first E.P. “Path to Follow,” which catapulted them into extensive touring or wandering as they like to call it. As their following continues to increase rapidly, the band has gone from little known to now being a staple of the Illinois music scene in just a little over a year’s time.

It was around 9 p.m. when the five-piece band took the stage at Peoria Pizza Works – a small restaurant/bar that played homage to the band’s very first show back in 2013. The room, which could only hold maybe 90-100 people max, provided an extremely intimate setting for a hometown crowd. Opening with two songs off of the debut E.P., “The Robin” and “Path to Follow,” the band, which is made up Collin Krause (mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Ben Montalbano (banjo, vocals), Austin Thompson (acoustic guitar, lead vocals), John Williams (upright bass, vocals), and John Merikoski (drums), quickly set the mood for what would become a unforgettable evening.

As the set progressed, it became apparent to me that these guys really have something special going for them. Their sound is somewhat comparable to Mumford & Sons when it comes to their powerful vocal harmonies and high-energy instrumentation but there is also a sense of their own style which is much more homegrown and organic. Not only are they incredibly talented, they are also extremely humble, taking a moment several times during the show to thank their hometown for all the support and explain why they chose Pizza Works over a bigger venue.

Everyone in the band had a chance to show their talents throughout the set, whether it was Thompson’s vocals on “The Way I Love You Now,” or Montalbano’s banjo on “Your Will is a Wildflower.” Merikoski and Williams kept the beat and rhythm just right to keep everyone swaying and tapping their feet all night. And who could forget Krause’s awesome fiddle/mando presence on “Truth Son” and “Path to Follow.”

Their stage presence is sound and they really enjoyed talking and interacting with the crowd, which is a quality not all bands have. This was most apparent during the encore. After playing a bluegrass-influenced version of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” the band removed themselves from the amps and microphones to move forward to the middle of the crowd, playing an acoustic version of an old Christian hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Getting the crowd involved in the song was a really cool way to end the show and solidified my thoughts about these guys.

Expect to hear a lot more from WDW in 2015. Montalbano said the band plans to record a live E.P., which will be released in May. He also said that the band would be getting back into the studio in July/August/September and hopes to have a full-length album released sometime around October.

When it comes to bands, I’ve seen a lot of them and judging whether a group will succeed is really difficult to be sure of but in this case…mark my words, The Way Down Wanderers are not only going to make a splash in the ocean that is the music scene, they are bringing the hurricane with them.



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