The Funk of Funkwagon
Words by Sarah Frazier.
Simply glimpsing at the list of group members and instrumentals gives you an idea about what the raw powerhouse, Funkwagon, really is. Is there anything better than seeing a list of instruments that have congas and a saxophone side by side? Funkwagon is really a bow to music itself with colorful collaborations that evoke the old soul of Motown, the power and numbers of a gospel choir, and the storytelling nature of a slam poet.
Aaron moved to Burlington about 6 years ago to check out the music scene his friend had told him about. It was here that he met his multiple band members as the numbers slowly grew: “The band grew to 11 because I was always used to performing with 30 choir members or so and we never sounded quite full enough with just a few singers. And Burlington was so filled with great talent I kept saying to myself, "just one more," We started as a three piece. Go figure?”
When I asked how a band functions with all of these multiple parties, Aaron tells me enthusiastically, “Functioning is easy because we all love and respect one another. We rehearse the singers and musicians at different times and put it all together on stage, which gives the music a spontaneity that we love.” I think Aaron might have just figured out the formula for utopia. Maybe if more bands practiced this mentality we wouldn’t have so many early retirements.
Kidding aside, it seems what keeps this band together is a devotion to fans and a love for the craft. Funkwagon has crafted something special. Aaron himself has gospel-playing background from his youth in church. When Funkwagon began it was often him composing the songs as he came into his own. However he says, “As the band grows so will that responsibility. Zach Rhoads is an excellent songwriter so you should look for songs coming from his pen. Luke Fox and Tony Willette and I are already writing collaborations. So I suspect that my songs will one day be the Funkwagon oldies.”
This passing on the pen definitely draws a wide audience. For Aaron, a man in his 40’s, he understands this concept, “You have to have something in your arsenal for every listener and since we range in age from 20 to 40 we can do that… I listen to Billie Holiday and Cab Calloway in addition to current artists. Zach and Luke are Phish fans but they embrace gospel. Collin loves The Band and Ray Charles.”
In Funkwagon’s track "Pimp in the Basement," we see these mixtures of influences come out to play. There is also an apparent storytelling nature, that people, like myself, are consistently drawn to. When I asked what inspired such a name and the lyrics he told me, “I wrote "Pimp in the Basement" about a kid that lived downstairs from us in Essex Junction. We get in trouble behind that song sometimes but I think it tells a funny story. Singing is really only elongated speech. It should tell you a story, be it funny or serious.” Truth be told, there is a lot of wisdom in that statement. Songs are essentially eloquently told stories in different creative construct. As a writer, I greatly respect that.
With a soul that will bring you back to the R&B sounds of yesterday, and the creative collaboration of masses that comes together to get the job done, you have to give props to Funkwagon for what they do. Come show your respect this Saturday, October the 15th when Funkwagon plays at The Magic Hat Brewing Company (free concert, noon-5pm, all ages). Be there.
Group Members: Aaron Burroughs- Organ and vocals Zach Rhoads - Piano and vocals Collin Cope- Harmonica and vocals Rob Jones - Drums Anthony Kareckas - Congas Joe Moore - Saxophone Tony Willette - vocals Meigan Kelly - vocals Josh Cary - Vocals Luke Fox - bass Wyatt Beaudry – Sound