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Have trunk, will travel

Nederland's Elephant Revival extols the virtues of living on the road and singing in the rain

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Next time you feel like giving up your job and starting a band, just go out and dance in the rain.

"I met Dango at a bluegrass festival in Keystone," says Elephant Revival fiddler Bridget Law of her first encounter with cofounder Dango Rose. "We were dancing in a rain puddle."

It wasn't long after the weather cleared that the nascent neo-folk band moved to Nederland, home to their contemporary blues- and jam-grass influences Yonder Mountain String Band, The String Cheese Incident, and Leftover Salmon. Within this community, Elephant Revival found a welcoming home for its wandering folk tunes that often contain reggae and jazz overtones.

"Those bands came from bluegrass backgrounds, but then went their own direction," says Law. "I think all of us are drawn to the concept that we can have bluegrass as a general communicative language, and use that as a springboard for going in our own direction."

The five members of Elephant Revival — fiddler and vocalist Law; bassist Rose; singer, washboard-ist and djembe thumper Bonnie Paine; banjo, mandolin and guitar player Sage Cooke; and guitarist Dan Rodriguez — bonded around a natural love for campfire bluegrass picking. As their relationships with one another have evolved, so has their music. The quintet plays a stylized take on folk and bluegrass that moved one journalist to dub their sound "transcendental folk."

"There's definitely an intention to transcend genres," agrees Law. "Beyond that, there's this concept of progressive acoustic music, doing things on acoustic instruments and doing them with your own flair and with originality."

These days Elephant Revival is forever on the road — a place as familiar to the five twenty-somethings as home — promoting their latest effort, Break in the Clouds. The album was released last November on Ruff Shod Records, a new label started by their friend Chad Stokes of State Radio and Dispatch fame.

Originally known as Elephant Revival Concept, the band's name was inspired by an experience Rose had while playing mandolin in front of an elephant cage one day at a Chicago zoo. According to the band's lore, two elephants that had grown up together were separated and one had died in transit. The feeling of a broken friendship resonated with Rose.

"Dango thought about this and how elephants like to travel in a tribe," Law explains. "He liked the idea, and he wanted the spirit and feeling of traveling together to be a part of us and live on."

Together the five members traveled in a van retrofitted to run on vegetable oil. As a team, all members participated in the ritual of sucking the grease out of oil drums in the back alleys behind restaurants. But these days, Elephant Revival has upgraded to a luxurious biodiesel bus that was formerly property of a Baptist church in California.

"When we're touring, we have a good balance between masculine and feminine energies," says Law. "Even though we all really smell bad."

The gender balance also makes its presence known through the group's equal-opportunity approach to who takes the lead vocal.

"It's not a testosterone fest, and it's not prissy girly music," says Law. "I think it's right in between."

scene@csindy.com

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