Keyboard wizard and genre shape-shifter Marco Benevento has a new live record out, his first in a decade since 2007’s Live at Tonic. Along with Live at Tonic, Woodstock Sessions bookends an impressive solo canon that has seen Benevento perpetually reinventing himself and crafting music that is always on the cutting edge. In a sense Woodstock Sessions is the culmination of a decade of work, with its centerpiece, “The Story of Fred Short,” suite parading Benevento’s willingness to experiment and explore not to mention showcasing his omnivorous appetites.
AXS recently had a chance to talk with Marco about his new live record, his retooled touring outfit and his fan pledge campaign.
When we caught up with Marco he was getting ready for a St. Patrick’s Day show with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, a Grateful Dead tribute project he plays in with friend and longtime collaborator Joe Russo, one of many side-projects the in-demand keyboard player performs in. But Marco was jazzed to talk about Woodstock Sessions and his experiences making the live record.
“It was great,” Benevento said about recording Woodstock Sessions. “It’s in Woodstock, which is really close to my house, the studio is on a farm so there were goats running around and they have a big pig. We all had a big meal. The studio where we recorded I’ve actually worked at before, it’s called Applehead, so it was a familiar place. We had 100 people in the studio while we were recording so it was just awesome, really fun to do. It was a little weird because we basically played in front of a live audience with headphones. It was kind of funny. But I still managed to jump off the piano anyway. It was super fun. There was a lot of energy in the room. And did I mention I live two miles from there, it was great.”
The centerpiece of Woodstock Sessions is “The Story of Fred Short,” a rollicking, interconnected multi-song odyssey from Benevento’s 2016 studio album of the same name. “That was something we really wanted to pull off,” Benevento said about “The Story of Fred Short.” “We wanted to play that entire 7-part suite because that’s sort of what we’ve been doing and still are doing. It’s really fun. But at the same time, you kind of freak out about it because once you start it you have to get through the full 22 minutes. So when you’re doing it you’re like ‘Oh my God! Are we gonna make it till the end?’ But it’s really sitting with us nicely now. It just flies by. We’ve been starting every show with ‘The Story of Fred Short.’”
Benevento also talked about how “The Story of Fred Short” has been coming across to live audiences. “It’s a familiar 22-minute song (laughs). But I feel that sometimes people get confused when you say it’s a seven-part suite that’s 22 minutes. People start thinking of like Rush or Yes, some crazy prog-rock sort of thing. It’s more of a 22-minute combination of Talking Heads or LCD Soundsystem, with a little bit of piano in there. It’s more dancey than filled with notes.”
But now, armed with a quality live recording of “Fred Short,” Benevento says that it is “Fred Short” that piques people’s interest. “Like I said, we’ve been opening up with ‘The Story of Fred Short’ at every show. It’s sort of been our go to. But after we play it and we tell people that we have a live record out with that exact seven-song suite, people are really sort of engaged right off the bat. The first 20 minutes of a show are really influential on the whole crowd. With ‘The Story of Fred Short’ as a starting point people are really like ‘whoa, what is all that?’ I think they’re sort of drawn to it. And when we mention that we have a record with that on it, people seem to be interested in checking it out. We have great studio records and I love all the production on our records. But most times when people come to see us they say ‘oh man, I got all your records but seeing you guys live is like a whole other thing.’ We’ve been getting a great response in our live shows but it’s nice to have a record, literally a vinyl, of what people might think is better than our studio records.”
Benevento is about to take “Fred Short” and his arsenal of songs out on the road with him. But this time around his band lineup and production will be a little different. For the past few years, Benevento’s core touring band consisted of Ween bassist Dave Dreiwitz and drummer Andy Borger. But with the reunification of Ween, Dreiwitz has become a lot busier. But not to leave Benevento high and dry, Dreiwitz had a plan. Enter young, up and coming bassist Karina Rykman.
“Dave knew he was going to do a bunch of shows with Ween. But he was like ‘Marco, I found this girl. She’s awesome. I’m going to teach her all the tunes. So she’s going to sub for me.’ Karina’s great. We all sort of have mutual friends and I had seen her here and there. She’s a joy to have on the road, just super positive. And she’s young, so she’s always roaring with tons of energy. We all get along really well, Andy, Karina and I. But basically Dave set it all up and I’m really thankful to him for doing that.”
Karina isn’t the only new addition to the traveling Benevento show. Marco also started a PledgeMusic campaign that has garnered the band some new gear as well as some great fan interactions. “We’re doing a PledgeMusic campaign to sort of help our tour out. We’ve had a lot of donations and just people wanting to contribute. So we got some new lights but also some great interactions with fans. Some of the people who pledged will get to write the setlist or announce us. It’s cool getting the crowd involved in what we’re doing. One of the really cool pledges was we would bring disposable cameras on the road with us and take pictures of everywhere we go and then mail the people who pledged the cameras. So it’s been really great.”
Speaking of the road, Benevento is currently on tour in support of Woodstock Sessions and The Story of Fred Short. His next shows will be a four-night run in Colorado hitting Fort Collins, Denver, Boulder and Avon. You can find tour dates and ticketing info via Benevento’s website. Marco will be returning to Colorado April 29 with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead where the band will make its Red Rocks debut with jazz-funk fusion trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. You can find JRAD Red Rocks tickets on AXS here. Be sure to check out "Heavy Metal Floating Upstream" from Woodstock Sessions below.