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The family that plays together, stays together.

Extreme Folk

In subways, parks and clubs, the jam-pop Veltz family rocks as Cecilia

By Sarah Quelland

'WHEN YOU MANAGE a nightclub, your mediocrity meter goes up pretty quickly," former San Jose resident and director of national operations for the Knitting Factory, Scott Long says. "You stop hearing. Anybody in the music business, their ears get a little numb. Listening for pleasure becomes harder and harder."

But he remembers well the first time he heard Cecilia. "I was managing the Wetlands Preserve, and they were sound-checking, and this incredible three-part harmony came off the stage. It was like a cartoon, like this musical cloud shaping into a finger and grabbing my nostril and pulling me toward the stage. You seldom see quality like that, and ever since I've been a huge fan." Now, he's also their manager and intends to have them signed to a major label by the fall.

Warm and organic with genetically synergized vocal harmonies, Cecilia is a family jam band with pop sensibilities and a lively personality. The story of Cecilia is extraordinary. The Veltz family went broke and sold everything in a four-month garage sale--everything but a plaque on their wall of Cecilia, the patron saint of music and musicians. When no other solution presented itself, the artistic and musically gifted family began performing together to earn money. That necessity of circumstance became an odyssey that led them from the D.C. suburbs to Nashville and then to New York City and landed them a deal with Atlantic Records. After 9/11 though, and because the family wouldn't play ball with the label execs who wanted to turn daughters Laura and Allison into pop princesses, Cecilia was dropped.

Broke again, they turned to guerrilla tactics, staging impromptu performances in subways and public parks. Because these types of performances are illegal, Allison (at 21, the youngest) says, "It's always a risk going out there. We just kinda pop up everywhere. It's sort of a refusal to be conventional. That's gotten us the most attention and the most hard-core fans."

Last November, Long returned to New York to take the position at the Knitting Factory. He caught up with Ken, the father, in Manhattan. "Ken said they'd taken to playing subways just to make food money. The situation they were in was totally wrong. I felt like I had to help a band that really was destined for greatness and kind of got derailed."

With Long on board as manager, the band now has a Saturday night residency doing free shows at the Tap Bar inside the Knitting Factory in New York City. The Cecilia crowd ranges from spiked-out punk kids to moms and their daughters. Long describes the appeal of this multigenerational band's enthusiastic live performances: "I've seen them play for 4 1/2 hours straight, and there's not a stinker song amongst the whole bunch. They're very personable and clever onstage. They interact well. When you see somebody do something great that they love to do, like watching a great athlete, you can actually latch onto that joy."

Though the Veltz family is reasonably comfortable financially now, Cecilia still performs constantly, and the self-contained unit continues to play rebellious street gigs using a street kit it can grab quickly and split.

The band sparks comparisons to bands from Fleetwood Mac to the Dixie Chicks and the Dave Matthews Band. "They do have a total jam-band ethic, besides good songs," says Long. "It's one of those things where the record's gonna have five singles on it, and it's got multiple harmonies and kinda has that California groove that Fleetwood Mac had."

Cecilia is embarking on its first West Coast tour, and Ken, Jeannie, Allison, Laura and Drew Veltz, plus bassist Kevin Jacoby, are making the most of it with a run of Bay Area shows that starts and ends in San Jose, including June 16 at Waves Smokehouse & Saloon and June 21 at the Blank Club. Allison says, "It's an extreme time for us. There's no hesitation on this tour. We just fuckin' love to play. We cannot wait to play at any venue. There are different vibes around the country and we're excited to see what the West Coast vibe is." Visit www.ceciliatheband.com to listen to MP3s from their latest Live @ the Source.

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From the June 5-11, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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