.Preview: Blackbird Raum at X Bar

Mixing anarchist crust-punk with rural, jug-band folk music wasn’t anything particularly planned out for the members of Santa Cruz’s Blackbird Raum. In fact, they never gave much thought to being a band, at least not in the early 2000s when they were all living like bohemians and squatting in abandoned buildings. Playing music was just something to do to pass the time. And of course, being squatters meant that electric instruments were out of the question.
“That’s why we learned to play folk instruments. They were lying around. We all started playing those instruments because you could,” says mandolin player Mars.
It turned out that there were other groups of squatters, traveling around the country, playing old timey jug band folk instruments too, but they were getting paid.
“All of us were living in the most squalid manner possible. The idea that these people played the streets and got thirty bucks, we thought they were millionaires,” says banjo player, Caspian.
While these bands (The Sourmash Hug Band, The Inkwell Rhythm Makers & The Hobo Goblins) were playing the same types of acoustic instruments (banjos, mandolins, accordions, washtub basses and washboards) and similarly pulling heavily from early Americana, jazz and traditional European music, they were mostly composing fun, light-hearted sing-along-type ditties.
Blackbird Raum decided to follow in these bands footsteps and start busking on the streets. But playing happy, superficial songs didn’t interest them, even if that’s what random tourists (with money) passing by wanted to hear. Instead Blackbird Raum wrote complex political songs, often about environmental issues and socio-economical inequities. They lacked a distinct lead vocalist and didn’t write catchy sing-along choruses, instead giving their jug-band songs a crust-punk bent.
Oddly enough, this is precisely how Blackbird Raum developed a loyal fanbase in Santa Cruz, now drawing several hundred people per show when they headline venues in their hometown. Plus they tour all over the United States and Europe, playing clubs, community centers, famer’s markets and even, still, on the streets.
Blackbird Raum plays Saturday, May 5, at Homestead Lanes in Cupertino, 8pm; $8.


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