Upstate Rubdown
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Upstate Rubdown

New Paltz, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2011 | SELF

New Paltz, New York, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2011
Band Americana Jazz




"Upstate Rubdown"

It's a perfect June evening and members of New Paltz band Upstate Rubdown are sitting on plastic chairs outside the house where they rehearse, basking in the afterglow of their appearances at Mountain Jam and Virginia's Herndon Festival days before. "Mountain Jam was great," says Kate Scarlett, one of the group's three singers. She adds, in giddy disbelief, "We saw all of these people we didn't even know wearing [Upstate Rubdown] T-shirts—before we'd even played." With eight busy members, it was, unsurprisingly, difficult to corral the entire band for an interview on one of their precious days off. But we did okay, snagging five. Present in addition to Scarlett are her sisters in harmony, Mary Kenney and Melanie Glenn, upright bassist Harry D'Agostino, and newly added saxophonist Christian Joao (although the latter two will soon be dashing off to rehearse for a side gig). Elsewhere tonight are mandolinist and backup singer Ryan Chappell, percussionist Dean Mahoney, and guitarist Dave Berger, an early member who recently returned to the fold.

Although Joao, from Rosendale, is the only one of the players (ages 21 to 30) who was raised in the region—the others hail from Ithaca, Rochester, Long Island, Manhattan, and Greenwood Lake—as a band, Upstate Rubdown is about as New Paltz as one can get. Made up entirely of SUNY grads, the group grew out of open mikes and spontaneous sings at parties, building their acoustic, post-indie, kitchen-sink folk style on the aesthetic mapped out by local heroes the Felice Brothers. The octet's rehearsal pad is a raised ranch just outside the village, in farm country. And farming, if you will, lies at the root of Upstate Rubdown. "Melanie and I met through [SUNY organization] Students for a Sustainable Agriculture," says Kenney, who mentions that some of the group's music was inspired by old work songs they've learned. "Sometimes when I'm working in the fields and singing, I'll get an idea for a song and I'll stop to record it on my phone so I can come back to it later. The band name came out of us trying to think of something we all had in common, which is where the 'upstate' came from. I was trying to think of another word that fit with that had 'down' in it—I thought that would sound good. Then a roommate yelled out, 'Rubdown!' and we were, like, 'That's it!'"

Along with folk and field hollers, Upstate Rubdown's infectiously sunny organic stew stirs together strands of bluegrass, jazz, blues, Broadway, gospel, soul, and pop. When it comes to the group's instrumental format, two uncommon facets stand out immediately. First are the fleet, irresistibly melodious harmonies of Kenney, Glenn, and Scarlett. Their sleek voices rise together as one and soar and dip like tandem birds, each peeling off to take their own solo turn before intertwining once again. Hearing them perform, it's unfathomable that the three women didn't grow up singing together, like close harmony acts the Andrews Sisters or the Roches, to whom they've been compared (your music editor is reminded of the stacked tones of the Boswell Sisters; Kenney cites contemporary Vermont trio Mountain Man as a key influence). Nor is it conceivable when Kenney says that that neither she nor Scarlett were accepted when they auditioned for the SUNY a cappella choir, before Upstate Rubdown came together. "We love singing a cappella, inside and outside the band," says Glenn, who sang in church choir as a child. "Usually in our shows we'll have these mini-a-cappella sets within the main set. It's always scary at first, to watch the silence come over the room when people are first hearing just the three of us with no instruments."

The second of the group's secret weapons is Mahoney's unique choice of a primary percussion implement: the cajon, a wooden, boxlike instrument from Peru played with the hands. "We tried a [full-kit] drummer at first, but then the idea of the cajon came along," D'Agostino recalls. "We found it worked great because it's a way to add percussion 'surgically' to the songs, without overpowering the vocals or the other instruments." "The instrumentation just evolved really naturally," Kenney elaborates. "Musicians come and go, and then someone else, maybe even someone who plays a different instrument, comes along to take their place. Or else someone who left comes back." (Indeed, Scarlett originally came aboard to temporarily replace Glenn, who'd decided to live out West for a spell, but remained when Glenn returned.)

Such has been Upstate Rubdown's story, that of sprouting new buds to replace the ones that dropped off. Initiating their changeable lineup in 2011, the band woodshedded their sound at house parties and busked around, eventually catching the ear of local resident and tenured music agent Jim Kramer (the Police, Blondie, Hall & Oates), who helped them expand their gigging circle beyond New Paltz and into higher-profile Hudson Valley music venues. One such club was the Falcon in Marlboro, where producer Jason Miles (Sting, Miles Davis, Chaka Khan) happened to be having dinner with his wife one night when the earnest young outfit took the stage. "It was one of those seemingly random moments that turned into a profound life experience," remembers the music industry veteran of 43 years. "I didn't know anything at all about these kids before that, but right away I could tell there was something there. They had these amazing harmonies and this great, totally organic sound. I loved the songs—they had lots of great melodies."

Miles agreed to produce the band's debut, A Remedy (Independent), which was recorded at Woodstock's Dreamland Recording Studio using the $22,000 the group raised through a Kickstarter campaign. For most of the members, it was their first time in a recording studio. "It was a pretty emotional experience for us, being newbies," Kenney recounts. "We had to learn about putting trust in Jason and the other people we were working with. It was kind of a meshing of younger thought with older experience." But whatever educational bumps there may have been during the process, the results were worth it. A Remedy rollicks and romps with buoyant and bewitching tracks like "No Slack" and "Bad Enough" and the sweetly lonesome "Nobody," which features the sublime soloing of a special guest: legendary saxophonist Joe Lovano, who appeared at the behest of Miles, his neighbor. "Harry had met him and knew his music, but I didn't really know about him before we made the record," says Kenney. "But a few weeks after we were done recording I was driving through Massachusetts and had some random jazz station on and they were playing his music and talking about him. So then it hit me and I was, like, 'Oh, wow.'"

Released in July 2015, A Remedy has been well received, getting a favorable plug via NPR for its "joyful, light-footed noise" ("It's kind of a dream of ours to do a Tiny Desk Concert," confesses Scarlett). And soon the Rubdown hits the road, when the group embarks on a six-week tour to promote the record later this year. Not that they're staying idle during the lead-up: In addition to doing weekend jaunts for summer festivals and isolated club dates, the group recently cut a downloadble tour EP and has 12 songs in development for their second album, while Kenney, Glenn, and Scarlett have an a cappella album, tentatively titled Triumvirate, in the can. And to put a (foamy) head on things, New Paltz nightery Bacchus has even brewed up a craft beer named for the band. The limited-edition beverage will be on tap when the group plays the popular bar/restaurant this month, the proceeds from its sales going help fund their upcoming tour. "The material we play connects us to our fans, and it also makes us feel a sense of connection to the music of the past," says D'Agostino. "So it's the music itself that's kept us going." - The Chronogram

"A Remedy Review"

The human voice. Damn, it's a beautiful thing. Upstate Rubdown's full-length debut, A Remedy—produced in Woodstock and Rhinebeck by Grammy winner Jason Miles—is focused on three contemporary female voices, but the net result is closer to the Roches than Mountain Man. Mary Kenney, Melanie Glenn, and Kate Scarlett all sing remarkably, and they weave their voices well, recalling not only the serpentine sibling harmonies of the Roches, but of the Andrews and Boswell sisters, too. The cooing opening notes of the opening track, Glenn's "Ball Rolling," make it seem like madrigals will be on the way, but they never arrive, thankfully. Instead, the eclectic trio bounces off an unexpected superstructure made of bass (Harry D'Agostino), mandolin (Ryan Chappell), and percussion (Dean Mahoney).

The band, lacking familiar chordal anchors of guitar or piano, is off-kilter in a delicious, entirely unobtrusive way; and Chappell's brash mandolin lends a welcome drive. Auxiliary members and supporting players (including saxophonist Joe Lovano) job in for specific tracks but never overpower the exuberant Rubdown vibe. Key tracks include Glenn's plangent "New Life," stacked with session guests; Kenney's "No Slack," flashing a hipster "This town ain't big enough" chant; and D'Agostino's "Bad Enough" which brings jazz changes and harmonies to the game. Also included, as a nod to Rubdown's deeper roots, is a vibrant take of the 1927 Gene Austin chestnut "Tonight You Belong to Me." - The Chronogram

"Upstate Rubdown CD Release at The Falcon"

They swing, they sway, they rock and they roar. They need nothing more than their voices to channel rhythm and stoke your emotions.

Like a pipe organ at midnight Mass or the delicate finger-picking of a flamenco guitarist, vocalists Mary Kenney and Melanie Glenn of Verbank, and Kate Scarlett of New Paltz, harness musical nuance to generate songs that soar — and roll right over you like a tractor-trailer.
They are the three-pointed cornerstone that provides a foundation for Upstate Rubdown, a band that formed in New Paltz and seamlessly fuses the energy of Django Reinhardt with the grace of the Andrews Sisters.
The entire gang, including acoustic bass player Harry D’Agostino of New Paltz; mandolin player Ryan Chappell of Westchester; cajon player Dean Mahoney of Orange County; and Christian B Joao of Rosendale, who plays saxophone and flute, will be at The Falcon in Marlboro Wednesday (7/15/15) to celebrate the release of their debut, full-length album, “A Remedy.”
“They have this old-timey, rag-band style, but the way the women sing, how they harmonize together — I love their presence,” said Dave Leonard, a former Dutchess County resident, current Ulster County resident and DJ who hosts “Radio Unleashed” on Radio Woodstock on Sundays at 6 p.m. “They have a lot of soul.”
Complementing the female voices are the instruments, none of which are electric. Though amplified, D’Agostino’s bass and Chappell’s mandolin, both comprised of wood and strings, offer varied perspectives on rhythm and melody.
Though each band member brings something different to Upstate Rubdown’s live show, this ensemble is driven by the sum of its parts, rather than its individual components.
Chappell, who is 24 and a 2013 graduate of the State University of New York at New Paltz, said the members of Upstate Rubdown have a fairly simple philosophy when it comes to taking the stage.
“We have fun when we play,” he said. “And we make sure that it shows.”
Chappell added, “A lot of people, when they come to a show, as much as they want to listen to the music and appreciate it, they want to see that the music that’s coming at them is coming from people who are really having fun. When you’re trying to establish that connection with the audience, you have to have fun. And it translates very quickly.”
Chappell currently lives in Rye and he works in a music store, teaching mandolin. His mother plays violin, viola and sings. His father plays guitar and banjo, and a bit of mandolin — and he has written about the guitar for the “For Dummies” series of books.
Chappell can thank his sister for introducing him to mandolin player Chris Thile, who is well known from the band Nickel Creek, but has also performed with Yo-Yo Ma.
If you get the chance to catch Upstate Rubdown performing live, you just might see these many influences emerge as Chappell strums his way through an evening. It’s all just one component of a band that is hard to describe and hard to pin down, but easy to enjoy.
“The album is called “A Remedy” and our thinking behind that was, we are learning on an emotional level,” Chappell said. “A lot of these songs capture how we cope with uncertainties in life — relationships or the future or just your own place in the world. These songs were us working through that and resolving that in our own hearts. On a more specific level, we wanted to reconcile music that is fun and accessible with music that is interesting — and complex.”
John W. Barry:, 845-437-4822; Twitter: @JohnBarryPoJo - Gannett News - Poughkeepsie Journal

"Jams heard from the mountain"

Otis Mountain Get Down, an annual music festival that debuted an incredible lineup with an inspiring amount of talented musicians, left music lovers’ jaws dropped.

Otis Mountain Get Down was held Sept. 11-13 in Elizabeth, New York and came with plenty of upright bass and bluegrass swing.

Friday and Saturday were filled to the brim with funk, folk, alternative rock and electronic music.

The festival hosted 35 bands on three different stages. The crowd was excited about the diversity of the musicians.

Amongst the most enjoyable performances were the Dustbowl Revival, Damn Tall Buildings, Bella’s Bartok, Smooth Antics and Upstate Rubdown.

Upstate Rubdown showed their Appalachian soul as Mary Kenny, Melanie Glenn and Kate Scarlett’s melodic voices took over.

Accompanied by the guitar, upright bass, percussion and saxophone, the crowd went wild, kicking up dust into the air, adding that “get down” feeling Otis strives for.

Festival-goers danced in a blur of beards and flannels, hats with pins and barefoot lads.

Surrounded by the Adirondacks, the mountain held us together, absorbing the sounds.

The dust soon turned to mud as Saturday night’s most unwelcome guest showed up: rain.

Although it put a damper on many moods, the music kept roaring. Campfires tried to stay alive but the music never died.

Even with the rain and wet sleeping bags, a weekend with friends and great music is always a pleasure. - Vermont Cynic

"On Upstate Rubdown"

Broadcast on WBAI New York 99.5fm on August 14, this piece takes a look at the innovative appalachian soul band Upstate Rubdown. It includes interviews with band members and previews of songs from their new crowdfunded album 'A Remedy,' which is available for download at - WBAI - PODCAST Michael Stern


Still working on that hot first release.



Upstate Rubdown is an acoustic septet drawing inspiration from every corner and decade of America's musical heritage. Based in New York State's Hudson Valley region, the band has spent years cultivating its sound, and continues to grow by the tune. The instrumentation includes Harry D'Agostino on upright bass, Ryan Chappell on mandolin, Dean Mahoney on cajón, and Christian Joao on flute and alto/baritone saxophone. The dynamic rhythm section supports a three part vocal harmony powerhouse of founding members Mary Kenney and Melanie Glenn with recent Nashville-transplant Allison Olender.

Over its five year history, the band has played in more than twenty states, from intimate house concerts to prominent festival stages, including Mountain Jam, Frendly Gathering, and Green River Festival. The band has opened for Cory Henry, Phox, The Felice Brothers, and many others.

Otis Mountain Get Down captures the heart of the matter:

"Pulling from the greatest corners of American music, this group has the power to get feet moving with or without amplification. Like fresh-farmed vegetables, their music is as organic as it is good for you. From foot-stomping bass, highlighted by the slap of a cajon, to the familiar strums of the mandolin over a wailing saxophone – there’s so much going on instrumentally that when the harmonious lead vocalists chime in, the result is nothing short of a homegrown hurricane of sound."

Band Members