Skip to main content

Kung Fu and a few words with Beau Sasser - A Disc Jam Adventure

Music is this amazing, incredible thing. It can be like a drug, finding you at your most vulnerable and getting inside you to permeate your very being with all that it is - creating this sense of self and presence of mind that you can no longer live without. It changes you. It can be that thing that gets you through the worst times of your life. It can be that thing that seems to narrate the best times of your life like a movie soundtrack. Those songs and those feelings will live in you forever, being reignited every time your hear them. Did you ever have that happen?

The other day I was driving with my phone on shuffle and a song came on. It was Today by Jefferson Airplane. This song was such an emotional powerhouse to me as a 17 year old New Jersey girl in the summer, discovering myself and love and creation and everything that lights up the life of a teenager on the verge of adulthood. I played it all the time as I was somewhere between earthy hippy child and angsty punk rock girl and couldn't yet decide who I was. I had not heard the song in years. It came on and it felt like I got punched in the stomach with all the swirling memories of that time. Such a strange and amazing experience. That is what music is. The beginning bars of a song can flip a switch in your brain and flood your soul with emotions.

I don't write to be an expert on anything. The fact is - I'm not and I will never pretend to be. I don't write about music because I think I know more about it or understand it better than anyone else. That has never been the intention of this blog. My goal is and has always been merely to try and describe the vibe so that maybe someone reading it thinks it sounds cool and goes to look it up. I do this because I believe in these scenes. Music should be shared. It was always meant to be shared. It was never meant to be this elitist thing that it has occasionally become. I have met and worked with a lot of musicians in the 6 years since I have been actively writing this blog, and many prior to that. Some have been largely popular. Some have been niche popular. Some have been almost secretive and elusive. Many of these interactions were amazing...and some weren't. I think one of the most disappointing things as a fan is to finally get a moment with someone who creates music that lights up your heart, your soul, and your mind only for them to be a giant asshole.

So that brings me to where I sit right now. Two weeks ago, I was handed the opportunity to not only attend the very first festival I ever attended, but I was also granted the distinct privilege to write about it. Now, I think anyone who has been following me the last six years knows that I don't really do that the way everyone else does. I don't want to write a piece that tells my readers what they can find out for themselves. You don't need to hear from me that X person in X band plays X instrument and has for X amount of years. That they were once in X other band. That they are from X city. To be honest, I genuinely hate interviews. There are enough cold and clinical sounding pieces out there on pretty much everyone and I hate reading them almost as much as I hate writing them. Not to say that I haven't, because I have.

With this in mind, I gathered myself up and headed to the 7th annual Disc Jam Festival in Stephentown, NY. I won't bore you with my giddy details on the festival itself, which was amazing. I already did that when I got back. What I do want to talk about is Kung Fu.

My husband has been talking about Kung Fu pretty much ever since I met him. Someone would come up in a conversation with people in his bands and I would butt in and say "who is that?" and he would say "Oh, he's in Kung Fu." (yes, this actually happened a lot) That being the case, they were already a familiar name on my radar. I just couldn't be bothered to listen to them for a long time. My loss if course, but we have already discussed how long I had music ego blinders on. About six months ago, I finally pulled my head out from under myself and I did listen - and I have not been the same since. I wrote about it but I have actually been wanting to go back and re-write that whole article because it doesn't say enough. I had not yet fallen completely down the Kung Fu rabbit hole the way I have now. Since then, I have become mildly obsessed.

I am not talking fan girl drooling. I am talking straight up music appreciating AWE. Complete and utter fascination that human beings can honestly be this good at creating music. I am not at all exaggerating here. This is a band comprised of almost unusually talented musicians. A lot of great bands get by because they are decent in what they do and they have one really amazing player that stands out. (I would list a few but that starts heated debates and people will yell at me and I'm fragile) This is not the case with Kung Fu. Every single member of this band is incredible. I don't mean that they are just really good at their chosen instrument. I mean that you listen to the album and you have an almost junkie level NEED to actually see those songs be created in front of you. At least that was how I felt.

I have an obsession with the album Joyride. I have a particular obsession with the song Joyride. (if you are not familiar, do yourself a favor and put it on right now) This song is so strange and so amazing. Let's start by saying that it is funky as hell. If you can listen to the song and stand still, we probably can't hang out because you are dead inside. It's got this incredible, infectious energy that it doesn't just hand to you, it THROWS it at you. Every aspect of this band is perfectly in sync from start to finish. You can focus on each member on a listen through the song and just say "Holy shit" because they are all that good. This song has these changes though. If you are dancing, which you should be, your steps will change. The groove keeps up, steady and chugging, but the intensity jumps from one climax to another climax. I have been dying to see this song played live because I am genuinely fascinated by how it's put together.

A few months back, they came through our sleepy little corner of New Jersey and played The Stanhope House. My husband was working there at the time and I was looking forward to finally seeing this magic take place. Unfortunately we had a baby sitter crisis and my dog of 14 years was passing away and it was just an all around miserable night for me. A few months later, they were going to be playing in New York City. Again, for various reasons life said "No, you cannot go". Since then, it has been a mission to finally catch Kung Fu. Knowing that they were going to be at Disc Jam made the experience all the more worthwhile for me. I was chasing Joyride hard. It wasn't just me that Disc Jam was going to be special for when it came to Kung Fu.

Disc Jam 2017 was the two year anniversary of key master Beau Sasser being with Kung Fu. Two years ago, at Disc Jam, was his first ever show playing with the band. To mark the occasion, Beau had agreed to sit down with me and allow me to pick at his brain. As I said earlier, I hate interviews. Thankfully, so does he. So how do I do this? I don't want a bunch of word for word quotes, I want the vibe. This means I can actually talk to someone the way I choose...drinking beer and eating tacos. So that was what we did. We met up with Beau after Dopapod's set with a plate of shrimp tacos I had grilled up shortly before in hand. Maybe it's because he is a good dude. Maybe its because we lured him with food. But, he was willing to take a few to talk to me about his anniversary with the band and we strolled back to our camp site. We were conveniently across the pond from the Tent Stage where The Motet was straight killing it which made this whole experience all the more divine.

Beau is what I would call genuinely good people. He is not ego driven, though he has every right to be being that the guy is ridiculously good at what he does. I have met far less talented musicians who think far more of themselves. He is both considerate and polite while being hilarious and honest. I can't articulate how much I enjoyed just getting to shoot the shit and drink beer with him. I lost count of how many times he told me he didn't normally do interviews. I tried to reassure him that this wasn't an interview in the traditional sense. I had no interest in quotes. All my interest is in vibe. But let's get down:

Beau is a seasoned musician with a creative flare. Having worked with Escape Plan, The Melvin Sparks Band, The Z3, Alan Evers Trio, and Ryan Montbleau just to name a few, his experience and reputation is one of an almost Zen master of keys. His key work is largely regarded as some of the best within the scene and he holds his own strongly among the lists of high masters. Personal opinion, he's up on top. And I'm a snob about it.

Two years ago, Beau was approached with the invitation to join Kung Fu. I wasn't going to press for details on why they had decided to make a change in their lineup as gossip writing isn't really my thing. Beau had absolutely nothing but positive thoughts and vibes to share on the entire subject. Two years ago, he replaced Todd Stoops on keys. He has zero negative thoughts on the whole experience or Stoops, who he considers a dear friend and powerful force in this scene in his own right (which we all know to be true), and he is grateful to have been given the opportunity. And that was where that ended.

Getting beyond all that though, Beau is a father who has found a home in a band that understands what it is to be a musician with a family. Not only are there other dads in the band, they are all just good people who understand that life is what you make it and music makes it all the more amazing, but family is first. I married a musician. This was an amazing thing to hear from a band that is talented enough to tell family folks to go kick rocks...and don't. It was refreshing and hopeful. Kung Fu plans touring around their families and schedules. Honestly, we as the fans are all luckier for it. We get one of the greatest bands across the scenes going balls to wall full force and knowing that the energy is real. These are genuinely happy dudes. Beau has found a strong brotherhood within Kung Fu. He speaks glowingly and humorously of all of them.

We spent a little time going over their set. Like I said, I had been chasing Joyride. I had no idea what the chances would be to get it. WE DID. I think I damn near lost my mind. I was amused as Beau himself mentioned that they had played Joyride on our walk back to the campsite. Apparently this is not a song that they play out all that much. Not only did I get my favorite song on the album, I got my SECOND favorite song on the album which is Speed Bump of Your Love. The sexy groove song on the album, it has a generally different tone than the rest of the record does. This makes sense, as Beau informed me that this is the song that Rob Somerville wrote. I honestly didn't know that.

We also got The Get Down, which is another front runner on that record. We got Scorpion, which was written by Beau himself . There was a Joan Jett cover in which Hayley Jane came up in all her explosive energy and added vocals. We were also treated to a cover of Kid Charlemagne from Steely Dan, who the band just finished a tour doing split covers of with their own music. The entire set was fire. Just absolute fire. I really could not have asked for a better "first time seeing Kung Fu" set. Maybe Chin Music? Maybe next time.

We spent a couple hours sitting in the lantern light, listening to the music float across the water from the tent stage, and just talked about this scene, this life, and everything that gets us to where we are. Listening to The Motet, Beau remarked how much of this music is a direct result of the massive influence of James Brown. I couldn't agree more. The power and the vibe, the passion and the meaning behind so much of what he did has led to the creation and flow of so much incredible music that we now have the chance to not only listen to, but play. We are fortunate for that.

All in all, our evening of shrimp tacos and beer was the highlight of my new festival frame of mind. Thank you to Beau Sasser for taking the time to let me delve into your corner of Kung Fu and your corner of the world. Thank you to Kung Fu for creating the mastery of the funk sound that you continue to do and please don't stop that any time soon. Not just because I love it, but because of this:

This is my daughter Josephine (already crushing on Chris DeAngelis) at the Stanhope House sound check. She is also obsessed with Joyride, she dances when it comes on, she smiles if she so much as sees the album cover, and she asks for it on in the car on the regular. She will be chasing these song herself before long...

You can check out Kung Fu at their next few festival dates over at their website.



Popular posts from this blog

It's Almost Time for Disc Jam 2018! - UPDATED WITH SCHEDULE!

5/8 - UPDATE!!! THE SCHEDULE IS AVAILABLE! (see the bottom of this post!)

I can't begin to explain how much I am eagerly awaiting Disc Jam this year.

When I found myself really, truly delving into the jam scene, it was for a lot of reasons. I was exploring music I already had a deep love for, I was exploring bands that my husband admired and helped to shape him, I was branching out in my music tastes out of my own curiosity about what I was missing, I was seeking a far more detailed understanding of the players who could go beyond a simple song and instead weave a whole story on the spot, but mostly I was seeking something much deeper for myself. I was seeking a peace that I desperately needed and just wasn't finding anywhere. 
I have always felt deeply connected to the music that I loved and while I have been writing about music for 8 years, I lost much of the connection that I used to feel. My love for the music remains strong, but as stupid as it feels to put this in words…

Digging Hard On The Heavy Pets - Strawberry Mansion

One of the things I have grown to love so much about the jam scene is just how much you can find within it. I used to be one of those people that assumed that "Jam Band" meant Grateful Dead ripoff band or tired cover band trying to do again and again what has already been done. I had no idea how many levels there were to the scene. I had no idea how many scenes existed within the scene and despite that, how inclusive it was to anyone who wanted to come inside and be a part of it. I am constantly finding something to to be excited about, and even better, to be completely taken aback by. Enter The Heavy Pets.

I was really excited when I first heard that The Heavy Pets had a new record. I won't lie and say I am any kind of long-term fan of the band because truth be told, I am still wetting my feet in their pool of awesome that has been steadily filling for about the last decade. However, over the last year more and more of their songs have been dropping into my mixes and I…

Wig Party and Bee: Gearing up for the Bakers Dozen Pre-Show - American Beauty July 30th

I'm new to the whole Phish thing. At no point in time did I ever think I would be headed to a Phish show during the Baker's Dozen run at Madison Square Garden. I was that person who made fun of Phish fans. Then I married into the jam scene and my world completely changed. It was gradual. My readers have been beaten over the head with the concept on more than one occasion but to me, honestly is key. I can't write honesty about music unless I tell you honestly how I came to find it. In this case, I had to have my music mind shaken upside down for a few years.
Father's Day this year, I surprised my Phish Head husband with tickets. I had asked him, could he see any show during the run, which would he want to see? July 30th, he says. "Its a Sunday. You NEVER miss a Sunday Phish show." I still don't know what this means, but people keep saying it to me. I look forward to finding out. In addition, he wanted to check out the pre-party happening that day at Ameri…