Meditations on Music: Riverbug

After hearing their beautiful extended play (EP) many times within a week, I was extremely excited to hear Riverbug play it straight down live last Sunday, May 15 at 6 p.m. in front of Kaplan’s Café at Lawrence University. There will be a lot of overlap in this meditation with my EP review from last week, but I urge you to read it as well, as I cover the EP in more depth in my review. This meditation will have a bit more background and history of the band than my reaction to their music, but getting a blend of hearing Riverbug’s EP, talking with them about their music and seeing them live is a nice change from my past meditations.

So much can be gleaned from Riverbug’s music—both studio and live—but it is a whole different experience hearing the music’s intent and feeling from its creators after being familiar with their recordings prior to talking with them. Such was my exact experience with Riverbug, the recording project led by Luke Rivard ’15. As I listened to the EP for probably the fifteenth or so time last week, I became eager to talk to Rivard and see how the music would translate live with the whole band.

Riverbug consists of senior Ilan Blanck on guitar, Meri Bobber on vocals, supersenior Tim Carrigg on keyboard, super-senior Joe Connor on saxophone, senior Henry Geraghty on vocals, junior Jakob Heinemann on bass guitar, and Dan Reifsteck ’15 and Rivard on drums and percussion. Live, they were joined by Rivard’s friend, Haley Haupt, instead of Bobber. Despite having so many people in the band, Riverbug is essentially the brainchild and recording project led by Rivard. He writes nearly all of the music and lyrics, letting the other musicians fill in the gaps organically.

As much as I loved the show and EP, I also longed to hear the earlier stages of Riverbug. It started as a solo project by Rivard with him on guitar and vocals. Having such a huge lineup with his band last Sunday definitely had a great impact on the feel of the band, but at points it is quite evident his music started stripped-down and minimal in style. With the help of Dean of the Conservatory Brian Pertl and Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies José Encarnación, Rivard and Riverbug transformed over time—its next step being a quartet with Carrigg, Heinemann and Reifsteck and then its current lineup when Rivard decided he should have someone else cover guitar and vocals.

As the second half of the eight-person group trickled in, it became clear to the members that Rivard had specific visions and goals for the group but was slightly shy to share them at first. After having some self-realizations and being pushed by band members, Riverbug opened up to its current form—a vehicle for Rivard’s music and a way for him to not only be a drummer, but a composer and leader as well.

The band has thrived in this state, the seven other members ardently willing to play when Rivard directs them but also allows their own voices to be heard in a natural way. They all seem to have come to terms with the fact that since this is Rivard’s project, it may dissipate or slowly morph into something else. While I love covering bands with members that equally contribute and stick together all the time, it was beautiful to see a band that collectively recognizes its purpose and role with its music and that the fact it is not immortal and that it might be very short-living.

Because of this unified realization, Riverbug is able to give their all until the current lineup changes—and they have, with their live shows and EP. Their show this past Sunday night was and anticipated and well-attended. Despite it being chilly, the large audience stayed throughout, a testament to the love and community that Riverbug strives to instill in their listeners. After hearing the EP so many times, I knew almost exactly what to expect, since the band only knows the five songs from the EP—but I loved it. I was able to see the band’s contentedness and hear their sound interact with the open environment. Because production plays such a huge role in the EP, it was strange not hearing Riverbug’s distinct, ethereal sound present throughout the show, but being outside was a treat within itself, which is especially true for a band that now resides mainly in the studio. The way they sounded outside and all together was a unique experience—and one that will probably not occur again. With such an emphasis on crafting their music in the studio to create a beautiful warmth, it was wonderful to hear the warmth they could create live—the warmth that has existed throughout the band’s lifespan.

I typically write about music that caters to smaller audiences, but I strongly believe that almost everyone will enjoy Riverbug at least a little. From their intricate, heart-wrenching arrangements to their relatable lyrics, it is nearly impossible to not be able to connect to Riverbug and their music.

You can hear the first track of Riverbug’s EP, “Live Between,” at http://riverbugmusic.bandcamp.com/releases. A digital release of the whole EP will be available on their Bandcamp page on June 1.

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