Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road After giving a new twist to the ‘Wizard of Oz’ story, The Wiyos get back in touch with their roots
PUTNEY -- The Wiyos are not in Kansas anymore.
Blown there by personnel changes and road-weariness, this old-timey, Americana band, which spent part of 2009 opening for Bob Dylan, decamped a couple of years ago in Kansas, somewhere over the rainbow.
"We just decided to slow it down, stop, and change personnel," explained Michael Farkas, the group’s vocalist, harmonica and accordion player and washboard percussionist, in an interview last week.
Gone were Parrish Ellis, guitarist extraordinaire, songwriter and vocalist, and bassist Joseph "Joebass" DeJarnette, both ready for a change after long stretches of touring, playing more than 200 shows a year.
"Teddy (Weber) and I asked ourselves, ‘What is this band now?’ said Farkas. "Instead of trying to recreate what we had, we decided to go in a different direction. The most natural way to do that was to write songs and not be restricted by who we were."
The result was "Twist," an eclectic concept album released in 2012 based loosely on "The Wizard of Oz" and inspired by a multi-media dance production performed at Wichita State University.
The most daring work in the band’s 10-year history, "Twist" earned critical acclaim and wowed audiences on a tour of the UK. Bruce MacGregor of BBC Radio called it "wonderful, weird and at times scary." Chronogram Magazine labeled it "a surreal Americana opus -- Big Pink meets Pink Floyd."
Ranging wide open sonic spaces, "Twist" introduced The Wiyos’ acoustic rootsy, bluesy, jazzy, country sound to some new friends -- Cuban and Latin flavors, electric guitars, surf-style vocals, rock ‘n’ roll riffs, beat boxing and whatever else the Wizard had behind the curtain.
"We created definitely our strongest and boldest work," said Farkas.
But, it turns out, Kansas wasn’t where The Wiyos wanted to be in the long-run. So they’ve moved on, reaching back into their old bag of tricks while incorporating some of the new twists from "Twist."
It is this new-old version of The Wiyos that will be making its way to Putney this Friday to perform at 7:30 p.m, at Next Stage in a powerhouse double bill with the indie roots husband-wife team of Mike & Ruthy.
However fun "Twist" was -- Farkas called working on it "a wonderful experience with a nice team of people who had each other’s back" -- something was lost.
Electrified, amplified and enlarged to five members, The Wiyos had strayed from their roots as performers.
"What was lost was some of the intimacy that an acoustic trio had created," said Farkas. "We wrote ‘Twist’ to be staged. ... But you kind of kill your ears. I’m a big fan of the trio. I like the feeling of everyone being in the same room together."
Next Stage is the ideal venue for that kind of intimacy, and Farkas is excited to be returning to an area where The Wiyos has performed several times before.
For Friday’s show, The Wiyos will feature Farkas, Teddy Weber and Sauerkraut Seth Travins on vocals, harmonica, kazoo, steel and acoustic guitars, banjo, ukulele and upright bass.
"I think what you’re going to get (in Putney) is some hybrid," said Farkas.
A couple of new songs, pared down versions of songs from "Twist," some old Wiyos favorites and other stuff drawn from old blues, jazz, country, Vaudevillian and Appalachian styles.
"We try to keep ourselves amused and surprised on stage," he said.
Farkas has even picked up the washboard again to add a little percussion.
"I kind of put it down for a while. When I wear that thing, it’s part of who I am," he said.
Still, Farkas has no regrets about "Twist," which he said helped him grow as a musician and figure out where The Wiyos are headed.
"It still informs our songwriting," he said. "And what Teddy and I discovered is that we really sing well together. We’re trying to get back into some of that brother harmony."
Woodstock, N.Y.-based Mike & Ruthy have been touring and recording together for 13 years and married for six. Michael Merenda is an artfully prolific songwriter with an indie rock soul and feather-touch vocals. The daughter of fiddle legend Jay Ungar and country singer Lyn Hardy, Ruthy Ungar is an earthy country-blues singer with the unmistakable stage presence of a natural-born performer.
Next Stage is located in the former United Church at 15 Kimball Hill. Tickets are $17 general, $15 for students and seniors. For reservations and information, call 802-254-9276. Advance tickets are available at www.brownpapertickets.com and Offerings Jewelry in Putney. JD McCliment’s Pub will provide a beer and wine cash bar.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.