Sweetback Sisters, Elixir mix a musical potion in Putney



Webster defines "elixir" as "A magical liquid that can cure illness or extend life."

So when The Sweetback Sisters get cooking with Elixir tomorrow night at Next Arts in Putney, expect some magic that is sure to cure any long-winter blues you may have endured.

Elixir is one of New England’s best contra dance bands, while the Sweetback Sisters may very well be the premier purveyors of danceable honky-tonk and country-swing ever to emerge from Brooklyn, N.Y. And for the first time ever, the two groups plan to merge their talents onstage in what promises to be a one-of-a-kind show.

An enthusiastic Emily Miller, who along with her soul sister Zara Bode, fronts the Sweetbacks, explained what might be in store for tomorrow’s attendees. "Yes! This show will be unique for sure. We have been collaborating on musical projects with members of Elixir for many years, but this is the first time that our two bands have shared the stage. They are all incredible musicians."

As of last week, the two groups were still trying to figure out exactly what the collaboration will actually sound like. "We are brain-storming about a bunch of two-band collaborations for the concert," explained Miller. "Between us we have the makings of a legitimate big band: clarinet, trumpet, trombone, three fiddles, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass and drums."

Miller expects the vibe in the room to be "energetic and fun with some tear-jerkers thrown in there, too. Both bands specialize in dance music, and I believe there will be a cash bar, so we have the makings of a real honky-tonk."

Those who have seen The Sweetback Sisters in action know that there will be sumptuous harmonies, and some rockabilly beats, propelled by drummer Stefan Amidon. The name Amidon, of course, has much musical gravitas in these parts. Stefan has performed with members of his famous folk family throughout his life (as well as the beloved young band Popcorn Behavior, and collaborating with Lissa Schneckenberger, Matt and Shannon Heaton and The Sevens and eventually graduating from the Oberlin Conservatory with a degree in jazz performance.

Tomorrow’s show has added meaning for it is a homecoming of sorts for Amidon and Miller. "Stefan has been living back in the area for the two years or so, and I think it is still a thrill for him to play for his hometown crowd," added Miller." I’m very excited to play in Putney again. I went to the Putney School and always enjoy being back in the area."

As The Sweetback Sisters approach their eighth year together, Miller is excited about how the band has grown over that time. "Zara has come into her own as a rockabilly queen over the last few years -- growls and high belting like you wouldn’t believe, paired with sensitive vibrato and control when she wants it. I personally have grown a lot as a songwriter in the last few years. I used to leave most of the writing to the rest of the band, but I’ve been letting loose and writing a lot more recently. It’s a pretty amazing feeling to write a song and then immediately have it brought to life by the amazing band we have playing with us. I’m hooked."

Dave Madeloni writes a music column for Ovation. He can be reached at madeloni@aol.com.


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