MANCHESTER — What do you get when you mix folk music, string instruments, horns, cabaret dancers in costume and rock and roll energy for audiences of all ages?
You get Vaud and the Villains — a nationally known 16-piece ensemble whose founders, saxophone player Andy Comeau and dancer Dawn Lewis, are bringing the troupe to Earth Sky Time Community Farm in Manchester at 5 p.m. Sunday.
“What makes it unique and special, and what inspired us, is the joy of the music and bringing joy to people with this beautiful music,” Comeau said. “When we’re doing original songs or unique covers, we want to bring people together and lift them up. That was the whole point and the reason we continue to endure.”
Comeau and Lewis — who go by the names Vaud Overstreet and Peaches Mahoney on stage — founded Vaud and the Villains in Los Angeles, where they were working as actors. They had bonded over “We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions,” Bruce Springsteen’s take on classic American folk songs. Think of it as noir take on Americana, with the dance and costume sensibility of “Moulin Rouge,” and you’re in the ballpark.
In those songs, Comeau and Lewis heard an essential rock and roll energy — and the need to get up and dance.
“I was enamored of those tunes — my father had played a lot of them growing up," Comeau said. “My wife grew up dancing and said 'this screams for dancers.'”
And so was born a folk band with cabaret dancers and horns, with stage names and back stories for each of the performers. The repertoire soon expanded beyond the Seeger Session songbook, and began to reflect New Orleans’ profound influence on American music.
“The horns come up with these great things to do, and I came up with dances in my head to certain songs,” Lewis said of the choreography. “Once you see it, you understand — they pair very well together.”
Comeau and Lewis moved to Manchester a year ago, having fallen in love with the town while driving through on their way back to Comeau’s native New Hampshire.
We thought “This is gorgeous ... what is this town?” Comeau recalled of their first impression. “There was a house that had been on the market — in that crazy [COVID real estate] market — for two years. We happened to stumble our way into it.”
They’ve played prominent jazz and international music festivals including the Telluride Jazz Festival and Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in Black Mountain, N.C., events including the Cannes International Film Festival and “The Simpsons Take The Bowl” at the Hollywood Bowl, and headlined the Ford Amphitheatre in Los Angeles three times.
Visiting Earth Sky Time, Comeau and Lewis sensed the festival vibe that aligns with their own sensibilities, and an instant kinship with farm owner-operators Oliver and Bonnie Levis.
“We know we were going to be connected to this place somehow,” Comeau said. “There’s a loosey-gooseyness, a real relaxed, lovely warmth about it. I thought ‘whoever created this, they’re my people.’ And then you meet them and they don’t disappoint.”
Oliver Levis felt the same way — and he said it’s remarkable that Comeau and Lewis are flying much of their band here from Los Angeles for the show. (The troupe has another show slated for Saturday in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.)
“I was gung-ho from the beginning. These guys are a riot — it's a real party,” Levis said. “It’s mischievous but wholesome. Spiritual, but non-dogmatic. It’s open. It’s a party.”
The show is the second to last concert of the summer season at Earth Sky Time. On Sunday, Oct. 9, Boston-based Kotoko Brass — a mixture of New Orleans-style horns, West African drumming and Caribbean rhythms — will visit the farm.
Tickets for Sunday's show are $15 for adults, $10 for students and farmers and free for kids. The show will go on rain or shine, and food is available, including Earth Sky Time’s venerable Pizza Bus. For more information visit earthskytime.com.