The state of the world can be a dreary place, but a Saturday in Haverhill, MA was a bright spot. On September 24th, Team Haverhill and 92.5 The River put on the 11th annual River Ruckus. A day for people to come out and enjoy some free activities, live music and good food.
Music started around noon with five acts slated to play over the next 8 hours. First up was Americana-Blues artist Danielle Miraglia, followed by Liz Bills & The Change. While I did not get to catch much of Danielle’s show, what I did hear was great! She had an energy and livelihood about her that made you want to keep watching.
Liz Bills & The Change is a band that loves to have fun on stage and share a message of love. Their energy and positive presence is infectious and people could not help but to dance along with them. The crowd was howling with them during “Werewolf” and singing along to others. Their last song of the set was called “Bubbles Man” and they invited all the children up on stage to dance with them in the bubbles. Not only are their songs catchy and fun to dance with, Liz Bills and Jess Olson use props on stage. Between the star wands, glowing moon ball and bubble guns, these girls can put on a performance. Makes sense why they’re up for Live Act of The Year in the New England Music Awards. Find out in November if they win.
"Bubbles Man" is a song inspired by a dear friend and fan of Liz Bills. Stevie shows up to every show armed with bubble guns, signature dance moves and a big old heart of love. When it is time for that song, Stevie always joins the change up on stage to dance and shower the stage with bubbles.
Next up was Kurt Baker. He was good and commanded the stage. The crowd seemed to really enjoy his music and sing along with what they knew. That’s about the time I decided lunch needed to happen, so I stepped away from the stage. From what I could hear, he had a voice that was emotive and fun. He kept things lively and was great to listen to as my friends and I spent some time away from the front of the stage.
We knew Delta Rae was a set not to miss. I have to admit that we’ve seen them multiple times; some of us in the double digits. We danced, screamed, clapped and sang along to songs from all albums. Their show is always something to behold. Theatrical, unexpected and energetic are some words to describe it. I got to witness a friend be blown away at her first Delta Rae show. From Brittany and Liz’s vocals, to Mike’s trash can percussion, to Eric’s keyboard skills, to Ian’s guitar stance and Grant’s cool bass. This was the first time all six of them have been on stage together in a few months due to various things in their personal lives, and it was obvious they missed it.
I missed seeing the Jayhawks, but I was told they were really good that night. They're a local favorite and everyone was looking forward to seeing them.
After their show I headed backstage, and had the privilege of picking the brain of Brittany Holljes from Delta Rae.
This is a band who started out touring in a van over 200 days a year to hit the ground and build their fanbase. They’ve been going for over 10 years and have organically grown their followers through hard work and talent. They would spend hours after a show meeting anyone who would want to see them and making genuine connections with the people. She says they love watching their audience go from 10 people to a hundred people to hundreds of people.
Touring that many days takes a toll on a person, physically and emotionally.. Brittany says that taking care of yourself and having a routine and schedule is key to not going crazy on the road. Between loading gear, VIP times, rehearsal and travel, there isn't much time to relax when on the road. It may be crazy and stressful at times, but that schedule and routines are her favorite part of touring. “Like when you're young” and a parent is telling you when to get up and what to do. With six people trapped in a moving vehicle, noise-canceling headphones are an essential part of their gear. She did say “Mike is the resident comedian” to liven up any tension. They have learned what buttons not to push with each other and have more philosophical questions than small talk.
Delta Rae puts on quite a show. From crazy technical lighting to energy and stage presence, this group of southern-gothic storytellers will leave you speechless and likely in tears. I asked Brittany about performing live and she compared it to a spiritual experience and meditation. I have seen the band and the audience tear up at just about every show. She talked about how sound can have a profound change on the chemicals in the brain and alter your feelings in that moment. Performing is a communal event and connects people. Her favorite part of performing live is the exchange of energy between the audience and the band.
They have played all kinds of venues over the years. When asked specifically about playing outdoor shows she commented that the “wind is my muse” and playing outside is a special thing for her. The sound of birds overhead and being in nature gives her an added boost when on stage. Anything that can connect her to the earth is a bonus for her.
Over the years Delta Rae has been signed to two labels. After seeing how the label structure was not supporting them, they decided to take a leap of faith and go independent; essentially putting their future in the hands of the fanbase they created. What started as a hope and dream turned into one of the most backed music projects in Kickstarter history with over $450,000 being raised. To say they were overwhelmed would be an understatement. I asked Brittany about their thoughts when launching the campaign and what they thought was going to happen.
She really thought this was the end of the band and they would fade into oblivion. If they didn’t reach their goal, the band planned to fill the money themselves to get the two albums out. They had the songs “in our hands and in our hearts” and wanted them out in the world. Instead of just the two albums, The Light and The Dark, they are now doing an acoustic album, a holiday album and even writing their own original southern gothic musical. She credits the fans as the most unique group of music lovers who are “makers and givers”.
When it comes to success, she had a vision. As long as the band “stays together and keeps making music” then she considers it a success. Within that, though, she said that having a good balance between the music life and the personal life is another way to measure success. She took some time this year to attend friends’ weddings and even have her own. Thinking of shows and music, as long as “the music and the shows are authentic” they have been successful.
Record labels have tried to put them in a genre box, and that’s not possible with this group. Brittany said the “capitalistic society of record labels are predatory” and they “keep artists on a hamster wheel”. In her opinion, labels should take a smaller piece of the pie and spread the wealth around so the smaller artists have a chance to follow their dreams. “Music is for everyone”.
With six people in the band, they all have their hand in the songs, but only two are main songwriters. Eric and Ian do the majority of the writing, but Brittany and Liz have been doing more. With the encouragement of her brothers, (Ian and Eric) Brittany has the confidence to begin writing more songs and creating the music. She was only 19 when the band started and she had no life experience to write about, but now that she has grown into herself she has something to say.
One of the most unique things about their songs is that they are written from a place of anger, frustration and passion. Some of their songs are written in response to complex issues of human rights. They “have the privilege of using a microphone” and sharing complex issues that people need to hear. Songs like Hands Dirty and All Good People have messages of oppression in upbeat and catchy tunes. Music is a way to soften a person’s edges and make them more receptive to hearing the messages. Music is their tool to share messages and bring awareness to these issues. They write songs to open the eyes of those who hear it and give them emotions and the ability to explore something they may not otherwise ever thought about.