Those bold enough to challenge the mighty Winter Storm Riley and travel to Portland, Maine over the weekend were handsomely rewarded with a weekend of top-shelf beers paired with a stellar musical lineup. The second annual Sunaana festival replicated its initial success and even expanded the event to include a second day. While much of New England was being pummelled by heavy precipitation and dangerous winds, the festival endured the storm.
Despite the impressive collection of bands and beers, the most local of each caught my eye.
On Saturday, I caught up with Chris Ross, Zach Bence and Ryan Curless of Chris Ross and the North before their set. The Maine-based band produces a wide array of sounds, ranging from fun and energetic bluegrass to crank-able southern rock. The band’s namesake has a voice somewhere near the intersection of Rob Thomas and Garth Brooks, while showcasing a Chad Kroeger-esque rasp at times.
The band responsible for a song called Mostly Sober ironically joined me for some questions and answers about beer.
You have to get out there, put gas in the van, and play for people until they can’t ignore you anymore.”
I feel like there’s a lot of upbeat, funky music. I pick up a country-rock hybrid, southern rock kind of vibes from you guys. How would you classify yourself?
Chris: It’s hard to say. All I can say is that a lot of the bands I look up to don’t consider genre in the songwriting process or the recording process. They consider: Is the song good? Because nobody only likes one kind of music. Like, I love the Temptations, Bruce Springsteen and Tupac. We just try to make songs and if they come out rock, if they come out country, if they come out good, that’s all we care about.
What are some of your other musical influences?
Ryan: I picked up dad’s drums when he got done. (Ryan’s dad later gave me some great stout recommendations later on.) I come from a household of people doing the same thing that I’m doing now. I don’t ever remember not just having music playing at concert-volume in the house. There was a lot of Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, James Taylor and Kenny Loggins. There was also Whitney Houston when we were kids. Tower of Power is one of my favorite bands. I was also the youngest of three kids, so my whole style was just from my brother’s room. He had one of those big 300 disc folders and I would just sneak into my brother’s room and steal, like, Fatboy Slim or the I Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack. There’s not anything I’ve listened to that I’ve not studied.
Zach: I went to school as a jazz performance major. I still play Jazz gigs. Caleb [the band’s bassist] and I went the route of modern musical education.
How long have you guys been at it?
Chris: The four of us are creeping up on four years as the four-piece. I’ve been playing since I was a teenager and I released my first actual record in 2011. Got a thing going, got lucky and wrote some songs that I thought were pretty good. Just kind of riding it since then, hoping nobody catches on.
What’s next? You guys are in the middle of a tour, right?
Zach: Toward the end of this month, we’re going on the road for almost a month. We’re going out to Pennsylvania and then going out West. We’re going to Colorado, New Mexico, Texas.
Chris: We’ve been doing a few of these bigger runs lately and trying to, you know, not lose our shirts and hit different markets to see which ones are working and which ones aren’t. I think, in order to make a life from this, you have to grow those different markets. The way that works is you have to get out there, put gas in the van, and play for people until they can’t ignore you anymore.
What was everybody’s first beer?
Ryan: First full beer? Pabst Blue Ribbon, tall boys.
Chris: It certainly wasn’t my first beer, but my dad lives in Quebec and I remember being like 15-years-old and we’re sitting there playing cribbage and he looks at me and says, “Well, you’re tall enough.” So I’m assuming it was some fairly basic Canadian beer like a Labatt Blue or a Molson Export.
Zach: In college, I went into New York City to the Village Vanguard jazz club and I showed up there and had a Stella Artois served out of the chalice.
That’s the fanciest first beer anyone’s ever had. So, if you’re going to have a beer now, what’s it gonna be?
Ryan: I really want to try Van Life [from Orono Brewing Company]. I think they’re pouring it here today. But right now, I’m drinking a lot of stuff I can see through. A lot of pilsners—it’s just very crisp and refreshing.
Chris: I’m a little bit on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t really drink a lot, so when I do end up having a beer, it’s kind of like an event of sorts. I do like a lot of the things that Bissell [Brothers], (which happens to be across the street from the venue,) is doing. But if I’m showing up at the gas station at home and going to spend ten bucks on a six-pack, I’ve always kind of liked Double Bag [from Long Trail].
Zach: My taste runs a little more fruity I guess. I like drinking a beer in the summer, like Leinenkugel's shandy, so then when I had Dangol (a lager brewed with lime zest) from Bissell Brothers, that was right up my alley.
Is there anything you want October readers to know about Chris Ross and the North?
Chris: Check out the website for dates and come see us. We will drink as many beers with you as the drive afterward will allow.