Lake Street Dive aims for ‘joyful revolution’ with new album and tour

by Marty Lipp
lake street dive stone pony

SHERVIN LAINEZ

Lake Street Dive (from left, Bridget Kearney, Rachael Price, Akie Bermiss, Mike Calabrese and James Cornelison) will perform at The Stone Pony Summer Stage, June 14.

Drummer Mike Calabrese said members of his band Lake Street Dive, seeing the divisiveness of the country these days, wanted to provide a counterweight to the ubiquitous hostility and started to use the term “joyful revolution” as they gathered to write songs for their eighth album Good Together, which will be released on June 21.

“It feels like a step up in a lot of ways, or a step deeper,” said Calabrese, who will perform with the band at The Stone Pony Summer Stage, June 14, as part of the North to Shore Festival. The show will launch their Good Together Tour 2024.

Emblematic of that musical call for “joyful revolution” is the song “Dance with a Stranger,” which was inspired by a chance encounter by the group’s bassist, Bridget Kearney. While in Kingston, N.Y., she stopped by a square dance at a VFW hall and was struck by how the diverse people in the room danced together regardless of their differences. When playing the song during the tour, they hope to get people to similarly dance with the other fans around them.

“Find someone’s eyes that are new to you,” the lyrics suggest. “Might be a child or a grandfather; anyone will do/Go say ‘Hello,’ say ‘How do you do?’ ”

“We’re not claiming to be rebels in any sense,” Calabrese said. “Joy is actually very simple. Every newborn child has it, it’s just like we all come downloaded with it. … And it’s something you can cultivate. … I’ve been saying, ‘take your joy seriously.’ ”

To listen or watch Lake Street Dive play is to witness a joyful collaborative chemistry that is contagious. These musicians enjoy each other’s company and have huge respect for each other’s talents.

The cover of Lake Street Dive’s “Good Together” album.

The band first came together in 2004 when Calabrese, Kearney, singer Rachael Price and former guitarist Mike Olson met while studying jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. Keyboard player Akie Bermiss joined after band members took him to dinner mid-tour in 2017 and “proposed,” presenting him with five plastic engagement rings. Guitarist James Cornelison replaced Olson in 2021.

“What was clear from the beginning,” Calabrese said, “was we weren’t scared of being ourselves in front of each other and we were into trying stuff out, trying out something new. It was just fun to hang out and play music and talk music. We weren’t that good for years, but there was this spirit when we performed: ‘It’s just fun to play with you guys. We’ll worry about how good it sounds later.’

“I think each of us feels, in a sense, ‘I can’t believe I get to play in a band with Rachael Price as the singer.’ She’s one of the best singers of our generation. And Bridget’s one of the best songwriters of our generation. And Akie is just one of the most interesting people I think I’ve ever met. … I’m just, like, ‘it’s so cool to get to hang out with them.’ ”

The original goal for their playing together was to experiment with a mashup of free jazz and country music, which Calabrese said quickly failed as an experiment. They realized that outside of their jazz-oriented coursework, they all were still in love with other types of music, whether it was Weezer, Erykah Badu or The Beatles.

Initially they shuttled between Lake Street Dive and other bands. In 2005, Kearney won in the jazz category of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and they used the prize of cash and recording of CDs to release their debut album. In 2012, a video of them performing a slow, funky acoustic version of The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” on a Boston sidewalk went viral (with a boost from a tweet from Kevin Bacon), and the band’s popularity began to gather steam.

In addition to their original compositions, the bandmates have delighted their fan base with cover songs on their two Fun Machine EPs and in their Halloween tradition of creating playful video homages to songs such as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (with a mustachioed Price) and The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” (played live on a Brooklyn rooftop with Kearney playing a Hofner violin bass and sporting a Paul McCartney-style beard).

SHERVIN LAINEZ

Lake Street Dive (from left, Mike Calabrese, Bridget Kearney, Akie Bermiss, James Cornelison and Rachael Price).

For their latest album, Calabrese said, the group tried a new approach of writing collaboratively from the get-go, bringing shards of songs instead of fully written compositions to his home studio.

“It was the most vulnerable we’ve been in a room with each other, ever, and so it was kind of awkward, and it was tough to find a way,” he said, adding that the group enlisted a 20-sided die from the game Dungeons & Dragons to help them make choices. “It got the juices flowing.”

As part of the upcoming tour, the band will play its largest venue yet: Madison Square Garden, on Sept. 14. Calabrese said the gig is “unbelievable — that’s the word that captures it for me. It feels like the greatest thing and also the biggest fear.”

He added, “We’re just going to go play it and try to just remember (where this is) all coming from — just do what you did from the start. Now it’s just the room’s way bigger.”

Lake Street Dive will perform at The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, June 14 at 6 p.m., with Alisa Amador opening. Visit Ticketmaster.com.

For more on the band, visit lakestreetdive.com.

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