The Way Down Wanderers

Fresh off the Summer Camp Stage, with a newly released EP, the Way Down Wanderers will be appearing at the Redstone Room on June 5, 2015. The 5-piece Americana group has brought their music to the QC area before, and found appreciative audiences and genuine music lovers.

Austin Thompson on guitar, lead and harmony vocals, is joined by brothers Collin Krause on mandolin, fiddle, lead and harmony vocals, and Ben Montalbano also on lead and harmony vocals with banjo. Bringing up the rhythm section are John Merikowski on drums and John Williams on stand-up bass.

Best friends Thompson and Krause had already put together a band with Williams in Peoria and had been writing music for some time when Merikowski and then Montalbano joined the band. Montalbano and Krause have the same mother, who gave Montalbano up for adoption. The families stayed in touch as it was an open adoption, and at 18, Montalbano decided he wanted to meet his family. Krause was 13 at the time, and the two played music together from the first time they met.

“Playing music together was instantaneous,” explains Krause when describing their first meeting. He already knew Montalbano was an excellent piano player.

“Collin was an awesome mandolin player,” says Montalbano. “He knew folk music, which I didn’t know as much.” He learned banjo quickly after that, and joined the band shortly after their first show in December of 2013.

Montalbano lived in a small town south of Chicago, and Merikowski grew up in the Chicago suburbs. The two met at the University of Illinois where Merikowski studied jazz percussion, and played together in a band there before joining the Way Down Wanderers.

Developing their folk sound was not so much a conscious choice as it was organic. Thompson and Krause grew up together playing folk music, as Collin’s grandfather was a folk musician. Montalbano comes from a classical music background, while Merikowski studied and played jazz. Their varied influences wove together like a fine fabric. And a little bit of homework helped too. They studied other bands to see where they fit in.

Montalbano explains the musical influences of the band, “We align with music with a real passion. Heart and emotion transcends genres. It doesn't matter if it is jazz or rock or pop, whatever, it is emotion. We've played with a rapper before and it worked because he was passionate.”

Their first EP, Path To Follow is a 5 song collection written by Austin and Collin. They see it as where they started and grew from. In May, they released Wellspring, a live-recorded EP. The recording was made during a show they played for their family and friends – those people who have been supporting them all their lives. They are currently working on a full-length album to be released in the fall. With a solid grasp of the dynamics needed to fit their sound to each room individually, they hardly seem like a band that has only been performing together for just over a year.

They’ve been playing out a lot. The plan was to take it easy in the winter and work on recording. In January, the Way Down Wanderers found themselves with two shows scheduled in Iowa in the midst of a snowstorm. Undaunted, they made their way from Chicago to Davenport in a trip that took seven hours, arriving at the Redstone room to an enthusiastic audience that applauded at their entrance. This was their first time in Iowa, and they were four hours late for load-in.

Upon leaving Chicago, the GPS showed them arriving in Davenport at 6 PM. It took hours before the GPS started going down instead of up. They were determined to get there in time to play, knowing they really wanted to do this show. After the show, they looked at each other saying, “I can't believe we almost didn't do that.”

Their second show of that trip was at Codfish Hollow, where they played a basementstormer show. They had a magical experience there, describing it as an oasis. Not in the way of an oasis in the middle of a desolate desert, though. They described it as a beautiful little place that is hidden, with the most hospitable people.

They found their way to the Maquoketa gem via GPS, but didn’t know what to do when, according to the GPS the winding road stopped, and there were cows along the side of the road watching them.

And then there is the Codfish Hollow hospitality that is rolled out for all visiting musicians. A lot of places they have played offered a drink ticket that is good for 50% off a drink and that’s about as good as you get. “And here - there was all this massive amounts of food and hospitality,” exclaims Williams. “And the audience was awesome,” adds Krause, “They were appreciating us. Even though it was cold and snowy out there, this is such a warm place.”

The Way Down Wanderers’ schedule for the summer is a busy one, full of festivals and live appearances around the country. They will be playing festivals in Colorado and Utah and then back in Illinois for more festivals including Moccasin Creek in Effingham. On Friday, June 5 the Quad-Cities will have another opportunity to see them at the Redstone Room.

Team Report by Roberta Osmers, Tom Zick and Jacqulyn Darin