Rusted Root, The Twin Cats
Thursday, Dec. 27, 8 p.m., $25, 21+
You don't necessarily need a well-endowed trust fund and itinerant tendencies to become versed in world music. A good education and open ears are good enough.
That's what made Pittsburgh's Rusted Root one of the top heritage acts of the ’90s. Fueled by cross-cultural influences and living on the road, they're still going strong in the new millennium.
Some band members, including bassist Patrick Norman, studied music at the University of Pittsburgh. That university training, coupled with an existing love of percussion-based music, helped formulate the sextet's vivid, polyrhythmic style.
"When we were starting out, we all had a variety of tastes in music," he says, explaining the Eastern- and African-based nuances that permeate Rusted Root's folkadelic sound.
Perhaps it was that indulgent approach and road-hopping nature that helped get Rusted Root lumped into the jam-band scene. While Norman doesn't mind the comparison, he doesn't think it completely fits them either.
"We don't really go off on long solos, which I always considered to be the basis of the jam scene," he says. "A lot of our songs are like stories — very structured. Jam bands always seem to be unstructured."
You could technically classify Rusted Root as one of many one-hit wonders that the world has heard since Edison pressed his first wax cylinder. Their 1994 single "Send Me on My Way" helped propel their major-label debut “When I Woke” to platinum heights.
"There's nothing like having a popular single to get the word out," Norman says. "Between having a relatively popular single and having it in a bunch of movies, our audience diversity grew. We found a range of age groups coming to our shows."
But unlike most other "Where Are They Now?" candidates, Rusted Root successfully found its niche without selling their soul in the process.
"We have a pretty big mix of fans," Norman says. "Lots of college students love our stuff. That's kind of where we grew up. Those kids, as they got older, have younger brothers and sisters whom they turned on to us. It's kept going that way."
It helped that, early on, the members of Rusted Root accepted the fact that they would become successful mostly through touring. That's why, 15 years after making their recording debut, it's still not uncommon for them to perform in the same city three times in one year. But it's not just their dogged effort that's kept them going.
"It generally comes down to [our having] really good songs," Norman says. "I think our fans appreciate the musicality of them."