Colin Smith Staff Writer
After students and their families toured the paths of Kalamazoo College’s arboretum on a chilly Sunday afternoon, they warmed up to hot cocoa and the music of a three-piece bluegrass band from Detroit.
Jennifer Westwood and The Waycross Georgia Farm Boys have played together since last April. They blend songs together through the art of improvisation. Borrowing from 12-bar blues progressions, guitarists Jackson Smith and Dylan Dunbar said their influences range from Americana artists Chet Atkins and Johnny Cash to the early jazz music of Django Reinhardt.
The trio plays three to four times a week together, but all three members are involved in a handful of other Detroit-based bands as well. Both Smith and Dunbar said they often receive calls from local artists to play gigs they haven’t rehearsed for — they just show up and perform.
Consequently, singer Jennifer Westwood’s band is known for trading solos and creating music in the moment. Smith donned an Angry Birds mask and followed Dunbar’s lead while Westwood bellowed soulful notes.
“Basically it’s all improv. It’s a free-for-all between Jackson [Smith] and I — we just try and make the other person screw up,” Dunbar said.
Smith said one of the most important parts of their music is the fun they have when they create it.
“You go see music and it can be a drag [when] it’s people being too serious or just not having fun,” Smith said. “But as long as you’re having fun, then people are having fun.”
The band members encourage listeners to follow their music anywhere online, as their music changes frequently. While they featured two acoustic guitars and vocals this past weekend, they sometimes include the upright bass, electric guitar, banjo or sometimes a drummer.
Smith is the son of the singer-songwriter Patti Smith, popularly considered the “Godmother of Punk.” He is also married to the White Stripes’ drummer, Meg White.
“No one knows who I am when I walk down the street; it’s mainly only people who are fans of ours,” Smith said.
He said his celebrity connections don’t get in the way of his acclaim, but it “gets a little goofy when they show up at country gigs and think we know her [Patti Smith’s] songs.”
Keep your ears open for Jennifer Westwood and her waycross boys. Through the art of improvisation they are creating new music each day they perform. And with their camaraderie, they’ll have a laugh doing it.