Everyone Orchestra brings improvisational jams to Frisco for two-night run
IF YOU GO
What: Everyone Orchestra; Grant Farm opening
When: Friday, Dec. 18 & Saturday, Dec. 19
Where: The Barkley Ballroom, 610 Main St.
Cost: Tickets are $21-$25 and can be purchased at barkleyballroom.ticketfly.com
The honeymoon period — that time when each individual is blissfully happy with the relationship, things that later become annoying are still cute, and couples look at each other with adoration. Trapped inside a never-ending honeymoon period, the band Everyone Orchestra never grows old or sick of each other — mainly due to its lack of monogamy. With a rotating cast of musicians, each show is entirely improvised onstage right in front of the audience’s eyes.
“The concept is built around spontaneity,” said Matt Butler, the brains behind the creation of Everyone Orchestra (EO). “… It’s to be in the moment, spontaneously creating together, and the hook is that you’re present and everyone is doing their best, and you have these moments where unbelievable things happen. If you don’t actually know we are creating it on the spot, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’ But if you are in on the trick that we are making the music on the spot, it’s like, wow. It hits you in the heart — and that’s what this is all about.”
The only mainstay in the project is Butler, the conductor and all-around showman who leads a rotating cast of musicians in an entirely improvisational gig onstage. As Everyone Orchestra travels to different cities, the characters change, and Butler draws individual musicians from different bands to create the sound for the evening. Without a playlist or rehearsing particular songs, some of the musicians get onstage with each other for the first time, creating a unique show that changes each night.
Everyone Orchestra will play a two-night run at The Barkley Ballroom on Friday, Dec. 18 and Saturday, Dec. 19, celebrating the venue’s third anniversary. The stars of the evening include Al Schnier (moe.), Jason Hann (String Cheese Incident), Bridget Law (Elephant Revival), Eddie Roberts (The New Mastersounds), Chuck Morris (Lotus), Jay Starling (Love Canon), Sage Cook (we dream dawns), and Adrian Engfer (The Grant Farm), as well as Amanda Renee for Friday and Scott Stoughton (Bonfire Dub) on Saturday.
Schnier — guitarist from the jam band moe. — who has been on the EO rotation for years now, described the dynamic behind the project as “sort of this perfect marriage of five to 10 equal band members that are all having this really great experience onstage.
“There is a different kind of camaraderie that comes out of this experience because it’s kind of a perfect situation — it’s nobody’s band, there are no egos involved, everyone gets to solo, everyone gets to be a team player,” he said. “It’s really sort of the perfect band dynamic, and you’re really only doing it for a weekend, or a couple gigs together. … You walk away going, ‘Oh my god I want to be in this band the rest of my life.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked away from an EO experience, and four or five of us will go, ‘This is a band — we should start a band and make a record together.’ So it’s great that you can have those kind of experiences together and you just hope that Matt will put those four or five people together again so you can do it again.”
RIDING THE LINE BETWEEN
ORDER AND CHAOS
The concept behind Everyone Orchestra started in 2001, when Butler — after touring with a band called Jambay — decided he wanted to create a type of musical vehicle different from the traditional group.
“I was just trying to think outside the box of a regular band — I really wanted something where I could bring a lot of my musical friends together, but not necessarily have them sign a contract to join a band with me and live to our dying day in a band together,” Butler said. “I’ve done that a couple times.”
Schnier, who has known Butler since he was with Jambay and played his first EO show more than 10 years ago — first thought the idea behind the concept of an entirely improvisational show was silly and wouldn’t work.
“When it first started it was a lot more chaotic,” he said. “In the beginning it was a lot more free form — there was a lot of figuring out that happened … A lot of it was sort of harnessing that phonetic energy, the chaos, and trying to make some sense out of it. Which lent itself to, ‘OK, well what can we do with this,’ because there is a lot of awesome things that happen with that spontaneity, and can we bring just enough order to it so it’s not just noise, or these random jams in the same key all night. What can we do to really make it interesting, unique and bring some sense to it without making it so strict that you’re taking away the spontaneity or a little bit of the crazy fun that makes it all very exciting.
“And Matt got so good at that over the years — just riding that line, and straddling the edge between order and chaos.”
After more than a decade of finding that balance, Butler has a cast of players he draws on from different cities, although he still sometimes finds himself with EO first-timers.
“It’s constantly growing, and I like that,” he said. “I love bringing new people in, and sometimes it’s a challenge to initially bring musicians in, because I’m asking a lot of them. Not every musician is really comfortable to get on the stage with other musicians and just fly by the seat of their pants, but after they experience it, most of them are really excited and interested to do it again, because it’s super fun. Sometimes really challenging in a positive kind of experience — even for the most accomplished musicians.”
Schnier said he would play with EO all the time if he could, but what keeps the project interesting is the constantly changing lineup.
“There’s always an unknown factor, so often you’re playing with somebody the first time,” he said. “Not only is the music brand new but the relationships are. You have no idea how somebody plays or what you’re going to do — it’s all very exciting.”
Butler will call in players depending on the genre of music the show is leaning toward, the city where the gig is booked, or what instrument might be needed to round out the group. EO is at the point now of sometimes booking shows before finding its cast, as Butler said he is confident they can put on an amazing show in just about every region.
“Sometimes we might not get the star power every time, but really it’s not just about that,” he said. “There’s so many great musicians everywhere that I want to work with — even if you don’t know their names.”
ALL ABOUT THE IMPROV
There isn’t much for rehearsal when it comes to an EO show — mainly the musicians gather together for a quick sound check, making sure they are each in the line of sight of their conductor for visual cues. Butler runs the show, but excels in taking cues from individual musicians who have a particularly good idea on the fly and letting them run with it, steering the other band members that way.
“Matt’s really good about being the caption of the ship, but at the same time you never know, there may be a sea change and it’s not up to him,” Schnier said. “… He’s really, really great at knowing when to drive the ship, and when to sort of sail the seas.”
But it’s not just about the musicians onstage — Butler works to draw in the crowd to help create the music as well. He makes the show much more participatory then others by encouraging the audience to be an active part of the improvisation.
With everyone creating music on the fly, there’s bound to be mistakes, but Butler doesn’t see them as such, only part of the process.
“I’ve really adopted the Miles Davis philosophy that there are no mistakes, there are only opportunities,” he said. “… If you don’t know what the concept is or what’s really happening onstage, you might hear someone miss a note and say, ‘Oh god, they made a mistake.’ But if you understand the process of what’s happening, and that it’s being created on the spot, sometimes mistakes become the most beautiful moments. … To see some of the best musicians be vulnerable to making a, quote, mistake, and sometimes that is a really beautiful thing, it’s totally human.”
Schnier said as one of the musicians onstage, it’s really about taking chances and putting yourself out there in front of a house full of people.
“You have to show up with some degree of confidence, but at the same time this willingness to be open, and take chances too,” he said. “It’s a certain kind of personality — it’s so much fun, I love it.”
The beautiful part of the evening is when it all starts to click, and all that fresh energy of new musicians collaborating for the first time really begins resonating with the audience.
“I always describe a successful Everyone Orchestra show as one that all the musicians have a chance to really shine doing what they do best, be recognized musically and otherwise onstage, and everyone feel like they connected with that musician,” he said. “For friendships onstage to be witnessed — you can see them building — and for songs to be created where the audience is in on it, and becomes the chorus and starts to sing the chorus, and feel like we are one, we are like a big band. We are one organism at that point; the whole place is like one capsule of musical love. Once we get that chorus defined, we go back into the music and go someplace different, and then we go back to that chorus and the audience is there tenfold, to sing it again, and we made this up in the moment. And that feeling of connectedness and hope and joy — that’s what I want the audience to feel. I’m intensely aiming for that again and again.”
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