By Tim McCoy
As the festival grounds gently warmed, and people were easing into their Saturday morning, Urban Soil was cranking the heat up fast on the Workshop Porch. The band, which hails from Raleigh, NC, was starting the first of four performances in the FloydFest On-the-Rise competition. Their music wove a powerful combination of roots rock, world beat, bluegrass, and pure joy into an original blend that brought the crowd to a standing ovation by the end of the set and eventually landed them the first runner up spot in the competition.
“We have a little something for everyone with our music,” said lead singer, Sarah Reinke. “We work to make sure you never get bored listening to us.” A truth that was evident throughout each of the four sets.
Urban Soil is packed with talent and they just kept bringing more to the stage with each song. Reinke has a strong voice that reminds me of Natalie Merchant, with hints of Siouxsie Sioux’s quirky tonal breaks. She couples that with mean rock guitar skills, then surprises audiences by playing a washboard that she runs through her guitar pedals to create her distinctive “Wah-Wah Washboard” sound (you’ll find a short video clip at the bottom of this article). Eric Chesson, on lead guitar and vocals, moves easily between acoustic and electric numbers, at times sounding jammy like Garcia, then turning it up and laying down blistering rock licks. Then there is Greg Meckley. He is a whirling dervish of blonde dreadlocks, dancing alongside his percussion rack adding extra rhythms, or stepping to the front of the stage to lead with violin or mandolin.
At this Saturday show, Greg led the band through a funky, rap-fueled song that interwove bits of the Peanut’s theme “Linus and Lucy”. His playful performance had the band jokingly refer to him as “Rapper G-reg” during our interview. Rounding out the quintet are Frank Bloom on drums, and David Connors on bass, who together form the versatile and solid bedrock, which permits the other three to build their diverse catalogue.
Together, they are Urban Soil, a name Chesson, unearthed in his Raleigh backyard. “Digging around in the yard, planting and digging in this urban soil, it is just a bunch of mud and dirt and trash, but the city is old, and if you dig down you find treasures. I even found a gold ring. You dig down and you find little gems, little nuggets of awesomeness. That’s what it’s like to be in a band: it can be a struggle. It’s a lot of work to keep it together, but if you dig through all that mess, you find these little kernels of awesomeness on stage.”
And they bring far more than just kernels to their audiences. This hardworking band is digging for gems on stage at least two nights a weekend throughout the summer, touring around NC and adjoining states. In early 2016, they put out their third album entitled “Sounds from the Underground.”
Their next big project this year is hosting a one-day campout festival in Prospect Hill, NC September 10, called “An Evening at the Holler.” The site, Possum Holler, was the original location for the “BIG What?” festival, which has since moved on to a bigger venue. The one-day event will feature six bands in what Chesson referred to as a mini-Fandango. Check out more of Urban Soil and their music online, and let’s hope they revisit our region long before their next scheduled appearance at FloydFest 17.
Urban Soil is:
Sarah Reinke – Vocals, Guitar
Eric Chesson – Guitar, Vocals
Greg Meckley – Violin, Vocals, Percussion
Frank Bloom – Drums, Percussion
David Connors – Bass