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Hardly Hibernation: Small Mountain Bear Keeps the Music Coming

article by Olaya Barr
photography by Tori McCarthy

On this chilly January night, inside Sullivan Hall, the atmosphere already feels like a friendly reunion: Small Mountian Bear is about to play in Greenwich Village's legendary venue with a band of old friends to celebrate their debut studio release, Mathematical Hands. Will Read, the Small Mountain Bear himself, and leader of the Vermont group backing him tonight, is making his rounds with a beer in hand, greeting and laughing with peers and fans. Although he doesn't exactly resemble a bear perse, he does have a jolly, rugged look that could indeed be conducive to life in the woods.

It's 9pm and Will pushes up his glasses with a beaming smile: "It's nice to see y’all, fo’ real!" And with that, he begins an ode to pop-folk, with shakers and southern-sounding guitar, as well as an unexpected funk feel with organ to back up the melody. By the end of the song, we're already hooked on the chorus' "Wo-ho"-ing and "Ooh-oh"-ing.

Small Mountain Bear

In between songs, Will and his companions exchange high fives, giddy laughter, and inside jokes flow between the musicians. The music melds sunny folk with unexpected funk and passionate jams. During the third song, a trumpeter friend, Jon lijoi, joins the crew to add brass to the mix while the keyboardist, Jamie Bright, proves he can serve as an animated tambourine player as well, adding jingle-jangle to a yodely tune. "Sh-Bop, my Ba-aby"s are chanted in a song to add some good ole American rock to the jumble while the next tune cradles the audience with a subtle and slow lullaby.

But soon: "This is the Ballad of Jimmy Beans... and it's about just another guy with a beard and a flannel shirt."

Small Mountain Bear

Will sings, eyes squinting, head cocked towards his shoulder, knees bending with each beat. This song is living proof that the true solo still exists; I'm talking about the eyes closed, mouth open, twinkling-and-twitching-with-each-perfectly-executed-note-solo. Small Mountain Bear's got it.

During the last half of the show, the stage becomes a total plaid party as another musical friend, James Reilly, guests to sing and play guitar. The group plays "Feather" and "Down on Sunday," mixing in a Grateful Dead song in the middle. And to no surprise, the solos reign once again. However, the solos in Small Mountain Bear never approach self-indulgent egoism, but rather a celebratory toast to the band and reunion of friends and fans. The organ adds gospel tinge to the final epic, as fingers slide on the keys from left to right with professional speed and agility. The song ends on a memorable conglomeration of quintissential rock-outs; each player immersed in their art while the lights flash red, yellow, and blue.

After the finale, Will asks jokingly, "Are you having fun, or do we totally suck?" There's no question; just hear the hollers and yelps of glee from the audience; the claps galore show admiration for the cheerful Small Mountain Bear. And although the name represents Will himself and his own music, the show would not, undoubtedly, have been the same without his old band members and friends backing him for a show that even a Big Manhattan Bear would enjoy.


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