As far as we can remember, in the five years of the American Folk Festival, one thing we haven’t seen on the dance stage is crowd surfing. But when the music is as high energy as what was played by the go-go group the Junkyard Band on Saturday night, well, just about anything goes. How many opportu-nities do you get to crowd surf in Bangor, Maine? And to such a fun, irresistibly funky band?
Closing out the Saturday lineup at the dance stage, the Junkyard Band played loud and fast for an extremely enthusiastic crowd, who, by the end of the nearly two hour set, demanded a second encore from the nine-piece ensemble. The band plays go-go, a heavily syncopated blend of funk, r&b and hip hop that’s unique to the Washington, D.C., area — despite some national inroads in the late 1980s and early ’90s, go-go has remained an almost entirely regional phenomenon.
That is, until their set Saturday night, which made converts out of everyone on the dance floor. One of the hallmarks of the go-go sound is call-and-response with the crowd, so when the band played “Sardines,” its signature song, the band sang “sardines” and the crowd answered with “and pork and beans.” When they asked for the audience to raise the roof, they not only lifted their hands, but tossed hats, jackets, T-shirts and at one point a pair of someone’s crutches into the air. In a phrase, this set was totally off the hook.
Audience participation is a huge part of go-go, and this audience happily obliged, with pairs of dancers getting up on stage and strutting their stuff during the song “Hee Haw.” Everyone from adorable ele-mentary school-aged girls to goofy teenagers were invited up, and even after that song was over, more dancers bum-rushed the stage to get a chance to jam with the Junk Yard.
Interestingly, the audience for this band skewed younger than many other festival audiences. From the looks of it, the majority of the hundreds of dancers in the crowd were under the age of 30, a rarity not just for the Folk Festival, but for any kind of event in Bangor, period.
The band is so-named because its many percussive in-struments are made from buckets, scrap metal and other found elements, lending it a kind of kitchen sink feel. It’s like a big, clattering percussive machine, that’s as polyrhythmic as both Afrobeat and hip-hop — with layers of gospel-tinged harmonies and electro-style keyboards on top.
Judging by the reaction from the audience Saturday night, it’s surprising that go-go hasn’t caught on nationally after all these years. At least now the musicians in the Junkyard Band know they can always come to Bangor, where they won over a fan base easily. We’d love to have them back.