Tightknit Stiff Whisker keeps music easy, fun

Posted Aug. 28, 2008, at 6:26 p.m.

Gather ’round me, children, and hear the tale of Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids. At least, what we can glean from what remains of the story. We’re pretty sure it involves a magical crystal, a dude with muttonchops and aviator sunglasses, and a several rounds of Jager bombs. The rest has been lost in the sands of time — but the legend lives on in five musicians from Hancock County.

In reality, the story recounted on Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids’ MySpace page (www.myspace.com/stiffwhiskerandthedriftwoodkids) isn’t exactly the truth, if you couldn’t guess. Except for the ending. The part about Matt Robinson, Chris Ross, Nick Hurd and Gabe and Suzanne Wood meeting at Parker’s Bar and Grill in Ellsworth? That’s true.

“Chris and I had a regular gig hosting the open mic at Parker’s,” said Robinson, djembe and percussion player for the band. “He and I had been playing together for years. He recorded an album a while back that’s become kind of a cult favorite around these parts. He and I would play those songs, and his new songs. He and I definitely have a really perfect musical partnership.”

The newly married Gabe and Suzanne would come to open mic every week, and as the months progressed, a musical friendship developed between the couple and Robinson, Ross and bass player-guitarist Nick Hurd.

“A lot of people would play there, but they were the only ones to go and sit cross-legged on the floor and really listen,” said Ross. “After months of that, Matt and I just thought, ‘Where can we go next?’ So it seemed like the next step to ask them to join. And they were all about it.”

The band is finishing an EP, set to be released in October — a record release party is scheduled for Nov. 1, at the Camden Opera House, which Robinson says will be the band’s biggest show yet.

Well, except for that time they opened for Foreigner.

“Yeah, when Bryan Adams and Foreigner played at the Augusta Civic Center in July, we were the band picked by 102.5 [WEZQ-FM] to open for them,” said Robinson. “It’s really a trip, playing in front of that many people. Our MySpace page got over 1,000 hits the next day. It’s given us a whole new network of fans and friends from all over the state.”

While the foundation of Stiff Whisker’s music is Ross’ songs — rootsy, melodic rock tunes in the gruff-but-sensitive tradition of Kris Kristofferson, Bruce Springsteen and Ray LaMontagne — each band member contributes their own unique element. For instance, Robinson is an accomplished hand drum player, having picked up his first djembe while traveling in southern Europe as a teenager. His polyrhythmic percussion adds a funky touch to the band’s sound.

“We like to call our music tribal-acoustic-folk funk,” said Ross. “It’s music that’s very easy and fun, but still has a kind of soul to it. You can dance to it, you can sing along to it. We want people to think, ‘That’s a damn good song’ when they hear us.”

Vocal harmonies come courtesy of Suzanne Wood, who has got a serious set of pipes on her.

“Suzanne is such a phenomenal singer,” said Robinson. “Both she and Gabe have added so much to our sound. They have such a presence.”

What really makes it all work, though, is that before anything else, the members of the Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids are friends.

“We’re about as close friends as you could get,” said Robinson. “Everybody’s totally open with each other. There’s no diva complex anywhere. We just like to play together. I think that’s why it’s been so fun for us. We’re just a bunch of friends playing music.”

Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids will play Saturday night at Parker’s Bar and Grill in Ellsworth, and Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Acadia Music Festival at Smuggler’s Den Campground in Bar Harbor. For more information, check out the band’s MySpace.

Stiff Whisker and the Driftwood Kids, a five-piece band out of the Ellsworth area, call themselves “tribal acoustic folk funk.”

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