Everyone’s a critic. Especially when you’re a band trying to figure out your sound and make a living at the same time, and you’re playing on street corners and in parks in New York City. When someone on their morning commute or trying to make the train on time passes you buy, you’d better be playing something they can dig — or else they will let you know that they do not like you.
Fortunately for the band Roosevelt Dime, playing on the street proved the best training ground possible, as the New York five-piece combined their diverse musical backgrounds and outgoing personalities into one unique, imaginative sound and performance style.
Dubbing themselves “steamboat soul,” Roosevelt Dime plays a little bluegrass, a little Dixieland jazz, a little swing, a little old school soul music, and a little folk-pop — but sound like nobody but themselves. The band will play at 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at the Harvest Hootenanny at the Camden Snowbowl, along with a number of other groups.
“It wasn’t a concerted effort to play the kind of music we do, like we’d take some of this and some of that. Each of us added something to the table,” said Andrew Green, banjo player. “I’m into bluegrass. Eben [Pariser] has a really strong background in it as well. Tony [Montalbano], our drummer, played jazz, and he loves old soul music. And our horns often get the Dixieland swing thing all the time. So it was the right combo of people. It was an organic process.”
Green, bass player Pariser (who grew up in Lincolnville), drummer Montalbano, woodwind player Seth Paris and trumpeter Hardin Butcher have been playing together since early 2008. Green and Pariser were college friends, and met Montalbano, Paris and Butcher while playing music out and about in their adopted home of Brooklyn. Over the summer of 2008, the five haunted Union Square in Manhattan and street corners around the boroughs, playing wherever anyone would listen.
“The feedback we got from crowds was so enormously informative,” said Pariser. “The trick of it all, I think, was putting it together in a way that would catch everyone’s attention. We’d have bikers and bums and kids and grandmas. Everyone. Young, old, black, white. People really got into it. And we took the time to really hone our sound.”
Playing on the street has its drawbacks — depending on their mood, cops would either let Roosevelt Dime play to their hearts content, or would tell them to stop. The band now has their city-issued license to play in the Sub-way, and their reputation is such that they have more fans than foes.
Last year, the group transitioned from being an almost entirely street-only band to touring around the country, playing clubs and festivals. In a structured setting, the band utilizes electric instruments and a tighter sound — though they can transition out of that into a looser street setting with great ease, nowadays.
“We can go back and forth between the two really easily,” said Green. “We can start with a really lose New Or-leans swing, and end up doing more electric Chicago blues. We’ve reached that point where we can flow in be-tween the two.”
They’re also getting ready to release a new album, the aptly titled “Steamboat Soul,” which is available right now only at their live shows, but will be available online in the coming weeks. At the moment, you can download an EP titled “Wishing Well” from their web site, www.rooseveltdimemusic.com.
Regardless of whether they’re playing a concert or playing in a crowded Subway, there’s a kind of relaxed charm to the music Roosevelt Dime makes. It’s steeped in the music of pre-war America, from New Orleans, Chicago and St. Louis. But it’s also a totally 21st century blend of genres — the kind of no-holds-barred cross-pollination of genres that is accessible to all kinds of people. That fact that they’re excellent musicians and very nice guys is just icing on the cake.
The Harvest Hootenanny, set for 12-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 9 at the Camden Snowbowl, will feature the music of the Mallet Brothers Band, Gypsy Tailwind, Wyatt MacLean, Lisa Redfern, the Breezemere Bottom Boys, and Roosevelt Dime, who will take the stage at 4 p.m. Admission to the event is $9. For information, call 236-9800.