Luke Patchen Montgomery has driven from his home just outside New York City to Maine so many times it feels more like a vacation than a chore every time he gets on the road. The guitarist, who has played with beloved New England jam band Strangefolk for more than a decade, can make it from New York to Portland in five hours.
“It’s a snap. It’s a breeze for me,” Montgomery said. “That’s one of the reasons I like living in New York. When I come to Maine, it’s like an alternate universe where I play music with everyone. I love it.”
He’s been making the trip with even more regularity in the past year now that he’s playing in the Portland-based band Dirigo, a supergroup of sorts featuring members of Strangefolk and longtime Maine roots rockers the Boneheads. Montgomery has been playing with fellow Strangefolker Erik Glockler, Bonehead Stevie Jones and Maine drummer queen Ginger Cote since the early part of last year. Dirigo will perform at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Hallowell City Hall Auditorium, along with the Boneheads and the Returnables. Dirigo also will play on Saturday, Feb. 5, at The Big Easy in Portland.
Over the course of 2010, Montgomery has watched the foursome go from one-off side project to serious band.
“It really started clicking in the past year or so, after I played with Stevie at a wedding a couple years ago,” Montgomery said. “We really hit it off. He plays with everybody. He’s everywhere.”
The band initially began as a side project called Windfalls, with Strangefolk drummer Russ Lawton. Lawton, however, has lots of other commitments — including playing with Trey Anastasio of Phish — so Montgomery, Glockler and Jones found a most excellent new drummer in Ginger Cote.
“She’s another superplayer,” he said. “She’s been in the Maine music scene for a long time, and again, she just fit in perfectly.”
Fans of Strangefolk love the band for its unique take on traditional folk, marrying acoustic instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics with the propulsive beat of jam bands. The Boneheads took a rootsier, more country-influenced tack, however, and Jones himself has written a number of solo songs that could very well be classified as country. The combination of all those elements has resulted in a mix of alt-country and jam band that’s satisfyingly groovy while being deeply melodic.
“Stevie has really helped bring that vibe into our sound,” said Montgomery. “You can hear this kind of Johnny Cash, down-and-dirty country sound in a lot of his songs, and he gives us that kind of feeling. It’s been a really nice new direction for us.”
A few weeks ago, Dirigo went into the studio and put down a few tracks. The band hopes to release a collection of songs online in the coming months.
“The momentum we’ve been building has been really thrilling,” Montgomery said. “It’s exciting to feel like a real band is coming out of all of this.”
For now, Dirigo intends to perform in New England and New York as much as possible, to build that crucial fan base that both old bands — Strangefolk and the Boneheads — spent so many years lovingly cultivating. This Saturday’s show in Hallowell will show off all that fan energy.
“We’re all playing together this weekend, so we’re all going to sit in with one another. It’ll be a big musical free-for-all,” said Montgomery. “I’m really looking forward to it. I love those shows where you can just bounce around, play and explore.”
For information about Dirigo, visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/dirigo.