Spotlight: Primate Fiasco
Since 2007, Primate Fiasco has been slowly invading your streets, your festivals, and your ears with their undeniably catchy music. Jazzy, but not old fashioned; funky, but with classic roots; rock n’ roll, but still plucking a banjo– the five-piece outfit is certainly hard to categorize into just one genre. Through rigorous touring and shameless self-promotion, Primate has grown from a street band in Western Massachusetts to a polished troupe taking over the Northeast and, soon, all of North America.
We recently sat down with sousaphone player J Witbeck to learn about the band’s humble beginnings, their most fun festival adventures, and what’s coming next.
Describe Primate Fiasco in three words.
Psychedelic Dixie Brasstronica
You’ve referred to yourselves as a “street band,” and I’ve seen you perform throughout the grounds of Phish’s Superball festival, and most recently Gathering of the Vibes. How do you get those gigs?
People have taken a liking to the fact that we can bring the party anywhere. Anywhere. From the streets, your campground, a cruise ship, the MIT chem lab, academies, a library, on top of a bus, in and out of local businesses, to the stages of venues and festivals big and small. Thankfully we’ve made many great connections simply by bringing what we have to the table and some really great folks believing in what we’re trying to do.
Y’all are a product of the Western Mass music scene. For folks not in-the-know, what is it about that area that seems to foster such talent?
We’re all primarily based out of Northampton which to me is a fantastic spot for musicians, artists, and anyone in a creative field. The community here thrives on creativity and collectively striving to make some seriously amazing things happen. Bands actively see other bands, artists actively see other artists, projects collaborate or evolve from previously existing things. There are a number of great venues, and really hip folks both young and old.
Any new music on the horizon?
There’s always new music… I think the next big project is trying to capture some of our live shows on record.
You’ve been touring all summer, and will be into October. Give me a good story from the road.
We like calling this the story of “how I [J Whitbeck] wound up with three didgeridoos.” We all have our things we like to do or rather things we get mixed up in at all these great festivals. I happen to like wandering off late at night and always seem to attract some of the wilder of the folks out there.
This was down in Floyd, VA, at Floydfest–which by the way is absolutely fun and a beautiful festival, nestled in the blue ridge mountains. During the day I noticed these amazing didgeridoos on display and always wanted one that sounded nice. To my surprise I found out they were made of PVC pipe that were burnt, twisted, and then made to look like wood, but they sounded amazing so I got one for myself, and another hand painted one for my girlfriend. A person really doesn’t NEED more than one, but hey why not? So I blasted away all day, and we had our sets and whatnot, all amazing. After the set a man named “Crow” came up and was ecstatic about the show and said, “Hey man I make these PVC digeridoos and I’d be honored to let you have my personal one.” It was huge, beautifully hand-painted, and sounded like a thousand Tibetan monks chanting. I tried to refuse because I knew this was his baby, but he insisted and I couldn’t thank him enough.
Another friend I had met in this mix was named Jed, who just wanted to go fishing and–more specifically “noodling”–which is a way to catch catfish with your bare hands. Anywho Jed also had a mason jar full of high potency blue ridge ‘shine. There was no refusing that either… Fast forward a bit to Crow taking me out to jam on the new didgie, telling me about the John Butler Trio, and ripping around in his truck. Mind you this is all through 2-8 a.m. So, that’s how I ended up with three didgeridoo. This story is just a touch of all the stuff we’ve experienced either individually or as a group through these festivals, and more particularly in the nooks and crannies this band can grease our way into. For that, I am tremendously thankful for all of our wonderful supporters, the band, and anyone willing to listen.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done while wearing your sousaphone?
I’d have to say running races with it. I’ve now since completed five races (5k and 10ks). I’m currently working on creating a Youtube channel called “Sousadoom” that will document some other wild adventures with this thing. It started on a dare from my friend and former Primate Nick Borges, who also ran with a full-on percussion kit, at Watkin’s Glen raceway [for Phish's Superball Festival]. At that point I didn’t have any sneakers so I fashioned some out of flip-flops and duct tape. (They actually came out pretty great). At that point we just wanted to play, run, and shamelessly promote the band.
This band prides itself on pushing and pioneering things that have yet to be discovered on basically antiquated instruments. The name “Primate Fiasco” is a reflection on the human condition and more specifically trying to promote communication and connection amongst all our own fiascos. If music can bring us together like this, we’ll keep on doing it. I implore the younger generation to push and strive to make things with whatever it is you have. Use your skills, talents, and whatever resources you’ve been blessed with to help people feel that love and you too will feel it. I might just be a silly guy playing an odd instrument but take this thought with you: The woods would be silent if no bird sang except the best. Do it To it, people.