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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Entertainment spotlight: Casey Neill and the Rodents

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Layout: events box with both shows please!, also, picture

Headline: Entertainment spotlight: Casey Neill and the Rodents

Layercake: Members of The Decemberists come to town for Sophia’s, Whole Earth Festival

By JUSTIN HO

Aggie Arts Writer

Though the Seattle grunge movement took the ’90s limelight with such figureheads as Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell, other genres and styles consistently poured out of the region long before “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Casey Neill, frontman of the Portland-based Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, used the Seattle musical explosion as a foundation for his own musical expression, which is centered around folk and traditional styles rather than heavy, distorted guitars.

Neill will be performing at Sophia’s Thai Kitchen on Friday and at the Whole Earth Festival Saturday night. Graduating in 1989 from Evergreen State College in Washington, he went on to pursue roots-based folk music. Soon after his graduation he wrote and recorded a Celtic and Americana-based album, released by the folk and roots-oriented label Appleseed Recordings.

Neill’s most recent album Brooklyn Bridge is a product of six years of writing, planning and producing. The record combines multiple genres, including slower folk melodies, fast-paced punk lines and an underlying country twang. Contributions to the album include performances by Decemberists keyboardist and accordionist Jenny Conlee, who will also be in town with Neill this weekend, as well as Chris Funk of the Decemberists, folk musician John Wesley Harding and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, guitarist for Steve Earl and the Dukes.

“[Neill] has more of a Celtic and punk influence, all the while being a roots and folk performer,” said Michael Leahy, Sophia’s Thai Kitchen’s live music booker. “He brings those other elements into his music, and that’s what makes him stand out.”

Neill’s distinctive storytelling style of singing, emphasized by his deep and hard-edged vocal style, takes a narrative approach and touches issues of world problems, environmental issues and social consciousness.

“I listen to a lot of Springsteen, who does a lot of intense storytelling,” Neill said. “The outside world is inherently telling stories, and if you’re addressing political issues, people find the more didactic, cheerleading political thing preachy. I like stories that draw people into the issue.”

Neill, who will be performing at the Whole Earth Festival on Saturday, naturally identifies with the festival’s overall themes of consciousness and world concern. Neill and Conlee have played at the Whole Earth Festival in past years.

“We’re all very aware, and we have a lot of environmental concerns,” Conlee said. “We love being affiliated with these kind of events.”

“[Neill’s] music is very personal,” said Evan Kersnar, entertainment director for the Whole Earth Festival. “I think the reason that a lot of people are so connected to the Whole Earth festival is that they find it to be a more of a family thing. It has a good vibe, and people feel a personal connection to it.”

Conlee and Neill both have a history of playing in Davis, as Conlee’s college band often frequented the G St. Pub and Neill’s first festival performance was at WEF. When asked about the differences of playing in smaller venues like Sophia’s, Conlee expressed a strong liking for the closer and more intimate atmosphere.

“I’ve played venues of all sizes, and I’ve toured with many different bands,” Conlee said. “It’s fun playing in a small venue – there’s a lot less stuff, and you can really talk to the fans if you want since you’re not whisked away to some backstage private zone. There’s a much better connection to the audience.”

Casey Neill and the Norway Rats, with Jenny Conlee of the Decemberists, will take the stage this weekend, at Sophia’s on Friday at 10 p.m. and the Whole Earth Festival on Saturday on the Walker stage. Casey will also be playing live on KDVS 90.3 FM during Leahy’s Cool as Folk show on Friday, from 6 to 8 p.m.

JUSTIN HO can be reached at arts@californiaaggie.com.XXX

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