Everyone loves a good drinking song.As the sun set over Castleton’s campus center on Aug. 29, people could be heard clapping and chanting like a bunch of sober drunks.
Spartan students, faculty members, and area locals crowded the Fireside amphitheater pit to take part in what has become a tradition at Castleton State College for many years.
Woods Tea Company, a group of Vermont-based musicians made famous by their stirring combination of folk, Celtic, and often alcoholically inspired tunes, opened up the 2007-2008 school year in their own signature style.
“This has always been one of our favorite places,” said the suspender-strapped banjo player and vocalist Mike Lussen.
Numerous instruments ranging from mandolins to Irish drums and fiddles scattered the stage as the band tore through a set list that, at first, seemed dampened by recent events.
Just two weeks before the show, Rusty Jacobs, one of the band’s founding members, died of a heart attack. Jacobs was known for his unwaveringly dry New England humor, and was always a hit with students when he performed his signature penny whistle solos during the band’s set.
The band’s performance at Castleton was one of the first since Jacobs’ death.
“It’s the best thing in the world for us to be here,” said visibily-saddened vocalist/guitarist Howard Wooden, who sported a David Ortiz Red Sox jersey.
Two giant, green, handmade “Thank You” cards stood along the sidewalk above the pit, reading “Thank you for all the years of music and memories.” Those in attendance were encouraged to sign the cards in memory of Jacobs.
Yet as the night progressed, the band’s spirits were raised by the reactions of the originally less receptive audience.
The crowd, made up of mostly freshman Soundings students with yellow cards in tow, sat on its hands for the first 20 minutes of the performance in typical freshman style.
Yet in traditional Woods Tea Company fashion, the band soon won over the flock of slightly insecure students with the one thing that seems to motivate many college students:
The band received its first big pop from the audience after its swaggerly rendition of “The Wild Rover,” a traditional Irish drinking song that calls for coordinated clapping on cue from the audience members.
Other drinking songs, such as “The Scotsman’s Kilt,” allowed the band to showcase the dry Vermont humor it had become notorious for.
“Well, the Scots they drink,” said Lussen as his eyes searched the crowd from under his baseball cap. “They drink Scotch.”
Other light-hearted tunes took lessons from literary characters like Robin Hood in order to get the band’s message across.
“I think the whole idea of robbing the rich and paying musicians . . . that time is now,” said Wooden with a grin.
The band also played an emotionally-charged version of the Tommy Sands classic Irish political ballad “There Were Roses,” which has gone on to become one of the band’s most requested songs in recent times.
“Alberta Bound,” a fan favorite at every show, saw students finally mustering up the courage to get out of their seats and dance in the pit.
Even students who were originally turned off to the idea of spending a Wednesday night at a Soundings event seem pleased after the show.
“It’s not my style of music, but it’s good,” said one student. “I like songs about beer.