Saturday, September 13, 2008

Acoustic sixteen wheeler

The band is electric, but their mode of transportation is definitely off-the-grid.

The Ginger Ninjas
, a four-piece, reggae-jam-roots-rock band, rolled into Middletown on eight bicycles, and later onto Earth House on High Street last night with little fanfare but the rhythmic clicks of their bike gears. In fact, I saw percussionist Brock Wollard climbing up the William Street hill, his entire drum kit strapped to his bike in a downpour Friday evening.

The Ginger Ninjas have called Northern California home, but that home has been abandoned, at least for the length, or their indeterminate length world tour.

That world tour brought them to Middletown, and Wesleyan for a cook-out at Hi Rise and Lo Rise dorms.

Drummer Brock Wollard was the first to arrive, and, as he unpacked, he gave me the lowdown on the band. They ride between gigs with their instruments, PA, and all their travel belongings strapped to specially designed cargo bikes invented by lead singer Kipchoge Spencer (more on those bikes later). Each of the band members, and roadies (when was a name ever so accurate) carries 120-200 pounds of gear on the 20-50 mile gig legs each day.

As he built his lightweight, but complete, kit, Wollard explained that the band is not acoustic, but uses extremely efficient, new technology amps and speakers, powered by generators attached to the bicycles, which are ridden by audience volunteers during the concert.
In 2007, the band completed a 5000 mile tour of Mexico. This Wesleyan date, was the second on a world tour which began in New York City's Central Park in a concert for cyclists who had just completed the Manhattan Century (100 mile) race. The tour continues with dates from Amherst to Montreal, and back down the East coast from Boston to Florida.

The rest of the foursome includes Jared May on bass, Kipchoge Spencer on guitar and vocals and Eco Lopez, a singer-songwriter who reunited with the band in Middletown after originally refusing to tour in the US again. She currently lives in Mexico.

Kipchoge is inventor of the Xtracycle, a cargo bike, unlike any other.

"We wanted to re-imagine the bicycle," Spencer explained. "Most bikes are based on the racing model, and we wanted to make something more efficient. Cars automatically come with trunks and we wanted a bike that could haul like a car."

The Xtracycle is just a bit longer than a regular bike, but engineered to handle just as well. When coupled with a Free Radical cargo rack, it can haul large loads, and passengers.

"It's taken us ten years to make a dent," Spencer said. "But we expect that this year we will sell ten times the bikes that we ever sold before."

Singer-songwriter Crystal Stafford opened the day with a sultry set for a sultry day, and while the fickle Wesleyan crowd had thinned by the time the Ginger Ninjas hit the stage, the bands mix of Carribbean, Latin and American rythms, and their obvious joy that came with their reunion with Lopez, had audience members dancing and swaying, and volunteering to keep the amps running by pedaling through a few songs.

I myself sweat through my "What Would Woody Do?" (Guthrie if you must ask), t-shirt, enjoying every minute of a lengthy Latin jam that left me, literally, weak-in-the-knees.

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