Michael Berly brings stew of earthy influences to Old Yellers
If You Go
What: Michael Berly / The Old Yellers
When: 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17
Where: McMenamins Edgefield Winery Tasting Room, 2126 S.W. Halsey St., Troutdale
Old Yellers: theoldyellers.com
A few weeks ago at McMenamins Edgefield Winery Tasting Room, the fire alarm started blaring about 15 minutes before The Old Yellers, led by Michael Berly, were to take the stage for their monthly gig.
Assured there was no immediate danger, the band decided to carry on until further notice — but not without adapting to the situation at hand.
"We started playing and realized the fire alarm was going off in the key of D, so we just played a bunch of songs in D," Berly said with a chuckle. "You couldn't hear the fire alarm while we were playing, so it was OK. Then around 9 o'clock, someone came in and said we gotta evacuate."
As it turned out, an Edgefield hotel guest decided to hang onto an overhead pipe, breaking it in the process and sending water cascading through the large building and briefly closing parts of the building. The incident inadvertently demonstrated Berly's and The Yellers' typical determination to bond with their audience regardless of unfamiliarity or adversity.
"Our motto is we're about making friends more than money," said Berly, a longtime Portland resident. "I mean, you're my brother, but cheese costs money. At the same time, we're all about making friends, connecting with people and winning audiences over. They don't know you, but by the time we're done, you're our friends. There's something about that that's palpable at our shows."
That sense of bonhomie and audience-performer synergy will be on display when Berly performs from 7-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 17, at the Winery. As is customary with Berly's monthly gig, exactly who will perform with him is a bit hard to say.
Sometimes it's the Old Yellers, which denotes the participation of bassist-vocalist Matt Voth, Berly's longtime musical partner. Other times, when Voth is unavailable, bassist Joe Chiusano steps in along with others, like drummer Matt Cadenelli, transforming the band to simply The Yellers.
"In the family of The Old Yellers, I'm at the center of it," Berly explained. "Technically it's me and Matt and whoever we put around it. If Matt can't play, we fill in with Joe ... It's a little bit of a who-knows-what-kind-of-gig it's gonna be."
Whichever lineup, Berly and friends likely will deliver a rollicking set of from-the-heart country-rock, folk and neo-honky-tonk with Berly's resonant baritone voice fronting the kind of telepathic acoustic-electric interplay only experienced musicians with a brotherly bond can create.
Influenced by rock and country luminaries like Neil Young, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and alternative country pioneers like Gram Parsons, the Flying Burrito Brothers and a hint of traditional Irish music, the band first came together in 2001.
"Matt (Voth) and I formed the Old Yellers based on songwriting and harmony vocals — two voices coming together as one thing, that kind of deal," Berly said. "Once that started, (guitarist) Darin (Joye) was like, 'Oh, I want to be in that band.' Wayne Waits played the washboard for a number of years, then we decided we wanted a drummer."
As the lineup evolved, Berly, an Ohio native who started playing piano and guitar as a kid, pushed for a mix of lyrical songwriting, lovingly chosen country covers and enough looseness to allow exploration.
"In some ways we're kind of modeled on the Burrito Brothers, — and the Grateful Dead, in a way — where they write great songs and have the ability to stretch out," he said. "We're not psychedelic, but we jam."
The Old Yellers collective's latest recording, "Night in Dayville," is set to come out early next year as funds become available through a GoFundMe campaign. And with any luck, the band will make a return trip to Ireland — after nearly a dozen prior visits — for a tour of clubs and pubs.
In the meantime, playing around Portland, particularly McMenamins Edgefield, feels just fine.
"It's funny, because it's not an optimal space — it's cement walls and glass windows," he said. "But I always feel like we have good shows there, are always at ease and sound good there."
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