Article by Jeff Breeze, Northeast Performer, May 2003
When people think about southern Connecticut these days, it usually has something to do with a trip to the casinos. People really don't look to the coast as a beacon of culture, but New London has been showing some serious signs of musical life. With WCNI New London 91.1 FM providing an outlet for music on the airwaves and places like the El'n'Gee Pub giving bands a place to play in front of an audience, things are certainly picking up. For the Can Kickers, the operative word in that last phrase is "picking."
After meeting through a mutual friend a Connecticut College, Daniel Spurr (banjo, guitars, and vocals). Dan Thompson (fiddle, harmonica), and Doug Schaefer (washboard, drumset, and djembe) realized that by bringing some modern energy to some traditional Appalachian music would be a lot more fun than making thoroughly modern music. Schaefer, veteran of the Afflicted, said, "One night I played buckets along with the fiddle and banjo and decided it was much more fun to play than the punk rock I'd been listening to."
Spurr picked up the banjo while in college, and it led him down a path that passed from an early love of Pete Seeger to the Harry Smith Folk Anthology and the depths of old time music. But like Schaefer, Spurr wanted more than just standard genre fare. "I had been playing around in the local old-time scene in Connecticut and in Boston. I enjoyed it and learned a lot, but it was mainly a bunch of old folks from the revival period of the 60's and 70's, and there wasn't the same energy or raw quality that I had heard on the old recordings. I wanted to do something new, or at least real old. And I wanted to bring old-time music back to the kids- just like the Ramones did for rock and roll." Asked to describe what the Can Kickers do, Spurr is quick to add, "I just say we play old-time music from the southern Appalachians for the kids."
Pigeonholing the Can Kickers is a tough thing to do; even their instrumentation defies the categorization they most frequently land in. Schaefer said, "Everyone calls us a bluegrass band, which isn't technically true. Old-time music is a precursor to bluegrass. It is less technical and everyone can play it. Also, we have lots of percussion, which most traditional old-time bands don't have." Schaefer is quick to point out the similarities between musical styles that the Can Kickers bridge: "Folkies and punks often share the same values, except punks take the fashion side to an extreme and turn a viable movement for social protest into a runway show with cliques and stupid rules."
As a result of their musical choices, the Can Kickers have more doors open to them than the average punk band. Grandparents and young kids and jaded punks can all find common ground in their music- an the dance floor. Thompson said, "It seems we can play just about anywhere. The gap between punk rock and old-time is smaller than one might think- there was an NPR piece about the Portland, Oregon old-time/punk scene where there's a high degree of overlap; we opened at a punk rock square dance in Seattle."
The Can Kickers have started hosting their own square dances in New London, and taking their show on the road. They recently set out across the south on tour with punk heroes This Bike is a Pipebomb, and came back to New London with a few more bucks than they set out with. Plans for a short midwest tour and a full-scale summer jaunt are already in the works.
For the Can Kickers, the goal of playing music is to have fun. Even in times of war, there's a simple message according to Thompson: "If people played and danced more they might kill each other less."