When a band describes its sound as roots music, the label carries a bit more weight than, say, a folk or country genre. Because it begs questions like, where are your roots planted? And are they really yours?
These days, the term is thrown around pretty freely for genre-skipping bands, and the aforementioned questions are rarely answered. But for Dangermuffin, a group that got its sea legs for the national stage on Folly Beach, it’s a fitting description.
In many ways, the beach town where the folk trio came together eight years ago still anchors the group’s identity, in lifestyle and in music.
As guitarist Mike Sivilli described the Dangermuffin sound: “There’s a breeziness to it, a warm, sunny, birds-chirping-in-the-background kind of vibe.”
They’re still a no-gimmicks group, and even though they’ve shared stages with the Avett Brothers, Keller Williams, Larry Keel and many others over the past few years, they’re still playing shows barefoot like they did at Surf Bar every Sunday a couple of years ago.
So when the group returns to headline the 25th annual Folly Beach Sea and Sand Festival this weekend, their first performance at one of the island’s trademark street parties, it’s going to be a pretty special occasion for Dangermuffin and its early fans.
“Without roots and proper nourishing in your own market, you can’t grow to be this older, sort of more mature tree. I mean you have to have that and be able to go back there and see all those faces and reconnect with those people that have been there since the beginning,” said lead singer Dan Lotti. “A band is nothing without a community. And we would be nothing without the Folly Beach community. So to be able to get back there to do this particular show, it’s just a beautiful experience for us.”
Ben Bounds, festival director and owner of Follywood Productions, feels the same way.
“I think the fact that Dangermuffin wanted to play this festival is a testament to how much of a milestone this is,” he said. “When people think about Folly Beach music, Dangermuffin is one of the first, if not the first name that pops into their head.”
Sivilli and Lotti got together in 2005, and they added bassist and percussionist Steven Sandifer in 2007. They were all living on Folly Beach that summer, and the three started playing weekly gigs in some of the laid-back bars on Folly Beach such as Surf Bar, which now doubles as a music venue for bands all over the Lowcountry.
When they started touring the country, the Folly gigs became more infrequent. Sandifer moved to West Ashley, and Lotti ended up in a rural town north of Asheville, N.C. Sivilli still has a house on Folly, but he admits it’s difficult to play bars out there anymore, especially given the size of their following these days.
In 2010, Dangermuffin partnered with New Frontier Touring, the Nashville agency that handles booking for the Avett Brothers, Carlene Carter and several other nationally recognized acts. That pushed the group pretty quickly in front of massive audiences at major music festivals and concert halls, and the three have been touring coast to coast regularly since then.
While they’re certainly gaining fans across the country, the trio isn’t aiming for fame and fortune, perhaps another remnant of their beach town upbringing. Recently, they decided to part from their booking agent to forge their own path in the music industry.
One of the issues, Lotti explained, is that Dangermuffin has become a vehicle to spread their world-view: protecting nature, promoting sustainability, acting selflessly. Listen to their latest album “Songs of the Universe,” and that ethos is clearer than ever in their music.
“With some of the lyrics, we’re trying to bring about a different paradigm of awareness,” Lotti said. “Part of me thinks it would be a lot easier to grow if we were speaking about things that were a little more of the status quo, more about the party, making money, that kind of stuff. But that’s just the old paradigm. It may take a little bit longer for us, and that’s OK.”
Dangermuffin also wants to avoid the sort of born-in-folk, raised-in-pop trajectory that many Americana bands such as the Avett Brothers have followed in recent years.
“They have kind of gone in a particular direction where it’s not what it used to be. And that’s maybe one of my biggest fears,” Lotti said.
So, ultimately, the trio’s central pursuit is to remain true to who they are and what they want to say. They want to grow fans organically, without relying on big-name industry connections that might not share their artistic visions.
“We really are just trying to do what we love, and sustain that, and everything else is just trying to have our music heard and bring joy to people and ourselves,” Sivilli said.
Dan Lotti, lead singer and lyricist of the group, agreed.
“It’s a lifestyle and it’s a life-long commitment. Most bands are like, ‘Oh we’ve got to hurry up, and you need this, and you need that.’ And it’s like, no, you really don’t,” he said. “You just need to take a breath and ... try to just enjoy the moment, because that’s all you got.”
Dangermuffin performs the headliner set from 3-5 p.m. Saturday during the street festival that starts around 9 a.m. Other bands performing earlier in the day include The Shakin’ Martinis, the Kevin West Band and Cary Hudson of Blue Mountain playing with the Guilt Ridden Troubadours as his backing band.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.