The Wood Brothers

Show review: The Wood Brothers, The War and Treaty at Red Ants Pants Festival, Montana

Show Reviews

The Wood Brothers and The War and Treaty at Red Ants Pants Festival, Montana

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The Wood Brothers

“Do you know how good you have it?” Oliver Wood asked the crowd of thousands at the 12th Annual Red Ants Pants Music Festival in White Sulphur Springs, Montana, overlooking the stars of Big Sky country, surrounded by mountain silhouettes. “Did you see that sunset?”

The Wood Brothers had just finished performing “Sing About It,” about how if you sing about your troubles, they just might pass. “We’ve done a lot of research,” he said, “and we believe that song to be true.”

That Friday evening, July 28, it was easy to believe such a message, as The Wood Brothers  – one of the more dynamic trios you’ll hear today – put on a euphoric show featuring mind blowing musicianship and uplifting arrangements and lyrics. Oliver’s distinct, raspy, honest vocals are perfectly complemented by his little brother Chris’s melodic and groovy bass lines (like Flea playing an upright, sometimes with a bow, the sound reminiscent of The Band, Anders Osborne, Bill Withers and at times acoustic Chili Peppers). Jano Rix (drums, percussion, keys, shuitar) ties the sound together masterfully, enhancing every song with clever, tasteful beats and accompaniment.

Much of the Wood Brothers’ set Friday focused on their eighth studio album, The Heart is the Hero, (released in April), and we were all the better for it, as Heroes has some of their deepest and grooviest tracks to date, like “Pilgrim,” a tune with undeniable danceability, and the empathetic, dark acoustic ballad “Line Your Pockets,” which really showcases Oliver’s lyrical imagery.

It’s a great record, but seeing the Wood Brothers live is a far greater experience than pressing play, be it on vinyl or through a Bluetooth speaker. At Red Ants Pants, they took us places in their set that surprised even them, breaking tunes down (“Pilgrim” in particular, a song that also highlights the brothers’ harmonies), adding mind-bending solos, extended intros and outros, you name it. You don’t know what’s going to happen next, and you shouldn’t. What’s the fun in that? Wood Brothers keep you guessing, and keep you moving. The crowd wasn’t even prepared for “The Luckiest Man,” the band’s most celebrated song. Rix’s organ intro made it almost unrecognizable at first. But the audience found the groove, and many joined Oliver on the chorus: “Running is useless and fighting is foolish/You’re not gonna win but still you’re the luckiest man/you’re up against / Too many horses and mysterious forces/What you don’t know is you are the luckiest man.”

We were all lucky that night. Dancing under the stars, we soaked in the positive messages and good-time vibes, appreciating The Wood Brothers as they led us in a meditation of the soul, allowing us to decompress, to set our troubles aside, to release and celebrate music in a place that felt like paradise.

“We’ve played a lot of places,” Oliver said, “and this is one of the finer places to play.”

Find tour dates and more for the Wood Brothers here:

Check out the festival website here:

Enjoy our previous coveage here: REVIEW: The Wood Brothers “Heart Is The Hero”

The War and Treaty

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Michael Trotter, Jr. burst onto the Red Ants Pants stage Friday evening, raising his hands up high, celebrating the moment. It was time to perform. And he and his wife – duomate Tanya Trotter – were bursting at the seams to get the party started. For the next hour, the gospel-fueled husband and wife act put Ray Charles back in country music and kept the Red Ants crowd on their feet, each song an offering of love.  

The War and Treaty live show has been considered “revival-like,” and, on Friday evening, they took us to church. They did so with powerhouse vocals, their ranges wowing the crowd on each tune, mesmerizing us with haunting, sultry harmonies. You can see why they’ve opened for such legends as Al Green and John Legend, and collaborated with country music greats Emmylou Harris and Jason Isbell. 

Although rooted in soul music, The War and Treaty cannot be categorized. They have blues, rock and folk influences, and they blend it all together impactfully, and in many cases spiritually. The set started with the title track of their new album, Lover’s Game (released in March), guitarist and band director Max Brown kicking it off with a riff reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” The band went all out, giving every ounce of energy they had. 

It was a powerful performance that went beyond the songs. The War and Treaty didn’t come just to entertain. Michael Trotter, Jr. had some thoughts to share as well, particularly thoughts on how to define country music. 

“There’s an idea goin’ around that if you go buy a cowboy hat and some boots, that makes you country,” Michael told the crowd of many cowboy hats at the Jackson Family Ranch just outside of White Sulphur Springs, Montana (population 1,052). “…this idea that if your neck gets red you’re country, if you can shotgun a beer you’re country.” To Michael, that’s not what makes you country. What makes you country, he said, is loving your fellow man in spite of a disagreement, protecting those who can’t protect themselves (he’s an Iraq War veteran) and doing everything you can to change the system. Country, he said, is togetherness – whether black, white gay or straight, man, woman or pronoun. We’re brothers, he said, and he and his bandmates are here to stand in the face of hate and tell hate, “yeah, we got a history, but today we’ve got our own story.”

Michael and Tanya Trotter are writing their own narrative, and they take every audience that gets the pleasure of listening to them on the journey with them. They have their own vision of America, and they shared it with us on Friday with a soul-stirring rendition of The National Anthem; it was slow, intense, at times distressing, harmonies a mix of pain and hope.

For the Trotters, that hope is real, and the Red Ants Pants setting – a peaceful cow pasture in the mountains  – made it easier to feel, and even to visualize. 

“Look at that sky out there,” Michael said. “It’s beautiful. For years we’ve been told that’s the limit, but our beauty goes beyond the galaxies.”

Find more on The War and Treaty here:

Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: The Loving Joy and Heartfelt Soul of The War and Treaty’s Healing Tide

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