Spirit Family Reunion celebrates a decade of musical trials and tribulations

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MANCHESTER — Success is perceived in different ways for a do-it-yourself touring band. Over the last 10 years, the Spirit Family Reunion has reflected on what making music means to them - from the business of booking acts to having fun.

On Aug. 14, the five-piece folk, old American roots band returns to Earth Sky Time Community Farm to debut "Ride Free," the latest work since 2015. Ten years ago the group could be found playing in clubs, house shows and bars in and around Brooklyn, New York, but quickly took flight and headed south in a 1988 Chevy van. Shortly after, they toured and performed with bands such as Hurray for the Riff Raff, Trampled by Turtles and The Felice Brothers and appeared on festival lineups like Newport Folk Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, and FloydFest.

"Most of the bands I know, hardly if ever, feel they experience the level of 'success' to correlate with the amount of hard work they put into the project," said vocalist and guitarist Nick Panken. "This is all just to say that it's a stressful thing to sustain a full time touring band, and I'm not sure people quite understand that. We used to play little humble shows and meet people in the audience who would open up their homes for us all to sleep in, make breakfast in the morning, make new friends. Once it gets on to this show business level it becomes about projecting an image of a successful band with a big smooth operation, because that's what gets people to buy tickets — to be in proximity to success."

Instead of working for ticket sales, Panken said the band is motivated to perform for fun and just to share their music.

After the 2015 "Hands Together" album tour the group was close to splitting up. Touring can lead to burnout and exhaustion. That's when they booked time in a friend's recording studio and started working on "Ride Free."

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From the new album, the band transformed an old cowboy song by Karen Dalton, Whoopie Ti Yi Yo, into their own piece. "We were pleased and proud with how that one came out," Panken said.

Conversely, "Writing Come Our Way" is a song with new energy and is not like something Spirit Family has written before. "It feels like it has a strong identity of its own, yet I think it still fits in with the full group," he added.

Spirit Family's third studio album exhibits an old-timey sound while also using drums and electric instruments to preserve the live band energy and notable harmonies.

Panken said New England is the region in which the group has had the strongest connection with during shows. They'll tour from Brooklyn to Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and a few dates in Massachusetts before ending back in Brooklyn at the end of October.

"It would be dishonest to not bring some more nuance to this characterization of being a big band. We've certainly experienced more exposure than we ever expected to receive," Panken said. "We've played big and small shows throughout New England and we're excited to bring this new album up to some of our favorite cities and towns."

That old Chevy van last brought the band to Manchester in 2014 and they'll be back in a new light at the Wilburton Inn's weekly farm night dinner at at Earth Sky Time Farmy at 6 p.m. on Aug. 14. Tickets cost $25. For more information visit SpiritFamilyReunion.com.


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