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Local folk band of friends thrives on stage - Rivertowns Enterprise

Sep 10 | Posted by: Julian Caldwell

Blues, folk, bluegrass and a party on stage accurately describes six-piece
band Spuyten Duyvil, which consists of Hastings and Yonkers residents.
The group includes vocals, guitar, bass, drums, harmonica and, sometimes,
fiddle, and has been gigging for more than five years, performing at the
Philadelphia Folk Festival, Brooklyn Folk Festival and American Roots Festival
at Caramoor in 2014 alone.

Tonight (Aug. 29) marks a debut of sorts, as Spuyten Duyvil will be part
of Country Music Night at Citi Field, playing outside the main entrance
before the Mets meet the Phillies, and then will lead the crowd in the band’s
own rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning
stretch. It’s another, if off-beat, step forward in a growing career that will
take the band to California this November.

It all started organically with singer/songwriter and bandleader Mark Miller
and his wife, singer/songwriter Beth Kaufman, roughly a decade ago in
Yonkers, when she bought him an eight-string Greek instrument called a
bouzouki.

“Everything really started on the front porch of Beth’s and my house,” said
Miller, who used to produce music for video games. “We started playing and
singing together and just hanging out on the porch, and playing and drinking
and having barbecues, and then friends started coming over and playing
with us. That basically turned into a band.”

Miller and Kaufman, who have been married for 21 years, enjoy sharing the
creative collaboration with each other, but the bond in the band does not
stop with them. Rik Mercaldi, a Hastings resident who plays guitar and sings
in the band, says Spuyten Duyvil’s chemistry extends beyond shows and
rehearsals.

“Being able to be in a band with a bunch of guys that you actually like to
hang out with socially — how cool is that?” said Mercaldi, an online dealer of
vintage instruments. “You get to hang out with your friends and you get to
make music.”

Kaufman says that friendship not only makes it easy for the band members
to work together, but it also defines how they come off to an audience.
“A lot of the feedback we get is the fact that we seem to be having so much
fun on the stage and that fun tends to be infectious,” she said.
Miller describes the music that Spuyten Duyvil plays as “old-timey” songs
that are either covers of tunes from the early 20th or 19th century, or songs
written in a similar style. Harmonica player Jim Meigs says that the music,
steeped in the blues tradition, touches people’s emotions on the most basic
level.

“You don’t have to know a lot about it to love it,” said Meigs, a former
Hastings resident who now lives in Yonkers. “We all come from different
backgrounds. There’s a lot of rock and pop and punk, and I think that really

speaks to the American musical tradition. It’s all a melting pot.”
Most of the original Spuyten Duyvil music is written by Miller, and his
wife, Kaufman, is the co-songwriter. Meigs believes that Miller’s different
approach to songwriting from other folk artists, who focus solely on their
own struggles, is key to connecting with listeners.
“One thing about Mark’s songwriting I think we all appreciate is Mark
writes about things like the Civil War, or trying to imagine what a woman
working as a stripper is, or what life was like for slaves,” said Meigs. “These
topics are really interesting and deep, but they’re not about me, me, me.
And I think that’s part of what people are responding to — interesting
songwriting that is about a broader world, not just about one person’s
internal experience.”

While their songs may touch on various serious topics, the goal of the band
at a live show is a positive vibe.

“There’s deep subject matter in our songs, but we want people to leave
our show feeling good, feeling better than when they came in and feeling
entertained and feeling uplifted,” said Miller. “When you go home and you
listen to the CD, and you really want to get to the lyrics, trust me there’s
a lot of darkness there, but we don’t like to make that the feature of our
show.”

Spuyten Duyvil has three projects out, titled “In Spite of the Devil,” “New
Amsterdam,” and their latest, “Temptation,” released last October. Taking
an act that thrives on stage in front of an audience, and translating it onto a
recording, can be a challenge.

“When you play something live it’s going to be heard once,” said Miller.
“When you record something it’s going to be heard like a thousand times,
so by necessity you have to be more careful with it. And then there’s this
incredibly fine line between being careful and sucking the life out of your
work.”

Miller added that the group will hit the studio in December to begin work on
an album primarily of covers of songs in the public domain from between the
1890s and 1930s. They plan to record the project as a live performance as
much as possible, with limited editing.

“If we really mess something up we’ll stop and we’ll pick it up, but we’re not
going to go part by part, line by line, measure by measure, note by note,”
said Miller. “I think that’s really going to capture what this band is like at its
best, which is live.

 “What’s starting to happen for us is that we’ve been at this now working
pretty steadily and thoughtfully for the last five years and really trying
to expand slowly out of New York into Philadelphia, Boston, Maine and
occasionally Chicago,” said Miller. “By really concentrating geographically,
our name is getting around.”

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