The Way Down Wanderers satisfy at the M-Shop

Travis Kowalsky, John Merikoski, Austin Thompson, Collin Krause and John Williams of The Way Down Wanderers perform at The Maintenance Shop on March 24. The modern-folk Americana act performed their own songs and covered “There Are Places I Remember” by The Beatles and “Kids” by MGMT during their concert.

Kyle Cravens

A diverse crowd gathered for an energetic performance by Chicago-based band the Way Down Wanderers Friday night. The Maintenance Shop was a great host to the folk rockers as they provided foot-stomping didley’s for nearly two hours.

Loyal fans and newcomers alike enjoyed the unique sound the Way Down Wanderers are known for, and their humble manners that make everyone feel like they’re old friends.

However, before the headliner stole the stage, Ames musicians Ben Schrag & The Cautionaries tried to warm up the crowd. While Ben Schrag strummed the guitar and sang, The Cautionaries (which was just two guys) each played unique instruments.

Instead of a normal drum kit, the percussionist, Cal Rebhuhn, wielded a Cajon, which is a box drum that you play while sitting on it. With a mic in its rear end, the user can really make this an effective rhythm instrument. The bass player, Jim McNamara was as tall as the upright bass he stood next to.

These two instruments, combined with Schrags smooth voice, made for a skeletal band, stripped down of what normally makes a band. This is how the Cautionaries remain unique, but it is also how they fall flat.

Each musician was very talented, but after hearing a few songs it was apparent that a guitar, a Cajon, and a bass could only do so much. Also, Schrags lyrics were grounded, but he always included large chanty “sing-along” portions that lacked substance. As Fall Out Boys “My Songs Know What You Did in The Dark” is more chant than song, so is much of Schrags storytelling.

I think the Cautionaries could benefit from polyphonic texture, as Schrags could use some help during the choruses to add more of a punch. “Mary Jane” was a standout song. Otherwise, the trio did a good job of introducing the Way Down Wanderers and making sure the crowd inched closer to the stage.

The Way Down Wanderers immediately moved viewers strictly because of their style and flare. The two front men and founders, Austin Thompson and Collin Krause sported long dreadlocks that captured glances immediately.

The band were a rather motley crew. The banjo player, Travis Kowalsky, hid behind the band as he masterfully plucked the instrument. John Williams danced alongside with his upright bass like it was his date to a dance and provided some great backing vocals as well. The final member, drummer John Merikoski, took on the job of constantly being an energetic force of pure hype. The drums looked like an extension of his body and one of the show stopping moments of the night came when he played the spoons beautifully.

“I learned to play the spoons by watching YouTube videos,” Merikoski proclaimed as he took advantage of his only time to speak during the show.

The band’s music was so unique, no other band has quite the same sound. Alternative Folk would be a genre you could label them with if it came to that. They captured the essence of Americana music, the kind of music that comes only from this American land and is rooted in storytelling.

Vocally, Thompson sounded so fluid and hardly gave effort to his tone. He sounded like a higher-pitched Bob Dylan. Krause, on the other hand, was more grounded, giving soul and justification to the lyrics. Together they were harmonious, and they knew it.

Their songs were about the wind, the mountains, girls and good times.

“Austin and I share the songwriting duties,” Krause said. “The music and lyrics always seem to come about at the same time.”

Krause spoke of the bands influences.

“We listen to bands like Nickel Creek, and we are greatly inspired by Jazz and classical.”

The cover songs felt the diverse influences of the band they choose to be. They covered “In My Life” by the Beatles, which wasn’t too out of the ordinary, but later in the show they performed MGMT’s “Kids,” which came out of nowhere and was extremely out of genre, but amazing. Their encore performance was “No Rain” by Blind Melons, which was exciting as they performed in the crowd.

Overall, every fan was pleased, old and young. While older members of the Ames community watched from the seats and the college students danced the night away, the takeaway was the same: The Way Down Wanderers are a truly unique act.