The Rise of Brown Bird

Dave and MorganEve of Brown Bird as show us their matching tattoos at this year’s Newport Folk Festival. Photo by Richard Kluver of grass clippings.

Back in 2003, Brown Bird was the solo project of David Lamb, who lived in Portland, ME at the time. It wasn’t until 2008 that Lamb moved to Rhode Island, after meeting multi-instrumentalist MorganEve Swain, and Brown Bird became the foot-stomping duo it is today.

The band performed for the second year in a row at last weekend’s Newport Folk Festival, moving from a smaller stage last year to the main Fort stage this year. Like David Wax Museum, who had a similar jump to Newport’s main stage last year after a previous performance on a side stage, the festival was a major catalyst for the band. However, Brown Bird also credits its company of friends and aggressive tour schedule for its success over the last two years. Before Newport 2011, the band toured across Europe with fellow Rhode Islanders, The Low Anthem. Partners in music and in life, Dave and MorganEve both quit their day jobs last September and have toured nearly non-stop since, opening up for progressive bluegrass acts like The Devil Makes Three, Trampled by Turtles and O’Death.

I sat down with the band on Sunday and asked about their nerves leading up to their performance at Newport the previous day. “My stomach hurt,” Swain said of the set, which included a new song that the band had only performed twice before. Lamb also mentioned that the set marked the third occasion he had played an electric guitar in a Brown Bird show. In performances and on its latest album, Salt for Salt (Amazon MP3 & Spotify), Brown Bird layers guitar, banjo, violin, double bass, cello, and bass drum, jumping back and forth between instruments making for a more exciting set than the standard duo performance. Many of the bands songs speak of good and evil, with remnants of Lamb’s conflicted relationship with the church where he, being the son of a minister, first began playing music, but no longer attends.

The band pulled off a pretty incredible set for its home state crowd and represents the latest of Rhode Island locals to further raise its profile at the festival. In addition, Swain joined Trampled by Turtles for its set while Lamb sat in with fellow Rhode Islander Joe Fletcher, a festival freshman who is hoping the “Newport effect” will hit his band as well.

Brown Bird plays tonight at the 92YTribeca in Manhattan with scraggly singer/songwriter opener Sean Rowe, a grass clippings favorite. The duo will then tour in the fall with The Devil Makes Three and plans to begin recording its new album this coming winter, releasing it in the spring of 2013.

Here’s a nice video of the band at the Dirt Floor Recording Studio in Connecticut earlier this year.