Life on the Road with The Brothers Comatose

Fronted by real-life brothers Ben and Alex Morrison, the folky, grassy five-piece will hit Revolution Hall on March 11. Over the years, photographer Jessie McCall of Little Green Eyes Media has spent many days and nights on the road with the band, and before their next Portland appearance, she offers up a few of her insights and experiences.

I was 22 when I first started shooting The Brothers Comatose. I was fresh into Portland life and a friend from my days in Santa Cruz, Ryan Avellone, had just joined the band. I remember walking to a bar on Williams to meet them all for the first time. They were crowded around a picnic bench, with wild hair and beards, decked out in flannel, eating burgers and chicken wings. At that point, they were just another string band I had heard of in a long list of string bands. If I’m being honest, back then I was not a fan of foot-stomping bluegrass, rockgrass, Americanagrass—basically I was never a fan of banjo solos or bands without drums. But then The Brothers Comatose waltzed into my life and were my gateway band to a genre I hadn’t ever really given a chance—and my life was forever changed!

Since those days, I have watched the guys sell out numerous venues around Portland, graduating from the Goodfoot to Mississippi Studios and the Doug Fir to Revolution Hall. I had the pleasure of tagging along on tours where they opened for the likes of The Devil Makes Three and Yonder Mountain String Band. I’ve been their shadow at festivals like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Northwest String Summit, High Sierra and Pickathon. I jumped in the van after cross-country flights as we made our way around the old cities of America. These boys have become my family and not because they inspire me to let my hair down, shake what my momma gave me and holler like a hillbilly—but because at the core of each individual lies the deep desire to relentlessly pursue their passion for the music. I’ve seen them play in dive bars where barely 20 people show up and to sold-out crowds where 20 people rush the stage just to be part of the fun.

I expected a long time ago that I’d get sick of going to the shows. I thought the set lists would get old and I’d stop singing along to my favorite songs. However, all these years later the oldies are still goodies and the new songs show growth while still tapping into what we love about The Brothers. Every show has an energy that is infectious, from the crowds to what the guys give on stage. At a show in Pittsburgh, I heard one woman describe vocalist Ben Morrison’s voice as "spicy, chunky peanut butter"—whatever that means, it sounds about right. At most shows, you’ll find the first four rows filled with beautiful women dancing and singing along with each other. I heard another fan remark to her friend that it was refreshing to see a sexy jock playing fiddle. (Side note, ladies: That jock, Philip Brezina, has a master's degree in classical violin performance from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music). Ben likes to joke that they’re just a dorky band trying to have a good time; however, I see rock star quality in all of them.

But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself when they play Revolution Hall on Saturday, March 11. Even if you think that you don’t like bands without drums, you might just find that The Brothers Comatose will end up being your gateway string band too.

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