Arts Review Series: The Witherbees

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Muhlenberg's Egner Memorial Chapel. Photo courtesy of the Muhlenberg Office of Communications

On the evening of Friday, Sept. 24, Muhlenberg’s Egner Memorial Chapel was adorned with sound systems and colored strobe lights. The many rows of pews were shrouded in darkness, and the blue-and-red streaks of ambient luminescence created an eerie, intimate atmosphere in the space.

The Witherbees, a small band with the unique sound and style to match the unique performance space, played prior to a presentation by esteemed guitarist Tim Motzer, who also had a concert set planned at Muhlenberg in March of 2020. Talented musician duo Mike Lorenz and Jacqui Armbruster guided the audience through the evening, as they shared their stories and heartfelt lyrics. 

“It was a vintage sound but with modern textures.”

-Josh Freeman ’23

The full team of instrumentalists, which is present in the band’s discography, also includes Justin Sekelewski on the bass and Kyle Andrews and Zach Martin on the drums. Additionally, there is a strong presence of more abstract instrumental devices and motifs, including features of an electronic valve instrument, organ, piano and pedal steel guitar.

Lorenz, the band’s guitarist, described the musical style as being “a little bit of jazz, a little bit of folk, a bit of something totally new and different.” The melodies and vocals had a definitively contemporary feel, while the instrumentation contained an intrinsically connected sense of nostalgia.

The scene was set with an original song called “Copy & Paste,” which featured a floating array of lounge-style instrumental jazz. The piece’s true highlight was in its string solos, which highlighted Armbruster on the viola. 

“That percussion layer is so smooth…it felt like I was listening to a mystery,” said audience member Irene Keeney ‘23. “Like a detective movie…10/10 would listen again.”

After the piece ended, The Witherbees introduced “Easy,” with a short description about how this piece was one of several originals by Armbruster.

“It was a vintage sound but with modern textures,” said audience member Josh Freeman ‘23, a member of the Great American Songbook Project, a student organization specializing in music from the 1920s-1960s,  discussing the musicality of the song. “This song is someone whispering sweet nothings in your ear, and overall it was a really fun sound.”

In addition to a variety of original jazz-folk pieces, The Witherbees are also known for their intriguing covers of hit songs, and more specifically the ways in which the artists are able to transform those songs and imbue new meaning into the orchestrations. Their album “Tribute Valley,” which was described by the Witherbees as “an odds-and-sods EP,” contains a number of Armbruster and Lorenz’s favorite covers, includes some favorites such as “When the Stars Go Blue” by Ryan Adams, “Nubian Lady” by Yusef Lateef, “Sadness Don’t Own Me” by the Staves, “April Kisses” by Eddie Lang and “Side with the Seeds” by Wilco. 

“a little bit of jazz, a little bit of folk, a bit of something totally new and different.”

-Mike Lorenz, guest guitarist

The band ended the night with an up-tempo, fast-paced finale, which tapped into their folk side and bore musical resemblance to many American folk tunes. 

“Thank you all so much for coming out to the Chapel to support our work,” exclaimed Armbruster. “This has been a great way to end an outstanding season of live performances this summer, and we’re just so happy to be making live music again.”

Danny Milkis '23 is a Media & Communication student at Muhlenberg who has a specific interest in writing and journalism. In high school, he took part in extracurricular writing whenever possible, and received a Metropolitan Award nomination for his work as a Student Performing Arts Critic. He is ecstatic to have joined the staff of talented writers and editors at the Muhlenberg Weekly, and is excited to learn from this wonderful group of knowledgeable individuals throughout his time at Muhlenberg.

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