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Friday, 20 March 2015 14:24

With a unique background, Formula 5 comes to rock the Den

Formula 5, a unique quartet blending jazz, rock, funk and jam, will headline the Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs on Saturday.

Tickets are $10, with doors opening at 8 p.m. The show begins at 9 p.m. and includes supporting acts Capital Zen and The Other Brothers.

With all four members hailing from the Capital District and slightly beyond, this is a hometown show for the band, which is inspired by jam-rock gods, Phish. Guitarist Joe Davis is admittedly obsessed with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s mastery of the six-string, calling his love for him borderline “unhealthy.” Mike McDonald handles keyboard duties, James Woods plucks the bass and Greg Marek keeps the beat. The four rotate vocals.

Pete Mason, a longtime jam band fan who does a lot of work within the community, manages the group. He is the founder of PhanArt.net, a site whose mission is to promote art in all forms, especially concert posters, street art, official prints and fan creations. He is also the publisher of online music magazine NYSMusic.com.

So it’s very fitting that the members all met in October of 2009 while waiting on line to purchase tickets for two Phish concerts that were to take place in November of 2009 at the Times Union Center in Albany.

“I ended up sitting next to (our old bass player) and we talked all night,” Marek said. “I began playing with him and some kids he was jamming with. We had bass, drums, guitar and a talented female sax player who sang.”

After a few gigs and a bit of rearranging in the band – they added a keyboard player, for one – things weren’t going as smoothly as the group thought they could. Enter Davis and Woods, and Formula 5 had the lineup it wanted.

“We are all jam fans and weren’t doing too much of that with the former lineup,” Marek added.

Davis and McDonald are the chief songwriters, but both said much of the writing is done as a group. Someone will show up with a song, or the makings of one, and the band will work together to come up with something that fits their sound.

Each band members writes his own music for his specific instrument.

“Although Mike and I are the main songwriters, all of us have equal input on our individual parts,” Davis said. “It is still a democratic system but Mike and I tend to guide James and Greg on their own parts on our own vision of the end product.”

Davis’ masterful guitar work stems from a lifetime of listening and practicing. At a young age, Davis borrowed his sister’s acoustic guitar and started learning classic rock songs.

He said his father exposed him to plenty of guitar-driven classic rock growing up, and recalls when he was introduced to Derek and the Dominoes’ album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

“This album rocked my world,” he said.

Years later, Davis discovered the work of Anastasio, who had been selling out arenas with Phish for a few years, and had become one of the largest touring bands in America. That obsession has helped Davis mature into a guitarist with his own style who blends together all of his own influences without sounding like a copycat.

“It’s gotten to the point where I can pretty much either sing or play Trey’s guitar playing on some of Phish’s classic jams from the 1990s,” he said.

The band of 20-somethings has a very bright future. Formula 5 has already headlined official Phish after parties in Saratoga, and also played at the Brooklyn Bowl, a venue seen as hallowed ground for jam bands hoping to grow.

“The real focus is on all the small achievements,” Marek said. “For example, getting our fans to take the extra step. If you come to a show and enjoy yourself, tell somebody. Word of mouth is our biggest friend.”

Find out for yourself and bring a friend on Saturday. Even the shyest person will find him or herself grooving to the styling of Formula 5.

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