Big stadium megabands are all well and good, but when you need that live music buzz, that Dead Kennedys by way of The Levellers crusty hippy freewheelin’ vibe with a social conscience, the only way to scratch that itch is to feel the power and the sheer joy and rage of existing listening to a band that sound like they live what they sing. Oakland-based Wayfairy scream and riotously whirl around in gorgeously tender tangles of banjo, fiddle, bass, accordion and washboard. Welcome to the Folk-Punk revolution on the Bay.
I had wondered where the revolutionary subversive spirit of San Francisco was existing in these modern days of tech giants and money makers. I see it in the alleyways. I see it in the grassroots efforts to help the unhoused fight back against the sweeps. I see it occasionally peek over the ramparts of a city that is increasingly barricaded inbetween those that have a lot, and those that have nothing, not even clean water to drink, it wears the wrinkles of the hippy dream got old and jaded, but still living and breathing freedom.
If you get the folk reference in the band name, then you get this folk-punk ensemble, fronted by Quiver Watts, singing as if their very life depends on it. Joy and anger. Fear and solidarity. Freedom and All Cops Are Bastards: this is Wayfairy’s world, where the world holds you down, but you fight back with everything you have. Whether you are living the life, or simply peeking in, the circus doors are open to fellow travelers and the curious and freedom seeking. There is a sideshow carnival exuberance to the Wayfairy sound, that is intoxicating and wild. People are strange, as Morrison once sang, and to be the eternal travelling stranger is hard on the body mind and soul, but here is the spiritual and political sustenance! We are not alone. There is strength in solidarity. Feeling angry and disaffected? Wayfairy have gotchu. Feeling like bathing in the romance of freedom? They are right there. Watts is an accomplished and passionate songwriter, who channels the joy, passion and the fury in delicate balance. Hearing them shout 1,2,3,…6,6,6, counting in a song, made me smile more than I have been able to muster in a while. That is the spirit! Lester Bangs was known to bitch about music not saying anything, he might be gone now, but I will say it, here is some music that has something to say! No more Butter bullshit! This is the antidote to the plastic surgeried blandness of manufactured tracks built to bleed money from the unimaginative. This is music for lovers and freedom fighters, not for consumers!
For listeners looking in through the window of the wayfaring fairy life; peeking into the road, into life in the vans that are held together by duct tape and sweary requests to the fairies and the goddesses in the ether; buskin’ with a banjo on the turnpike on the way to protest the Black Snake pipeline (so the punk-folk law of the Wayfairy story goes), the street-playin’ parties that turn into glorious outbreaks of joy and love and passion is to see San Francisco get down with Wayfairy on the sidewalk and observe the revolutionary spirit of our City in all its queer, fabulous, diverse and accepting …and sometimes rightfully furious….glory!
As Wayfairy shout they are ‘waiting for the collapse’ of society and the destruction of the cult of death industrial complex that will free their friend Ricky, and indeed all of us, my heart leaps. Oh to live free of the threat of incarceration! These are my dreams. On the road, cold and moved from here to there, watching the tourists move from their vacation homes to their regular houses, taking so much, wondering if when society broke down we might get a free spot to camp, or be able to go sit in an empty house and shut a door, I know that feeling of wanting it all to burn down in order to survive. When the pandemic hit, I was sure there would be a free camping spot in it for us. I was wrong. We were thrown out, even though we were up to date on camp fees, and the campground shut down, leaving a trail of people hitting a road with nowhere to stop, no bathroom to use, and told to go home. We were home.
If society broke down then my undocumented Boy and I, our very existence criminalized by the virtue of where our feet are on this earth, the only safe place we can be, would be saved, freed, given the gift of being able to live just like everybody else. Those that sit in jail cells would be freed to return to life. Those who are criminalized by the drugs they take or the choices they make that The Man doesn’t like, because The Man doesn’t like anybody to be so free, would all be free to live. Live and let live is something to believe in.
Apart from the message, Wayfairy twist and tumble, rock and roll, scream and jig and waltz their way through their set lists. The energy level is fantastic. The passion and dedication is undeniable. They are not just hip to the state of society, they sound great and there is not a false note there. It is accomplished and flowing stuff. This is real music.
The folk punk label sits comfortably with this band that only conform to the rules of the road: have fun and do no harm, though as soon as I heard them, I wanted to place the fairy flower crowns of anarcho-acoustic on their headstocks. The folk standard, Wayfaring Stranger, once covered by the Man in Black, Johnny Cash, surely gave birth to the name of a band that remains rooted in the folk tradition while reaching for the heights of punk anarchy raging against the capitalist machine that eats lives and happiness and freedom up, and spits out the bones of it’s victims.
We are all on this road alone, might as well have some good music to dance into the uncertain and bleak future with. This is the magick that happens when strangers decide to be strange together. The absolute standout track, Tree of Life, with its topsy turvy tripping melody line and warring time signatures, fights against itself, mirroring the fight to survive in a society that is fundamentally unfair in how it functions. “I try so hard!” Watts yells. I hear ya! I try so hard. We try so hard! The yell cuts to the core. How much can be bled from the earth and the masses who suffer so the one percent can live like royalty, before the fight back begins?
This is a band that hits all the right notes, that dares to ask the dangerous question of ‘what if the system cannot be fixed?’
Fun and talented. Riotous and passionate, Wayfairy are not always Tinkerbell cuties, though they are the cutest punks that have graced the stage since The Slits: these are the fairies of old, mystical and mischievous, dragging the children with sleepy dust in their eyes into the realm of the under(class) world.
They are just poor wayfairy-ing strangers, trying to make their way through this world. Are you in?
Vive la révolution
Quiver Watts – vox, banjo, songwriting
Kevin Blue Goldberg – Bass, vox
Mega Bloom – Fiddle, Vox
Vian Collapse – Accordion, Vox
Ari Cowan – Fiddle, Yelling
Jazmine Davis – Washboard, Tambourine, Vox
Audio recordings by Tennessee Mowrey.