Mercy grad Kat Wright, who's made a splash in Vermont fronting a soul band, will open for the Wood Brothers Feb. 5 at Kodak Center
Kat Wright grew up listening — and going to see, whenever possible — the jazz/groove band Medeski Martin & Wood. She also became a huge fan of the Wood Brothers, the Americana band that MMW bassist Chris Wood formed with his brother Oliver Wood and Jano Rix.
So when Wright — a Rochester native who’s fronted an eight-piece soul/rock band, Kat Wright and the Indomitable Soul Band, for nine years now — got word that she was being invited to open for the Wood Brothers on a series of dates in the eastern US (plus Toronto) -- it was something of a dream realized.
“Well, I first checked to see if maybe they had sent me the email by mistake!” Wright said in a phone conversation Thursday. “It was really exciting; I was thrilled.”
Wright’s stint supporting the Wood Brothers on their album release tour for the just-released “Kingdom in My Mind” started Jan. 29 in Baltimore and will finish up on Valentine’s Day — in no less stately a venue than the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, a treat for the classic-country fan in Wright. The tour will also bring Wright home — both homes, in fact: The tour comes to Rochester on Wednesday, Feb. 5, for a concert at Kodak Center, 200 West Ridge Road; then the following night it moves to a theater in Wright’s current hometown of Burlington, Vermont.
The Feb. 5 concert starts at 8 p.m. at Kodak Center, 200 W. Ridge Road, Rochester. Tickets range from $23 to $34 and are available through Ticketmaster and at the Kodak Center box office from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. Parking is $10 across the street.
Vermont’s not so far away from the Flower City, and the 2004 Our Lady of Mercy graduate has returned to play Rochester gigs plenty of times — the Lilac Festival, Party in the Park, and so on. Each homecoming is still a big deal, though, as she loves performing for her family, friends, and old teachers and coaches, people who believed in her goals and abilities when she was young. “People who saw that I had a propensity for writing, and nurtured my creative spirit,” she said. “It’s really important for them to see where I am now.”
The musical bug bit early, as Wright was surrounded by live performance growing up — her father is, as she puts it, a “really big live-music person.” And so, “By the time I started walking, he was taking me and my brother to see live music -- there was so many different kinds of music to hear around the city. The Lilac Festival, Irish music, jazz, blues — we found that there were so many places and so many opportunities to see different kinds of culture in Rochester.”
Performing, though, came relatively late for her, in her college days at Alfred University when she met some likeminded people and started going to open mikes and such. After college, she met up with a childhood friend, Maggie Clifford, and formed a folk duo that did some touring. Eventually, she moved to Burlington and got involved in a Thursday musical residency at the Radio Bean.
“I kind of wanted to do something I had never done with my music before” -- and that was concentrate on some of the American soul, R&B and roots music that had always struck a chord with her: James Brown, Susan Tedeschi, Esther Phillips, Billy Preston, Bonnie Raitt and, more recently, Amy Winehouse. (She frequently has been likened to a meld of Raitt and Winehouse, and she in fact bears something of a resemblance to the late soul/R&B singer Winehouse.)
“It was out of that residency that I met my current bandmates, and I realized that we have a special connection,” Wright said. “We started the residency just for fun; it was really there that we started the band. It was all very accidental, the way that happened. The roots of my performing are very soulful and came out of that kind of American soul music.”
From what she calls a “haphazard” beginning has become a long-running concern: Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band have been around for about nine years now and have released an EP, a full disc and another one coming out this year, produced by Eric Krasno of Soullive. They’ve played the Syracuse Jazz Festival and Montreal International Jazz Festival — Wright would, she hints, dearly love to play Rochester’s jazz fest — and toured with the Doobie Brothers and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Last year, Wright teamed with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra for a concert including arrangements of some of her songs along with classical works and more. They’ve played a “Jam Cruise” festival aboard a cruise ship — where among the performers were Medeski Martin & Wood themselves.
Wright's band is a classic R&B grouping, the kind that would have been at home in the Stax studios back in the day and appeal greatly to fans of, say, Tedeschi Trucks Band or Dustbown Revival. A three-piece horn section joins the guitar, bass, drums, keys and Wright’s vocals. Wright’s vocal delivery is by turns sultry, playful, funky and reflective, and always soulful. Lyrically, a number of the songs center on the theme of discovering, and inviting, new connection, new intimacy, new love.
It won’t be the Indomiitable band on the road for the Wood Brothers tour, but a stripped-down three piece consisting of Wright, guitarist Bob Wagner and bassist Josh Weinstein. Learning to work in that configuation — it's their first time touring in that format — has been a new challenge for Wright and her bandmates.
“It’s really hard, it’s challenging but in a really good way,” Wright said. “It’s forced me to look at the bones of our songs, if you will, to look at how they translate, taken in a different setting. What are the ones that can stand on their own two feet, and how can we have some fun with it? If it’s a good song, I think it can translate to any setting.”