Toughcats

When a band is on tour it sends a “stage plot” or a “rider” in advance to venues with information about what the band needs. Reading one, you’ll see requirements for backstage hospitality and a list of the equipment they plan to use on stage, as well as a detailed positioning map of how the stage is to be set up for the band. Depending on the artist, it can be as short as a paragraph; or some cases, pages. And pages.

From Toughcats’ official stage plot: “The band sets up in a line, the drums are at front and center (not set back) with banjo and guitar very close on either side.”

That one brief line establishes who Toughcats are: to the point, hassle-free, side-by-side-by-side. They’re a true trio. No one’s closer to the spotlight than anyone else. With the release of their fourth album, Rough Ones, earlier this year, the light shines bright on all three of them. This is easily one of the best local records of the year.

Rooted in the bluegrass/Americana scene, Toughcats stands out a bit more than most bands. Don’t let the banjo fool you, it won’t leave you stuck on Foggy Mountain.

Somewhere between early Wilco, Big Star, and the quirky style of Vampire Weekend, Toughcats has a unique recipe for down- home cooking with a slight arena rock complex. Ever heard a bluegrass band rock a Kiss tune?

Toughcats started by accident in 2004. All three members were in different bands playing at the same show, which turned out to be short one act. “We put together three songs backstage then went out and played them,” recalls Colin Gulley, who plays banjo. “People freaked out, and we had a lot of fun, so we kept doing it.” That’s chemistry, folks.

Alongside Gulley’s banjo plucking, Joe Nelson plays the resonator guitar (an acoustic guitar that utilizes metal cones rather than all wood to create its sound) and shares lead vocals with drummer Jake Greenlaw. Greenlaw attacks each show like a high school football player psyched for the big homecoming game. As the band gets set to launch into the first song, you can see his adrenaline build and his itch to play sets him off. Bam, bam, wack, wack. Greenlaw doesn’t go easy. For a band whose sound is something you’d hear on a porch deep in the heartland, Toughcats won’t let you relax on the rocking chair.

Averaging between 50 and 150 shows a year, Toughcats is one of the busiest original bands in Maine—maybe even New England. One night you can crack some lobsters watching them jam on a pier in midcoast Maine, the next night you can grab a tall PBR and see them at Empire in Portland. With a band that plays so much, anything can happen. According to Gulley, “One time our opening act was an interpretation of the Vagina Monologues.”

Anyone who says they haven’t been able to see the band live isn’t trying hard enough. They’ve toured from New York to Los Angeles and points in between. Toughcats is coming to your town, all the time. Don’t miss them next time. They’re too much fun.

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