The first time I saw Jatoba perform — which feels like ages ago –- in January of 2010 at Flat Street Brewery in downtown Brattleboro, the first thing that took me by surprise was that the three gentlemen were performing barefoot. The airy expanse of Flat Street’s lower-level club (now closed due to Irene damage) was, that night, a cauldron, a tight bowl of sweat-soaked revelers who appeared to hone in on the trio in a ritualistic orb. There was not much separation between performer and attendee, and the fact that these musicians had kicked off their shoes to bounce about the stage and deliver their distinct brand of Tribe-Called-Quest-meets-Bela-Fleck, or “groove-grass,” was telling.
The second surprising aspect, quite bluntly, was the fact that something this raucous was even going on in southern Vermont. I’d been a resident of the state for nearly two years at that point, and was used to covering classical and folk musicians –- the “sit and politely absorb” milieu. Brattleboro had yet to experience its renaissance in youthful entertainment that’s occurred since then.
The third was their sheer sonic inventiveness: bluegrass covers of Michael Jackson, Stone Temple Pilots and Phish; humorous originals such as “You Freak Me Out.” Since then, Jatoba –- vocalist, mandolin and sitar player John Jamison; vocalist, guitarist and banjoist Jason Scaggs; and vocalist and bassist Jeff Richardson –- have become regional sensations. The uniqueness, the sense of community, and the all-out party of that winter show indeed had larger implications, and with the release of their debut CD in March, “Death, Fire and Picnic Tables,” Jatoba are forever emblazoned into the annals of Vermont’s music scene, whatever the future might hold.
Jatoba, who formed in 2007, throw their first New Year’s Eve show on Saturday at the beautiful Stone Church, 210 Main St. in Brattleboro. The event begins at 8 p.m., features three sets, is 18-plus, and is BYOB with ID. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. Find more information at www.jatobamusic.net.