Review: Stray Seeds put the “Jam” in “Jamgrass”

I walked into Fun House on East 4th Street in South Bethlehem on a recent Thursday knowing almost nothing about the show I was about to see beyond the name of the band. I did not know anything about The Stray Seeds or what to expect. Upon opening Fun House’s front door, I was met with a harmonica solo and a bluegrassy guitar melody, and I realized I was in for a treat. A friend of mine had seen The Stray Seeds before and told me they were “pretty good.” However, after seeing the group for myself, I would like to say that their show was fantastic.

Who are The Stray Seeds?

Based out of Bethlehem, The Stray Seeds are a hodge-podge, four-man, jamgrass band who cite Phish, the Grateful Dead, The Who, and Bob Dylan as some of their influences. I use the term “hodge-podge” here because both their music and their members have roots in different places. Their style is based on bluegrass music, but incorporates frequent guitar and harmonica jam outs, hence the term “jamgrass.” The Stray Seeds’ members all play in different local bands but have come together to form this charismatic quartet. The ensemble consists of Chris Holland on vocals, guitar, and harmonica; Ian Gallagher on vocals and guitar; Steve Zalalas on bass; and Chris Meyer on percussion. What makes these guys unique is that they like to switch up their sound for different shows. Some nights they’ll break out the harmonica, while other nights they will employ a banjo (played by Holland).

What did they sound like?

Listening to The Stray Seeds’ show was like listening to jazz, where 20% of each song is structured with some verses and an underlying melody and the other 80% is a pianist and a brass or woodwind instrumentalist jamming out. Except replace the piano and the trumpet with a harmonica and a guitar. This was the listening experience, and it was awesome. Holland’s harmonica sounded like it had been picked up from the Bluegrass State and dropped in the middle of Fun House. It was catchy, soulful, and filled the bar with tapping feet. Gallagher’s guitar was incredibly versatile, as he utilized numerous foot pedals to constantly change the sound of his solos and keep the audience engaged and wanting more. On top of those two, the rhythmic and lively bass of Steve Zalalas and the steady foot-tapping drumming of Chris Meyer tied everything together to create one big happy family of sounds.

The Stray Seeds were formed just over a year ago, so they do not have much of their own original music yet. The majority of the show featured covers of popular rock songs from the 70s and 80s, but with a bluegrass fusion that had me nodding my head in appreciation. In addition to spicing these songs up with their jamgrass twist, the band also extended a lot of them with melodic harmonica and guitar solos; it was honestly disappointing when the song finally came to an end. Finally, the band threw together a couple mini compilations of songs with seamless transitions from one to the next. I wouldn’t realize they had switched songs until a minute after it had occurred because I was lost in the beauty of the music.

When can you see them?

I would highly recommend seeing a Stray Seeds show if you get the chance, and they perform in South Bethlehem on a fairly regular basis. I asked Ian Gallagher why they like performing in South Bethlehem, and he noted that “It’s like a mini Vegas, mini New York, or a mini Austin. There’s so much going on here, but it’s hidden. Between the Sands area and downtown South Bethlehem, there’s so much to be discovered, and that’s what makes it fun.” Below are a few of the upcoming shows The Stray Seeds have on their calendar in South Bethlehem and the surrounding area:

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