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What's Up Magazine

Bidding The Bridge Farewell

Dec 01, 2011 06:30PM ● By Anonymous
On Thanksgiving eve in a crowded room in the heart of downtown Baltimore, a visibly emotional group of musicians, drunk on beer, whiskey and bittersweet emotion, gazed out on an exultant crowd of fans and collectively accepted the end of a decade long journey. The Bridge, Baltimore’s most consistent rock band, was finished.

Last spring, after ten years of scraping by, touring tirelessly and experiencing highs and lows, the group saw an unpleasant end in sight. Unfortunately for the band and their loyal fans, many of them close friends of band members (both fans and the band often refer to themselves collectively as The Bridge Family) the course they had charted was not sustainable. Amassing debt and finding breakthrough success out of grasp, the group made a difficult decision to end their decade long journey.

Seemingly, one of the roadblocks for the band on the path to stability and financial comfort was the difficulty inherent in categorizing their music. While the group’s sound could range from funk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and a plethora of other genres in between, they didn’t seem to fit an easily identifiable label. The closest grouping the band often found themselves tossed in with seemed to be the ubiquitous “jam band” label that can either propel a band to touring success with droves of loyal followers, or lead to a band’s demise as mainstream fans write them off as noodling or boring.

One distinct quality that firmly separated The Bridge from a typical jam act was their ability to produce high quality studio work. Each of the group’s albums features material of considerable depth, something many acts they would share summer festival bills with often lack. The band’s final release, this year’s appropriately titled National Bohemian, belongs in the company of both respected classic rock works of yesterday and cult favorite indie albums of today.

Opening their farewell show Wednesday evening at a sold out Rams Head Live with the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street”, the group used the song’s instrumental sections to remind their fans that though they are able to distance themselves lyrically and in the studio from a typical jam act, they have the chops to embrace a jam and explore improvisation when the time is right. The song’s lyrics (“Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart/You just gotta poke around”) were a direct nod to the city they were preparing to wave farewell to. As the show moved along, it felt similar to any other Bridge performance in some ways- the group has always been known to perform with passion and leave it all out there.

However, when each song would end, the crowd’s furious applause and efforts in thanking the band, coupled with extended banter about the group’s history and songs, mostly by expressive mandolin, beatboxer and all around showman Kenny Liner allowed the reality of this being the group’s final show to sink in. The added atmospheric touch of it being the night before Thanksgiving meant that old friends were celebrating the group’s music together, with plenty of alcohol flowing.

Another special feature that enhanced the already familial vibes in the air were the guest appearances on stage- including each of the band’s past members coming out and helping the group rediscover older songs and relive some important parts of the their shared history. While the old songs were a special treat, especially for longtime fans, the gravity of the band’s forced breakup was brought to the forefront with fantastic versions of songs off of National Bohemian, including the lilting blues bop of “Geraldine”, and the full speed ahead, check your pulse rocker “Rosie”. The shame in such a talented group being forced to call it quits with such recent quality material had never been so apparent as in these moments.

All of the mingling between old friends, family, and alcohol (both on stage and in the crowd) gave way to great emotion as the night continued. While the show was billed as a three set performance, the group chose to forgo their second set break in order to fit in enough material to end things appropriately. Near the end of the extended second set, Liner and guitarist/vocalist Cris Jacobs, the creative talent key to the band’s depth, shared emotional musical and personal testimonies with each other and the crowd.

“When I met Cris, I could barely play the mandolin”, Liner said. “Everything I know about music I learned from him… He’s my best friend”, he shared later.

With Liner moving to Oregon to pursue new musical ventures and his fellow bandmates starting new beginnings in Baltimore (including Jacobs’ new group Cris Jacobs Band, performing around town regularly), the night was a difficult farewell to his band mates and the city that raised him. Understandably, Liner’s emotions were running high.

When the time had finally arrived for the group to say a final thank you to their fans and with the crowd’s cheering reaching a fervent pitch, everyone in the room shared a profound moment of significance. While the band stood together and collectively soaked in the last moment of reciprocal love they would share with their fans, many tears were shed throughout the building. Each member throughout The Bridge’s ten year history had used their considerable talents, but more importantly, hard work and dedication, to help provide a special and memorable era in Baltimore’s storied history of music. No amount of tears or thanks on either side, the band or their fans, could properly address or mourn their shared history. For both, the memories of the good times will have to suffice.