ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Argopelter

Improvisational song trio Argopelter returned to Boone & Crockett for the first time in over a year and a half as part of their monthly residency there. Joining them for the evening was singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Caley Conway, who did a few Joni Mitchell tunes.

Argopelter consists of guitarist Chris Porterfield, bassist Barry Paul Clark, and drummer Devin Drobka. The band’s name comes from a Midwest cryptid that hides high up in the trees and throws branches at loggers to scare them off. Their instrumental style encompasses elements from rock, folk, and jazz. Clark gives the story of how the project formed.

“Way back in 2013 at Alverno College they used to have “Alverno Presents” shows that were curated by different local artists, and Tarik Moody from 88Nine was putting together a show for Marvin Gaye’s “Here, My Dear” where different bands and musicians would each play a track from that record. Devin and I were working on it together and Chris was also working on it, and that was when Tarik suggested that we all work on it together, and that’s how we first met Chris. Devin and I brought in the idea of very freely and loosely playing “Anna’s Song” and a lot of elements were stretched and improvised, and that was Chris’ first foray into that world…and we got our hooks in him because he was like “let’s do that again.” So after that show we decided to get together regularly and it started to gel. We had a couple one-off shows supporting some touring bands, and then in like 2016 or ’17, that’s when Mark Waldoch reached out to us and offered to get us in at Boone.”

The band have a few recordings up on Soundcloud but for the most part remain a performance band.

“We have probably ten hours of music recorded in a pristine environment,” Porterfield said. “We’re just waiting on the older of those recordings to put them out into the world.”

“We’ve always tossed around the idea but I always come back to the experiential element of it,” Clark said about releasing material. “Because it is an improvised performance, a lot of our energy comes off of not only each other but also the bar environments and the crowd; tonight a lot of energy was coming off of Caley. Not that it’s not valuable to document and record it but it can be difficult to really capture the essence of what we’re trying to do through a recorded medium.”

Clark and Porterfield explain why Boone & Crockett has been such an ideal venue for them.

“We’ve been playing here for so many years now, pandemic aside, and it’d be interesting to see if this could work in other environments,” Clark said. “This works so well because you can interact with it on any level you want. You can be sitting at the bar chatting and having drinks while there’s music there, or you can be sitting at a table and watching what’s going on and really being engaged with it, so it’s just such a contextually-based thing.”

“That’s one of my favorite parts about it…you can literally take it or leave it,” Porterfield added. “We’re very sensitively scoring the environment.”

Clark explains how the musicians communicate with one another as they perform.

“When I talk about improvisation on any level, I always equate it to a communication – like a language. Just like you would communicate with words, the more you do it with someone the more you can understand how they’ll respond to you. There was some early Argo stuff where we were really trying to figure it out, but we’ve been doing it for a handful of years now and we understand each other’s language and we can participate in the communication like a conversation.”

“It was interesting tonight after a year and a half off, after doing it so regularly for so long, there was a little bit of trying to remember how to talk through music,” Porterfield said.

Argopelter are back at Boone & Crockett on December 8th.

“Over the pandemic, there was nothing I missed more musically than this venture,” Porterfield said. “I just want to keep figuring out how to do it again and get to these places of trust and vulnerability, not only between us but with our environment and the people who seek it out.”

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