Helium Brothers to play Meadows
Forty years after their origins during the 1970s heydey of Baby Boom rock, the Helium Brothers are still floating a blend of American roots styles like bluegrass and jazz with country rock.
The epic long-lived band plays a free concert at Merwin Meadows Park on Sunday, August 7, at 6:30 pm.
“It’s been awhile since the Meadows had concerts, I know there was a series we did there in the 2000s,” said Andy Gundell, singer and guitarist with the band, whose members first formed at Yale University, where three of them were students.
The concert is sponsored by the Wilton Parks and Recreation Department.
Band members will be driving in from as far as Massachusetts and Long Island.
“Our geographic range stems from Massachusetts, north of Boston, to New York City and Long Island,” Gundell said. “You’ve got to do a little driving to get to gigs.”
The Helium sound is an eclectic and intoxicating blend of traditional and avant-garde bluegrass, jazz country swing, and the California acoustic/singer-songwriter pop-rock of the 70’s. The Helium Brothers were voted “Best Band” by the New Haven Advocate in 1977, and toured nationally in 1979 as the opening act for blues legend Johnny Winter. They routinely packed the most high profile nightclubs in and around New Haven and Fairfield County, and throughout Connecticut and the Northeast. Helium is about a diverse, unexpected repertoire of covers and original songs, blazing instrumental solos and jams, and memorable vocals with jazz-tinged harmonies.
Fresh off a series of 40th reunion shows in 2015/16, four of the original five Helium members are still together: Oscar Hills, on banjo and guitar, and member of the legendary New Haven group, Professors of Bluegrass; Kim Oler on bass and vocals, and the recipient of the Richard Rodgers award for his theater music; Paul Fargeorge on drums and vocals, former member of the Platters and Eight To The Bar; and Andy “A.J.” Gundell on guitar and vocals, 13-time Emmy winning songwriter/composer/music supervisor/producer. Kenny Kosek, one of the country’s great fiddle players, has recently joined the band as their permanent fifth member.
Gundell reflected on how the rock club scene has changed since the band’s heydey in the 1970s.
“There were so many places to play and work for,” he said of the 1970s. “We played frive nights a weeks sometimes, just around New Haven, where we were pretty ubiquitous then. We worked throughout the northeast but our home turf was Connecticut.”
The drinking age was 18 in those days, so clubs were packed with high school and college students who came in large numbers. It was the height of the Baby Boom generation’s youthful dancing years.
Today, clubs are fewer and farther between, and the pay has not kept pace with the rest of the working world, he said. He considers himself fortunate though, because he has been able to earn his living making music all his life. In the early days of the band, that was the only work they did to support themselves. That’s how thriving the rock scene was at the time.
“It’s become more and more unusual for bands to just play music for a living because there aren’t as many clubs,” he said.
“There were a lot more patrons with a lot more places to patronize. It was a golden age for me, and an amazing opportunity to launch a career in music.”
The band is looking forward to the show on the meadows. “Great to be bringing the music back to Merwin,” said Gundell, who had worked with the Parks Department to produce the MusicFest. “Helium mixes perfectly with the warm summer air of a beautiful park at sunset—we hope to see some old friends from the area, and make some new ones as well.”
Merwin Meadows is located on Lovers Lane. The concert is free, open to the public, picnickers are welcome, and will be held rain or shine. In the event of inclement weather, call 203-454-5188 for the alternate indoor location. For more general info, call 203-834- 6234.