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The Way Down Wanderers from Illinois are bringing their full-energy live show to Music on Maxwell Friday. Tickets to individual Music on Maxwell shows are $25.


The Music on Maxwell listening room music series' lineup for February through May kicks off Friday with high-energy, five-piece The Way Down Wanderers from Illinois and special guests, The Hadleys.

The Way Down Wanderers have been steadily touring for more than two years, picking up fans and accolades along the way, including Songpickr's 2016 Best Songs Spotify Playlist and the Official Showcase for the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2016.

From foot-stomping, hand-clapping rowdy tunes, to quiet and tender songs, the group has original music with strong instrumentation, harmonies and lyrics. Set lists might also include some surprising covers.

John Merikoski, 23, who is on drums and percussion, studied jazz drumming in college.

"We're sort of folk-rock, with a really heavy bluegrass influence," Merikoski said. "Our bass player, John Williams, studied classical music. Collin Krause, who plays mandolin, fiddle and sings lead, was formally trained in the Suzuki method on violin. Banjo player Travis Kowalsky grew up playing honky-tonk and bluegrass with his family. Austin Thompson plays guitar and sings lead and harmony vocals."

The group loves to play, whether it's for an intimate house party for 50 guests, singing into a condenser microphone, or free acoustic sets at rest and truck stops along their tour routes or even busking in cities they visit. Of course, the band also plays routinely at clubs and folk festivals.

"We really get energized," Merikoski said, noting they've done some unconventional things to get the group's music out, such as recording a video for 'Your Will is a Wildflower' on the back porch of St. Augustine's Manor, a retirement community, in Peoria, Illinois.

You can check out that video and more on the band's YouTube channel.

"That was really cool and a fun time," Merikoski said. "Residents really enjoyed it, and we've actually played several times at retirement homes while on tour.... I play the spoons on a handful of songs, and that gets a really good response."

About half a year ago, the band released its first full-length album, a self-titled record, produced by Mike Marsh of the Avett Brothers. The group also has two extended play recordings.

"We're all big fans of the Avett Brothers and we were all playing a festival," Merikoski said. "We talked for a while about drums and gear.... I contacted him (Marsh) when we were in Nashville and I got a drum lesson. He came to check us out. After our show, he came up to us and said, 'I'm really blown away.'"

Merikoski said recording a self-titled record with Marsh was "an amazing experience."

"We wanted a fresh set of ears, from someone we trusted," Merikoski said. "Having someone who was willing to push us artistically prompted us to do things we would not have thought of."

John Williams, 32, who plays upright bass and vocals, said he loves performing live "because you can't airbrush it."

"People like to have that natural humanity, including the bad note I might have just played," Williams said. "People want to see some vulnerability."

Williams said one of his favorite tracks on the self-titled LP is "New Day Dawning."

"It's a very beautiful and sad song, all at the same time," Williams said. "It's about things that are a part of your life that you can't change, but how do you face that?"

Want to go?

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: 146 Maxwell Ave. in Greenwood

Cost: Tickets are $25, available at eventbrite.com or by calling 864-227-1188.

Montague's Restaurant has a Mexican-themed menu for the evening. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.