BURLINGTON, Vt. — The New England-based funk and soul band West End Blend make their triumphant return to Burlington this Saturday, December 2 (Nectar’s – 9pm, $5 for 21+) as the band gets ready to make the next step with a new album, national tour, and their always-present passion, high level of musicianship, and funky, soulful energy.
West End Blend vocalist and trumpeter, Mike Bafundo, describes the band’s sound simply:
“Funk soul band — first and foremost, we’re a funk soul band. It’s about trying to make sure everything we do has funk, have a backbeat, have people grooving, dancing and having a good time. If everyone’s dancing, everyone is happy.”
West End Blend has a big, balanced sound boosted by their two guitars, bass, keyboards, and a two-piece horn section at that provides the heavier brass sound that balances and compliments the soulful and powerful voice of vocalist Erica T. Bryan.
In the past two years, West End Blend have gotten increasingly more people dancing and grooving as they’ve been sharing the stage with heavy hitter funk/jam/soul bands such as Turkuaz, Dopapod, Kung Fu, Twiddle, The Motet, and more.
In late October, the band released a new album, “Attitude,” which they’ve been promoting on their largest tour to date, and which has taken the band to new locations in the Midwest and down South.
“We’re all in”
That’s the description of the band’s tour and new album from Bafundo, said that as a band, they’re all taking advantage of the opportunity to reach new audiences and experience new parts of the country.
“We went over through upstate New York, Pittsburgh, and then Wilkes-Barre (PA), Cleveland and Chicago then back home to Hartford and New Hampshire. Then we’re going to make a run, all the way down to South Carolina. Most of the shows are in North Carolina, some in Virginia, then we’re going to do Charleston (SC), and then come back up after that through Roanoke, then after that, we kind of start part two of the tour back up through Burlington and more northeast, but still branching out a little more too.”
“We’ll be going out for about two weeks, which is the longest that we’ll have gone out as a band and we’re pumped. I love it, that kind of experience traveling the country and I’m really looking forward to that.”
The band itself has taken many shapes over the years, but as Bafundo explained, it’s helped both the individuals and the West End Blend as a band, focus their sounds, goals, and build more chemistry, ultimately improving their final audio product.
“We really started out as a college band, playing campuses and spring fling gigs, and we were massive — like seventeen different instruments with multiple percussionists, a ton of horns, a rapper and a massive amount of people on stage … It was great, but at the same time we started as like this big block of marble and through years of playing together it’s been more shaped as different people have gone different ways, which just happens regularly as groups evolve.
Being a smaller group these days has everyone flowing better, the writing is happening way more often — over the years it’s taken much more shape from that block of marble and we’re still trying to shape it as we grow.”
“We’re all individuals in the band, but the more time you spend together, the closer you get and start feeling more connected. As both we and our fans are getting older — it’s been five years since our first show on Halloween in a basement — the chemistry is more taking shape. We’re still individuals and our own people, but that common language, that common humor and inside jokes, it definitely connects us.”
Since West End Blend is a northeast band on a national tour, Heady Vermont asked about cannabis and if they’ve noticed changes at their shows since more states have legalized adult use and decriminalized.
“It’s always been a presence at shows, probably no more or less than for other funk and soul groups and live shows in general … Definitely more pens and more vaporizers — everyone has got their pen now.”
Through the conversation about the overlap between cannabis and music, Bafundo noted an ironic — and surprising — observation about an increase in cannabis use actually lessening the presence of cannabis at live shows: the evolution of cannabis technology and prevalence of small, handheld vaporizers has actually meant less smoking in small, confined clubs and all-ages festivals, and that more attendees choose to use the more discreet vaporizers (‘pens’), and on the whole, leading to a less intrusive cannabis experience at shows.
“I completely agree, some people don’t like to smoke and don’t enjoy a big puff of smoke in their face, so vaporizers and pens are allowing people to consume in a more social and respectful way,” he said.
When asked about what he personally thinks about the future of cannabis in New England, Bafundo, who also works as a special education teacher, calls upon his experience as an educator rather than a musician.
“It’s interesting for me, because I teach health class at the school I work at and I remember being in that class and I personally went through the whole DARE thing,” Bafundo says. “But really it’s just about helping the kids understand the consequences of any substance or drug. Yes, marijuana is medically legal in Connecticut, and some people need it for a medical reason and it’s legal in Massachusetts. The way that we teach it is constantly changing, the curriculum is changing. When I was in school, we didn’t learn about medical marijuana, DARE says it’s bad and it’s going to get you hooked — and people can get addicted to things, but at the same time, it developed this stigma. Now people are thinking it’s going to change — and understand that it’s not what was portrayed in Reefer Madness that is going to make you go crazy.”
For West End Blend, the return to Nectar’s in Burlington is a homecoming of sorts with a friendly, funk-loving fanbase who appreciate both the energy of a growing band and the musicianship of an increasingly-seasoned and cohesive group.
“We say that we’re fulltime, part-time — full-time band and part-time jobs, or full-time full-time, but we really want to be full-time musicians. I love my job and love that I can still teach and pursue music (Bafundo works as a special education teacher), but everyone is all in with eight people kind of on this life raft trying to row our way to where we need to go together. It’s been an incredible five years, I can’t wait to play more music and get out there even more!”
Look for Heady Vermont at West End Blend Saturday, December 2 this weekend with doors opening at 9pm.