“If you see us, you’re going to get affected,” claims banjoist Andy Pond. Andy and George Pond have done their affecting in musical configurations such as Snake Oil Medicine Show, CX-1, and The Pond Brothers. Reunited after a two year hiatus, Snake Oil Medicine Show is again offering its spirited mix of musical theatre, mountain music, reggae, funk and newgrass…and oh yes, live painting.
“We’re bluegrass and drama nerds,” the banjo playing Pond says, “and we always really liked a little bit of a show. Jason Krekel, who was playing mandolin, invited his friend Phil Cheney to paint and perform live with us at a festival once, and everybody really vibed that night. One of the best bandmates I’ve ever had was a painter.”
Snake Oil also features the effervescent Caroline Pond, one of the wildest vibratos in the business, drummer Billy Seawell, keyboardist/accordionist Sean Foley, and painter Nicole Potter. Andy Pond may get the most attention onstage — the talented banjoist with the long blond hair was invited to Carnegie Hall for a workshop with Edgar Meyer, Jerry Douglas and Mike Marshall — but the creator and inspiration behind much of the music they make is older Pond brother George.
Military brats, the Pond brothers bounced from Italy to Texas, Mississippi to Miami, before settling in Atlanta. “Somehow a banjo appeared at my house,” Andy recalls. “I think my mom had gotten it for my dad for a Christmas present — and I just started messing with it. George was already playing guitar. The music thing just kind of happened. I started learning when I was 15, strictly bluegrass for a couple years, listening to JD Crowe and Earl Scruggs. Then George gave me a Bela Fleck CD, and it was all over after that,” he smiles. “George would come home from the reserve every now and then — he was writing his own blend of music, which ended up being the first Snake Oil album. I was a lot younger, but once I got to a certain level of consciousness, my brothers encouraged that music and brought me around the mountains, and that was cool. I just did a lot of pickin’.”
George Pond was discharged from the military in the mid-90s and settled in Boone with his wife Caroline, while Andy enrolled in Appalachian State University’s music industry program. With Caroline contributing vocals and fiddle, they began playing gigs around Boone, and Snake Oil quickly developed a following. When Pond graduated in 1999 they got an agent and went on the road. They released a CD that year, and in 2005 released We Make It Nice.
“We’re dusting off a lot of that older, crazy and complex material, and working on some new stuff,” Andy Pond says. “We’re transitioning out of the performance art stage now, and making it a musical variety show. We jump all over the place musically, and we’re going to put a little more focus on the zydeco and the reggae and the roots music. Although we don’t focus as much on the art, there’s still something head-scratching about what we’ve got going on, emphasizing that we’re all pretty much characters.”
Andy Pond started CX-1 as a solo side project, and has recorded two CDs with that name. “It’s a little more rock and reggae based,” he explains, “and the instrumentals I compare to the Flecktones band. It’s pretty close.” In 2005 George Pond released a solo CD using his aliases Warpextor Cosmoverse and mcE=mc2. And the brothers recorded a duet album earlier this year. “We just sat in front of one mic in the living room and picked all of our old first bluegrass songs, and released the album The Pond Brothers, just the two of us playing and singing. We’ve been getting good gigs. When they can’t afford Snake Oil, The Pond Brothers give a similar vibe.”
Pond relishes the chance to make music with his brother, and with longtime friends Seawell and Foley. “It’s a blessing to have someone who you know is looking out for you just as hard as you’re looking out for them. And I think the public kind of likes it…when we’re playing as The Pond Brothers and people find out that we’re really brothers, they’re amazed and they chuckle and they say ‘no way’. And then they see it, and its kind of funny. George has always been into cool things, art things. I was more of the drama geek, he was the art geek, and then we discovered music.”