The Hippo


May 19, 2019








Ron Artis II & the Truth. Courtesy photo.

 New England Roots Festival 

When: Saturday, Sept. 29, 12 p.m. 
Where: Downtown Nashua
Main Stage
Noon - The New Englanders
1:10 p.m. - Strangers by Accident
2:20 p.m. - Honeysuckle
3:20 p.m. - Chestnut Grove
4:30 p.m. - Girls Guns & Glory
6 p.m. - Dwight & Nicole
7:20 p.m. - Twisted Pine
8:45 p.m. - Ron Artis II & the Truth
Riverside BBQ Stage
4 p.m. - Buster
5:30 p.m. - Afterimage
7 p.m. - Hunter
Riverwalk Cafe Stage
Noon – Mark Kaschak
2 p.m. - Visiting Wine
4 p.m. - Ruby & the Rhythm
Railroad Square Gazebo Stage
Noon – The Old Rochelle
2 p.m. - Kamara O Fa
4 p.m. - Jibe Man Co.
Bicentennial Park Stage
Noon – Dominic Cole w/ Julie Hoops
2 p.m. - Sonic Avionics

Island funk
New England Roots Festival welcomes Hawaiian soul man


 By Michael Witthaus
One of last year’s most memorable events, the New England Roots Festival returns to Nashua with a day’s worth of live music offered at four locations. The Main Stage is all Americana, with folk, R&B, bluegrass and rockabilly played by a dazzling array of regional performers, and a couple of out-of-town guests.
Twisted Pine, an acoustic powerhouse from Boston, is coming back after a rousing set in 2017. Girls, Guns & Glory has a new name, Ward Hayden & the Outliers, but the same electrified twang that made them a mainstay at area venues like Riverwalk Cafe. Newcomers include harmony-rich Strangers by Accident, soulful duo Dwight & Nicole, prog-folk trio Honeysuckle, and Nashua Farmers Market favorites The New Englanders.
Two visiting bands are also on the bill, one near the middle and another at the top. Pennsylvania based Chestnut Grove, with a Black Crowes vibe on songs like “Scrach an Itch” and “Whiskey Hand,” will play an afternoon set. Closing out the show is Ron Artis II & the Truth, a trio from Hawaii poised for bigger success. Anyone catching the free set might one day brag like a fan who saw Soulive in a nightclub. 
Though unfamiliar to many locals, Artis is a big deal to those in the know. He’s been praised by (and jammed with) Jack Johnson, Jake Shimabukuro and G. Love.  
There’s at least one arena level star who knows about Artis. At  a dinner and music event on Oahu Island, Artis played a solo set. Afterwards, the drummer from one of the world’s most popular bands approached to tell him he loved his music and storytelling.
Trouble is, Artis didn’t recognize him as rock royalty. 
“It sounds stupid,” he said recently from Cape Cod, where he’d just wrapped up playing at G. Love’s inagural Roots & Blues Festival. “There’s this tall guy, with a really deep voice and an English accent, and he’s like, ‘I bought one of your CDs.’ I’m like, ‘Thank you, I really appreciate that, man. What’s your name?’ He said, ‘Michael.”’
As he walked away, the towering Englishman’s wife came over. 
“He loved your music, that’s awesome, a big deal,’” she said to Artis, and waited for a response that didn’t come, beyond him agreeing that he was glad to have a new fan.
“She’s like, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t know who he is, do you? That’s Mick,’” Artis said. “I said, ‘Uh, I’m trying to place him,’ and she says, ‘He’s Mick Fleetwood — as in Fleetwood Mac.’ I was like, ‘Ohhhhhhh.’”
There’s a reason for all this world-class love; Artis is a triple threat across multiple genres. On guitar, he shreds like Hendrix, scats with George Benson flair and plays blues rock that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn proud. He’s also a gifted songwriter, equally capable of a rallying cry or a love song — and he can sing.
He’s made three EPs and one album, Soul Street, released in the spring. His younger brother Stevon on drums and bass player Riley Pa’akaula round out the trio. The new LP contains high energy rock and blues — leadoff track “King of the World” and “Walk That Walk” are standouts — and moving ballads brimming with soul. “Carry Me Along” echoes vintage Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while “Searching for Answers” and “What Kind of People” offer searing social insight.
Artis was born to perform. His father played keyboards with Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and even Van Halen in the 1970s and ’80s before moving his growing family to the islands, so music was always part of his life. 
“My dad and his band would always rehearse at the house and sometimes I got to go sit in on keyboards,” he said. “I didn’t get to join for a while, because he was always like, ‘no, go practice, go back to your room and learn that song.’ I think that’s one of the best things you can do for a child that’s interested in music or anything — give them honest reflection.”
With most of his siblings and his mother, a singer, the Ron Artis Family Band played all over the Islands, until its leader died suddenly from a heart attack in 2010. When his devastated namesake returned to music, he was mainly playing guitar. 
“I took a pause from piano for awhile, and I’m just slowly gravitating back to it,” he said. “That was really our connecting instrument. ... Subconsciously, I kind of needed some time away from it after.”
With a credo that “music should be played as life is lived,” Ron Artis II & The Truth shows are spontaneous and energetic. 
“People go into a conversation like it’s written out, and they’re trying to explain it from a piece of paper,” he said. “I don’t think that’s natural or real, and I think we should have the same approach to making music.”
Thus, his band always walks on stage without a setlist. 
“We look at the audience to see who’s there, and ask ourselves ... what difference can we make in their lives?” Artis said. “What can we give them that makes them feel a little bit better today and going forward? I try to live my life that way, so I figure why not create music that way? It’s really important to me.” 

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