Ripe with Talent

>> “You know what’s dope when you’re at your mom’s house, you’re drunk as shit and you have nothing else to eat?” - drummer Sampson Hellerman of Ripe reporting on his favorite drunk snack - raspberry jam and swiss cheese on toast.

Have you ever loved a live show so much that the phonic afterglow diluted the potency of other music for a few days? Ripe can have that effect.

The seven-piece funk-pop flurry can conjure a dance party extravaganza night after night with seemingly effortless ease. What’s their method? They make damn sure they’re having as much fun on stage as the crowd that ceaselessly jives to their infectious tunes. Ripe’s natural knack for cultivating a good time is due largely in part to the integral bonding synonymous with college life. All Berklee grads, they played together, partied together, and have turned it into their full-time job.

Powerhouse vocalist Robbie Wulfsohn commands the stage like he’s been doing it for decades. He’s the type of frontman who loves his audience, but won’t shy from calling out those who aren’t moving to the music. During our chat before their recent Rochester show, however, he didn’t seem too keen on hiring my collaborator Ben Albert and I as hype dancers (our dream job). Hype dancers offer a gentle nudge in the crowd as Ben pitched, but Robbie politely explained, “We serve as that gentle nudge.” Guitarist Tory Geismar quickly retorted, “Sometimes Robbie isn’t so gentle,” inciting a chuckle of amusement in the room.

While it’s obvious why Robbie is the ringleader on stage, off stage his diplomatic and empathic character blends seamlessly with other bandmates, where the musicians freely share ideas in an entirely open dialogue where it’s nearly impossible to detect a hierarchy. They are a good-natured group of friends who vibe off each other’s complementary personalities. Ripe is the type of band that validates a fan’s loyalty, being equally likable both on and off stage.

Ripe is also the sort of band willing to put your entertainment ahead of their well being. Case in point, during a recent show on their fall tour, Robbie went to jump on a speaker mid-song and bashed his nose into a low hanging part of the ceiling right above the stage. Blood gushed, but he didn’t pass out and didn’t stop the show, singing through the night with a tissue to his face.

This sort of dedication also comes to light when they agree to perform at events that will not likely produce a favorable outcome. Ripe recently played at a college “speed friending” event, similar to speed dating. While they may have had some idea of what to expect, as Sampson eloquently put it, “Oh my God did they not need a fuckin’ live band there!” Sampson summarized adding, “We’re not background music.”

Ripe is ear-catching without a doubt. Even their name is memorable. The one syllable names always are. Given their name, it was surprising to learn they’ve never before been asked about their favorite fruits. The most unexpected response? Frozen grapes. “It’s a great snack, it’s like a popsicle!” guitarist Jon Becker reasoned.

That’s a new one to go home and try. Speaking of new things, Ripe has been working diligently to release an album early next year, for which they are strategically keeping many details under wraps. Until then, you can dance your pants off to their most recent EP Hey Hello or their earlier release Produce the Juice.

As a music fan, few things are more satisfying than discovering a band that makes your heart sing. It’s the band that you want to show all your friends, whose songs get stuck in your head when you’re trying to fall asleep. A dance band that recognizes the value in covering both Beyonce and Stevie Wonder, two of the most danceable artists out there.

Ripe plays on stage like it’s kindergarten recess. Whether Robbie is stealing trumpeter Josh Shpack’s glasses and bouncing around wearing them, or the whole band, including trombonist Calvin Barthel and bassist Nadav Shapira are jumping in unison to the beat. Who knows, Robbie might even feel compelled to shimmy across the stage on his knees. It depends on the show, but you definitely don’t want to miss it.

While Ben and I left the band chat a little heartbroken that careers as Ripe hype dancers may never come to fruition, our hearts were filled with the promise of more music to come from this mind-boggling band. As the momentum continues, pretty soon they may not have to rely on mama’s drunk snacks anymore- but maybe just for nostalgia’s sake. <<