January 4, 2013

Hot Day at the Zoo plays One Longfellow

New England's string kings combine bluegrass, Americana and rock.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

No offense to Mumford & Sons, but the guys in New England's Hot Day at the Zoo have been melding a rock feel with string music for a decade or so.

click image to enlarge

Hot Day at the Zoo

Lela Amarra photo

Though they haven't exactly exploded onto the world stage like the young Brits in Mumford have.

Not yet, anyway.

"When Mumford came along, we thought, 'Man, we've been doing that all along, that's our gig,"' said Jon Cumming, who sings and plays banjo and dobro in the group. "But I think what really brought string music back was the movie 'O Brother, Where Art Thou' (in 2000). The interest has been growing ever since then."

The interest in high-powered string-band music has helped Hot Day at the Zoo play dates with David Grisman, Trampled By Turtles and Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. On Friday, it will be the headlining act at One Longfellow Square in Portland.

Playing music that combines bluegrass, Americana and rock has landed HDATZ in some interesting places in the 10 years the group has been together.

"I remember this one place we played in New Haven (Conn.) which was a real heavy metal, head-thrashing kind of place, but the crowd was into us," said Cumming, 48, of Nashua, N.H.

In addition to Cumming, Hot Day at the Zoo consists of Michael Dion (guitar, harmonica and vocals), Jed Rosen (upright bass and vocals) and J.T. Lawrence (mandolin and vocals). Cumming and Dion write most of the songs.

The members of HDATZ began playing together about a decade ago in Lowell, Mass. Most had been in other bands prior to joining the group.

Cumming said listening to The Grateful Dead while growing up in Chelmsford, Mass., was his "gateway" to the pleasures of bluegrass and string-band music, which led to an appreciation for old-timers such as the Stanley Brothers as well as more contemporary players such as Grisman.

As an adult musician, he was in a rock band but playing string-band music as well. He finally decided to switch to acoustic instruments as his main gig.

"I think what did it for me after being in rock bands was that I was sick of lugging around amps and all that equipment," said Cumming.

But Hot Day at the Zoo still plays a lot like a rock band, he added.

"I'm not a very good bluegrass banjo player," he said. "I play it more like an electric guitar."

HDATZ does a lot of original music, but also pulls out the occasional cover when it can put its own spin on the tune, Cumming said.

"People seem to have a very personal connection with this kind of music, and that's cool," he said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


Twitter: RayRouthier


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