When the Maine-based Mallett Brothers play around the Northeast this month, they’ll be breaking in a new drummer.
Well, Jon Fishman is not exactly new to drumming. He helped found the jam band Phish in the early 1980s and has been touring and making music around the world ever since. But this will be his first tour with the country-rock group The Mallett Brothers Band, meaning he has to learn new songs and he has to play alongside the group’s regular drummer, Chuck Gagne.
The tour began March 31 in Rhode Island and features a sold-out show Sunday at Portland’s Port City Music Hall in Portland. Fishman, who lives in Lincolnville, will be with the band through late April. The tour includes shows in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Maryland.
“We’re encouraging Jon and Chuck to have fun on stage and stretch things out a little bit, we might loosen the reigns on them and let ’em go,” said Will Mallett, who sings and plays guitar in the band. “We’re not going to change our sound to be more like Phish, and he doesn’t to change our sound. We’ve played together a few times before.”
Fishman, who declined to be interviewed for this story, moved to Lincolnville, near Camden, in 2006. He and his family have been very involved in the community ever since. His wife, Briar Lyons, is on the local school committee. Fishman, 53, won a seat on the board of selectmen last June. He and Lyons renovated and re-opened the long-closed Lincolnville Center General Store. The store’s grand opening last fall drew an estimated 1,000 people.
The members of the Mallett Brothers Band are all Mainers, mostly based around Portland, but spend much of their time touring around the country. The band has been around for about nine years, named for brothers Will and Luke Mallett, 33 and 34 respectively. The brothers are the sons of Maine singer-songwriter David Mallett.
But none of the band members had ever met Fishman before May of 2016 when Fishman came to the Portland area to stump for presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. The day Fishman was in Portland, the Mallett Brothers Band was playing an evening show at The Landing At Pine Point in Scarborough. The band got a message from Fishman that he’d like to sit in with them and say a few words on Sanders’ behalf, if that was OK.
It was, and it was “pretty cool” for the band members as well, Will Mallett said.
Fishman has also done events in southern Maine showing his support for ranked-choice voting in the state.
Then several months later, the Mallett Brothers Band was playing a club in New York City around the same time Phish was playing several shows at Madison Square Garden.
Lyons showed up at the show and offered the band members tickets to the Phish concert. After that, the band members and Fishman became friendly and started talking about playing more together.
When the Mallett Brothers Band played at the Union Fair this year, for example, Fishman sat in because Gagne was unavailable. When Lincolnville Center General Store re-opened last fall, the Mallett Brothers Band played the party and Fishman sat in with them.
“After (the store opening), we were partying, hanging out with Jon, when we started talking about maybe doing a little tour together someday,” said Will Mallett. “We didn’t think much of it, then we got a call from our booking agent saying Jon wanted to do a tour.”
The Mallett Brothers Band’s live shows focus more on their rock sound and less on the folk tunes, Will Mallett said.
Their last album came out in early 2017, “The Falling of the Pine: Songs from the Maine Woods.” It featured the words of old Maine folk songs set to new, original music.
The band is currently working on a new album, “Vive L’Acadie,” which is a nod to the Acadian and French heritage found in several parts of Maine. The title track is a high-energy Cajun and Zydeco-flavored tune that celebrates memeres (the French name for grandmothers), French Canadian music, poutine and other vestiges of Maine’s French history.
The band members got the name of the song, and the album, while driving in Aroostook County. They stopped at a bar near Fort Kent where they met “an older fella” who everyone referred to as “the unofficial mayor.” Someone asked him what was the one thing they really should learn to say in French, and he replied loudly, “Vive L’Acadie” or roughly “long live Acadia.”
Another single out online is “Long Black Braid,” which has more of a rock feel. Will Mallett said that song came from Luke Mallett. Again, the band members were on the road in their van when a motorcycle came screaming by. The passenger was a woman whose long black braid could be seen coming out from under her helmet.
The album should be out in June.
Phish, Fishman’s main gig, will be back on the road this summer with outdoor shows and festivals. The band will host its own festival. Curveball, in Watkins Glen, New York, in August.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Port City Music Hall, 504 Congress St., Portland
HOW MUCH: Sold out