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Poor Old Shine: 'Old Songs with a New Feel'

The Storrs-based Americana band shines bright nationwide.

Poor Old Shine, a Storrs-based Americana band including Farmington native Chris Freeman, is shining bright nationwide. Credit: Sarah Lefroncois
Poor Old Shine, a Storrs-based Americana band including Farmington native Chris Freeman, is shining bright nationwide. Credit: Sarah Lefroncois
By Jessie Sawyer

They may be called Poor Old Shine, but their sound is rich and new.

The Storrs-based Americana band draws influence from the folk and Appalachian mountain music tradition," according to its website, traveling with "guitars, banjos, pump organ, mandolin, string bass, musical saw, washboard, and a yard-sale-scrap-metal drum set" in tow. 

Chris Freeman, 24, singer and guitar/banjo player is a Farmington native, Mansfield resident and a graduate of Kingswood Oxford in West Hartford; Antonio Alcorn, 26, who pays mandolin and sings, lives West Hartford; and the others  – Max Shakun, 21, (pump organ/guitar/vocals), Harrison Goodale, 24, (bass/vocals) and Erik Hischmann, 29, (percussion/vocals) – live in Mansfield. 
 
They have sold out audiences at prestigious venues, from Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, CT, Bridge Street Live in Collinsville and Toad's Place in New Haven to The Lizard Lounge in Cabridge, MA. They've also played at Lincoln Center and The Kennedy Center.

"We've been really lucky to be able to travel all over the country and perform with all sorts of awesome bands," Freeman wrote in an email to Patch. "The list of bands that we've played with is far too long but we have recently been out on tour with Lake Street Dive, an awesome pop/soul band from Brooklyn.  We also got to play with The Wood Brothers in Nashville. That felt like a dream." 

It all started in at UConn, their alma mater, in 2011. 

"Antonio and I were in a weekly folk music jam session with about five other students.  We mostly played old songs but I was beginning to write songs as well," Freeman said. "A friend's band was playing at Toad's Place and needed an opener.  I guess this jam session was mistaken for a real band and we were asked to open the show. We threw together a 30 minute set and had a great time. We decided to keep gigging as long as we enjoyed it and we're still doing it today."

They decided on a name for the band that evening at Toad's Place.

"One of the old songs that we played at that first show is a traditional prison work song from Texas called 'Ain't No More Cane.' It was also covered by Bob Dylan and The Band on The Basement Tapes," Freeman said. "Poor Old Shine is a character in that song and we loved the tension in that phrase so we took it as a name."

Freeman did open mics frequently in the Farmington Valley, particularly at Lasalle Market in Collinsville, where there is an open mic every Friday.  

"It really helped me get my sea legs in performing," Freeman said.

Poor Old Shine's Americana stylings gives it a "general, and a little non-descriptive" genre, but Freeman said "we like that." 

"We never set out to make a particular kind of music," Freeman said. "We follow ideas that come out of the blue and try songs in different configurations and styles until we find something that feels right."  

When it comes to performing, Freeman said they choose songs with theme "that feels really raw." They call their music "old songs with a new feel" on their website and said they have been compared to The Band, John Prine and Johnny Cash.

"As far as writing we try not to repeat ourselves too much but we know what's right when we hear it," Freeman said. 

Having collaborated with a lot of other bands, Freeman hopes to play with American singer-songwriter Josh Ritter some day.

"He's an amazing songwriter and performer that I know we could learn a ton from," Freeman said.  

As for his own music, when asked which of his songs is the most noteworthy, he said it was hard to single out one.

"I'm not sure what song is our most notable. That's like asking a parent which child is most notable," Freeman said. "For me, they all carry too much baggage from the writing process for me to step back and understand where they came from at all. We are on a label called Signature Sounds out of Northampton.  Our new record was produced by Sam Kassirer."

As for the most memorable moment so far with the band over the past three years?

"The whole ride has been a memorable one," Freeman said. "Right now we're working on writing music for a play called The Heart of Robin Hood at The American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, MA.  It's a totally new experience and we're learning a lot and stretching ourselves."

From Connecticut roots to nationwide gigs and now a play, Poor Old Shine has already come far. 

"We've grown a lot over the years and solidified our lineup," Freeman said. "We're going to keep riding this train and see what opportunities we come across."

Poor Old Shine will start touring again in late January, stopping in Connecticut for a couple shows:
  • Jan. 25 at Voices Cafe in Westport, CT
  • May 31 at Hartfolk Festival in West Hartford
Visit their website to learn more about the band, hear some tunes and check out the complete tour schedule. 

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