“I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get in here if I wasn’t playing,” says Donovan Frankenreiter, laughing. It’s a few minutes past nine o’clock on a Wednesday night in Hollywood. Frankenreiter, every bit the surfing cowboy in denim and a wide, flat-brimmed hat, sips a drink and talks among friends. Only a name on doorman’s clipboard permits entry into this bar without a name. Frankenreiter’s not on the list, but he is more than welcome.
He’s in the band performing tonight. It’s only the third show for Jamtown, a nascent seven-piece ensemble, with this invite-only showcase serving as their Los Angeles debut. Their otherwise simple moniker veils a super-group lineup that features a trio of troubadours—Frankenreiter, G. Love, and Cisco Adler—and a pair of stellar players, Duane Betts and Cody Dickinson, familiar to many for their work in Dawes and North Mississippi All-Stars.
“It’s an incredible accident,” says Frankenreiter. The singer-songwriter had partnered up with Love to work on a possible new project, revisiting some of their respective repertoire, when producer Adler suggested collaborating on new material. The results of their get-togethers proved more than promising. “Let’s do this,” said Frankenreiter, and Jamtown was born. “I guess I’m in a band, now” says Adler.
Frankenreiter, as well, finds himself happy to be in a group after years as a solo artist. “It’s refreshing, to share different ideas with people,” he says. “When we decided to do this, I asked Cisco who we could get, and he said, I’ve got some guys.”
Two of those guys were Adler’s longtime friends, Betts and Dickinson. “Cody’s amazing,” says Frankenreiter. “The rhythms he comes up with are incredible. And Duane? You should’ve seen people’s reaction last night (in Solano Beach). He was melting faces.”
The Jamtown seven wedge snugly into a corner stage. The three hatted frontmen brandish acoustic guitars and irrepressible smiles. Frankenreiter counts in “Fool in Love,” and the ride begins. It’s a breezy tune, whistling over the locked-in strums of the trio before Betts and his electric catch fire and commence melting.
The eight-song set is a generous mix of its creators: countrified rock, jug-band joy, and sneaky funk. Betts’ slide whines behind the three-part harmony of “Pick it Up,” while Love blows harmonica on “Island Time,” then gets a little greasy on “Strawberry Moon.” The final song of the night, “Jetstream,” best sums up Jamtown’s purity of collaboration; Frankenreiter sings the first verse, then Love, then Adler. Smiles all around.
It’s anyone’s guess what Jamtown becomes, but their immediate future is clear: the band is scheduled next to play several festivals, including the Malibu Guitar Festival in May, and Arroyo Secco Weekend in June, plus two dates with Jack Johnson in July, in Denver and at the Hollywood Bowl. With no name on a clipboard required.