Ha Ha Tonka combines indi, southern rock tunes


Ha Ha Tonka performs at Stephens Lake Park during Roots n Blues n BBQ.

Ethan Hayes

As is the case with all bands, the strength of its music is sourced with the individual artists. Ha Ha Tonka’s lead singer, Brian Roberts, provides the audience with a tale of living life and the lessons we all learn through our actions.
His voice has a bravado and vocal range that extends to the edges of the venue. Roberts’ technical style allows him to use his guitar for performing songs and as a tool for enhancing his stage presence. Brett Anderson’s wide array of mandolins gives the band and its music a featured wild factor solidifying Ha Ha Tonka’s identity as Indie.  
Bass player Luke Long, pianist James Cleare and drummer Mike Reilly create a good foundation for all the songs through their immaculate playing and can hold their own when the group sings an acapella version of their songs.
Ha Ha Tonka’s performance is worth watching. Their sound is all natural and that carries both live and recorded. All band members are passionate, which shows when they’re on stage. Their music is upbeat and fuels the motions of the crowd. Roberts goes around the stage with his guitar stomping his foot to the beat of the drums and bass, speeds his hands down the neck of his guitar creating a barrage of rapidly fired chords, and whirls around stage falling subject to the music he creates. When the band harmonizes, it shocks the crowd into immobility and forces their attention onto the next note to come.
Crowd involvement for this band comes naturally. Roberts speaks with the crowd through both his music and with direct conversation to the audience. For instance, part way through the show he asks the crowd to give him a “yeah” and then a “ hell, yeah” with additional encouragement to the crowd asking for a louder response. The relationship Roberts builds with the crowd is one of cooperation with the end goal being that both he and his listeners walk away from the show with a sense of joy and value.
Ha Ha Tonka’s performance was rhythmic, memorable and enticing; it lead the crowd to a loosened and upbeat attitude. For a first timer at Roots N Blues, this was a greatly needed introduction into what the festival is all about. Their unique music and loyalty to Midwestern roots encompass a model for future bands to follow when coming to Roots N Blues.
What was your favorite performance at Roots n Blues n BBQ? Let us know in the comments below.