Two years ago, in a dark room in a nightclub in San Francisco, two young musicians were taking notes, learning rhythms and waiting for their chance to shine.
The first is Micah Durbreuil, a keyboardist who plays locally with bassist Jonathan Kirchner and drummer Andrew Laubacher, and the second, 19-year-old Zeik McCarter, is a fresh transplant from Texas with a soulful voice and a passion for music who had already made a scene in the area playing with local groups including Afrolicious.
“I used to sit and study. It was like going to class,” said McCarter.
The jam sessions were an opportunity to learn from some of the best funk musicians in the City.
As the two continued to cut their teeth on the San Francisco music scene, a bond began to form and when the opportunity came to build a band, the choice to join forces was obvious. Joined by Kirchner and Laubacher, they recruited guitar slinger Benjamin Andrews and the “Hallelujah Horns” of Marcus Stephens and Brendan Liu. Con Brio was formed, a soulful funk group with a clear lineage stemming from the likes of Sly & the Family Stone and James Brown.
“I never planned on doing this,” said Durbreuil. “I grew up in Vermont playing classical piano and I played drums in college, but I didn’t know any professional musicians. I didn’t think there was room for anyone between nobody and rock star.”
As it turns out, the dance heavy music of Con Brio was just what the scene was looking for. The group began playing regular gigs around San Francisco and shared the stage with groups such as Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Fishbone and Trombone Shorty.
“It’s possible to make it in San Francisco. There are a lot of venues and the people are very supportive,” said Durbreuil.
In February, Con Brio released “Kiss the Sun” their first six-song EP.
“It was like having the first born child,” said McCarter.
The group works together to write each song. One of the members brings in an idea or a riff and each person takes turns tearing the idea apart and putting it back together.
“Sometimes, it’s completely different than it started, but when it finally comes together it’s a very satisfying feeling,” said Durbreuil.
The group took the album on the road and the response was great.
“We played a show in Truckee. By the time we finished everyone was so happy,” said McCarter.
The show happened to take place during the first snowstorm during a dry spell. Following the performance, the group and the audience took to the streets for a snowball fight.
“Tahoe is so much fun. Everyone is down for a good time,” said Durbreuil.
For Con Brio, the doors are just opening. The group is gearing up for a big summer on the road and they’ve joined some big name groups on the bills for several festivals including 420 In the Streets in Denver, Bottle Rock in Napa Valley, the Joshua Tree Music Festival in Joshua Tree, High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy and Guitarfish Music Festival in Cisco Grove. In between festivals, they’ve also booked a few gigs including one in New Orleans during Jazz Fest. Meanwhile they’re writing material for a new full-length album.
Con Brio kicks off their biggest summer yet with a full day of music in North Lake Tahoe on April 18. The fun begins with an après-ski party on the deck of Alpine Meadows at 1 p.m. and continues later in the evening at the Crystal Bay Casino.