Such sort-of great heights

Wax nostalgic, new with Lake Street Dive at Riverbend

(l-r) Lake Street Dive’s Mike Calabrese, Rachel Price, Bridget Kearney, and Mike Olson photo: Danny Clinch

By Gary Spencer

Every once in a while, a band comes around that takes familiar musical sounds and presents them in a way that is personable and fresh, and that’s exactly what Brooklyn’s Lake Street Dive does.

The band, jazz students who formed humbly at the New England Conservatory of Music, brings in elements from myriad styles and eras of music, including classic country, soul, R&B, pop, Americana, disco, rock, and everything in between. Their ability to do so, and to craft those sounds seamlessly, has garnered a lot of attention.

From music fans to critics, to high profile TV and radio appearances on shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman, The Colbert Report, Ellen, and A Prairie Home Companion, to even receiving performing opportunities at the White House, Lake Street Dive has made a splash on the musical consciousness, not just in the States, but all across the globe.

Dayton City Paper caught up with the band’s drummer, Mike Calabrese, to get the low-down on the band’s history, accomplishments, and more.

Tell me about the origins of the band…

Mike Calabrese: Our fearless leader McDuck [Mike Olson] gathered us in a rehearsal room in 2004 and told us from then on we would play avant-garde country music in cruddy, packed bars all over the world and make the masses dance only after confusing them with our genre-bending, heavily-improvised musical romps. Jam sessions gave way to backbeats and three-minute pop tunes, and finally the masses gathered at the dive bars we played to enjoy the energy. We’ve been basing everything on that energy ever since.

How would you describe what Lake Street Dive sounds like? 

MC: You know that feeling you get—a mysterious tingle—when you look down from great heights? We sound like that, except you’re really not that high up after all, you wimp! Relax!

What artists or music might you cite as influence or inspiration for what Lake Street Dive does? And what sets you apart from such influences?

MC: At the end of the day, we just want to be the Beatles. We have two girls in our band, so that helps set us apart from the Beatles. But a more pertinent difference that no matter what style of music we’re taking influences from, it’s being reconstituted through the odd instrumentation of drums, upright bass, guitar with sometimes-trumpet, and a belting female frontwoman. It’s easy for us not to sound like other stuff.

I read that Lake Street Dive played at the White House. What was that experience like?

MC: It was the social events coordinator who worked in the West Wing that had come to a couple of our D.C. shows and just booked us because she was a fan. The actual performance was singular because the people weren’t there to see us—they were all in a receiving line waiting to shake Obama and Biden’s hands. The immediate throng was about 20 people across and max three deep, then literally hundreds of people more lined up the hill away from us, watching the Oval Office doors. We shook the president’s hands—they were firm and patriotic handshakes, those. I almost passed out it was so cool.

What do you think about all the acclaim your newest record, Side Pony, has been receiving? And why do you think Lake Street Dive has been so successful overall?

MC: We are pleased with how it was received, and we’re always surprised, but only because we’re necessarily self-critical to a point of operational bias. It’s important to us to work hard and get it right, and enjoy not only the result but the process, and I think that’s why we’ve achieved any success we’ve had. I think when you put care into something, people can hear it and that’s why they want to listen to us and come to shows.

Describe your live show. How might it be different or possibly better than hearing you on record?

MC: It’s the interaction between members—that energy is what brings the live show out of the rote state of our recordings. It’s a more dynamic experience in an emotional way. I’m reminded of a children’s game I used to play that we called “End of the World” in which a circle of people would toss up a big, bouncy ball and try to keep it in the air as long as possible, no matter what the cost—diving, flying leaps, tumbling—they were all fair moves as long as the ball stayed afloat. In this analogy, the ball is a song, and we are the players. It’s a playful show, and if you’re not having fun, something’s wrong.

Anything else you’d like to add or say to our readers about why they should come see Lake Street Dive when you come to Cincinnati?

MC: It’s the summertime and we play summertime music. What else are you gonna do? Summer road trips with the windows down on the highway are the stuff nostalgia is made of.

Lake Street Dive plays Tuesday, July 25 at PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati. Amos Lee is also on the bill. Tickets are $22.50–$59.50 in advance. Show starts at 8 p.m. For tickets or more information, please visit

Tags: , ,

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?


We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

No Jet Engines Here


The very first thing is to learn how to pronounce it. No rhyming with the home of Baylor University in […]

Debate 9/11: Let’s Make Tammany Hall Great Again

cartoon cmyk

Third Parties have long complained that having the two major parties in charge of the election process gives Republicans and […]



No music and arts festival would truly be complete without… wrestling, right? Well, this year at Ladyfest Dayton, buckle down […]

Lives-in-progress, demo-style


Right from the start of this Jesse Peretz adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel Juliet, Naked, there’s something warm and unfinished […]

Are ‘Friends” Electric?


Gary Numan’s Savage return to form at CVG’s Bogart’s Gary Numan with daughter Persia, who sings on the new single […]