Rusted Root is one band that doesn't fit neatly into one musical category.
Blending folk, acoustic, and world music with African, Native American, and Latin American influences, the Pittsburgh-based sextet defies explanation.
This hard-touring group of musicians could easily stake a claim as one of the great jam bands on the scene today.
Their performance at Penn's Peak on Friday night was no exception.
The group somehow managed to turn the concert hall into a space that felt more like an intimate coffeehouse with a bit more room for dancing rather than a full-fledged musical venue.
Rusted Root has been together since 1990, but had their first taste of commercial success in 1994 with the release of their CD "When I Woke", which contained their biggest hit, "Send Me On My Way."
During the Penn's Peak show they proved that they have even more musical surprises up their sleeve. Starting with a mellow version of "Beautiful People", the band was just getting warmed up, easing into the rhythmic "Back to the Earth" and livelier "Martyr", two other tracks from "When I Woke" that showcased the musicality of the group's founder/guitarist/vocalist Michael Glabicki and also gave vocalist/percussionist Liz Berlin the chance to shine. Most of their set consisted of songs from that landmark CD, including "Food and Creative Love", "Cruel Sun", "Lost in a Crowd", and their trademark song "Send Me On My Way."
But that wasn't all they had to offer. Glabicki said they are planning to release a new album in March 2012, and they worked a number of new songs into their set.
The new tracks, "Monkey Pants", "Cover Me Up", and "Fortunate Freaks" are a bit of a departure for the band with a more radio-friendly pop sound that mixes elements of rock and soul into the distinctive Rusted Root sound.
They further showed their versatility by playing two cover songs. They added their own touch to Elvis Presley's 1969 hit "Suspicious Minds" and Neil Young's signature hit "Cinnamon Girl".
Rusted Root has a loyal following in the Northeast, with Glabicki making a point to thank those who attended their recent shows in Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre and followed them to Jim Thorpe on Friday.
The band wrapped up their set with a spirited rendition of "Drum Trip", a jam session that showcased the skills of drummer Preach Freedom and gave Berlin and guitarist Colter Harper the chance show their skill on the African drums. Berlin handled percussion duties admirably, playing any combination of the tambourine, maracas, finger cymbals, and African shekere throughout the set.
Guitarist Dirk Harper and bassist/percussionist Patrick Norman weren't lacking in skill, either. The impressive instrumental then led to their final track, "Ecstasy", a lengthy closing song that left the crowd breathless.
Rusted Root is one band that may not seek commercial pop success, but dazzle with their live performances.
On Friday night this group of talented musicians satisfied their legion of existing fans and no doubt made some new ones over the course of the night.
Upcoming shows at Penn's Peak include Jo Dee Messina on Oct. 1, Gordon Lightfoot on Oct. 2, and Melvin Seals and JGB on October 6. For more information or tickets visit www.pennspeak.com.