music / News

Jam Central Station: Rodrigo & Gabriela

February 10, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



On the surface, nylon-stringed acoustic guitars and classic thrash-metal sensibilities don’t tend to go together. But, as has been proven throughout the history of Jam Central Station, sometimes you have to throw out the old rules and try ideas that are so far outside the box that they can’t help but be interesting. The duo of Rodrigo y Gabriela are another great example of that. While they’re an acoustic guitar duo, they fall far from the typical “folksy” aspects that you would expect. They’re from Mexico and play nylon-stringed acoustics, but they are anything but traditional Mexican Flamenco music. Instead, they’ve been able to blend the power and energy of modern heavy metal with the natural percussive nature of the acoustic guitar to create a sound that is brand new and extremely exciting.

Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero originally came together musically as a part of the Mexican heavy metal band Tierra Acida. Both had already attempted to train formally in the music conservatory, but had been unable to gain admittance. Tierra Acida lasted over seven years and, during that time, the two formed a strong musical connection. As the band grew over the years, Sanchez and Quintero got frustrated with the limited scope of the band and of the local music scene. They had a desire to branch out beyond the thrash metal that Tierra Acida was doing, and they also saw that Mexico wasn’t providing them with real opportunities to make a career out of music.

Both Rodrigo and Gabriela wanted a change, a search for adventure. They didn’t feel that Mexico offered them the opportunities for musical advancement that they wanted. They also didn’t want to go to the U.S. and instead to go overseas to spend some time in Europe. They went without any solid plans, with little money, no European friends, and no idea where they wanted to settle down. Their only qualifications where that they didn’t want to be in a big city like Paris and that they didn’t want to end up in Spain. After spending time on the Continent they headed to Dublin, where they began laying down some roots.

When they arrived in Ireland, their only contact they had was a friend of a person that they had met a few days before they left the main continent. With little money and no real grasp of English, they simply began busking on the streets to earn enough money to eat and get a room to sleep. They called the friend of a friend after about a week in order to get have a place to sleep when they ran out of money, but they quickly were able to get on their feet and make enough of a living to get by. Their first paying gig was a party for a child’s First Communion, and soon after that they began playing a variety of bars and folk festivals, tailoring their sound to fit the audience that they found. This forced the duo to develop an expansive repertoire of genres that they could pull from, which eventually led to their original music becoming such a diverse melting pot of metal, jazz, classical, folk, mariachi, and other styles.

In 2001, the duo recorded their first album. Foc was recorded at their home, using very basic equipment. Instead of recording the guitars using microphones, they ran straight through the guitar pick-ups, limiting the percussive elements of Gabriela’s playing. However, the band did begin to pick up a solid Irish following for their music, and some recognition in bars throughout other parts of Europe. By 2002 they had garnered enough attention to make their first studio recording, apply entitled Re-Foc.The album contained both new songs and re-recorded Foctracks.

Based on the success of Re-Foc,Rodrigo y Gabriela were suddenly a known Irish commodity, despite arriving in Ireland less than three years earlier. They spent the next few years perfecting their live performances, often mixing covers of well-known classic rock and heavy metal songs into their performances. Metallica was a common artist covered, as well as Megadeth, Sepultura, Slayer, and even classic Led Zepplin. Instead of quickly returning to the studio for a follow up album, they released their first live album in 2004. Live in Manchester and Dublin documented parts of two Irish shows and included musical interpolations within Re-Foc songs of songs like “Fight Fire with Fire,” “Seven Nation Army,” “Master of Puppets,” and others.

The time spent on the road served the band well. They were able to sign with ATO Records, which included international distribution. By the time they returned to the studio in 2005, Ireland was ready for a new album, and much of the rest of the world was becoming interested in the band. They released their eponymous album in February 2006, and the album immediately debuted at #1 on the Irish charts, beating out many other well-known artists including Johnny Cash. The album also did well internationally, and their cover of “Stairway to Heaven” helped gain them an entrance to American audiences. They even were featured on MTV as an “up and coming” act.

Their touring range expanded greatly after the release of Rodrigo y Gabriela. They were able to play clubs both as an opening act and as a headliner throught Europe, the U.S., and even into Asia. They began playing festivals as well, exposing their music to an extremely receptive audience. They released their second live album, Live in Japan in 2008, which documents their first Japanese show. They played Rothbury 2008 immediately before Trey Anastasio’s set to a very large main stage audience. Upon first exposure to the band, the common thought of fans tended to be “I’ve never heard anything like this before.” When it comes to jam band fans and festival-goers, however, that’s almost always a positive, and it definitely was for Rodrigo y Gabriela.

In 2009, the band once again hit the studio. This time they seriously looked at how they could branch out from what they had been doing on their previous albums. The result was the diverse 11:11, an album that paid direct tribute to artists that influenced them. Each song was derived from an artist that the band admired, from classic rock legends like Santana, Hendrix, and Pink Floyd to a Spanish guitarist, a tango composer, and legendary heavy metal guitarist Dimebag Darryl from Pantera. The album was produced by John Leckie, who also worked with John Lennon, Pink Floyd and Radiohead. While Rodrigo y Gabriela helped launch the band’s international success,11:11 put them more in the eyes of America, resulting in performances on late-night TV, being used as bumper music during NFL broadcasts, and even performing for President Obama. The album included a whole new array of effects that the band hadn’t used before, and live performances included increased use of pedals and distortion from previous tours.

All of this touring coupled with Gabriela’s unique percussive playing style isn’t without its dangers. Due to their touring and aggressive playing, the band announced in 2010 that they will be taking some significant time off to allow Gabriela to recover physically from the strains of playing and touring. The duo only toured sporadically for the next couple of years, limiting their performances so that Gabriela could recover. They released a live album in 2011 as well as doing work on the soundtrack for the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. In 2012 they released Area 52, their first album that featured collaborative musicians. The album primarily featured reworkings of songs they had already recorded, backed by the Cuban orchestra C.U.B.A. By 2012 the duo had returned to a full touring schedule.

In 2014 a documentary on the band entitled For Those About to Rock: The Story of Rodrigo y Gabriela was released and premiered at SXSW. The band also released a new album around that time. 9 Dead Alive was a return to the sound of some of their earlier albums. The effects were dialed down and there was no array of guests complementing the album. The result was an album that put the focus back on the exceptional guitar work from the duo. Since that release the band has continued to balance a North American and European touring schedule to great success.

It’s not easy being very unique and also being able to appeal to a wide audience. Rodrigo y Gabriela are able to do that by taking a popular (although not mainstream) form of music in thrash metal and marrying that to other styles and genres, all within the confines of two acoustic guitars. For metal fans, their renditions of classic songs are instantly recognizable and very interesting, and their original music includes elements that metal fans can understand. For other music fans, the energy that comes from much of the heavy metal background is powerful and exciting but also accessible due to the other influences and the acoustic guitars. It’s an impressive accomplishment, and one that has allowed Rodrigo y Gabriela to enjoy a tremendous amount of success.



RIP John Barlow
Grateful Dead lyricist and collaborator John Barlow passed away this week. Barlow worked most closely with Bob Weir and penned many Dead tunes such as “Hell In A Bucket,” “Mexicali Blues,” “Cassidy,” “I Need A Miracle,” and “Estimated Prophet.” Barlow was 70 years old.

Lockn’ releases lineup
Lockn’ released their entire 2018 lineup this week. Along with Dead & Company playing two full nights, the festival will include Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Sheryl Crow, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, and many other bands. No word on any collaborative performances for 2018 at this point.

Camp Bisco 2018 lineup announced
The Disco Biscuits announced their 2018 Camp Bisco lineup. Along with 6 sets from The Disco Biscuits they’ll be bringing out Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, Lotus, STS9, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Papadosio, and plenty of other both live and electronic acts.

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead add dates
Along with being a regular on the festival scene this summer, JRAD announced a small number of tour dates. I’m sure they’ll be added to more events as lineups keep coming out.

July 14 Salt Lake City, UT – The Depot
July 19 Brooklyn, NY – Celebrate Brooklyn at Prospect Park
July 20 Boston, MA – Blue Hills Bank Pavilion
August 10 Seattle, WA – The Showbox
August 11 Eugene, OR – McDonald Theatre
August 12 Bend, OR – Athletic Club of Bend

Elephant Revival announce hiatus
Citing “family matters” Elephant Revival announced an indefinite hiatus this week. The band will play their upcoming festival commitments as well as their Red Rocks show in May, but they’ll be taking a break at that point. Violin player Bridget Law left the band this past fall, and the band had yet to announce a plan to replace her.


Winter WonderGrass
February 21-23
Steamboat Springs, CO
Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, Elephant Revival, Horseshoes & Handgrenades, Travelin’ McCoury’s, Fruition, Billy Strings

Suwannee Spring Reunion
March 22-25
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL
The Infamous Stringdusters, Donna the Buffalo, Larry Keel Experience, Dar Williams, Billy Strings, Amy Helm, The Grass is Dead

Winter Wondergrass Tahoe
April 6-8
Squaw Valley, CA
The Devil Makes Three, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Elephant Revival, The California Honeydrops, Steep Canyon Rangers, Fruition, The Lil’ Smokies

Wannee Festival
April 19-21
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL
Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Dark Star Orchestra, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, North Mississippi Allstars, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

Sweetwater 420 Festival
April 20-22
Centennial Park
Atlanta, GA
String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgill Simpson, Vulfpeck, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Papadosio, The Record Company, Spafford, Southern Avenue

April 26-29
Wilkes Community College
Wilkesboro, NC
Kris Kristofferson, Jamey Johnson, Sam Bush, The Devil Makes Three, Donna the Buffalo, The Way Down Wanderers, Wesley Bright & The Honeytones

Charm City Bluegrass Festival
April 27-28
Druid Hill Park
Baltimore, MD
The Devil Makes Three, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, The Steeldrivers, Jeff Austin Band, Billy Strings, Larry Keel Experience

May 17-19
Fort Royale Farm
Bedford, PA
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

May 24-27
Cumberland, MD
The Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, The Bluegrass Congress, Old Crow Medicine Show, David Grisman, Sam Bush, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, The Jerry Douglas Band, The Wood Brothers, Elephant Revival, Fruition, Billy Strings

Summer Camp
May 25-27
Three Sisters Park
Chillicothe, IL
moe., Umphrey’s McGee

Dark Star Jubilee
May 25-27
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
Dark Star Orchestra, Los Lobos, Infamous Stringdusters, Hot Tuna, The Nth Power, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Camp Greensky
May 31-June 2

Music on the Mothership
June 1-3
Taos, NM
moe., Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Rising Appalachia, Antibalas, Assembly of Dust, Fruition, Nicki Bluhm, Melvin Seals

June 7-10
Manchester, TN
Eminem, Muse, The Killers, Bassnectar, The Revivalists, Rebelution, STS9, Mavis Staples, Trombone Shorty, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Blue Ox Music Festival
June 14-16
Eau Claire, WI
Greensky Bluegrass, The Devil Makes Three, Sam Bush, Del McCoury Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Margo Price, Billy Strings

Mountain Jam
June 15-17
Hunter Mountain, NY
Jack Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, alt-J, The War On Drugs, Portugal. The Man, The Decembrists, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Rag n’ Bone Man, Turkuaz, The Record Company

Electric Forest Weekend 1
June 21-24
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Andy Frasco & The UN, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

Electric Forest Weekend 2
June 28-July 1
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Fruition, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

High Sierra
July 5-8
Quincy, CA
String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, Turkuaz, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Fruition, Spafford

Camp Bisco
July 12-14
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Lotus, Papadosio

The Ride Festival
July 14-15
Telluride, CO
The String Cheese Incident, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Something

Peach Festival
July 19-22
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dicky Betts, moe., Twiddle, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Blackberry Smoke, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon, The Main Squeeze,

Northwest String Summit
July 19-22
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Fruition, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers

July 25-29
Floyd, VA
Foster the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Hiss Golden Messenger

Element Music Festival
July 26-29
Snug Lake Ampitheatre
British Columbia
Lotus, Spafford, Particle

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crowe, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!