Touring its way through Atlanta since 2005, one of the many musical acts featured at the Atlanta Jewish Life Festival Jan. 26 is Webster, with a jam-band feeling and some classic hits. The band formed when guitarists Bill Chanler and Byron Alterman teamed up.
“I moved from San Francisco Bay Area the year before and was looking for other musicians to play with. Through social media I found some like-minded musicians, in particular Byron,” Chanler said. “We were the first two and later that year we found our bass player [Roger Krystopa].”
The band’s name belonged to an unusual character they met after a late practice in 2005.
“Webster Humpage,” Chandler said. “We dropped the last name after the first year since it sounded a bit weird to people, but he made an impression on us.”
From there they tried out a few keyboardists and drummers over the years, but since adding Diane Rabson and Jay Smith respectively, the band has been together in its current iteration for about six years.
“We’re a fusion of many different types of music, but at our core we’re a jam band style group,” Chanler said. “We play Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, but we also mix in some R&B and some reggae, whether that’s Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Rolling Stones – we’ll throw in a Prince song here and there.”
Chanler added that the band follows the philosophy behind a Grateful Dead performance.
“We’ve got two sets of music and like to string together songs and make a show out of it rather than just a bunch of individual numbers,” he said.
Their following is also a unique combination, as emcee Steve Grossman described it, “a little bit Jewish and a little bit hippie.”
“Yeah, three of five of us are Jewish, and for whatever reason, as a longtime Deadhead myself, that music tracks and has a strong Jewish foundation,” Chanler said. “It is nondenominational, but just the connections that we have, yeah I think we have a decent Jewish following.”
The group, playing the AJLF for the first time this year, is no stranger to festivals.
“We’ve played the Candler Park Music Festival since the event started; we’ve opened every Saturday each year,” Chanler said. “We really like the festivals and we tend to get invited back to a lot of those gigs year after year.”
The band is especially active intown, and also plays at the Lake Claire Community Land Trust and several neighborhood events each year.
“Every year we get a little bit more in terms of word of mouth and outreach,” he said. “Every year we’re adding more venues in greater Atlanta, and we probably average about 15 to 20 gigs a year.”
What about festival atmospheres, in particular, keep the band excited? Chanler said he thinks their music really resonates with a crowd.
“It’s a very rudimentary thing, a tangible energy,” he said. “Kids identify with us. The structure of music that we’re playing is verse-chorus. … It’s melodic music and easy to grasp on to. It’s a very organic energy and it’s a fun experience when people come and see us; I love the interaction.”
In addition, the chance to reach an audience that may never have heard of them or their music before is a boon at festivals.
“We love to expose ourselves to a new audience — I mean we have a decent-sized following of regulars that know us and see us — but the festivals typically allow us to spread our wings and grow organically,” he said. “We love sharing a stage with other musicians and sharing our music with them and vice versa.”