By Katie Gile, Staff Writer
Bundled fair-goers shuffling between the World’s Largest Pig exhibit to a slightly sketchy Ferris wheel were treated to the dulcet, entrancing sound of Robin Rütenberg & Friends at the Jacksonville Agricultural Fair Nov. 6.
One of several Jacksonville bands featured in the CW-17 series, the band performed in a noon time slot to a small but steadily building crowd. As the performance continued, more patrons joined the audience to enjoy the part-blues, part-folk and nearly indescribable music.
The self-described indie-folk band maintains its ethereal sound with a focus on movement and sway as front-woman and band namesake Robin Rütenberg, a UNF alumuna, put it. To keep it gentle and clean, the music is composed of deliberate parts for each of its members, she said.
“We try to make everything purposeful. We’re not just jamming out,” Rütenberg said. “We want everyone’s part to be unique without being showy.”
Rütenberg is a former solo artist who brings guitar, mandolin, tambourine, vocals and the occasional flute skills to the plate. As she built a reputation as a performer throughout Jacksonville for the past five years, she also earned bachelor’s degrees in international business and economics from UNF in 2010.
Before receiving an invitation to perform at the fair, Rütenberg applied to a months-long wait for YourJax Music, another CW-17 program that showcases Jacksonville bands and artists.
“[CW-17] just messaged us out of the blue about this show,” Rütenberg said. “I was really excited just because it’s a crowd we don’t normally play for. It feels good to test the waters and get out of your comfort zone.”
Bassist Quinn Mellon was also excited to perform at the fair.
“We have really accessible music and a very accessible sound,” Mellon said. “It’s the nature of our music that lets us bring some of that comfort with us.”
At roughly 5 months old, the band is running smoothly and building momentum, Mellon said. Prior to the show at the fair, the band performed at venues such as Freebird Live in Jacksonville Beach and the Underbelly in Five Points.
Mellon attributes these quickly building opportunities to Rütenberg’s reputation throughout the city.
“Our first real show was at Freebird, and we had a good-sized crowd. That was a big deal for us to start at such a big venue,” Mellon said.
He said the band’s second-largest show was at Underbelly’s closing with an audience of 200.
The band is quick to take advantage of every chance, with members donating time, money and awesomeness, as pianist and cellist Naarah Strokosh said.
“Summer [Wood, the band’s percussionist] does great things graphically, and Robin’s a really effective networker,” Mellon said. “It’s nice to have that motivation and use our talents to help the band and not just ourselves.”
Wood, a UNF graphic design senior, designed the band’s website, T-shirts, flyers, prints and its soon-to-be signature symbol.
“Everything looks really professional, really legit,” Rütenberg said. “If I were to tell someone that we’ve only been playing for about four or five months together, they’d look at me like I was crazy.”
Strokosh was the final piece of the puzzle, who Rütenberg met through a mutual friend. A Full Sail alumnus with an audio engineering and business degree and trained at Lawrence University conservatory, Strokosh brings both business and artistic sense to the band.
“After we met Naarah, it all fell together,” Rütenberg said. “It was really perfect.”
Beside her instrumental and monetary contributions to the band, Strokosh designs looks and costumes for the band. Her most recent project was a Halloween appearance where the group dressed as the Black Eyed Peas.
Rütenberg said the presence of her multitalented band mates both encourages her to maintain the band and to help it grow.
“When I was a solo artist, I didn’t worry so much about not following through on certain things,” Rütenberg said. “But now, I can’t just give up. I have the band to consider, and that keeps me going.”
The band continues to build a following, by performing night shows at venues across Jacksonville.
Its next endeavor is the recording of “Sea Legs,” the band’s first EP. The quintet launched a “Kickstart” campaign, which will allow fans and friends of the band to donate funds to create it. If the band makes its $1,000 goal a reality, donaters are given incentives such as free downloads of the EP, Rütenberg said.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” she said. “We’re over halfway there, and it’s only been online for seven days.”
WANNA HEAR MORE?
For more information on Robin Rutenberg & Friends, check out robinrutenberg.com and to support their upcoming EP, check out dft.ba/-15lb.