The Devil Makes Three comes home thirsty and ready to rock
When a band invites you to “stomp, smash, slash, crash, bash, bust and burn,” coming out alive doesn’t seem like an option. But nothing could be further from the truth as The Devil Makes Three shows have nothing to do with violence and everything to do with a rollicking good time.
Flat-picking guitarist and vocalist Pete Bernhard, intricately tattooed guitarist/tenor banjo player Cooper McBean, and hearty stand-up bassist Lucia Turino—who supplies ample bottom end, thus eliminating the need for a drummer—are the holy hellfire trio of The Devil Makes Three. Having formed in Santa Cruz in 2002, the threesome has been leaving a trail of brimstone behind at festivals like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and Outside Lands—setting crowds on fire with their unique blues-infused punk/ragtime/Americana amalgam.
Childhood friends, Bernhard and McBean spent freezing winters in Vermont, holed up at their parents’ homes, strumming acoustic guitars. From the road in South Carolina, Bernhard fondly remembers his youth. “You spend a lot of time indoors and have to be creative to entertain yourself,” he says. Years later, the warmer winters of California beckoned and the two chums found themselves stranded during a Northwest tour when their truck broke down. Luckily for them, and us, they were rescued by friend and UC Santa Cruz student Turino who soon joined the band. Call it kismet, call it chance, but the talented triad synched and has been performing ever since.
It might be a stretch to suggest that America is going through a time similar to the dustbowl era of the Great Depression, but The Devil Makes Three’s exponential rise in popularity, as things get worse in our country, begs comparison. Like Woody Guthrie, The Devil Makes Three has been wandering through the country and capturing in song the struggles of farmers, workers and families. “You get a sense of how tough things are traveling through a lot of small towns in America,” says Bernhard. “Of course, when people are having a hard time they want to go out and see a show. So we get people coming out even when things are not so good. We see a lot of people traveling around looking for work. We see a lot of abandoned closed businesses.”
Like Guthrie, social activism is paramount to the band. “We really try to do benefit shows whenever we can,” says Bernhard. “We just did a big benefit show in Vermont for the damage done by Hurricane Irene where we raised $10,000.” Locally, when the FCC raided Radio Free Santa Cruz in 2004, The Devil Makes Three was there to help the station raise money to buy new equipment. “Our main source of helping out is benefit shows,” he adds. “It’s the tradition of folk music, and I am always happy to continue and keep it alive.”
Like Tom Waits on trucker crank, the band pours fourth ballads about drinking, Davy Jones’ locker, driving, graveyards, and more drinking. Amidst an ever-changing background of honky-tonk joints, road signs, and rowdy crowds, time to write new material is tight, but sought after. “Usually before the shows and during sound check is when we try out new songs,” says Bernhard. “We definitely make an effort to write new material as we travel, which is hard, but we’ve been doing it on this tour. I always write all the lyrics, but when we do the music, Cooper and Lucia are very much a part of the arrangements and how the songs come together.”
As the band gains recognition, new horizons have opened and the future is looking bright. “Opening for Flogging Molly is going to be a really great mix, and we’re going to cities we’ve never been before, like Detroit,” says Bernhard. “Black Joe Lewis is also on the bill—he’s like a soul throwback thing—amazing.”
Bernhard and Turino now live in a sleepy little Vermont town. and McBean calls Austin, Texas home. Known internationally, The Devil Makes Three is always quick to point out that they are proud to be a Santa Cruz band. “KPIG was a huge help for us and DJ Sleepy John as well—we definitely owe them a lot,” says Bernhard. “The first big show we ever played was the KPIG Swine Parade in Watsonville. It was a great show with us, Todd Snider, Jackie Greene, and a bunch of other people—Santa Cruz has always been incredibly supportive.”
The Devil Makes Three plays at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 30 and Saturday, Dec. 31, at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets to Friday’s show are $20/25. Tickets to Saturday’s show are $35/40. For more information, call 423-1338. Photo: Max Blau