Family Tree
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Family Tree

Norfolk, Virginia, United States | SELF

Norfolk, Virginia, United States | SELF
Band Rock Jam




"New Sounds from Family Tree"

December 2010 Magazine33 Virginia, Hampton Roads, Rock

By Correspondent: Ryan Mason Thu, Dec 02, 2010
Photos by Michael Bailey.

Portsmouth - The air of Gosport Tavern was cheerful on this Friday night. Smiling faces line the intricately designed interior, talking and drinking merrily. As soon as Family Tree takes the stage, now familiar with the venue, they simply introduce themselves by playing one of their well known tracks, “Eyes to See”. The song is a good introduction to the band - very serious but still a bit loose musically to allow them to explore the sound established on the studio track. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Derek Smith carries the song with his heartfelt vocals and acoustic guitar, backed up by his cousin Kevin Turner on electric guitar. Alex Clark carefully keeps the beat, and Kevin “Calvin” Johnson thumps along on his five-string bass as they move into the second, more lighthearted track.

As I take a moment to look away from the band, I notice that the bustling crowd I had once seen was now unusually quiet, and all of their heads were rubbernecking like a drug dealer who saw a donut shop while doing sixty in a forty-five. If being unable to talk easily was a hindrance for the customers, they certainly showed no regrets as they began to bob and weave to the music, some of the regulars even singing along with them. The overall atmosphere was enhanced - if one were to look inside the tavern from the cold night, they would be greeted with an odd sense of unity among the people, old and young.

The most entertaining part of Family Tree’s live show was the wide variety of sound your aural sensors will be graced with. If there’s one thing you can guarantee when coming out to see them, it is that you will never be annoyed with hearing the same-sounding song five times in a row. Calvin uses his extra string well, while Alex’s deceptive drumming lives on the razor's edge of precision. With every crash of the cymbals or every beat of the bass drum, he unconsciously shows joy in his facial expressions, making it an equal joy to see him play.
As the set goes on, I detect the slightest hint of funk before Family Tree creates a waterfall of it to overwhelm and entertain. Johnson naturally turns up his bass for this one, and Derek wails on a harmonica during an interlude. Kevin responds in kind with an amazing guitar solo, starting off fast before dragging his notes out and building up tensions before unleashing a flurry of tapping, and then picks up a shaker just because he can. Turns out he was hyping up Calvin, who responds with some impressive slap bass. Derek then finishes off the jam with another striking acoustic solo, falling to his knees as his body shakes with passion, compelling the crowd to “keep movin’ on.”
As the night goes on Family Tree amazes with an eclectic palette, spreading their sound over a wide variety of genres. “The Job” expresses an artist’s frustration at being unable to convey his message or emotion, and Derek asks the crowd in one of his lyrics, “Sometimes a song/Just doesn’t cut it/Or does it?” Meanwhile, other songs explore distinct Latin influences, such as “The Incredible Fred”, an instrumental that the band jams with live. You can tell they have a lot of fun with it, as the track on the album is barely a minute and a half long, while the live version can go on for much longer. “Before the Weekend” has a sort of Dave Matthews vibe to it, but they definitely have their own take on things, especially in the solo sections where the guitarist and violinist interweave perfectly. Even the covers are widespread, as throughout the night they played “All Along the Watchtower” (which melted right into the ending of “Stairway to Heaven”), “Say It Ain’t So”, “Fire on High”, “Billie Jean”, and ended the night with a powerful rendition of “War Pigs”. “Fire on High” was particularly exceptional since Kevin had to play the fast intro and violin parts on his guitar, and he absolutely killed it.
33: So where did the name Family Tree originate from?
Kevin “Calvin” Johnson: Remember we all made a list?
Derek Smith: We had a list, yeah.
KJ: It wasn’t first on anybody’s list, but it was on all of them.
DS: Yeah, it basically branched off an old name. There was a band a couple of us were in before called Round Tree, and we were trying to come up with a name for our new band. It wasn’t even the same sound or anything - a bunch of us just got together, and we ended up keeping some of the songs, so we decided to call it Family Tree. The name is appropriate because myself, Calvin on bass, and our drummer Andy at the time - Andy was my little brother and his first cousin. We’re all first cousins, so we’re all family, you know what I mean? Andy passed in 2004. That’s the show we’re doing in January. It’s a tribute memorial show for the new year.
33: What keeps you guys here after twelve years of being in Virginia?
DS: We just love - Magazine33

"Family Tree: Roots Run Deep"

Words Aaditya
Friday, January 7th, 2011 at 12:31 pm
Since 1998 Family Tree has had what bands strive for: staying power.

After 13 years, several line-up changes, and the passing of an original member, they are still tearing it up all over the 757, with no signs of slowing down.

They have been featured on WHRV, 96X, and former progressive rock station, The Coast. The boys have graced the stage of the NorVa many times over, performing with the likes of Toots and the Maytals, Steel Pulse, The Temptations, Fighting Gravity, and even opened at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater for alternative reggae rockers 311 and hip hop’s finest live band, The Roots.

Andy Performing at VA Beach Amp. | Family Tree Facebook
The original line-up was an eight-piece group that included Derek Smith on guitar with younger brother Andy Smith kicking it on the drums – a group ready to take the mid-Atlantic jam scene by storm. Along with Kevin Johnson (first cousin to Derek and Andy) on bass, Kevin “Mink” Turner and Mike Johnston on guitars, flutist Jason Winters, Zach Klecka on electric violin, and Anthony Lomonaco on percussion, they were a group that David Todd, previously of Portfolio Magazine once wrote, “The result is a virtually flawless ensemble with infinite possibilities.”

Infinite indeed, as their influences are varied as far and wide as any musical schizophrenic’s mind could take you, from Bad Brains to Zappa, Coltrane to Wilco, Gogol Bordello to Portishead, and David Bowie to Burning Spear. Insane, right?

Those possibilities might have come to an end on a tragic night in December 2004, when Andy Smith passed away while at home in Norfolk, VA. But with time marching on, and a brotherhood of musicians formed from an early age, Derek, Mink, and Kevin have pulled through to carry on the music of Family Tree in the only way they know how: spreading their roots.

Music can be so many things, sometimes all at once: your escape, your salvation, your happiness, your friend, and in this case, even family.

As we approach their Annual Andy Smith Tribute this Saturday, January 8, at 37th and Zen, I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Derek Smith about Andy, the history of Family Tree, and where they’re headed next.

AltDaily: How did Family Tree get started? I assume you and your brother were playing together previously, or were you guys in different bands prior to forming Family Tree?

Derek Smith: Andy and I started playing together when I was twelve and he was eight. We started a band called RELEASE with Kevin Johnson (our bassist now) when Andy was ten and I was fourteen. Mike Johnston was in that one too, by the way. Two years later Andy joined a side project band called RoundTree that I was in with Kevin Turner (our guitarist now) and then in 1998 Kevin Turner, Andy and I started Family Tree with Kevin Johnson, Zach Klecka, Anthony Lomonaco, Jason Winters and Mike Johnston.

Starting Young | Family Tree Facebook
I know Jason and Mike aren’t with you guys anymore. What happened with them?

Jason and Mike both just left on good terms, they just had other things going on in life. Jason played with Kevin Turner for a while in The Chillharmonic Orchestra and Mike just had a lot of personal stuff going on (four kids will keep you busy.) Jason plays the flute and Mike plays guitar and sings. We had a keyboardist, Chris Rhees with us for a little while. He’s a great guy! And Zach Klecka (electric violin) still plays with us off and on, he’s just been really busy with work recently.

Nice, just wanted to make sure it wasn’t some of that VH1 Behind the Music drama, ha! Anyhow, it looks like you and Andy got started playing at a young age. Was there a lot of music in the house growing up? Were you always on guitar and Andy on drums or did you guys play other instruments as well?

There was definitely a lot of music in the house… my parents played the Beatles a lot. They got us into music when we were really young. We both studied piano starting around age six. Andy studied cello for a while when he was about eight I guess (around the same time he started playing drums), then we were both in the school band. He played drums and percussion and I worked my way through cornet [trumpet], baritone and then eventually settled on tuba, which I played my freshman year of high school in the marching band.

Can you describe one of your earliest musical memories you shared with Andy? What kind of music were you guys playing and listening to as kids?

We (RELEASE) played in mine and Mike’s junior high school talent show. Andy came up from the elementary school and Kevin Johnson and Charlie Schmitt came down from the high school. It was pretty sweet. We were rock stars for a little while. Andy and I listened to a lot of heavy stuff. First the glam stuff (Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses) then we got into stuff like Slayer, Megadeth, Metallica, GWAR, etc. But around high school, we all started -

"Hear & Now"

Deep-rooted in the '70s: Move over Dave Matthews Band. "The Job," from Family Tree's new five-song CD EP, would fit right in on any Matthews album, only the piece is stronger than most of the Charlottesville quintet's tunes. No kidding.
All tracks on "Silver Lining" are impressive. While the violin-led arrangements of "Before the Weekend" and "Waiting for the Day" resemble prog rock, pre-"Leftoverture" Kansas, the Latin beat and melodic guitar melody on "The Incredible Fred" recall Santana.
Kudos to Brad Rosenberg at Clay Garden Studio in Norfolk for the first-rate production work.
The CD is available at the band's shows, Web site, and at CD Baby.

-Jeff Maisey - The Virginian-Pilot


Family Tree (self-titled LP) released in 2003
Family Tree (Silver Lining EP) released in 2005

Available at



With roots in just about every musical genre, and focusing lyrically on personal growth and today's most vital issues-Family Tree has evolved into a driving force of reassuring positivity as well as dissent. Formed in 1998, the members of the band have been working passionately since day one to keep these central ideas in mind along every step of the way. With the release of their first full-length album in November of 2003 and their critically acclaimed EP, Silver Lining in 2005, Family Tree is undoubtedly ready to expand its reach and gain the attention of new and unexpecting listeners.

Family Tree consists of: Derek Smith-acoustic and electric guitars and vocals; Kevin Johnson-bass; Alex Clark-drums and vocals and Kevin Turner-electric guitar and vocals. "The result is a virtually flawless ensemble with infinite possibilities"-David Todd of Portfolio Weekly Magazine.

At it's conception, Family Tree was an eight-piece group including guitarist Mike Johnston, flutist Jason Winters, violinist Zach Klecka, percussionist Anthony Lomonaco and original drummer, Andy Smith (brother to Derek Smith and first cousin to Kevin Johnson.) Mike and Jason left the band, respectively, to pursue other musical avenues, but remain great friends to Family Tree. On December 16 of 2004, Andy tragically passed away at his home in Norfolk, VA. The band continued on, in honor of his memory and for all that they had worked for over the past seven years with Anthony Lomonaco behind the drum kit. Anthony has now moved on to pursue personal goals in life after helping to lift Family Tree to new heights and reach new audiences with their music.

Over the past thirteen years, Family Tree has received a large amount of attention and has gathered an extremely diverse following in and around their home area of Hampton Roads, Virginia. The band has been featured on the area's public radio station-WHRV, the former progressive rock station-The Coast, modern-rock leader 96X and has been positively reviewed many times by Ninevolt Magazine, once the premier music magazine for the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas of Virginia.

Family Tree has received numerous honors including:

2001-Ninevolt Magazine Award nomination

2003-Ninevolt Magazine Award nomination

2004-Winner: Ninevolt Magazine Battle of the Bands
Winner: Ninevolt Magazine Jam Band of the Year
Winner: Ninevolt Magazine Drummer of the Year
Portfolio Magazine Best Rock Band of the Year nomination

2005-Winner: Portfolio Magazine Jam Band of the Year
Winner: Alpha Xi Delta Battle of the Bands
Portfolio Magazine Album of the Year nomination for Silver Lining

Family Tree has shared the stage with:

Steel Pulse
The Roots
Toots and the Maytals
The Temptations
Fighting Gravity
The Movement

Family Tree has shown its staying power through consistent audience response at many venues and has performed once at the Virginia Beach Amphitheater and numerous times at the prestigious NorVA Theater in downtown Norfolk.