Justin Mather/Spirit Macaw
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Justin Mather/Spirit Macaw

Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Sheffield teacher & band reach out to the music world"

Thursday, May 11, By Nicole Dupont

GREAT BARRINGTON - Justin Mather of Housatonic was just getting his voice back.

On a breezy afternoon, the 26-year-old Berkshire native kicked back in a plastic lawn chair at Rubi's cafe and sipped on a paper cup filled with black coffee and two ice cubes.

"So I can drink it right now," he said in a quiet, gravelly voice, recovering from his most recent show at The Dream Away Lodge in Becket.

Together with his newly formed band, Spirit Macaw - they started jamming together six months ago - Mather crooned and picked to an eager crowd of friends, family and curious music goers last Saturday. Mather, who heads up the band with his mellow, tenor vocals, said he was amazed at how well the band came together despite being "such a new entity."

"We all met through friends mostly," Mather said. "We all come from similar music backgrounds, mostly classic rock: Neil Young, Cat Stevens, the Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, some blues in there, too."

With Mather on guitar, lead vocals and harmonica, Sam Crawford on lead guitar, Daniel Esko on bass and Rich Higgins on drums, Spirit Macaw has played at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury, the Pocket Knife Club in Lakeville, Club Helsinki in Great Barrington and Firefly in Lenox. While the four share a common love for classic rock and roll, there is another thread running through the band - devotion to their daytime activities.

Mather, who works full-time as a Spanish teacher at the Undermountain Elementary School and Mount Everett Regional High School, both in Sheffield, said that it might be his work that keeps his music going.

"I'm so busy at work that any free time I get is devoted to practicing with the band - getting gigs, doing publicity and just getting better. I think we're all like that. Everyone has a dream to pursue their creativity as their career. But going through my day, I learn more, see more and understand more because I'm around people constantly. Plus, my job gives me motivation to get my ass out of bed in the morning!"

While Mather is busy teaching language, Esko is a manager at the Co-op Market in Great Barrington and Higgins is assistant director at the Stockbridge golf course. Crawford - the band's youngest member - is gearing up for high school graduation in June.

Mather discovered the gifted guitarist two years ago at Mount Everett's school talent show.

"I heard Sam play, I guess he was 16 at the time, and he was really good! I mean really good," Mather recalled. "We started playing together, mostly just jamming, and found we liked the same music. And we've gone on from there."

In December, with Crawford's help and talent, Mather produced his first album, "One Pillow," at Off the Beat-n-Track Studios in Southfield. The result - a clean, laid back sound with a strong beat - is reminiscent of rock legend Cat Stevens with a hint of Simon & Garfunkel. And while the sound is a familiar one, the songs themselves are all originals that Mather has composed over the years. Often, the subject is love - the heartache, hope, and loneliness of it - set to an earthy lyricism that is Mather's own. Songs like "Hiding Your Eyes" and "Lindy I Wonder" recall both the height of love and its sad lows.

Though Mather's songs seem effortless in their composition, he said that writing songs is not nearly as neat.

"I can feel a song coming on, like a little theme in my head, sometimes when I'm driving or just in the middle of my day. It usually comes out in spurts, not just in one sitting," he said. "I try to get the rough ideas down, sometimes I pull over on the road and have to write it on the back of a bank receipt or something. It doesn't always happen that it's any good. Sometimes it has wings, sometimes it doesn't."

Mather said his songwriting and band experience originated at University of Massachusetts, where he earned a degree in Spanish and played with Tave Hu, the "campus band" that enjoyed a large student following in its height.

"I really learned how to play in a band with Tave Hu. I've been playing guitar since I was 13, but I learned to play better with them. That time was a springboard into the music business, a crash course, actually," he said grinning.

Mather said he learned his most important lesson while playing with Tave Hu.

"You can't have two bosses - two songwriters," he said. "It just doesn't work. We fought, we hated each other, we loved each other, and believe it or not, we still talk. It was a great time."

Mather said he looks forward to his future with Spirit Macaw and being part of the Berkshire music scene.

"There are not that many bands around here, or venues, but I can really see it starting to come alive again. People are interested in music, plain and simple."

For more information on Justin Mather and Spirit Macaw visit www.justinmather.com. "One Pillow" is available online or at Tune Street, White Knight Records, the Egremont General Store, Uncommon Grounds and the Music Store. Mather will next play a solo acoustic set Thursday, May 25, in the Mixed Company Showcase with Robert Oakes at the Mixed Company Theater on Rossetter Street in Great Barrington. Spirit Macaw will play Saturday, June 17, at the Dream Away Lodge in Becket from 8:30 to 11:30 p.m. - The Berkshire Advocate

"Nightlights: Mixed Company hosts song swap"

By Dave Madeloni, The Berkshire Eagle

Thursday, May 25
"Every person has that one thing that really gets them going, that gives them chills. For some people it's the perfect recipe, or the perfect 3-pointer, the sparkle in the students' eyes in the midst of a lesson, the lucrative business move, the capabilities of Microsoft Excel, or the power of a Nor'easter. Whatever the source, it keeps that person coming back for more, digging deeper and deeper to feel that way again."
Justin Mather, who fronts the band Spirit Macaw, gets those chills from the graceful simplicity and magic of a well-crafted song. "For me, listening to the perfect song brings that feeling. Neil Young has done this a hundred times for me. This is why I began writing songs. I wrote my first song towards the end of high school. It's been slow and steady since then."

Melissa Cartoun also caught the songwriting bug in high school — during a history class. The assignment was to bring in a recording of a song that had to do with war. "Everyone brought in their song and we went around the room sharing them." recalled Cartoun. "One girl in the class — the pretty/popular/artsy girl that I both hated and envied — pulled out her guitar and sang 'Zombie' by the Cranberries. I was floored! I remember watching her play and hearing her sing, and thinking 'I want to do that!!' "

Cartoun, who will join Mather, Sky Smeed and host Robert Oakes at tonight's song swap at The Mixed Company Theater in Great Barrington, went home that day and insisted that dad teach her some chords. That night she learned the G, C, and D.

"I learned to play 'Revolution' by Tracy Chapman first, then I taught myself a whole bunch of other chords, started writing my own songs." said the Somerville-based singer. "The rest is history!"

Oakes began his love affair with song as a kid, sitting in the dark with headphones on straining to make out the words of a well-written song, searching for a thread of universal connection.

"I knew this writer was trying to say something, to get something across that might mean something to me, and really I wanted to know what it was." he reminisced. "I guess I wanted to be affected. And I also wanted to know if this person felt or thought the way I did. I wanted to feel like I wasn't alone inside myself. "

As Oakes grew, his wish to reciprocate evolved through his own compositions.

"Music, for me, was a way to connect. As I began to feel these connections through other people's songs, I started to feel drawn to reply, to somehow send a return message, and that's when I started to write about what I was thinking and feeling."

The longing for connection through

song started early in life for Smeed as well.

"I loved music the first time I heard it! It probably helped that my parents were always playing Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Hank Williams. Real country music has influenced much of my songwriting. I'm still figuring out my way of connecting with a group of people, but I think it's important not to seem distant. Connecting with an audience is almost frightening when I realize that I'm in control." - The Berkshire Eagle


Justin Mather / One Pillow
Released 1/2006


Feeling a bit camera shy


THE Biography of JUSTIN MATHER - Like his guitar collection, the singer/songwriter/guitar player Justin Mather’s colorful repertoires of songs, styles, and musical skills and knowledge are as fascinating to behold as they are anxiously played by the always-curious 27-year-old. It was Mather’s father who first introduced him to music, nesting the infant Justin on his lap as he plucked his banjo. Through the years, Mather learned saxophone, bass, whistle, harmonica, along with cultivating the instrument with which he both lulls the angels and conjures the devil—his voice. His musical roots grow deep into the rich soil of the area’s local talent, who he has joined forces with over the years, including the esteemed Steve Ide, Jordan Loder, Aaron Scapin, Sky Smeed, Max MaxVeetey, Jon Suters and Sam Crawford. Playing at venues as diverse as the Skybox at the Umass campus in Amherst, to Café Abba in Worcester, Helsinki in Great Barrington, the Old Egremont Club Tavern, to the White Hart in Salisbury Connecticut, Justin’s songs are known by heart to many among the local crowds, hundreds of whom own at least one of his several albums. The widening gyre of Justin’s experience took a prodigious step forward when he joined the band “Tave Hu,” with whom he sang lead vocals, played lead guitar, and wrote music for over five years. But perhaps the most telling marks on Justin’s guitars result from his strumming travels around the world, where the ever-exploring Mather has gleaned eclectic sounds and inspiration to write nearly 100 songs. Whether it is hitchhiking across the longitude of Chile, escaping a life-threatened situation in Morocco, or watching the silver fish rise to the surface of the great Mediterranean, it seems that Justin, in what must be an almost pre-cognitive state, whips out his pen and pad, nests his guitar in his lap, and writes songs that invite the listener to the very experience itself. Indeed, like Blake he writes songs of both innocence and experience. JUSTIN MATHER, like his guitar collection, is both a local, and a foreigner. Through a life which has cultivated musicianship—first at home, then locally, and ultimately internationally—JUSTIN has been able to develop a means of expression free from the fetters of a musician with technical scrupulousness. The rich rhythms of South America mingle with the fresh waters of the Housatonic River in Mather’s music. The stories he tells in song engage those who hear him play. The only disappointment of a Mather show is the announcement that his set is over. -David Buchalter Poet Laureate

My band Spirit Macaw is Daniel Esko on Bass, Sam Crawford on lead guitar and Richie Higgins on drums.

Daniel Esko The former bass player of the Rev Tor Band, Daniel's bass notes have ricocheted their way into thousands of ears. Through his Great Red Rickenboker, Daniel produces rich bass tones upon which Mather’s songs sit, like a rocking ship, steadied by the soft sand of shore. Through carefully selected inside and outside-the-box ideas, Daniel’s bass lines are entire compositions that keep careful listeners pumped! At times, he’ll proudly announce that his bass lines are reminscent of McCartney’s. With or without a pick, Daniel’s foundation will smile upon anyone who will listen.