There’s a lot of banjos and fiddles each year at Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. There’s plenty of acoustic guitars too – after all, it’s a celebration of Americana Roots music and it seems the bands who bring traditional mountain music, amped with an extra dose of hill-folk honesty are gathering momentum today across all ages. Nothing wrong with that either – it’s a nostalgic throwback mixed with old school bluegrass that makes this trend so popular – the festival is now in its 13th year.

That’s why the music of JV Squad may have been a little out of place.

Sure there was a little country, a lot of bluegrass, even some blues music echoing through the streets of Bristol this year, but that didn’t stop JV Squad from spreading a little old school R&B at the State Line Bar and Grille.

JV Squad is a new band in the Tri-Cities that features Jared and Vanessa Bentley – the band’s namesake. I’ve been playing music with Jared for a number of years. Ever since I heard his powerful white-boy soul voice with Yukon some ten years ago, I’ve been amazed by his honest and distinctive talent.

There’s only one person in East Tennessee that can go toe-to-toe with Jared’s voice – and he married her a little over four years ago.

Vanessa Bentley was the blond vixen that set the blues scene abuzz several years ago when she fronted the band ‘Blue Rapture.’ They were one of the most popular blues acts in the area playing sold-out audiences around the region.

When Jared and Vanessa got married, we all wondered what it be like for both of them to share the stage – now we know and it’s unforgettable.

The bad thing about playing the State Line Bar and Grille during Bristol Rhythm and Roots on a Saturday night is college football. It’s hard for me to remember the number of times I’ve loaded in my gear for a performance here while the Vols and the Gators duke it out on national television. My first memory of Jared and I hanging out together was in this bar and yes – during a UT/Florida game. He made quite an impact that night too – yelling “Go Gators” to a room that bottomed out to a pin-drop til he laughed out loud at their attention.

The Festival was in full swing Saturday. That’s the most crowded nights for the festival that continues to grow each year. The David Mayfield Parade was playing the Piedmont stage and people were shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets as he rolled back and forth across the stage. Fortunately, one of the security guys helped me park in a side lot behind State Street to unload my gear.

Working my way through the narrow maze in the back, it was tricky dodging staff who were rolling beer kegs in like mortar rounds in the heat of battle. The crowd inside was thick and the music, the reverie and the energy was peaking like the temperature.

Over the past several years, the Stateline has been a difficult stage to play, mainly because the room is setup so that the stage plays to the short wall. It’s a long bar and the band plays across the hall and sometimes it’s hard to control the sound as it bounces back and forth. There have been several times where we’ve all shook our heads thinking better luck next time and plenty of the local musicians know what I’m talking about.

However…this year, it was a real pleasure and cool relief to spot one of the area’s best audio engineers, Keith Smith throwing back his broad grin from across the room. We’re both real good at the burly bro hug and we grabbed each other while the people in the room looked on. Keith is an amazing soul and his expertise at entertaining and managing a band’s sound out front is hard to beat.

One of the things that’s different about JV Squad for the moment is the instrumentation. We don’t have a guitar player. That’s an unusual attribute that allows the music to open up and be a bit more lose for the soulful, Americana sound we’re striving for. Lance McCloud is one of the region’s most calm, subtle and surprising bass players whose capable of filling the room with a basement stability while moored to the constant pocket provided by Mike Sams on drums. Together, they build a chain link rhythm section that allows for open experimentation for me as a keyboardist and plenty of room for Jared and Vanessa to focus on their vocals and harmonies out front.

It was hot in the State Line on Saturday night and standing room only. The stage was set, the monitors were working and after a few riffs of Rocky Top (cheeky yes) and a few funky grooves to wash away the taste, JV Squad was wide open with ‘You Met Your Match.’

It wasn’t long into the first set that our good friend and former drummer with Clear, Willie Simpson glided to the front of the stage and sat down a shot of Tequila below my keyboard. The golden liquid was vibrating underneath the fresh lemon and after the first set and a nice round of applause, the tequila was history. The trouble – it didn’t take long for another to show up…magically.

When you’re on stage, you can read an audience by the latency between the end of a song and the response. The longer the response, the more forgettable the band is – at least that’s my perception. Fortunately, in this case, it seemed the crowd enjoyed our set of R&B music which proceeded with a set list that included Eli Paperboy Reed, Marvin Gaye, Grace Potter, Mark Broussard and even an old Pointer Sisters classics.

Keith Smith was sporting a wide smile looking at the stage and tweaking the knobs on the sound board while Vanessa began to reach her altitude of soaking rich blues. She was dressed in a gorgeous dress and although you’d be puzzled at her nervous workout before the show began, she was comfortable, amazing and set the tone for the one hour set.

Together with Lance and Mike, I believe we had one of our best sets in a long time and the crowd seemed pleased as the stage was crowded with dancers as we started to roll out a banquet of soul, funk and a dash of latin before the night was over.

So JV Squad came to Bristol and called timeout for a short set at the State Line. We had a blast and look forward to where these new songs and the new vibe take us next – The Borderline on September 28th and 620 State on October 6th.

Thanks to everyone – especially our friends Keith Smith, Willie and Angie Simpson and we’ll look forward to our next musical pool party!