When meeting Freevolt front man Michael Bernier, he comes off as the chillest guy on the planet. The positivity of the dreadlocked and smiling singer, songwriter, guitarist and musical entrepreneur is contagious. So much that he ‘s in demand as a motivational speaker, appearing at up to 75 events a year.
Here’s the thing, though; Bernier is one of the busiest guys around. One minute, he’s booking talent; in a myriad of clubs like Metzy’s Cantina and Michael’s Harborside in his hometown of Newburyport, where he also recruits talent for the annual Yankee Homecoming celebration.
Then there’s Evolvement Music, a syndicated web show he hosts weekly with an equally upbeat supporting cast. It moved from radio to all video this year, and is one of the regional music scene’s most vital concerns, welcoming new talent to perform live in the studio and spreading the word about new releases and upcoming events.
His band released a new album, Open Up Your Door, in January. Bernier followed that up in May with “Feel The Sunshine,” a duet single with Toft Willingham of Spiritual Rez. The song’s lyrics reflect Bernier’s ebullient optimism. “It feels so good to be alive,” he sings. “With a vision, a mission, a goal in sight you will always feel the sunshine.”
Bernier is always searching for the next project. “Once I find something and figure out how to manage it, I’m immediately looking for something else,” he said as he sipped an IPA at a sidewalk table in Newburyport, his hometown. “Ultimately, everything I’m doing is part of trying to make the world a better place.”
Freevolt formed after Bernier dissolved his previous band The Uprising, and left the country to live in the jungle to collect his thoughts for a while. He returned more committed to being a musician, and began recruiting like-minded players to join his cause – and it is a cause.
The five-man band now does 80 shows a year. That’s less than previous years, but Freevolt is doing it with more success; the results of working smarter, not harder. “We eliminated the bar room situation, so now we’re playing legitimate venues or outside,” Bernier said. “Music friendly places.”
One long-term project is booking the live music at Newburyport Brewing, including the Funk and Jam Out Festival, returning for its fifth year on Saturday, Sept. 8. The all-day show’s formula is well established; Bernier finds a headliner with a jammy bent, his own band provides support, and local performers fill out the bill.
This year features NYC favorites Consider the Source, a band Freevolt met on the festival circuit. “I’m trying to define what is funk and what is jam and they’re total jam, but unique,” he said. “There’s a science to it, it’s super technical, and they do it.” Also playing bill is Quadrafunk, a South Shore quartet with a bio claiming they’re “fueled by grilled cheese and funk butter,” along with jazz jam veterans Amorphous Band.
Freevolt will provide a solid helping of funk; with the addition of guitarist Nicco Centofanti three years ago, and saxophone player Jonathan Bousquet who joined last year, the quintet is playing tighter than ever. The new disc features layers of soul atop the band’s roots, rock and reggae sound, along with passages of almost progressive jazz-fusion from the dexterous Centofanti.
“He can do everything,” Bernier said. “ He’s really into as many notes as you can fit onto the grid. He views it as technical math. It’s a real thing, I wasn’t aware of it … he can fill it in instead of playing quarter notes.” The results from the Berklee trained shredder are Zappa-esque in complexity.
Bousquet’s horn playing propels “Pound of Love,” a crowd favorite that’s introduced with a double entendre that would make Bob Marley smile. “I start off like I’m telling a serious story about being out on the street selling pounds,” Bernier said with smile. “It gets quiet and they’re like, ‘he’s talking about weed?’ and I say, ‘of love’ and it’s like the record skips.”
That’s consistent with Bernier’s “good good” philosophy. “We never have enough love,” he said. “We always gotta re-up our supply.”
Funk & Jam Out Festival
When: Saturday, Sept. 8, 12 p.m.
Where: Newburyport Brewing Company, 4 New Pasture Road, Newburyport
Tickets: $10 for 21+ (kids free) at fajo.brownpapertickets.com