From Sun Magazine: Something to celebrate

Eschewing labels and downloads, Baltimore indie band Celebration focuses on what it does best — performing live

  • Katrina Ford of Celebration performs at the Celebration album release show at the 2640 Space.
Katrina Ford of Celebration performs at the Celebration album… (Josh Sisk, Baltimore Sun )
March 25, 2011|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

Halfway through their recent show at 2640 Space, Celebration parted the sky.

Giant white orbs already hovered over the crowd, and lightning-like flashes bathed the stage in red and purple and back to red again.

But now clouds bounced from side to side, like beach balls.

Singer Katrina Ford, in a slip of a dress, red curls cascading over her face, had just burst from backstage, microphone in hand, and flung bouquets of white balloons into the crowd.

Unlike other bands whose work might be minimalist or tortured, Celebration maximizes. They don't just get on stage and play. Their shows are multisensory experiences that invite a giddy, party atmosphere. Recently, they've been doing themed shows.

"We go to all these lengths because it's a special occasion. We don't play that often," Ford says. "The name is Celebration. We have to live up to that name."

This one wasn't taking place just on just any stage, for starters. But inside St. John's of Baltimore, the 110-year-old church on St. Paul Street.

With a team of some 10 to 15 people, they spent two days decorating the church's stripped-down interior with a cloud motif. During the show, birds were projected flying on the lofty ceiling.

There was even fluffy cotton candy for sale.

The show was in honor of their new album, "Hello Paradise," but it also marked the beginning of a new phase in the band's career, one in which shows like this one will become more important.

They produced the album over the past three years without a label's support and are releasing it on their own terms, letting music buyers choose what they want to pay, a move that essentially makes profit an afterthought.

It's their most idiosyncratic yet, and sounds it. "Hello Paradise" brims with quirks — Hindustani music motifs and a central conceit that revolves around the tarot. For the first time since they formed, it finds them entirely in control, for better or worse.

The band, in one form or another, has been around Baltimore for over a decade, so that its members are seen as elder statesmen of the scene.

The March show's 600 tickets sold out. Two younger bands, Arbouretum and Future Islands, each with relatively successful albums to their name already, opened for them.

"I think they're great role models for the younger wave of Baltimore musicians," says Caleb Moore, singer of upstart Lands & Peoples. "It's really inspiring how much energy they're pouring into their music and shows. You can tell they're pouring their hearts out."

Over the years, Celebration has had many configurations. The stable points are its two lyricists, Ford and Sean Antanaitis, who are married and have been performing together for 20 years.

She doesn't like to talk about the past — she might have actually groaned when asked — but here's the short of it:

First, they led a Goth-punk band called Jaks out of Ann Arbor, Mich., where she and Antanaitis grew up, that now actually enjoys something of a cult status. After that band broke up, they moved to Baltimore in the late '90s for, Ford says, no reason other than they had friends here and it looked as if Baltimore had few chances of gentrifying.

While working at Whole Foods, Antanaitis met drummer David Bergander and along with bassist Anthony Malat formed Love Life, which stuck together through two albums before breaking up. Ford and Antanaitis performed as duo Birdland for a bit but regrouped with Bergander in 2004 as Celebration.

For the past five years, they've been working with three other multi-instrumentalists, Tony Drummond, Walker Teret, and Tommy Rouse.

Most of them are in their early to late 30s — Drummond is 40 — and have day jobs; four work as piano movers. Ford moonlights all over town.

"I got, like four jobs," she says. "I sometimes appear in other people's records. I paint. I work at a friend's clothing store. I bartend once a week. I'm a landlord."

She sounded like she might could have gone on. When she and her band mates talk about music, they sound like jaded slackers, giving an air of friendly grifters who've been around the block.

"I know many guitar players, drummers, and singers, we all know each other here, and if I don't know you yet, I will," Teret boasts.

Ford in particular affects a charming swagger, often calling herself a hustler in conversation.

That insouciance and sense of play comes across in concert too, where they try hard to put on something that's more of an installation than a show.

"We named the band Celebration because it's what we wanted to experience, and hopefully, we wanted to share that with others," she says.

On Saturday, Ford took the stage around 10 p.m., following a manic performance by Future Islands' Sam Herring, who paced across the stage like a pentecostal preacher mid-trance.

Dressed in a loose, knee-length beige dress cinched by a saucer-sized copper buckle, Ford didn't so much move as stroll. She doesn't make big gestures save for shaking her tambourine or occasionally banging the drums.

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