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The Last Bison is Tasty, Rare

Indie/folk group commands The Southern with contagious positive energy


A name like “The Last Bison” is already so folk it feels like flannel. It evokes something primal, ancient and earthy which remains in the present day. This is not a bison among thousands of like-minded species. This is the final bison.

Well, what happened to the others? Were they shot by Buffalo Bill? Or did they simply move out of the woods, forgetting how a mandolin sounds on top of a mountain?

Led by frontman Ben Hardesty and featuring his sister and father alongside three other bandmates, The Last Bison enchanted audiences with its “mountain-top chamber music” in its Friday showcase at The Southern, bringing forth a sound as unique and evocative as the name implies.

Beginning with a mandolin tune, the set opened simply.

Sharing songs from their new album “VA,” the Chesapeake-founded band brought forth images of their home state, while soft harmonies and foot-stomping percussion — intermingled with classical violin and keyboard work — allowed The Last Bison to fly across forests and peer into colonial homes.

Banjo and violin melodies combined to present The Last Bison’s personal take on Americana — and The Southern’s audience reveled in it.

Hardesty’s energy is infectious, and at times he carried the show as a force of nature. He spent much of his time on-stage bent double, intent on his guitar and occasionally drumming. With a nasal growl that was at once gritty and earnest, his voice soared whenever it was let loose from the foot-stomping grooves of the band’s heavier pieces.

At one point during the set, the group paused, and Hardesty asked if anyone present had been raised on classic rock. After the cheers died down, the band broke into a folk rendition of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” This performance was so much fun that it left the impression that The Last Bison should stop playing original indie-folk and instead dedicate themselves to interpreting classic rock.

The group’s ability to work a crowd even shone when the musicians decided to slip into a gypsy groove. The audience swayed side-to-side, learning a jig the frontman claimed to have picked up from a gypsy wanderer while travelling.

Songs from “VA” were interspersed with classics, such as the moodier “Dark Am I” and “The Woodcutter’s Son,” but despite occasionally darker instrumentation and lyrical overtones, it is the joy in their music which leaves the deepest impression. Violinist Teresa Totheroh wore a smile the entire night, reflected in the face of every audience member.

Just as fitting was the coziness of the venue as the band seemed to be most comfortable when their audience was gathered in close around them. The Last Bison seems grounded in closeness, with half of the band actually family. The chemistry among bandmates was obvious.

Once the encore began, shouts of “Switzerland!” filled the room. After a quick rendition of one of their first songs, The Last Bison obliged and played their biggest hit. Once the audience got what they asked for, the walls echoed with the sound of a thousand collective voices.

The passion of The Last Bison was invigorating — perhaps so much so that one wishes there were more bison still around. 


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