By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
To call the Free Flowing Musical Experience a cover band is to deny the thought and talent that goes into each of the band’s creative, fluid performances.
Over the past three and a half years, the acoustic jam-band duo has stitched together setlists with musicianship, creativity and humor. While every performance features a rotating repertoire of recognizable covers, the band’s improvisational style of transitioning from one song to the next ensures no gig is the same as the last.
The nucleus of this elastic, improvisational band is Scott Fallon and Gregg Park. The two local guitarists and vocalists met in 2016 through a mutual musician friend. Park ended up sitting in on one of Fallon’s solo shows, which led to more performances, including a five-and-a-half-hour show at O’Shaughnessy’s Pub on King Street.
Recognizing the chemistry bubbling up between the two of them, Fallon decided to revive the Free Flowing Musical Experience, an idea he had first had in high school, with Park. The vision was to create an experience that was different every night, something that was playful and experimental, that could appeal to their wide-ranging tastes.
“It’s free flowing because we’ll do song to song to song,” Park said. “The majority of all gigs, we don’t really do sets. Scott’s great at sizing up a crowd, especially if we’re at a club … It’s really about the flow of one song to another.”
The duo has an ever-growing list of songs ranging from ‘70s rock classics and reggae vibes to psychedelic epics and traditional Irish foot-stompers.
“We have our base songs of what we’re going to do, but at the same time, where are we going to take these songs?” Fallon said. “The origin is kind of a jazz mentality … What are we going to come up with on the spot?”
Performances are freewheeling. Guitar riffs ricochet off one another, pushing and pulling at familiar songs and launching audiences on psychedelic journeys into the unknown.
“We never want to be that paint-by-numbers band,” Fallon said.
Part of the Free Flowing Musical Experience’s appeal is that it changes and evolves every show. Sometimes the band is performing Irish standards. Other times it transforms into a reggae or heavy metal band. Regardless of the genre, every performance still has the Free Flowing Musical Experience’s exploratory, jam band energy.
“When we’ve played Irish nights, we’ve taken traditional Irish songs and gone off on a tangent,” Park said.
“Instead of doing a song in G major, we’ll do ‘No Nay Never’ in G minor and then take it into a 14-minute psychedelic jam,” Fallon said. “It really blows the minds of the traditional Irish people in the bar.”
The band’s approach can alienate those in the audience who want just another performance of “Margaritaville” or “Brown Eyed Girl,” so the duo often plays for musicians just as much as it does general audiences.
“We always joke that we belong to the folded arms musicians’ club,” Fallon said, referring to the band’s half-in-jest goal of getting snobby musicians to unfold their arms and enjoy a performance.
In addition to the setlist, the lineup of guest musicians also changes from show to show, which dramatically alters the sound and chemistry of the band.
“You never know who might sit in from night to night,” Park said. “We’ve got some friends who are actually really good musicians who sit in with us from time and it creates a new flavor.”
One night could feature just Park and Fallon jamming out on acoustic guitars. The next night, they might be joined by a harmonica, keyboard or violin player. The band welcomes any musician who is keen to explore and play on stage.
Park and Fallon said the constant shift in setlists and lineups only works because of the solid foundation their talent and relationship provides.
“Someone said to us when we were backstage at Gypsy Sally’s … ‘Have you guys been friends your whole life? You seem like you’ve known each other your whole life,’” Park said. “And I go, ‘No, we’ve been friends for almost four years, but I feel like I’ve known him my whole life.’”
The two share a snappy, sophomoric sense of humor, which often manifests onstage in between songs, Park said. But, most importantly for the Free Flowing Musical Experience, they share an undeniable chemistry onstage.
Park and Fallon bring contrasting yet complementary skills to the table. Fallon’s steady timing and rhythm create a backdrop for Park’s virtuosic soloing.
“[Scott] creates a rock base of things and I’m the person who messes it up,” Park said. “I shift it forward, and I shift it back. I push it and pull it, but I really couldn’t do it without that reliability.”
“It’s easy to throw [Gregg] things and he’ll pick [them] up,” Fallon said. “Like I always say, when you have the caliber of guitarist that Gregg is, my job in the band is to throw up balls for Gregg to hit.”
The Alexandria-based band has performed in pubs, clubs and venues throughout Northern Virginia. The last two years, the band has played almost 200 shows, in addition to the shows they play as members of various other local bands.
“Across Northern Virginia, I don’t think there’s a [bar] we haven’t played,” Fallon said.
Recently, the duo has been aiming higher. Fallon, who has been playing in the local bar scene since he was 21 years old, said he is ready to expand the band’s horizons.
“Our goal now is trying to get out of the bar scene and play clubs, venues, festivals and special events,” Fallon said.
Last year, Park and Fallon worked to get a gig in the lounge of Gypsy Sally’s, a D.C. club. Despite not having a significant following in D.C., the Free Flowing Musical Experience managed to secure two shows in the lounge before moving to the main stage for another performance.
This month, the band played at the first annual Carlyle Block Party and the funk-flavored, Mardi Gras-in-June event Junebalaya at the Carlyle Club. And the Free Flowing Musical Experience has its sights set on even more venues in the area, like the Bright Box Theater in Winchester and the B Chord in Round Hill.
Beyond venues, Park and Fallon have a list of goals for the year that range from an increased focus on presentation and visual flair in their performances to plans for an album.
The band’s move toward bigger venues has also forced Park and Fallon to push themselves as performers and songwriters.
“In order to get into some of the places we want to now play in now, we have to diversify our setlist more and get more originals in our set,” Fallon.
Even after three years together and decades’ worth of individual gigging experience, growth and evolution are part of the band’s modus operandi. Writing original songs, performing in bigger venues and bringing in new musicians are all pieces of a greater vision for professional and personal growth.
Fallon might jokingly say the Free Flowing Musical Experience’s credo is “Show up, be on time and don’t suck,” but, at the end of the day, the musicians put in hard work because they enjoy what they do.
“Different experiences, different venues, different people force you to push yourself and try to find dif- ferent things,” Fallon said. “We definitely work our [butts] off with what we do. … That’s how you get better.”
“Just don’t ever tell us to turn down,” Park said.