The Stray Birds | Photo by Kimberly Ilkowski for WXPN |

Early on in The Stray Birds‘ Free At Noon set Friday, Oliver Craven took a moment to instruct the audience. “We were told to avoid dead air,” he said. “So keep clapping.” It was a playful moment during a special set for the trio-turned-quartet from Lancaster. Friday marks the release of their newest album Magic Fire, produced by the legendary Larry Campbell, and as Maya de Vitry added after Craven’s remark, the band was having so much fun finally playing some new songs.

Later on though, Craven’s speech continued. At this point, they were roughly two-thirds of the way through their performance, and it was time to address the elephant in the room. The Stray Birds had formed in a basement in 2010, Craven chronicled. He, along with de Vitry and Charles Muench, had found their place in the folk music community over the past five years. But when they set out to make this new record, they “were in the mood for growth.”

So, The Stray Birds added something their music had never featured before. “We added that,” Craven said as he pointed to their new drummer, prompting an applause. “And that has a name. And his name, also from Pennsylvania — he’s one of your own — Mr. Dominic Billett.” Known best for keeping time in the band, Toy Soliders, it’s great to see Dominic behind his kit with the Birds.

The Stray Birds | Photo by Kimberly Ilkowski for WXPN |

Dominic Billet of The Stray Birds | Photo by Kimberly Ilkowski for WXPN |

On Magic Fire release day, it seemed like the inauguration of a new era. Yes, their vintage Stray Birds Sound was in full effect. Muench plucked away at his upright bass, while de Vitry and Craven switched off on both guitar and violin. Together, the three of them combined to beautifully harmonize behind a single mic. Nothing less was expected from the talented locals. But with Billett on board, The Stray Birds gifted World Cafe Live with a set memorable because of its fresh new feeling. Billett wasn’t banging hard on a massive kit. He had a rather low-key rig, using brushes to add a subtle — but certainly noticeable — twist to an already captivating band.

All in all, it was a setlist made to please from start to finish. Magic Fire lead single “Shining in the Distance” kicked off, introducing any unfamiliar listeners to de Vitry’s wide vocal range. Craven then took his turn at the helm, handling the lead vocal duties on “Third Day in a Row.” “Mississippi Pearl” slowed things down, while “New Shoes” offered a two-step dance number with Muench in charge. “Somehow,” a love song duet, opened the second half of the set, followed by “Fossil.” After “All The News” the band concluded with a song for a friend of theirs, the fun second single “Sabrina.”

After a roaring (and I mean really roaring) applause to end the on-air portion of the gig, The Stray Birds stayed on stage for a rendition of fan-favorite “Dream in Blue.” Off their 2012 self-titled LP, the song served as a perfect example of what the band has become. With Billett adding the slightest of hits on his cymbals, fans were treated to a classic tune dipped in a new flavor. The Stray Birds said they were in the mood for growth. They said today was such a special day for them. Well, after hearing nearly an hour of brand new tunes, I’d say they’ve grown into something special themselves.

The Stray Birds will play a 9:10 p.m. set at the Martin Guitar Main Stage at Philadelphia Folk Festival tomorrow, Saturday, August 20th. More details can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar


Shining in the Distance
Third Day in a Row
Mississippi Pearl
New Shoes
All The News


Dream In Blue