Full disclosure: I've known Liz Wu for almost 20 years. We became friends while working together for the Academy of Alternative Journalism, an annual fellowship program based at a satellite campus of Northwestern University. It was the summer of 2002; Chicago was a very different place, and we were all very different people. Well, not really. Wu (no relation to Brianna) still looks exactly the same, and she still retains the effervescent personality that distinguished her among our colleagues.
She's still very active in the media world, but recent years have seen her recalibrate her focus toward her first love: music. She currently plays percussion in the band Acarya, which makes its Florida debut this weekend at St. Augustine's Dog Rose Brewing Co.
Wu started the band a couple of years ago with her best friend, guitarist/vocalist Lyric Smith. They were joined by guitarist Max Patrick and Jack Youngblood on bass and backing vocals. But the most important member of the band is probably the audience, whose energy bounces off the band and off the walls, creating a uniquely immersive musical experience.
The word "Acarya" derives, I believe, from old Sanskrit. It means "someone who tries to shed light on the darkest part of the things you know," according to Smith. This is a concept that reflects not only in the music itself, but also in their lives. The band draws inspiration from a variety of rock bands like U2, Rusted Root and the mighty Led Zeppelin, coupled with a strong world music flavor that arises naturally from their personal experience.
"I am not sure who I could name as a primary influence," Wu says, "but I can say that I have always been drawn to and have spent many hours listening to music from other countries, such as India, South Africa, Ireland, Peru, Cuba, Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Turkey, Australia and many more. I think this contributes to the rhythms that I hear when playing, and brings something of an earthy, tribal element to our songs."
"Not to sound too out there, but I really use a lot of nature," adds Smith, who will typically bring as many as a half-dozen guitars to the stage with him. "I use all open tunings on my guitars, and I hear those chord spellings in nature."
Joining Acarya at Dog Rose are The Wild Shiners—"a multiform multitude of swaggering songsters," according to their press release. They're a local quintet whose sound is rooted in, well, roots music. You've got acoustic guitar, upright bass, banjo, drums and fiddle working at a peppy pace. Good bands, good beers, good times—another Saturday night in Florida.