The Mobros Balance Fresh Faces with Old Sound

Band of Brothers
By Kyle Petersen
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The Mobros play 3 Rivers Music Festival and Jammin' in July.

The Mobros
3 Rivers Music Festival: Saturday, July 13
Jammin’ in July: Saturday, July 13

[Editor’s Note: The 3 Rivers Music Festival has been postponed.]

It’s hard to attend a music festival in Columbia these days and not run into The Mobros, a young, earnest, two-brother garage band that got its start in Camden. (To wit, they’re playing two sets on Saturday alone: at 5:10 p.m. on the 3 Rivers Music Festival’s rock and country stage, and again out in Camden at 8:35 p.m. at the long-running Jammin’ in July festival.) And within the first few seconds of any given song, it’s not hard to understand why: the duo has a ragged, eclectic-yet-bluesy sound that recalls The Black Keys and Dex Romweber, with shades of The Band and Muscles Shoals seamlessly mixing with
traditional Calypso and Latin influences.

And then there’s that voice. Bandleader and guitarist Kelly Morris, 22, is blessed with an age-defying, deeply soulful singing voice that literally has the power to stop listeners in their tracks, and that’s before you get a whiff of his eerie, Prince-like falsetto. It’s almost unreal, and yet Morris wears it unassumingly in live performances, leading you to believe that some wayward spirit enters his body when he steps up the microphone.

But perhaps it’s the precociousness of it all that draws fans in more than anything. From their debut performance at a high school talent show, when Kelly was just a freshman and Patrick, now 19, his drummer and younger brother, had to be called up from the middle school, the duo has balanced a gritty brotherly vibe with genuine musical chops. Even setting aside the fully formed emergence of Kelly’s vocal presence, you also have his guitar parts, which range from R&B-rooted rhythm lines to finger-picked funk grooves that are laid down with a cocky prowess. Then there’s Patrick’s energetic and versatile presence on the drums, creating a remarkably elastic and appealing two-man lineup.

And, in their own way, the brothers seem to know all of that. They ultimately settled on being in a band as just themselves, with nothing more. Their forthcoming debut full-length “is just the two of us in a room, basically,” Kelly Morris says. “We don’t have any effects or guitar pedals or anything.”

Recorded with Chris Wenner (who’s recorded The Unawares and Say Brother in his retrofitted basement studio), the crowd-funded effort has been a long time coming for The Mobros, who have been playing gigs now for the last four years while their original material languished in unrecorded limbo. Part of the problem was purely logistical — Patrick only recently graduated high school, and Kelly was attending the University of South Carolina — but there were a few false steps as well.

First, the talented youngsters had to deal with some less-than-palatable record deal offers, and then work through the growing pains of trying to add and then subtract a bass player. But now they appear poised to tackle the mountain of the music business head-on, with both brothers foregoing college for their music.

“Our parents are actually pretty cool with us not enrolling in school,” Kelly explains. “They’ve always encouraged us to play [music], and have always been supportive to whatever we wanted to do, as long as we work for it.”

Since freeing themselves of scholastic duties, the band has kept up a steady stream of gigs and festival appearances in the region, eager to cement their reputation as an up-and-coming band with serious firepower. Still, their eyes gleam most when talking about their first record. And, if their enthusiasm is any indication, it could very well showcase some of what many have suspected the band to be capable of.

The record is a mix of more recent songs written together and some earlier material largely penned by Kelly; the duo seems most excited by the vibe and atmosphere picked up by Wenner’s analog recording techniques and easygoing attitude.

Kelly recalls “jumping around on the amplifiers and couches in his living room while we were recording,” and credits Wenner for “giving us a really good perspective on the recording process.” Patrick enthuses about the “Memphis, Al Green-type sound he gave us.”

Having recently returned from mastering the recording, the two young men seem confident that they will roll with whatever happens next.

“No matter what world you live in, working the hardest you can will get you to the purest joy,” Kelly contends. “But we don’t really have any idea what’s coming next. It’s a rollercoaster for us.” 

River Rockin’
3 Rivers Music Festival Returns Saturday, July 13

The 3 Rivers Music Festival is reanimated, really, in name only. And it is, by festival chairwoman Nnena Nchege’s own admission, marketed as a completely new event, not a resuscitation of a bygone festival that hemorrhaged city cash.

The original 3 Rivers Music Festival was a long weekend, a three-day festival in the Vista. The relaunch now spreads over two weekends; the first installment came last weekend with a mini-gospel festival in St. Andrews Park, and Saturday’s two stages — the Country & Rock Explosion and Rhythm & Blues Joint stages — are on Park Street in the Vista. The relaunched 3 Rivers is free; one-day tickets for the first 3 Rivers were $25 a pop. The admitted target demographics, too, are radically disparate; the new 3 Rivers’ goal, outlined in a presentation to Columbia City Council, is to lure listeners ages 34-55.

But perhaps the biggest difference: The first 3 Rivers Music Festival was funded largely through city hospitality tax money; the remake is largely funded by H-tax money from Richland County and grants from corporate sponsors. So far, it’s received no H-tax money from Columbia.

So, then, is it even fair to compare the two festivals? Is it fair to gripe that 3 Rivers 2.0 features Lee Greenwood and Musiq Soulchild, the former a two-decades-past-his-hit smooth-country crooner and the latter a remarkably cool and one-time R&B chart-topping neo-soul singer, as its headliners, when the first go-round boasted OutKast and Nickel Creek at the peak of their respective popularities, and living legends Aretha Franklin and George Clinton to boot? Is it fair to criticize both festivals for lacking organizers, well-intentioned thought they might be, with experience in concert booking and music promotion?

We’ll leave that up to you. We could spend innumerable column inches debating whether the reincarnated 3 Rivers Music Festival is the kind of festival Columbia needs, let alone deserves. But for now, the two festivals, one old and one new, operate on vastly different scales. Patrick Wall

Country & Rock Explosion presented by WLTX

Lee Greenwood | 8 p.m.
As patriotic songs go, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is by far the most popular post-Irving Berlin pro-America song, even (or especially) if it’s irrepressibly jingoistic. “God Bless the USA” is Greenwood’s signature song, but it’s not his only hit — in fact, he scored 18 more Top Ten country hits between 1982 and 1988 while contracted to MCA records. Still, we bet “God Bless the USA” gets the biggest cheer. It is the week after Independence Day, after all, and Osama bin Laden is still dead.

Patrick Davis | 6 p.m.
If you don’t know who Patrick Davis is by now, you haven’t been reading Free Times. If you haven’t been reading Free Times, Patrick Davis is a Camden native who’s struck a few hits in Nashville for contemporary country singers, though they’re done much better when Davis sings them himself.

The Mobros | 5:10 p.m.
A bluesy band of brothers from Camden.

Tokyo Joe | 3:55 p.m.
What’s been around longer, Columbians: Finlay Park, or pop-rock band Tokyo Joe? Finlay Park, but not by much — Tokyo Joe’s been schlepping covers and originals since 1996.

John Wesley Satterfield | 2:40 p.m.
Now based in Nashville, John Wesley Satterfield’s amiable country-rock now boasts a bit more sparkle, a bit more shine befitting the Nashville music machine.

Janie Metts | 2 p.m.
This recent University of South Carolina grad recently released her first country single, “Boo Hoo Hoo.”

Rhythm & Blues Joint presented by WLXC-FM

Musiq Soulchild | 8:30 p.m.
If Musiq Soulchild is ever reminiscent of Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye — and he’s often reminiscent of both Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye — it’s to the neo-soul singer’s testament that it never feels like a forced attempt to fill either legend’s shoes. Indeed, Musiq Soulchild is of the same regal lineage, never overselling his smoothly sexy songs with hyperbolic screams, never overplaying his romantic ballads with exaggerated moans or grunts. Informed by classic soul, Musiq delivers charming neo-soul that feels not like a look back, but a leap forward.

The S.O.S. Band | 7 p.m.
An R&B legacy act — the band’s last record came in 1991 — with a genuine funk-dance gem in “Take Your Time (Do It Right).” The S.O.S. stands for “sounds of success.”

The Terence Young Experience | 5:30 p.m.
Terence Young dots the lineup cards of music festivals around town, mostly with his eponymous Experience, which slings some seriously smooth jazz fusion.

Cheri Maree | 4 p.m.
A local R&B diva affectionately known to some as “The Love Goddess.”

Preach Jacobs | 2:45 p.m.
Preach Jacobs, one of this town’s finest emcees, is a hip-hop purist, favoring ears and minds open to vernacular poetry over those tuned to trunk-rattling trap. His erudite wordplay and smooth, natural flow are enhanced by jazzy boom-bap a la the Native Tongues crew.

The 3 Rivers Music Festival occupies three blocks on Park Street between Lady and Pendleton. The festival opens at 11 a.m.; music starts at 2 p.m. Admission is free, or $75 for VIP tenting. Visit for more information.

Jammin’ in Camden
Jammin’ in July Keeps On Truckin’ Saturday, July 13

Alternately, Camden’s Jammin’ in July festival has survived — thrived, even — with relatively little fanfare but unwavering support from Camden City Council’s H-tax committee. Festival organizer Dan Riddick has largely eschewed big-time national acts (though it has boasted some big-time talent, like funky drummer Yonrico Scott and rockabilly weirdo Webb Wilder) for a focus on local and regional talent. The reasoning, sure, is largely pecuniary, but it offers the added benefit of showcasing up-and-coming talent. (See: The Mobros, veterans of the festival.) The small-town vibe of the festival jibes with the small-town atmosphere, that, perhaps, is a large part of what’s kept the festival running for so long.

Then again, it could just be the music. Patrick Wall

The Mike Frost Band | 10:05 p.m.
Erstwhile New York City jazzman Mike Frost took his funky bass to Aiken a few years ago; he’s made Columbia a second home since. A former student of jazz bass legend Jaco Pastorious, Frost plays like his senpai: fluidly, melodically and funkily. Frost’s band for this gig includes keyboardist Rico Tyler and drummer Jeremy Roberson.

Pinetop Lightning | 9:20 p.m.
Not strictly a rebranding of guitarist D.B. Bryant’s eponymous band, Pinetop Lightning still shares the same roots, the same slow-burning Southern rock numbers and barn-burning fist-pumpers that Bryant and company have been reverently peddling in juke joints and biker bars for a decade. Note, though, that this is an acoustic performance, but expect some fiery guitar work anyway.

The Mobros | 8:35 p.m.
A bluesy band of brothers from Camden.

Jacob Johnson | 8 p.m.
Legendary Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel thinks Upstate neo-folk guitarist Jacob Johnson rocks. Legendary Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel is right: Johnson’s winningly energetic folk-funk takes cues from both Tim Reynolds and Kaki King. Oh, and legendary Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, too.

Jim Hayes | 7:30 p.m.
A solo performer with a repertoire of classics and classic-rock standards who’s played, like, every Jammin’ in July festival.

Bakers Moon | 6:55 p.m.
An improvisational instrumental trio featuring festival organizer Dan Riddick on drums.

Fair Jam | 6:25 p.m.
Bluegrass tempered with acoustic-rock tendencies and featuring the cajón, an Afro-Peruvian box drum.

Blue Phoenix | 5:50 p.m.
Acoustic and electric folk-blues.

Richard Strater | 5:25 p.m.
Solo original rock.

Brik Cash | 5 p.m.
Solo original rock.

The Jammin’ in July Festival is at the Historic Camden Revolutionary War Site, 222 S. Broad St. in Camden. The festival opens at 4:30 p.m.; music begins at 5 p.m. Admission is $20 ($18 advance), $18 ($15 advance) for seniors and military, $4 kids. Lawn chairs, blankets and coolers OK; pets not OK. Visit for more information.

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