This one time at band camp, members of Lettuce started a funky tradition.
The band camp in question was at Berklee College of Music, in Boston. Drummer Adam Deitch in 1992 was a 16-year-old looking to see if he would fit in at Berklee. He and three of his fellow campers — saxophonist Ryan Zoidis, guitarist Adam “Schmeeans” Smirnoff and bassist Erick “Jesus” Coomes — met at the summer camp and hit it off right away.
“We loved it,” Deitch said of the band’s core four, who were into all things funky. “We just bonded up. We were a gang right away. We started jamming immediately. We couldn’t stop playing, and we’re still doing it today.”
They wound up at Berklee as students, and released their first album a decade after they met. Since then, Lettuce has established itself as a funky jamband sensation, with a resume that includes FloydFest.
Across the Way Productions, which organizes FloydFest, is teaming up with Rocky Mount’s Harvester Performance Center on Saturday, to present Lettuce in concert.
The core four, along with keyboardist/singer Nigel Hall and trumpeter Eric “Benny” Bloom, are some of the top musicians on the circuit, with a collective resume that includes John Scofield, Ledisi, Pharoahe Monche, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Warren Haynes, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West and Pretty Lights. Over the past decade, though, Lettuce has become priority one for its members, Deitch said.
“We all did our thing, and it all helped influence who we are and what we could bring to the band,” he said. “From big pop gigs to jazz gigs, hip-hop stuff, it all ended up influencing the band. Now that we’re really super focused on it, it’s feeling better than ever, and it keeps growing at an exponential rate.”
Their friendship and shared musical interests is what has kept the band rolling, he said.
“We have all these years between us,” Deitch said. “So we have all these amazing experiences. We speak our own language; we have this slang we use. You see a bunch of best friends playing together, when you come see Lettuce. It’s not like a want ad, ‘drummer needed for project.’ That’s how a lot of bands start.
“This is totally organic, a bunch of friends hanging at a music school. We just bonded on the kind of music we liked. We like funk, James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power. We also love J Dilla and a lot of cool ‘90s hip-hop, the golden era, as we call it, and we try to mix those beats together, and that’s why it’s so fun and interesting for us, and hopefully for the crowd.”
At FloydFest in 2014, Lettuce had a huge Hill Holler Stage crowd locked into indelible grooves and a broad variety of melodies. These may be virtuoso players, it you’re not moving to their songs, they’re not doing their job, Deitch said.
“The groove is number one, no matter what, stylistically,” Deitch said. “Funk is a wide spectrum. Soul music is a wide spectrum of beats. Then you have grooves from Nigeria, like Fela Kuti, Afrobeat stuff. Then you have a lot of the hip-hop stuff, from the trap stuff to the old school. Reggae is a huge influence. So no matter what style we hint at, we always keep the groove as the focus.”
The band’s latest album, “Elevate,” is the most recent example of the band’s ability to mix a wide variety of danceable genres.
Deitch said that while he contributes most of the songs, subject to full band approval, other members brought in music, and Lettuce made up some songs on the spot, while recording. “Elevate” also includes a cover of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule The World” and Lydia Pense & Cold Blood’s “Ready To Live,” with Hall singing both. The band would up with 30 numbers, all of which will see release in a series of three releases, Deitch said.
Where Lettuce earns its lettuce is on the road, playing original tunes, plus a few soul, R&B, rock and hip-hop covers. They developed many of the songs on their eight albums by road-testing them, he said.
In the middle of the stage, there is Deitch, behind his drum kit, laying down the beats with this band of old friends.
“It’s just a dream come true, to be able to power this unit, to play drums with these guys and have everybody key into not just what we’re playing, but to spaces in the music,” he said. “And so we always know when to leave that space. It’s a higher level of listening, and a psychic awareness that we all have with each other that comes in play in all these years and being friends.
“It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m just very grateful every second I get to play with these guys.”