Huckleberry Funk returns to IU for a soulful Open Air Venues performance

Physically distanced outdoor performance venues have become a sign of the times in the performing-arts industry throughout the summer and early fall, popping up to provide entertainment during the pandemic. IU's Open Air Venues Initiative is powering on with a variety of outdoor events as the weather gets colder and the days get shorter.

Indianapolis-based band Huckleberry Funk will bring a mix of R&B, soul, funk, rock and other music to Dunn Meadow on Saturday, Oct. 17, at a limited-capacity event sponsored by the Indiana Memorial Union Board and IU Auditorium.

"People can come out and expect to hear some music they know and some stuff they don't, but just to have a good time," band member Dexter Clardy said.

Band members of Huckleberry Funk stand on stepsView print quality image
Huckleberry Funk members, from top-down: Alex Dura, Elias McDermott-Sipe, Byron Boler, Dexter Clardy, Matt McConahay. Photo courtesy of IU Auditorium

The James Brown-inspired group has had only a few opportunities to do live shows since the start of the pandemic, making each performance all the more special to them. Clardy said the part they've missed the most about performing is connecting with their audiences and seeing the way people respond to their setlists.

"We're really good about trying to build a full moment in a show, but trying to connect with the audience and call-and-response and things like that -- you don't get to do that when you're making an Instagram Live video," Clardy said.

Apart from several online videos, the band has spent the majority of their time in quarantine in the studio, writing music and bonding as a group. They had just earned second place in "Battle of the Bands" and welcomed a new guitar player, Elias McDermott-Sipe, when the pandemic made the world hit pause in March.

"Our momentum was going crazy," Clardy said. "We were in New York when quarantine shut down everything on tour. We came back and had a lot of downtime to get Elias completely in the fold, because the rest of the band had been together at least a year. So the downtime to just write and really vibe on the music that we wanted to make and not so much worry about shows gave us time to gel as a band and lean on each other."

The band originally formed after they met through IU Soul Revue and were inspired by their director, Tyron Cooper, who is currently the director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture and an associate professor of African American and African Diaspora studies.

"He used to always ask us, 'Who wants to do music for real? Who is aiming to be a musician?'" Clardy said. "And everybody raised their hands, and he's like, 'OK, how many of you guys are getting together outside of class and writing music together and trying to make music of your own?' And there were only a few of us who were doing that, and luckily that formed into the band."

The band plans to release a new single, "Broke Times," Nov. 3. The song is about the post-college struggles of forging a career path and figuring out the right direction based on individual dreams versus what society tells people to do, Clardy said. The group has a rollout plan to follow, with an EP on the way as they attempt to extend their content and make new music in lieu of touring.

"Take this time of lockdown as a blessing in disguise to really find yourself, and with all the craziness going on just take this time to find out what makes you feel sane, feel happy and feel your best at, and dive into that," Clardy said.