Run River North brings musical storytelling to Calvin

The Los Angeles-based band Run River North opened at the nostalgic venue of the Ladies Literary Club last week. Their folk-indie rock filled the old hall with honest lyrics and tight harmonies. Run River North wove lyrical narratives and beautiful lessons to perfectly accompany the old, story-filled hall.

Run River North is comprised of six multi-talented members who each play individual instruments as well as sing. The strings, guitars, bass, keyboard and drums all balance well to create an inviting sound that draws in the audience to listen to their stories, like an old grandfather imparting some of his wisdom onto the next generation. As children of Korean immigrants, the band members spoke between sets of how they watched their parents learn and sacrifice for them. These lessons and stories came through in their song lyrics (“Monsters Calling Home”) as well as in their passionate musical performance.

Each song told an individual story or feeling, whether it was for a friend or expressing their own frustrations in life. Their song “Excuses” expresses their self-proclaimed passive-aggressive annoyance with the fictitious nature of shallow relationships.

“You could tell me lies, and I won’t even know; / You could tell the truth, and no one really cares,” they lament. Other songs explore the struggles of their friends (“Run River Run”) whose pain of seeing a sick child is difficult to understand and even harder to put into words.

As headliners, it was evident that the band enjoyed taking time to freely weave their stories. One song beautifully built up slowly from one instrument and one vocalist to the entire band playing and singing loudly, accelerating with the beat as the audience was drawn in, becoming more and more eager for the resolution. My one complaint was the sleepy attitude of the crowd, who, for whatever reason, never stood to join in with the band. The band itself admitted being unused to having such an “attentive” audience after typically playing at small bars.

Audience aside, Run River North’s gentle crooning lyrics provide a heartening avenue to relate their stories and parables. The lead singer, Alex Hwang, sets a comforting foundation for accompanying vocalists to harmonize with, and compound upon to make a beautifully welcoming sound. This style does not limit them to a quiet storytelling, though. Run River North also applies their storytelling to more upbeat and passionate songs, such as “Fight to Keep.”

Run River North’s performance was a wonderfully engaging and thoughtful experience, conveying an abundance of talent and challenging storytelling. They exceeded my expectations, and I greatly look forward to seeing them live and participating in their stories again.