Music News & Reviews

Bear Market Riot brings power folk music to SLO County

Power-folk duo Bear Market Riot performs Friday at Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo as part of Concerts in the Plaza.
Power-folk duo Bear Market Riot performs Friday at Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo as part of Concerts in the Plaza.

When Bear Market Riot took the stage at Live Oak Music Festival in June, it felt like a homecoming.

There, dancing under the shade of the dusty oak trees, were all the people that had supported the Americana power-folk duo during its early days at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmers’ Market. All the fans who had heard band members Nick Motil and Kirk Nordby perform at local breweries and wineries. And all the festival-goers who were discovering their surprisingly rich sound for the first time.

“Getting the Live Oak nod was a huge deal,” Nordby said, adding that the concert in northern Santa Barbara County “reminded us of how many corners (of the Central Coast) we’ve touched.”

Bear Market Riot performs for free Thursday at Treana & Hope Family Wines in Paso Robles, followed by another free gig Friday in Mission Plaza in San Luis Obispo. (The latter is part of the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association’s Concerts in the Plaza series.)

Music lovers can also catch the band in concert Sunday at Villa San Juliette Vineyard & Winery in San Miguel. And other performances are lined up at venues across the Central Coast.

When Nordby, a Washington state native, moved to the Central Coast a year ago, he had no intention of finding a songwriting partner. He landed a job as a line cook at upscale Paso Robles restaurant Artisan and started seeking out local gigs.

In 2014, while performing at a Songwriters at Play concert in San Luis Obispo, Nordby encountered Motil, who had moved to the area with his wife from Buffalo, New York. In particular, the pair bonded over their love of folk-pop legend Paul Simon.

“We met over a bowl of gumbo at Bon Temps Creole Café” in San Luis Obispo, Nordby said, and he invited Motil to join him at the Los Osos farmers market, where he’d been busking.

“‘We’ll play for tips, get a beer afterward,’ ” Nordby promised his friend.

“After a couple months playing at that market together, we were like, ‘This could be a band,’” Nordby recalled. They named their new ensemble after the sensation they created in Los Osos; the town’s name means “The Bears” in Spanish.

Asked why Bear Market Riot works, Nordby said, “We sing well together. When you sing with someone and the two tones of your voice resonate well together, that’s really pleasing.”

What’s more, he added, “We meet together at a great point.”

While Nordby was raised on punk, grunge and garage rock, Motil gets his inspiration from contemporary singer-songwriters such as Dave Matthews and Art Alexakis of Everclear.

“Nick says I brought him a little weirdness, a little bit of darkness,” Nordby said, while his bandmate imbues Bear Market Riot’s music with a more upbeat vibe.

“We call it power-folk Americana because we have a roots folk angle but we’ll hit you with a Men at Work cover or Iggy Pop or Modest Mouse,” Nordby explained.

To preserve the “power” part of the equation, the pair has spent the past year working to expand Bear Market Riot’s sound.

Both band members sing and play standard six-string guitars. In addition, Nordby explores the upper and lower ends of the register with harmonica and baritone guitar, while Motil keeps the beat with kick drum and rhythm guitar.

“We’re creating a large spectrum of musical tones with just two people,” Nordby said. “We’re a big band for two guys.”

Although the members of Bear Market Riot live on opposite ends of the county — Nordby is based in Paso Robles, while Motil calls Pismo Beach home — the two get together often to perform, write and polish their repertoire.

They’re currently working on the follow-up to Bear Market Riot’s self-titled EP, released in 2015.

“Power Folk Americana,” due out in late September, won’t stray too far from the sound Bear Market Riot fans come to love, Nordby promised. “We want to make something that sounds fantastic,” he said.

They’ll have to squeeze in recording sessions between several upcoming shows.

Those include performances at Central Coast Classique, Aug. 27 in Arroyo Grande; the Avocado and Margarita Festival, Sept. 10 in Morro Bay; and Beaverstock, Sept. 18 at Castoro Cellars in Templeton.

“This summer has been an incredible ride,” Nordby said. And he doesn’t see the steady stream of gigs ending anytime soon.

“Every corner of San Luis Obispo County has a great community that loves music … and a place where you can go and hang out,” said the musician, who works part-time as a bartender at The Pour House in Paso Robles.

“That’s been at the cornerstone of what we do,” he continued. “We don’t try to take ourselves too seriously. The focus of our show is having fun and spreading positive vibes.”

Bear Market Riot

Hear Bear Market Riot perform at these free concerts. For more information, visit

5 to 8 p.m. Thursday

Hope Family Wines, 1585 Live Oak Road, Paso Robles

805-238-4112 or

5 to 8 p.m. Friday

Mission Plaza, Monterey and Chorro streets, San Luis Obispo

805-781-2645 or

1 to 4 p.m. Sunday

Villa San Juliette Vineyard & Winery, 6385 Cross Canyons Road, San Miguel

805-467-0014 or