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Kick It Root Down

St. Louis’ Family-Tied, Dynamic, Multicultural Music Collective 

Story: David kvidahl

photos: Cory Weaver

All eyes are on Daniel Fitzpatrick III. 

Not quite 2 years old, the youngest member of the Fitzpatrick clan fills Hustle City with laughs as he attempts to elude his extended family. When Thomas Paden, his father’s cousin, scoops him up the giggles grow louder. Surrounded by walls of cellophane-wrapped sneakers and an assortment of fashionable hats and clothes that are St. Louis-based Hustle City’s calling card, the 18-month-old Fitzpatrick is curious. Only when he gets his hands on the shoe-cleaning chemicals do the grownups step in to interrupt his exploration.


It’s not long after he’s buckled into his stroller and watching with wide eyes as the main event of the evening gets underway. 


We Are Root Mod has come together for a photoshoot—well, most of the group has come together. The band is 10 members deep, with seven on hand at Hustle City. Brady Lewis (trumpet), Peter Plank (guitar), who performs under the moniker Heartcave, and Jawaad Spann (saxophone) had scheduling conflicts that prevented them from spending a rainy Wednesday night in April posing for photos, chatting about their unique and dynamic sound, and making a fuss over young Fitzpatrick.

Daniel Fitzpatrick II (keys), Bianca Fitzpatrick (lead vocals), Paden (keyboard, drums), Robert Reavling (drums), Isaac Johnston (percussion), Shawn Pavy (bass guitar) and Louis “MC Tres” Erby III (MC) are present, and the chemistry is palpable. The laughs are plentiful.

Root Mod (the preferred nickname of the group) manages to contain itself for short stretches. But it’s not long before someone says something that sends everyone into a laughing fit. It’s this comfortable, easygoing energy that leads to marathon rehearsals no one wants to end but at some point must. 


“It kind of becomes a problem when you got work at 7 in the morning,” Johnston said with a mustachioed smile.  


The creation of siblings Daniel, 32, and Bianca, 30, Paden and another cousin, Greg Fitzpatrick, Root Mod grew out of their shared desire to play together. Each had messed around in other groups and bands before but things were different when they united. 


“I was always doing music. It wasn’t anything new but to do it with family was the new process,” said Paden, 27. “It was very organic. We all did music growing up as kids. It was natural. It was going to happen.”

The vision Daniel and Bianca had for the group when it began is not where Root Mod found itself early in its existence, and certainly not where it is now. What started as a quartet and sometimes a quintet continued to grow. Most of the members of the group came up playing and performing in church. As Daniel crossed paths with other musicians on the church circuit, he found himself asking some of them to drop in and play with Root Mod. 

“I felt God just brought people into the fold. It was a very natural process adding to the band,” Daniel said. “Friendship and musicianship came very naturally and added to the band. It wasn’t intentional like ‘I need to find a trumpet and a saxophonist and a percussionist.’ I just met them and I was like ‘Come to rehearsal’ and that turned into what the band is.”

What Root Mod has become is a joyful fusion of soul, funk, rock and hip-hop that moves the body and spirit. YouTube is rife with footage of Root Mod showcasing its versatility as far back as 2017. Their World Chess Hall of Fame performance from last year is more than an hour long and spectacular. They’ve been showcased at the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Whitaker Music Festival. The first weekend of June, Root Mod will return to World Wide Technology Raceway and perform at the NASCAR Enjoy Illinois 300 Cup’s Confluence Music Festival. This year’s festival is headlined by Ludacris and features Riley Green, Adam Wainwright, Big & Rich and Brittney Spencer. It’s a massive venue and a unique audience that Root Mod is giddy to perform in front of for the third time.

It’s these recurring types of opportunities that made Daniel really want Root Mod to always be evolving and growing its sound and its performance.  

“For me, when you perform a good amount you want to switch it up,” Daniel said. “I think when we started to play the same venue twice and we were the same combo it just felt weird, especially locally. We’re at the same place we were last year, I’d like to be a little different. I’d like to give a different show. I yearn for that, and it kind of naturally happened.”

Root Mod was a featured performer at the St. Louis Earth Day Festival last month at Forest Park. That show was particularly special for the group as it provided the soundtrack to a fashion show for Room Seven, a clothing line designed by Daniel and Bianca’s mother, Harriet, who keeps the group looking sharp whenever it takes the stage. 

“She styles us to the nines,” Bianca said.


Harriet also draws praise from the other members of the group for her patience. She and her late husband, Daniel “LaDale” Fitzpatrick, graciously allowed the earliest versions of Root Mod to rehearse in the basement. A prominent local musician, LaDale never encouraged his children to be musicians but didn’t discourage them either. When the time came and they expressed an interest in the craft, he and Harriet supported them wholeheartedly. 

“A lot of people invested in us and a lot of people helped us out a lot,” Paden said. “Starting with their parents just letting us be extremely loud and obnoxious in the basement every night, any night that we wanted to til 2 or 3 a.m.” 

That love and support from Harriet and LaDale filtered into Daniel and Bianca and became a foundational piece of the Root Mod experience. It’s what makes this group fundamentally different to its members. 


“I feel so safe with them to push boundaries, to say my opinion, to embrace one another,” said Johnston, 28. “I moved here from New Orleans and I’ve been around music for a long time, and there’s been nothing that is quite like this band. It’s magical. It’s hard to describe. It’s more than the music.” 

Johnston is one of three drummers in the band. Paden was the original before he gave way to Reavling, 25. Reavling’s ability routinely leaves his bandmates impressed by the way he handles himself on his kit. 

“Rob was super quiet but every time you heard him play he was the loudest speaker in the room,” Paden said. “You could tell he could play. It’s ridiculous.” 


Added Johnston, “As a percussionist supporting, I’m trying as best I can to be the fifth and sixth limb to the actual drummer, and Rob is one of the most fun people to play behind.” 


Pavy, 26, was raised by American parents in France until he was 18. His extended family’s base was St. Louis growing up, so he was familiar when he returned to pursue a doctorate in biomechanics at Washington University.    

Like so many of the others, he met Daniel at a church gig. Root Mod’s old bassist was on his way out and the group had a need. Pavy was invited to come hang out and play. Short on experience compared to the rest of the group, Pavy joined Root Mod at BB’s Jazz, Blues and Soups in something of a tryout. He swallowed his jitters that night and has been a staple ever since. 


“I was so nervous because I was trying to make a good impression because it’s so electric. I tend to overthink things, and when you’re on stage you can’t do that. You have to keep doing the next thing and you have to pay attention to each other, and I think that was really freeing,” Pavy said. “Seeing people have a good time is really electrifying. I’m really thankful being a part of the band.”


Erby, MC Tres, is the most recent addition and a co-owner of Hustle City. He started his music career as a solo artist and had some success as he toured college campuses early on. Erby connected with Root Mod after seeing the group perform and falling hard for Bianca. As he pursued her it became clear his talents would be a welcome addition. Bianca’s strength is her strong, soulful vocals, but she’s never enjoyed acting as the point person for the band engaging the audience. Erby relishes that role.  


“That was very uncomfortable for me. I can do it but I have to get myself up for it,” Bianca said. “He can do it naturally. I had a lot of awkward moments. It was nice to come in and still engage but he fills in the gaps and it felt natural.”

Erby, 32, exudes charisma. The other members talk fondly of when he jumped on stage and rocked the mic at a block party at CityPark in 2023 when Anderson .Paak was spinning records under his alter ego DJ Pee .Wee. 


Even as the other members were impressed with his presence, Erby found himself in an unfamiliar place. 

“I’m used to it being me and the music, I can do that all day,” Erby said. “Dealing with nine other people behind me, finding cues and song transitions, it was a little more nerve-wracking for me. Any other time I played in a band I was the lead guy and they followed me. Now I’m fitting into an already polished machine.”


What’s next for that machine remains to be seen. Root Mod has a brilliant submission to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series on its YouTube page. Daniel says an album is in the works. Whatever direction Root Mod goes and however the group grows, just know that it will be guided by love, respect and, above all, family. 


“Anybody involved, it should feel like your band, too,” Bianca said. “No matter what part of the journey you came along we want you to feel like you have a piece of this, that you add value to this. Everybody should feel that way.”

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