A 2007 graduate of the University of Vermont, Avi Salloway’s Vermont connection goes back much further than that.
While growing up in a musical family in Barrington, Rhode Island, the now Boston-based musician and activist spent summers “immersed in music and Green Mountain life” at Camp Killooleet in Hancock, which was run by the late folk icon Pete Seeger’s brother John and his wife Ellie Seeger (and is now run by Seeger’s niece, Kate Seeger).
“Vermont has definitely been a touchstone for me for a lot of my life,” Salloway said in a phone interview Tuesday from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
So Salloway feels right at home when he brings his band Billy Wylder to the Green Mountain State, which he’ll do Sept. 4 at Zenbarn in Waterbury Center and Sept. 5 at the Moonshine Music Festival in Manchester.
Salloway, 36, started the latter in 2015 and will headline the sixth annual soiree — created “to bring people together to experience great live music, public art-making, freedom, dance and deepen their connection to local, organic farming and community building,” according to a news release — located at the Earth Sky Time Farm, which he still produces.
“We definitely have some strong Vermont roots,” Salloway said, who started making a name for himself with fellow UVM-er Celia Woodsmith — now a Grammy-nominated member of Della Mae and Say Darling — as the lauded duo Avi & Celia and later as Hey Mama.
Salloway formed Billy Wylder in 2011, naming the self-described “art-folk-rock” band in homage to his late grandmother, Wilma “Billie” Hotaling. Soon after, though, he was asked to tour with Bombino, the stage name of Nigerian singer and guitar wizard Omara Moctar, who the New York Times called “one of the world’s greatest living blues guitarists.”
Salloway played guitar in Bombino’s band 2013-2016, touring the world and soaking in the Tuareg guitar master’s distinctive “desert blues” sound, an experience he describes as “an incredible journey” that “deeply inspired my guitar playing and world view.”
Touring with Bombino and traveling the world also inspired him to write the material for his sophomore Billy Wylder album, 2018’s “Strike the Match.” A follow-up to his 2013 debut album, “Sand & Gold,” “the recording spotlights Salloway’s penchant for creating songs that sound impossibly up-to-the-minute while remaining steeped in tradition,” according to PopMatters.
“It connected a lot of dots for me, musically and culturally,” Salloway said, referring to the folk music of the Seegers and his grandparents, folk and early Mississippi blues music. “It just informed my whole musical equilibrium, of how I hear music and where it comes from and where I’m able to let it take me as I create with my own voice.”
Billy Wylder is touring in support of an EP, “Whatcha Looking For,” released in April. The spellbinding four-song set seamlessly melds hypnotic desert blues with rich folk and rock textures for a singular sound that captivates with compelling songs and deft musicianship.
The propulsive title track is a major highlight, with desert blues-rock meeting psychedelic pop over a driving dance-inducing groove. Ditto the mesmerizing “Sahara,” which rides offbeat funk and incredible instrumentalism to great effect. And “Santiago” is a languid and sultry standout enhanced by Salloway’s Leonard Cohen-like lyrics.
It also seriously whets the appetite for more music, which Salloway said is already underway. “We’re already playing a handful of new songs that I’ve written since the EP came out,” he said. “Some of them have already been recorded, and we’re aiming to go back into the studio this fall to work on our next album.”
The core Billy Wylder band is a four-piece that includes Rob Flax on violin and synth, Dana Roth on bass and Zamar Odongo on drums. The talented musicians bring a variety of perspectives to the group, Salloway said: Odongo is from East Africa, Roth is from Israel, and Flax hails from Chicago.
“There’s a lot of different influences that we’ve grown up with and been exposed to through our own kind of musical stories,” Salloway said, “that kind of weave their way into the sound of the band.”
Billy Wylder has already played several shows in Vermont this summer — June at Red Square during the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival, July at Backside 405 in Burlington, and August in Brattleboro and Radio Bean — making stops at area lakes and rivers along the way.
“We love Vermont,” Salloway said, “and especially with all my roots and community up there, it’s always special to get back up there.”
“Coming out of this extremely intense chapter of isolation and division and fear and loss and all these really heavy traumatic experiences,” he added, “we’re just so excited to be able to be sharing our music and our art and keep bringing people together in safe ways to really transcend all of that.”
‘Whatcha Looking For’ EP is available in digital format at billywylder.bandcamp.com