Community Block Party on the West End

You all know what a fan I am of 551 West on King Street.  I eat there at least once a week and have started staging a show monthly on Music Fridays.  This Saturday 9/10 they and a ton of neighborhood businesses are hosting a block party on Pine Street between King and Orange.  Food, fun, beverages and music in the streets: that has Gigspots written all over it.

I volunteered to organize and emcee a battle of the bands between noon and 4pm.  I must say the talent level is sky high and we’re staging a real mix of styles.  We’re also featuring a band that Gigspots was first to introduce in Lancaster (The Late Saints) and introducing a band playing Lancaster for the first time (Sangre Luna).  AND IT’S FREE, folks!  Just show up and rock out.  Over 50 vendors and all your West End neighbors will be there.

Battle of the Bands Contestants

separators-picThe Separators – The Separators are an alternative rock band with a progressive, post-punk sound.  Colin Deery – Vocals/Bass.  Matthew Abel – Drums.  Alex Abel – Guitar.  Ben Zanowski – Guitar.  Their newest release “Go Here Go There” is a three song EP that showcases their songwriting and musicianship.  https://theseparators.bandcamp.com/releases  12:15pm

late-saints2The Late Saints – Led by Italian-born vocalist, guitarist and kazoo virtuoso Jacopo de Nicola, and propelled by the energetic rhythmic section of bassist Mike Huff and drummer Micah Hebbel, The Late Saints bring on stage their genre-bending Italian Gypsy Rock. Treading a path between the lyrical nuances of the Italian Cantautori and the frenetic rhythms a la Manu Chao and Gogol Bordello, this Philly-based trio traverses comfortably between Balkan influenced two-steps, Latin American Tropicalia, poignant protest songs and “Italianized” pop covers. Often featuring guest musicians from the wider Philadelphia area, The Late Saints like to turn their live performances into contagious music melees. The kazoo-driven brass section defines their unique sound.  http://www.thelatesaints.com/  1:15pm

image-1Sangre Luna – Sangre Luna is a 4-piece band with blues in their soul and rock-n-roll in their hearts. Their philosophy is that music should move you in every sense of the word. They strive to sing, shout, and strum that truth in every performance. Wrapping the musings of a male/female songwriting duo around the thunderous grooves of their rhythm section, Sangre Luna seeks nothing less than the hearts & minds of every listener and to make you stomp and shake.  http://sangreluna.com/  2:15pm

ben-voBenjamin Vo Blues Band – Benjamin Vo is a young man with paid dues and plenty of blues.  Born in Atlanta, GA, he moved frequently with his family.  Now living in Lititz, Ben brings down the house at blues and rock clubs throughout the mid-Atlantic with an array of stellar musicians forming his band.  Fans of BB King, Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Skip James, Robert Johnson and Stevie Ray Vaughn are left shaking their heads in amazement at his powerful voice, compelling songs and sheer brilliance on guitar.  http://www.benjaminvo.bandcamp.com/  3:15pm

 

Au Revior LRB

I haven’t blogged much lately because I’ve been blue.  I’m sharing today that I am no longer contracted to Lancaster Roots and Blues, A Festival of Music, as the director of operations.  Mr. Rich Ruoff fired me on June 20.  I questioned his judgement one time too many I guess.  If you want another version of the story, you will have to ask him about it.  If you would like to comment, please do so here!  If you have comments or questions about LRB, please direct them to Mr. Ruoff.

I’m very proud of the work and investment I made in the festival over its first three years.  I hope you all enjoyed yourselves and I hope it thrives for many years to come.  Thank you Lancaster for being a great city for the event.  Thank you to the venues and the artists for your outstanding connection to the attendees.  Thank you to the restaurants who helped me feed the artists and volunteers.  Thank you volunteers and staff!

Gigspots will continue to book bands, produce events and tours, and bring you the latest in music news, videos, show and music reviews.  Watch for a revised version of the website to debut in August and catch us at shows and festivals around the mid-Atlantic!

Boom Boom Friday 7/15

Some Fridays are just funner than others!  This Friday 7/15 Gigspots is hosting shows at two Lancaster venues: Tellus 360 and 551 West.  Why not drop a rock bomb smack in the middle of July!  Help us welcome back to town Working Breed, Leo & Cygnus and Benjamin Vo Blues Band!

The 551 West show is the first of a new Gigspots Showcase series to be held monthly on Music Fridays.  That’s the third Friday of each month for people unfamiliar with our wonderful city of Lancaster, PA!  551 West is our favorite city bar & grill with outrageously delicious food and drinks and two dozen taps.  Benjamin Vo Blues Band is the perfect act to add tasty blues licks to the mix.  If you haven’t caught these guys yet, come see one of the most dynamic and stylish blues guitarists this side of Stevie Ray Vaughn!

We have a special love for both Working Breed and Leo & Cygnus!  We often travel to their respective towns of Pittsburgh and Annapolis to catch them and are crazy proud to be bringing them back to Lancaster!  And where but Tellus 360 could play host to such fresh, genre-bending bands?  If you like your music artsy, diverse and “Holy Cow did you hear that?” these bands are a must-see!

Get LAUNCHed in Lancaster

LAUNCH Music Conference returns to Lancaster for their eighth blast-off Thursday thru Saturday night April 21-23.  Day-time events include over 40 panels and seminars conducted by music industry professionals.  Music starts at 6pm all three nights and includes performances by over 200 acts in many styles.  Fourteen downtown venues will be rocking all weekend!

LAUNCH is a good opportunity for musicians to learn, play and network.  It’s very much a gathering of the tribes and regular attendees (like me) treat it like a family reunion of sorts.  The music business can be a lonely road with few directional signs or welcome centers.  This annual weekend gives the musicians a chance to play for big crowds of their friends and to see those bands they rarely can catch due to their own performance schedules.  Plus they never know who might see them perform and offer new opportunities.

You can’t see everybody; it’s the dilemma of festivals with multiple stages.  But here are some acts I can vouch for as fun, talented, provocative models of what the weekend is all about.  As a disclaimer, I should mention that none of my picks are metal/hardcore/thrash styles.  I just don’t appreciate the genre enough to make informed choices.  If you like it, this weekend is custom-made for you because we get too few chances to hear bands like that in Lancaster and LAUNCH founder Jeremy Weiss is an absolute authority on metal.  My one heavy pick: From Under the Willow 7:30pm Saturday at Chameleon Club.

FRIDAY:

  • Noelle Picara 6pm in the lobby of LCCC piano chanteuse from another world
  • Dre Powe with Jamall Anthony 7:15pm LCCC Freedom Hall rap, R&B and soul
  • The Quixote Project 8:45pm at Chameleon Club neo-Roots and Americana
  • Meg and The Right Sound 9:15pm at The Candy Factory hometown Americana
  • Lovebettie 11:15 at Federal Taphouse pop rock with swagger
  • Colin McGetrick 12am at Federal Taphouse singer-songwriter-guitarist of WaveRadio

SATURDAY:

Thanks and Shouts for LRB 2016

I gave myself three weeks before writing about Lancaster Roots and Blues.  Just as I work behind the curtain for the festival, I heal and reflect in private.  Someday I’ll tell my stories.  For now I’m enjoying hearing your experiences and seeing your pictures and videos.  In particular, I’d like to thank Dan Gillespie of DGital for sharing hundreds of brilliant action shots that really bring the festival to life again.  You have a peerless eye and a generous heart brother!

I need to thank my stage managers for keeping the artists happy and organized.  You did a remarkable job this year under some challenging circumstances.  I need to thank my lead volunteers and their staffs.  You helped our attendees feel welcome, find their way and enjoy their experience.  You are great hosts and help create the vibe that keeps people smiling all over town.

I saw less music this year than either of the previous years.  It made me really sad.  But I brought more bands to the festival than before and by all accounts they played their asses off!  Thank you: Kaleigh Baker, Sweet Leda, Deb Guy, Sam Baker, Stolen Rhodes, Tractor Jerry and The Mudbucket, Gabe Stillman and the Billtown Giants, Frog Holler, Swampcandy, The O’My’s, Sympathy & the Lion and Shawan and The Wonton.  You are stars to me and I appreciate how hard you worked to make our fans get off!

One of my priorities during the festival is getting all the bands and volunteers fed.  I couldn’t do that without the support of Lancaster’s great restaurant community and their staffs.  Particular thanks must be extended to Carr’s, Commonwealth on Queen, Bistro Barberet & Bakery and Characters Pub who created and served the remarkable food for our VIP receptions.  You made people feel special even as their numbers swelled beyond projections.  The following restaurants helped me feed 300 musicians and 230 volunteers while serving capacity crowds of their own: Fat Pigs, The Pressroom, La Piazza, 551 West, Penn Square Grille, Dispensing Company, Annie Bailey’s, Federal Taphouse, Tellus 360 and Isaac’s Pickle Bar and Deli.  Lancaster is blessed to have you all!

She won’t like it, but I must single out Carrie Binkley our Production Manager.  If Rich is the brain and I’m the hands and feet of this festival, she is nothing less than the skeleton.  She provides the framework and connectivity that enable us to move with purpose and stability.

I hope everyone enjoyed the festival and will continue to support its growth!  I’m not sure how many small cities could host, sustain and grow a festival this big this quickly but Lancaster, you make it look easy.  You are a city authentic with charm, character and vivacity few towns your size could even imagine.  Obviously we are blessed with a lot of great music venues, restaurants and shops but they are just buildings without the remarkable people who run them.  Thank you people of Lancaster!

One Week Out: Roots & Blues Baby!

The programs and wristbands arrived yesterday.  I put 1,000 in my car and began deliveries to our restaurant sponsors.  Lancaster Roots & Blues, like any army, travels on its stomach.  I wanted those chefs, waiters and bartenders to be among the first to see their ads in print.  I know that next weekend they’ll be working themselves silly to help everyone enjoy the experience. Part of my job is seeing that 300 musicians and 230 volunteers get fed. Of course, as I spread a stack of programs on the bar, I found myself being spokesperson and cheerleader for this momentous upcoming weekend. It’s the easiest part of my job!

If you read my last blog, you got a glimpse behind the show curtain and an idea of how many miles I cover in a typical, 18 hour festival day.  I encouraged you to make a plan and I showed you mine.  Mike Tyson’s motto was “Everybody’s got a plan till they get punched in the face.”  With all those musicians and volunteers plus between 7,000-10,000 fans coming to town, I’ll be bobbing and weaving and trying to block every punch life might throw at any and all of us.    We now know that weather won’t hurt us; it’s forecast to be in the 40’s and mostly sunny all weekend!

I think our Master Classes are some of the coolest events of the weekend.  They are included in your ticket price and are totally unique experiences.  How often can you sit with the artists as they discuss what they do and then demonstrate it?  Saturday also means Under 21 ticket day so I hope to start my laps at noon amidst young people getting a glimpse at the music life and how artists find their muses and methods.  We have some young rockers called Center Road playing at Chameleon that afternoon that I really want to check out too.

6pm will find me at Ware Center to introduce Kaleigh Baker.  I so rarely get to see her backed by her full band and folks, all she does is crush it.  If you love female vocalists with power and style, just camp out at Ware for Kaleigh, Ruthie Collins and Morgan James.

TheomysI’ll be at The Village at midnight to introduce The O’My’s from Chicago.  If you snooze on The Village lineup on Saturday, you will have missed some of the coolest acts of the weekend.  I’d call this our Contemporary Lineup stage if I was pressed to label it.  Mama Tried, Chrome Moses, RK$TDY and The O’My’s: I’d love to take that team on tour!

I could go on and on but I need to go, go, go!  I’ll be the guy with the big smile on his face and the rest of me kind of blurry.  See you next weekend and have a ball!

 

 

 

Fits & Starts for Roots & Blues

Are you having fits & starts over the schedule for Roots & Blues?  Do you know the phrase fits & starts?  In the case of deciding who to see, where and when during Lancaster Roots and Blues festival, the phrase could describe how you are wrestling with choices.  You decide who to see, you discover an option, you feel conflict and you flip.  It’s a good problem to have.  Don’t give yourself conniptions as my mother’s people would say.

Map-of-Festival-2016-LRB
I have to try and be everywhere at once.  It’s my job as Director of Operations.  Of course that’s impossible and I’ve learned to let it be.  I can’t introduce every band or even see every band.  I can’t stop what I’m doing and have a beer with every friend I run into.  So I build a framework for each night: start, middle and finish.  I try to mix business and pleasure into the decisions.  Then I let the chips fall.  All I have to worry about is getting everyone checked in, sound-checked, parked, fed, paid and pampered.

Friday 2/26.  By the time the VIP Reception opens at Lancaster Visitors Center at 5pm, I will have been on the job ten hours already.  So I’ll have a cup of Gerhart Coffee and a glass of Barossa Valley shiraz.  I’ll munch some delicacies by Chef Tim Carr.  I’ll hug and introduce my pal Kaleigh Baker before she performs solo acoustic.  Then I will dash to Convention Center to introduce Sweet Leda as they open the Main Stage at Freedom Hall B at 6pm.  I’ll get to boogie a few minutes there before I start the laps of this phase of operations: opening.

By 7:30pm most venues will have opened and the VIP event will be ended.  I’ll secure the Visitors Center and check in on the Food Truck Court on Market Street.  If I start a counter-clockwise lap from there, I’ll catch a bit of Sam Baker at Ware, Left Lane Cruiser at Tellus 360, The Ogham Stones at Elks Lodge, Banditos at Chameleon and Ten String Symphony at Trust PAC before introducing Kapali Long to open Dispensing Company’s stage.  Dude is coming from Hawaii to play our festival.  That’s my plan 7:30-9:30.

MaceoThat gives me 30 minutes to try and catch a few minutes of Marah at Tellus 360 and solve any festival problems before Maceo Parker hits the Main Stage at convention center at 10pm.  What could go wrong?  Of course I want to be there to see a legend and his 12-piece band show us what it’s all about.  That just doesn’t happen every day in Lancaster.   I hope to see 15-20 minutes before I begin the next phase of laps: finales.

Chameleon and Ware Center will be wrapping up between 11-11:30pm.  I hope to fit introducing Gabe Stillman and The Billtown Giants at Federal Taphouse into those laps.  They go on at 11pm and are some serious blues-rock pals who call Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport their home.  I know you never heard of them.  You heard it here first; be there!

Frog HollerAs I hit my 17th hour on the job Friday, I want nothing more than to introduce Frog Holler at Elks Lodge Ballroom and have my first beer of the night.  They will celebrate 20 years together in 2016 and for my money, they embody everything a roots and blues festival should be.  Last pause of the night will be at Federal Taphouse for Toronzo Cannon.  It will feel like being in Chicago and my feet will likely feel like I walked there!  Then it’s back to headquarters to review and prep for Saturday!

toronzo

Reboot Camp

I ended 2015 wanting a fresh start.  On a simple level that meant tasks like cleaning out the closets, reorganizing my office and sorting a few piles of “pitch, keep, or pay it forward.”  On a higher level, it meant choosing healthy over haggard.  Somewhere in between, I needed to repurpose my business to reflect five years of experience.  So I’ve thrown away a bunch of stuff, quit smoking cigarettes and begun the redesign of Gigspots.  January 2016 has been the hardest month of my life since boot camp in 1981.

You learn a lot about yourself in challenging times.  I was sure I would die those first few weeks of basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, the most misnamed post in any man’s Army.  Fifteen weeks later I knew I could “fuck, fight and hold the light” on any continent.  Thirty five years later I laugh at the memories and love to tell the stories.  Our drill instructors loved to remind us that “You assholes volunteered for this!”  They all had been drafted and served combat duty in Vietnam.

A former student recently reminded me that I’d recommended a book to her, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.  She said it changed her life; I knew it had mine.  The four agreements you make with yourself are:  1) Be impeccable with your word, 2) Don’t take anything personally, 3) Don’t make assumptions and 4) Always do your best.  After this reminder (thanks S.F.), I recalled that the book had popped up in some close friends’ lives recently.  I decided I had to re-read it.  I don’t believe in random.

The week before, I had uncovered Ruiz’s book cleaning out my office and I also found my copy of the book Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath.  This personality assessment book meant much to me when I had decided to leave teaching and try to rediscover what mattered to me.  The idea behind the book is that our society wastes much time and energy trying to “fix” our weaknesses rather than recognizing and employing our strengths.   My top five themes are Empathy, Input, Intellection, Activator and Connectedness.

So the boxes of photos and books from my past remind me of tough times endured and joyous times realized.  They give me something to do instead of smoking which it now seems I spent most of my waking hours doing.  I’ve been taking time to rediscover elements of my character and reassessing how Gigspots.com should reflect them.  After all, I am the brand.  My life themes are the business themes.

So I empathize with your need to find entertainment among people you enjoy.  I do the homework to give you input on what’s out there.  I ask the big questions like, “Will this enrich some lives?” and I support the causes, not just the events.  Think global, act local.  Connectedness means “…fortifying the bonds between yourself, the people you know, or even those you will never meet.”  That’s what Gigspots is about.  I’m building campfires we can all gather around and celebrate what makes us human.

Here We Go Again

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh where “Here we go” is followed by “Steelers.”  The MNF game last night between the Steelers and San Diego Chargers was a lucky win for my team.  A friend of mine is fond of saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”  I think if you work hard enough towards a goal, luck just might find you.  I hope I’m right.

bjorn1I can tell you that Bjorn Jacobsen is working hard on his PA tour.  The NEPA leg included two Wilkes-Barre gigs and shows in Bloomsburg, Williamsport, State College, West Chester, Lancaster and East York: eight shows in ten days.  I was lucky to be his host, wheel man, sound man and big fan on five of those nights and I’m looking forward to a few more before Boy Wander heads back to NOLA.  His singing is stronger than ever and he still thrashes that acoustic guitar.  There was a brief sighting of Amanda and baby Adelei at DipCo and jeepers that baby is cute!  Bjorn is opening my big show this Friday 10/16 at Elks Lodge.  Come see how strong and lucky The Wayfarer has become!

Jamall AnthonyIf you want to see work that’s play, join us for Music Fridays in Lancaster at The BPOE Elks Lodge Ballroom this Friday. Bjorn opens with some jangly, rootsy tales of love and woe.  Soul singer Jamall Anthony from Coatesville is in the middle.  Maybe you saw one of his LAUNCH Music Conference shows or have heard him on 93.7 WSTW?  This guy can really sing and this could be an, “I saw him when…” moment for all of us!  Here’s a bit of what made me say YEAH two years ago at LAUNCH.

Shrimpboat is the 8-piece super-group that means PARTY in Lancaster.  They’ve played all the biggest events in town since forming: NYE, Celebrate Lancaster, FlyFest, The Long’s Park Summer Concert Series etc.  Their stated mission is to get hips shaking.  They do it and make it look easy.  Come get some easy!

As the stage doors at DipCo swing shut (one showcase left), a window is swinging open at Federal Taphouse.  I’ve been asked to book a series of performances there between now and Christmas.  First up will be Skribe on Friday October 23rd!  As I left the meeting confirming this experiment at Taphouse, thinking, “Ok, who do I get to play in two weeks?”  I received a call from Skribe.Skribe2  A venue had just cancelled a 10/23 gig on him and could I find something along his tour route?  I don’t know what to call that but luck.  If you’ve seen Skribe, you know how lucky we all are!  If you haven’t, your lucky day is 10/23 when you get to see him for free, eat artisan, wood-fired pizza and drink craft beer.

So I got lucky trying to do good for a local business and a touring musician friend.  It’s been a mantra at Gigspots and the folks I work with are doing well.  It’s also what motivates me to work harder.  I’m about to add ten new venues to Gigspots.com.  It will be a lot more work but I believe I’m serving the community.  I believe if you do good, luck finds you.  Doing good and doing well are not synonymous though.  Doing good is about rewards for others.  Doing well is about rewards for you.  The luckiest people find ways to accomplish both.

Stagelights Dim at DipCo

I got some sad news over the weekend.  The Lancaster Dispensing Company has decided to cease staging live music after Thanksgiving 2015.  They have been a live music venue since opening in 1978.  To me, it was the equivalent of having your favorite uncle die.DipCo new

I grew up in the restaurant business.  I know it’s a really tough way to make a living.  You count your inventory by the ounce and your profits by the pennies.  You work every weekend and most holidays.  There are hundreds of laws to comply with and you can’t choose your neighbors.  You are the top of the food chain so everyone else’s costs get passed on to you.

So why did the music have to die?  I can only conjecture on Bradley and Judy’s reasons for making what I’m sure was a very tough decision.  I’m not keen to guess and frankly it’s none of my business.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to stage eighteen Gigspots Showcases there.  I have two shows left: October 10 and November 14.  I’d be well pleased to see a good crowd!

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapDipCo has long been the hub of Lancaster’s music scene and it served me as a place to introduce many bands here.  It was a pivotal stop as I would take bands on tour around the region.  Besides getting their first exposure in our crucial Lancaster market, those bands knew they would get guaranteed pay at the end of the night.

There are few guarantees in life and fewer still for musicians and restaurateurs.  Most of those folks count on people coming in the door to cover their expenses and put some bread on their own tables.  Any musician will tell you that nights with a guarantee are what keep the boat afloat.  Any restaurateur will tell you that the only guarantees are that the bills will arrive and that regular customers can make or break you.

I’m not looking to lay blame any more than I’m guessing what motivated DipCo to stop the music.  There are a few facts that I can share.  The cover charge at the door is five dollars on music nights.  It’s been that price for decades.  Every night, I would see 12-20 people turn away at the door rather than pay it.  We all know that there is no place cheaper to eat and drink downtown and the food is great.  What’s the logic in paying $8 for a beer somewhere else when $8 at DipCo gets you a beer and live music all night?  On the other side of that coin: DipCo’s cover charge is $5 but their average sale per customer is nearly $12.  If you drop the cover charge, can you count on that clientele to meet your averages?  Or will six people share the large nachos and a pitcher of water while enjoying the music?  Either way it’s a risk.  And what value do you place on the artists’ work?

The only guaranteed losers in this equation are the musicians.  There is now one less place to play where you will be guaranteed a payout at the end of the night.  There is one less chance for you to reach the Lancaster market and build your following.  I know that’s crucial because so many nights are dependent on people coming through the door.  And yeah, I know that cover charges and hence band pay have been stagnant for thirty years.  It was $5 to see two bands in 1985 and it still is at nearly every venue.

Live, original music is only a small part of what The Lancaster Dispensing Company has given to our city since 1978.  I’ve had hundreds of great meals and memorable nights there.  It’s where I first met many of my favorite people in Lancaster, where I always brought out-of-town visitors and where I always could count on seeing friendly, familiar faces.  That’s not going to change.

bjorn1The Gigspots Spotlight Showcase on October 10 features two of my friends who are musical freaks.  Returning to the area from NOLA will be Bjorn Jacobsen, the Wayfarer himself, bringing savage tales of busking for a living and being a new daddy.  And yeah, all that dark stuff from the past and weird prophesies for the future will boil over too. Clinton Hibshman Opening the night and a whole can of whup-ass on guitars, harp and songs will be Clinton Hibshman.  I don’t waste a lot of words trying to describe him.  I just turn it up and grab a beer.  He embodies everything that happens at my favorite kinds of parties.

Help me make my last two shows at DipCo those kinds of parties.  Let the food, drinks and good times roll!  Have you partied there?  Have you played there?  Let’s celebrate what it’s meant to us all.