LAUNCH Rocks its Fifth Weekend

I’m sure there were plenty of doubters and haters when Jeremy Weiss and Rick Gadd decided to initiate LAUNCH Music Conference and Festival five years ago.  Today kicks off the fifth annual.  So much for doubters and haters.  I plunked down $60 for a VIP pass so I can access all areas, every show and every conference.  Can I do it all? No.  Am I gonna try?  Yes.  It’s one hell of a bargain for that much creativity.

I love how alive downtown feels during LAUNCH.  I love the streets being filled with interesting, exhilarating, curious people.  I love showing off the town to visitors, especially first-timers.  They think Lancaster is barns and dirt roads.  I take them for crepes and craft beer and it settles them right out.

LAUNCH is easier to navigate than ever.  You can download a free app to make a schedule and connect with friends.  There are print guides in dozens of merchants around town.  Plus, besides the LAUNCH and Gigspots websites, you can access info via MOOSE and  If you can find the town square (follow the music) and the two tallest buildings in town, you will have found the epicenter of LAUNCH at Lancaster County Convention Center.

If you would like personal navigation advice, a place to have a snack and recharge your devices and self, wander up to the 300 block of N. Queen St and visit The Candy Factory.  Those fine folks, Jason Mundock of Wood Stove House and I will be co-hosting a Launch Lounge for musicians and the like.  We’d love to welcome you to town, pour you a cup of coffee and invite you to help us create a sound and visual collage of this year’s LAUNCH weekend.  Follow The Candy Factory or GigspotsSam on Twitter for special updates.  Seizure later!

When Getting Shanked is Good

When Getting Shanked is Good

It’s Tuesday.  Ever since I visited Shank’s Tavern in Marietta, PA for their Acoustic Open Mic night three weeks ago, I can’t get the night off my mind.  It was as if someone waved a magic wand and said, “Presto!  The perfect night of food, drinks and music awaits you.”  I know tastes vary and beauty is subjective but folks, you need to check out Shank’s for yourselves.  I’m now calling it my favorite place in Marietta.

For starters, there is plenty of free parking right outside the door.  The historic architecture is complemented by cozy décor.  It’s a grand building but only the horseshoe bar area and a small dining room were in use that night.  There was a great dinner rush but the kitchen, bartenders and wait staff kept everyone happy and made it look easy.  If you just want to drink, they offer dozens of tequilas, nearly one hundred craft beers and most anything else you could name.  Everyone there was eating and nobody had to twist my arm.  Tuesday means Asian specialties and the pho and spring rolls were perfection.  The regular menu is unique and a different special is offered every night.

The music made the night.  Guest host for the night Leo DiSanto opened with his partner Jeff Bryson; they regularly front The Vinegar Creek Constituency.  Leo’s brother Nick joined them then played a few songs of his own on his one-man-band percussion rig.  From there, the night became a veritable who’s who of musicians from the surrounding area.  Corty Byron has returned to the area from a stint in CA.  He joined forces with a percussionist and guitarist Chad Kinsey to perform The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and several originals.  They set the bar high for musicianship and energy and set the tone for the night.  Friends collaborated who rarely get to jam together and the audience cheered everyone heartily.

Matt Johnson (The Slackwater News) and Jeanette Stillman played tasty acoustic versions of several Slackwater tunes.  Jordan Rast and Tuck Ryan (Second Hand Suits) stepped up to serenade the crowd with a few of their band’s tunes and a stellar version of an old Sam Cooke tune.  These young men really know how to play to a crowd and everyone loved it.  Several local session men (not to be named) showed off their wares playing unique, flavorful versions of some rock and folk standards.  While the songs might have been old, their presentations proved that these guys still love to play and haven’t lost an inch of skill or creativity.  The night took on the flavor of a family reunion; that is, if everyone in your family is a stringed-instrument virtuoso.

At least two artists showed up that night that nobody recognized but everyone welcomed.  Samantha Danielson hails from the Harrisburg area.  She has a great voice and can play the hell out of an acoustic guitar.  She bailed shortly after her set before many folks got a chance to thank her and welcome her.  Samantha, come back!  Check in!  You rock!  Rockin’ Rob played some gritty, funny, “Told ya so” songs that got everybody hopping.  We all hope he comes back as well.

Then Bjorn arrived.  Bjorn Jacobsen fronts The Wayfarer Experiment, a Mount Joy based band that calls their style “dark folk gypsy blues.”  You would think Norm had just walked into “Cheers” to hear the reception he got.  Part of it was the fact that his whereabouts had been “parts unknown” for a few weeks.  Another factor is the band’s growing reputation for showing up with a varied lineup and shredding strings and blowing minds.  On this night, Bjorn sang, Nate Arndt played guitar and Alyssa Martin played violin.  While I missed Matt King on percussion, there was plenty of foot-stomping and table-tapping while they played.  Their three-song set felt like the headliner act in a night filled with headliners.   See them asap before Bjorn disappears again.  He plays everything with strings too.

The final highlight of the night was an act called “The Duke and The Duchess.”  The name refers to two ancient instruments these friends play and it was their first public performance.  The crowd went nuts with applause and approval as these friends concluded their arrangement of “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You.”  It was the perfect end to a perfect night.  Well, the night wasn’t quite over.  Almost everyone still there had performed so the whole bar took on an after-party glow.  It will be hard to find an open mic that combines the food, beverages and musicianship in such high quality.

But I’ll keep trying.  Please respond here or hit my Gigspots Facebook page to let me know if you have an open mic you think I should check out.  You can see many videos of this night (and over 500 more) on my YouTube Channel:

Sam I Am…Johnny I Was

Something pretty funny has been happening to me in the last few weeks.  People in Lancaster, Baltimore, York and other points east have called me John.  Honestly, I thought they just forgot my name.  Then it dawned on me that I had said, “I love it when people call me John” in a recent blog where I thanked people for all the 50th birthday greetings.  That freaked me out almost as much.  People are actually reading my blog?

John, Johnny, Little John: those are my childhood names.  My dad’s name was Samuel, as was his father’s, and all of us lived together for a while.  My full name is Samuel John; I was named for both my grandfathers.  For my mom to yell, “Sam” when she wanted me would have made for an awful lot of jumping up and down for my dad and pap.  She yelled for me a lot.  Sometimes she even blew a cab whistle because those were the days when kids could run around wherever and weren’t just parked on the couch.  So John it was.  Friends, family, teachers and coaches knew me as Johnny Campbell.  They still do.

In the year book room c. 1981

During my high school party years, some friends decided John was not a fitting name: too bland.  They liked much better the way Sam, Sammy, Sam Man, Smiling Sam, Slammin’ Sam, Sammy Cammy, Slammy Clambowl and dozens of other monikers rolled off the tongue.  A girl who actually paid attention to me called me Samuel Jonathan.  No way was I complaining about that!  When I graduated and enlisted in the Army, I officially became Campbell, Samuel J.  I won’t tell you what the drill sergeants called me.

Fast forward ten years to when another girl paid attention to me; I married her.  She has only known me as Sam but has learned to understand when everyone west of Carlisle calls me John.  Actually, she learned this lesson the hard way.

She was studying for the CPA exam in Harrisburg.  We drove up together and I dropped her off then went to visit an old friend and her fiancé.  I gave her the number where to reach me and said to just call when classes were over.  Now, this dear friend (since kindergarden) introduced me to her fiancé as John Campbell.  We were hanging out, having fun, playing records and the phone rings.  Fiancé answers it, says, “Nobody here by that name,” and hangs up.   It took me a few minutes but it occurred to me; “Did that caller ask for Sam by any chance?”

“Yeah, how did you know that?”

“Shit, I have to leave!”  My newly minted bride had just used her last quarter to call for me and got hung up on!  She was now standing on a corner in Harrisburg with no cash, no car, and no idea if the number I gave her was wrong or what.  We laughed about it later.  She was pretty glad to see me roll up but whoa, Nelly she was hot to know what happened.

So that’s my name game.  If you know me as Sam, you can call me Sam.  If you knew me as John, feel free to still call me that.  It’s like a little youth elixir for me.  If you have some other names for me, that’s cool too.  I have 4,000 former students who call me Mr. Campbell, Mister, Campbell, Soup and I’m flattered to be remembered by them at all.  For you, for them, for everyone: just keep calling!