Lancaster Roots and Blues: Year Two in Review

My feet have stopped throbbing and my phone has stopped ringing.  The post-partum depression has subsided and my showcase at DipCo tonight will resolve the rest.  Yep, I’m back to being Sammy Gigspots just seven days after wrapping up a colossal Lancaster Roots and Blues festival.  Come set a spell at Lancaster Dispensing Company tonight 2/14 for Danny Whitecotton solo and The Plate Scrapers, a jammin’ bunch of bluegrass fellas from Cumberland, MD.plate scrapers

I’ll begin my review with thank-you’s.  Thank you Rich Ruoff: for giving me the opportunity to serve as your Director of Operations for this fantastic event.  Thank you to the bands and venues for working so hard to make sure everyone was having a blast and finding that buzz.  Thank you to the volunteers who made this festival run smoothly and our guests feel welcome.  Every stop I made, I walked into a venue packed with happy people.  Feel proud of yourselves.  You earned it.

The public response to LRB 2015 has been overwhelmingly positive.  We made the newspapers eight days in a row.  Our social media accounts continue to explode.  The photos and videos are pouring in and our post-event survey again shows that over 90% of attendees plan absolutely to return for 2016.  Two things people say we improved on from year one: our Shuttle Bus service and our availability of credit card readers.  Many people enjoyed riding the shuttle and being able to purchase tickets/merch with their plastic.

Those credit card readers were both a blessing and a curse.  It made life easier for our customers but it left us low on the ready cash you need to pay traveling bands living payday to payday.  Something that disappointed me personally was the lack of foot-traffic at our Food Truck Court.  Our survey results from 2014 included many requests for food trucks and I worked hard to line up some quality food smack dab in the middle of the festival.  We even made it a shuttle bus stop but people passed it by.

Our three new venues were fantastic additions.  Everyone had high praise for Lancaster Dispensing Company, Trust Performing Arts Center and The Elks Lodge.   They have all asked to be part of the festival again next year and they all earned our respect.  They all have my vote!

What about the music?  Well, I didn’t get to see much.  I started my Friday at The Trust so I could introduce the first act of the night, Grand Ole’ Ditch.  I love their sound and my goodness that’s a beautiful room!  I introduced Sweet Leda at The Elks at 9:10 and stuck around for two songs.  They are great friends and one of my favorite bands on the planet.  It thrilled me to see The Elks filled with happy people like I remember it always being for Music Fridays.  I introduced The Freeway Revival at 10:30 at Federal Taphouse.  I love their blend of country, blues and rock.  And wow does that place get fun as the night gets late!  I closed my night by introducing Second Hand Suits at DipCo at midnight.  Only my badge got me inside; the place was at capacity most of both nights.  I had my only beer of the night there as I caught up to the pack of twelve family members I had roaming the festival.  The music, the crowd, the moment and that beer were glorious.  Then I went back to work till about 2:30.

I saw even less music Saturday night.  I saw Dana Fuchs melt a Chameleon Club filled to capacity: one song from stage right.  I saw Iris DeMent for one song: from beside the sound board.  I did get to drive her to and from the Marriott and Ware Center and we chatted a bit.  She’s a lovely, regular person and had several questions about Lancaster, our festival and my Subaru.  She has a daughter approaching driving age.  I got to witness some of the late-night bluegrass jam at Tellus 360 and have a beer with my daughter who was hanging tough for a second night.  She said she was proud of me and that was enough music to my ears.

Then it was time to clear Freedom Hall of cars, sound, lights, everything for the gymnastics competition loading in at 8am Sunday morning.  I caught a couple hours of sleep then drove home the first carload of stuff.  I went back to finish loading out the backstage office and by 11am I was headed home with the last of it.

I visited with my out-of-town guests a bit and got some immediate feedback, mostly positive.  Friends tell you the whole truth and I love them for it.  They couldn’t stop smiling, laughing and bringing up moments from the weekend.  We had only seen each other in passing.  They all declared it a success and an improvement on year one.  That was all I needed to hear.  I hit the showers and caught about 16 hours sleep.  Monday was pretty lazy too.

By Tuesday I was back on the job.  Yes, there will be a Lancaster Roots and Blues 2016 and yes we will continue to improve.  Thank you all for your encouragement and support.  You are why Lancaster comes first in our name.

Have You Seen Sam?

Where in the world is Sam?  Well, I’ve been hither and yon directing the operations of Lancaster Roots and Blues 2015 to prepare for the biggest party ever thrown in our fair city!  I’m digging the hugs and pats on the back; keep ‘em coming!  Coffee is nice too.  I have been doing plenty of writing but mostly it’s content for the LRB website.  Have you visited today?  Do you have tickets?  Are you volunteering?  Let me hear you Lancaster!

Much of my other writing has been farmed out to our media partners.  Check out these fun, informative blogs I wrote for FigLancaster.com.  This link will take you to my piece on the festival venues.  This link will take you to my blog on the stuff people are shouting at me as I run through the streets.  And this link will take you to the blog our office manager Carrie Binkley is writing: a sort of behind the scenes/under the gun peek at how we lash this thing together. Master Class page-2  Her latest is about the stunning array of Master Classes we are offering this year.  And don’t miss her piece on our Food Truck Court!

I will be even tougher to keep up with the weekend of the festival but know this.  I couldn’t be more proud or pleased to be working with Rich Ruoff and our team to bring Lancaster Roots and Blues back to town Feb 6-7.  We have responded to your requests to offer a Food Truck Court in Lancaster Square and wow, wait till you see who’s coming to dinner.  We also have added tons of great stuff to do during the day Saturday, with Master Classes at The Ware Center starting at 12:30pm, music starting at the Convention Center at 2pm and at Tellus 360 at 2:30.Ditch2

I can tell you that I’ll be at Trust Performing Arts Center Friday 2/6 at 5:45 to introduce Grand Ole’ Ditch and kick off the night in style!  If you haven’t heard these bluegrass phenoms from Cumberland, MD or visited The Trust before, I highly recommend you meet me there.  Can you say humdinger?!

The Getting Down to Dewey Tour for Triphazard

Last September I went on tour with my pals Lovebettie and a band they had connected with from Liverpool, England named Triphazard.  The ultimate destination was Dewey Beach Music Conference.  One of the organizers had produced Triphazard’s latest ep and had arranged for the two bands touring together.  I was just lucky enough to get invited along for the ride!  You KNOW I Lovebettie!  Triphazard is a fantastic punk/pop trio with looks, sounds and energy galore.  They can move you!Vidzta Live

When Triphazard got invited to play DBMC 2014, they asked me to be tour manager for the week preceding it.  “Hell yes!” I said.  So today I announce the Getting Down to Dewey Tour!  Our kickoff show will be Friday 9/12 at Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company, 50 N. Cameron Street in Harrisburg.  Joining Triphazard that night will be The Great SOCIO and Medusa’s Discomedusasdisco If you like your rock crunchy with some thought involved and great food and beer on the side, this show is for you!  Tickets are $5 in advance and $7 day of the show.

Triphazard, The Great SOCIO and Medusa’s Disco also play World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington, DE Saturday 9/13.  We are adding a very special guest to the bill but cannot announce it until after 8/22.  I can say that the Queen is only 30 minutes by train or car from Philly and 50 miles from Lancaster. Queen4 If you haven’t seen a show in their grand room downstairs, you are missing one of the greatest venues ever.  There is plenty of street parking plus a garage right outside.  If I get enough feedback on this show, I will arrange for a charter bus to run from Lancaster down and back.  Hit me at sam@gigspots.com or on Twitter @GigspotsSam.

After a day of sightseeing in Philly, I am taking Triphazard north to play gigs in Williamsport and State College with Lovebettie.  Both bands are known and loved at The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport where they played together last year.  In short: it’s a helluva party and you’re invited Monday 9/15!  Our State College show Wednesday 9/17 is at the venerable Café 210 West (210 W. College Ave).  I love the layers of this place!  On the sidewalk you have the nicest patio in town.  The food and drink specials are very inexpensive and spot on.  Pass through the huge bar and dining room and you find a serious music venue at the back!Lovebettie L1  I can’t wait to unleash Lovebettie and Triphazard on those Nittany Lions and we’ll see who’s ready to roar!

Then it’s down to Dewey Beach Music Conference!  This annual event offers the perfect last blast of summer.  Nearly 100 bands perform in multiple venues, all within a few blocks and all FREE.  The ocean is still warm yet the beaches are mostly empty.  If you are a touring band (or hope to be soon), this is a great showcase for your talent.  Industry seminars run all day Friday and Saturday and you can pick up a wealth of knowledge and advice from people with the inside edge.  Come join me, Triphazard, Lovebettie, The Great SOCIO and scores of other bands to rock all night and chill all day!Van Promo Edit3

LRB Inside-Out: When the Music’s Over…

“Well, the music is your special friend…” Jim Morrison

Ah, Jim.  I thought about him several times this weekend and of countless other artists who have shaped who I am.  I worked hard this weekend to honor the musicians past and present who have shared and were sharing their inspirations.  More than anything I worked to share the joys of live music and my beloved Lancaster with the thousands of visitors who came to town.  Thank you Rich Ruoff: for the great gift of letting me help you to realize your vision.  Live music is better.

Now, I crank up the thank-you machine.  A baker’s dozen of restaurants donated over 170 meals to help feed our artists and I can’t tell you how impressed and appreciative they were of your fine food and hospitality.  Thank you Annie Bailey’s, Carr’s, Characters, Isaac’s, Dispensing Company, Federal Taphouse, Penn Square Grille, POUR, Rachel’s Creperie, Roaring Brook Market & Café, Sakura Asian Fusion & Sushi, Stockyard Inn, and 551 West.  A very special thank you to The Pressroom who took our phone call at 11:30pm when it was obvious that Lake Street Dive would be signing autographs well beyond the operating hours of every restaurant in town.  I hope my readers reward all of you and themselves with frequent visits.

All the artists at both The Ware Center and Chameleon were also fed by our VIP Caterers: Accomac Events and Food For Thought Catering.  The bands and the VIPs all raved about your food.  I worked for both companies as I put myself through college so I know the intense labor, skill and faith required to cater events like this.  Immense thanks and praise to you both!  I’m truly sorry our signage wasn’t better so that more VIPs could have found and enjoyed your remarkable work.

Bullfrog Brewery and Kirchner’s Beverage made it possible for us to serve quality regional beers at the convention center.  It was important to us.  It literally would not have happened without them.  Bullfrog also donated all the beer for our backstage areas.  Kirchner’s donated the beer for the VIP area at The Ware Center and all the tapping equipment.   I’m praying to the beer gods that these two fine companies form a lasting partnership.  I love Williamsport and will take any excuse to visit.  But it’s kind of a hike to fill a growler.  I know Tellus 360 might have a keg left of Hopsphyxcitration and Jamie from The Fridge reveres Bullfrog’s Edgar IPA.  Craft beer lovers, let’s cross our fingers.

We distributed nearly 8,000 festival programs.  Weren’t they beautiful?  Locals took one look at it and said, “Wow, you got Fig to make your programs?!”  It felt great to know that Fig’s style is so widely recognized and admired here in town.  There was never any question in our minds who we wanted to help brand our festival and show off Lancaster.  I can’t wait to further celebrate the partnership next week as Fig Lancaster launches their first-ever Music Issue 3/6/14 with a party and concert at Tellus 360.  It’s free and open to the public so come get your first look at how Fig celebrates our music scene!

Besides Fig, Accomac and Food For Thought, our other sponsors large and small delivered equipment, expertise and funding that allowed us to dream big and make it reality.  Thank you to LCSWMA, Atomic Design, Meteor Tower, Country Home Furnishings, Miesse Candies, Parkhill Jewelry, Red Raven Art Company, Spring Gulch Folk Festival, Tri State Indie, WXPN and Willow Valley Communities.  Thank you to Crystal Water, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives and Standard Group Printing.  And thank you to our venues for serving our guests so admirably.  It was a big leap of faith by you all and we appreciate it!

Finally, I must thank the music fans who visited Lancaster Roots and Blues.  You were very patient with our first try at this.  The buzz in our streets and the joy on your faces kept us going.  I promise that 2015 will be bigger and better.  We welcome your feedback because we want to welcome you back next year with all the kinks worked out.  Please stay tuned and keep spreading the word; Lancaster rocks and Live Music is Better!

LRB Inside-Out: Eight Days a Week

Eight days a week is not enough to show I care.  Last week many of us celebrated the 50thanniversary of The Beatles first US appearance.  Most of the specials on tv and radio featured people spooling one common thread; it changed everything.  It was a craze.  Guitars, records and skinny ties flew off the shelves.  They inspired a generation to wanna hold your hand.

What inspired The Beatles?  Roots and blues music.  Skiffle and folk.  Singer-songwriters.  They took elements of those styles and crafted brilliant pop tunes just the way Stephen Foster (1826-1864) and W.C. Handy (1873-1958) had done before. They are known respectively as the “father of American music” and “father of the blues.” You know their songs if you have a few generations of American in you.

Eighteen of Foster’s compositions were recorded and released on the Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster collection. Among the artists who are featured on the album are John Prine,Ron SexsmithAlison KraussYo Yo MaRoger McGuinnMavis Staples, and Suzy Bogguss. The album won the Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2005. (Wikipedia)

The genre of the blues was a hallmark of American society and culture in the 1920s and 1930s. So great was its influence, and so much was it recognized as Handy’s hallmark, that author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his novel The Great Gatsby that “All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the “Beale Street Blues” while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust. At the gray tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.” (Wikipedia)

Sorry to go all former-teacher on you but this weekend is huge to me.  And I love The Beatles.  And I loved Shirley Temple singing “Oh Susanna.”  And I love “Beale Street Blues.”  And I taught The Great Gatsby.  I think it and The Grapes of Wrath are the two most American novels ever written.  And I think those sentiments and the music of those eras is more important and more relevant than ever.

If you agree, or if you just want to see heartfelt performances of these roots of our culture, there is no place to be except Lancaster Roots and Blues this weekend.  We’ve been working eight days a week to make this festival a ground-breaker.  I am ecstatic to help Rich Ruoff stage this epic celebration of our city and our role as the crossroads for genuine roots and blues music every February.  All we need from you right now is to show up with your party-pants on and get down to it.

Eight days a week, I love you.

Sam

Lancaster Roots and Blues Inside Out Volume II: Finally February!

It’s finally February!  Holy cow I thought January would never end with the cold and snow. February started with a downright heat wave over the weekend with temps nearing fifty.  Old Phil socked it to us though and now it’s three storms this week.  But who cares?  No bit of weather is going to keep me from being psyched about Lancaster Roots and Blues being just over two weeks away.

Downtown restaurants and stellar caterers have really stepped up to help us welcome and feed our musicians and VIPs.  The deal was that restaurants would offer meals for musicians in exchange for ad space on our website and program.  We want our players to have great experiences here and we want our favorite places to benefit from all the extra potential customers in town.  Think about the places you take your visiting friends to eat.  A cool dozen have partnered with us already and I’m looking for more.  Check our website to see if your favorite is there and let me know if it’s not!

We have over 100 volunteers signed up to load, take tickets/ID, sell merchandise and drive musicians from stage to restaurant to stage and back.  We have stage managers and sound techs.  If you have these skills or know someone who does, ask them and yourself if you’re on the list.  If you’re a pro or have some niche, we want to hear from you.  Who wants a press pass to shoot some photos and videos?

On that subject: not a single photography/videography company in town has sought advertising or credentials with us.  Are you shooters really going to let all these artists come to town and not even get something for your portfolio?  RSVP.

February might be a short, dark month to most but it’s always been more than that to me.  My birthday is 2/19 and when Rich was hosting the Blues Festivals at Chameleon, I discovered he was also born 2/19.  This year we’re saving the celebration for 2/21 but it will last two days.

the Lonelies tour

My Gigspots Showcase at DipCo on Saturday 2/8 will resonate for two weeks and get me through until Roots and Blues.  I’m hosting The Lonelies Tour as my regional gems.  They’re not a band; they don’t have a website or merch.  They’re six pedigreed mutts who got together to jam when their respective bands and solo tours were on hiatus and discovered they’re a powerhouse show together.  Be ready to say, “Holy shit.  Where did you say they were from?  What happened?”  My local treasures for the night are the waycool Second Hand Suits.  They are a band.  They meld time, style and sound fluently.  Come see the $20 show I’m offering for just $5 at the door.

I also am taking two mornings away from LRB prep to help my heroes at WXPN by answering phones during their fund drive 2/10-11.  I want to be there when the phones light up because they’re offering a pair of VIP Weekend tickets to Lancaster Roots and Blues for certain pledge levels.  I also like to do my best for the station that brightens every day, invests in our community and enriches my musical character.  If you’re not a supporting member, please consider a membership.  Tune in some Saturday afternoon during the all-request show and hear what kind of community you’ll be joining.  It’s a card worth carrying.  Of course WXPN is partnering with Roots and Blues.  Who did you think it would be?

My last night out before LRB will be at the fabulous Tri State Indie Awards 2/16 at World Cafe Live in Philly.  It’s the third annual and I truly loved the first two!  It blows away the Grammy’s.  Being a presenter makes me feel like both host and guest and whoa is it a party, a concert and an awards show rolled up tight.  LRB artists Cabinet, Sweet Leda and Jake Lewis & The Clergy are nominated.  Mike McMonagle and Tellus 360 are nominated.  Other Gigspots favorites like Kalob Griffin Band, Ali Wadsworth, The Levee Drivers, Kuf Knotz, MiZ, Joy Ike and The Districts are looking to win or even repeat.  It’s a rocking night and should bounce me through to LRB.  I’ll let you know 2/17!

Lancaster Roots and Blues: Inside-Out Volume 1

Lancaster Roots and Blues: Inside Out Volume One

So, I was hired to do a nine-month job in ninety days.  I’m now 45 days from opening night.  Good thing I was in the Army.  Pathfinders!  Everybody I see these days says two things. “Dude, you are just aglow with excitement.  How can I help with the festival?”  When I shared this with Jason Mundok, he replied, “That is just so Lancaster.”  It’s so true.  People are rallying up behind LRB and everybody wants to be part of it.  Good news: you’re in!

We have almost 45 people on the volunteer list already.  I’d love another 20!  If you want to work a night and get a free admission to the other, please hit the LRB website:  Festival Info then Volunteer tabs.  Give us your email (confidential) and pick two positions.  We need everything from Loaders to Stage Techs to Green Room Managers.  We need ticket-takers and drivers.  Let’s assemble a strong, skilled crew for our remarkable musical guests and welcome the out-of-towners.  If your business would like to offer a special welcome, let us hear from you too.

LRB poster low rez

So what has me aglow besides frostbit cheeks and winter ales?  Have you seen our insane lineup of artists?  It’s the blues, man.  Rich and I toured the convention center a few weeks ago and Gary Miller was with us.  You remember club manager Gary from Chameleon’s heyday?  He has already committed to be stage manager for the Thaddeus Stevens stage.  As we all parted company, Gary and I were walking in the same direction towards our parked cars.  We looked at each other and, in sync, just grinned and said, “The blues are coming back to Lancaster, man!”  And we’re laughing and air-guitaring and the memories are just spilling out all over King Street.  Can you say Uptown Rhythm Kings?

I want your stories!  Hundreds of you have 17 years of Blues Festival/Chameleon stories to tell.  As we kick off 2014, more people than ever are working in and supporting our local music scene.  So whether you’re a Lancaster music veteran or newcomer, reach out to me.  I’m writing three blogs, creating video ads and writing most of the press releases.    I am not a voice crying out in the wilderness.  You know we have a great city and LRB will restore us as the mid-Atlantic’s musical crossroads.  Share your memories and invite people to come make some of their own.

Of course one of the best things about working with Rich is his stories.  He has a million.  I had forgotten how much he likes a good laugh and how easily they come to him.  If you heard the podcast by Wood Stove House (thanks Jason), you heard a great example.  Innocence Mission, a great Lancaster band who went national, was scheduled to tape a David Letterman appearance.  The show taped around 6pm.  They loaded out, drove like crazy for Lancaster, and arrived just in time to play their headlining gig at Chameleon.  When Letterman aired that night, the club rolled tv’s out on stage so Innocence Mission and hundreds of fans could watch their appearance together.   Were you there?

The band Lake Street Dive will explode in February 2014.  See them in Lancaster 2/22!

The band Lake Street Dive will explode in February 2014. See them in Lancaster 2/22!

Anyway, the story came up because Lake Street Dive is playing Letterman 2/21 and Lancaster Roots and Blues 2/22.  You can be there.

Gigspots is kind of booming right now too.  My showcase events start this Saturday 1/11/14 at Lancaster Dispensing Company and woo-doggies do I have a great opening night!  The Naïve Americans with elements of The Hickory Project and Still Hand String Band will play the first two sets.  Leo DiSanto and Jeff Bryson of VCC will play the third.  I predict a pulverizing all-jam at the end including who knows who.  My agent and promoter projects will reach across three states by March.  I will be sending bands on tours and promoting shows in more venues.  I’m also getting a lot of work as a press/biography writer and album/show reviewer.  Aglow a go-go, baby!

Come out to DipCo and see why Sam logs so many miles!

Come out to DipCo and see why Sam logs so many miles!

My last blog was all about getting out of town.  I’m glad to say I was home (and hosting) for the holidays.  The weekend before Christmas I combined business with those pleasures.  Our newest holiday tradition is now “Clan Concert.”  This being Lancaster, we had a lot of choices.

Sweet Leda is hot!

Sweet Leda is hot!

Friday 12/20 I took my wife, her sister, my nephew and Film Intern James Colburn to DipCo to enjoy Sweet Leda’s last area appearance before LRB.  The band was hot as hell as usual!  When they return 2/21, they play Federal Taphouse at midnight: the last act of night one.  Boom.  And they’re bringing Ron Holloway with them.   Some of the film Jimmy captured that night and images he shot around town the next morning wound up in the LRB 15-second promo that’s currently screening with the previews at Penn Cinema.

Saturday night my daughter, niece and some of their gal-pals joined in on the act for the show that closed the “Clan Concert” deal: The Districts, SEEDS, Pine Barons, Coronado and no shit, a surprise appearance by Ron Gallo.  It was a great night of rock for over 500 people including us.  If you watch my video of The Districts playing “Call Box” that night, you’ll hear everyone singing along and see my daughter front row against the rail and my wife and her sister rocking and rolling in the crush right behind her.  Good times!   I also had the pleasure of seeing many former students who were home for the holidays and out to see their classmates turned rock stars.  Thanks for the smiles, hugs and shots!  Let’s do it again soon!Shrimpboat band

Sunday night 12/22 I returned to Chameleon for Shrimpboat and Mama Tried; it was the unofficial, official holiday party for Lancaster’s musicians and industry members.  I always dig Mama Tried.  And I knew I wasn’t going to the NYE festivities downtown featuring Shrimpboat so I wanted to catch them before their pre-LRB area hiatus.  They are killers one and all and every note was in place.

Jake Lewis and the ClergyI’ve been trying to catch as many LRB artists as possible since we’ve asked that they not play Lancaster in February before their LRB performance.  I suggest you do the same and start by joining me at DipCo Friday 1/10 for Jake Lewis and The Clergy.   Then return 1/11 for my Gigspots Spotlight Showcase.  It’s gonna be a humdinger and I want you to experience some of the impressive talents I’m meeting outside our little valley.  Plus, Leo and Jeff (VCC Duo) are my “Local Treasures” so no excuses.

Also of note: The Wayfarer Experiment has been asked to open for Gangstagrass 1/17 at Chameleon.  It just sounds too cool to miss.  Seizure soon!