It’s A (Road) Dog’s Life

LeoCygnusI’m so American.  When summer comes, I crave the road.  The only show I’m staging in Lancaster this summer is July 10 at 551 West featuring the dynamic Leo & Cygnus from Annapolis.  Maybe you caught them when I had them at DipCo in May?  If you missed them, don’t make that mistake twice.  The show is free but this band’s stock is rising and they’ll likely be playing huge festivals by this time next year. 551 West If you know 551 West, you know to go hungry.  Everybody I’ve taken there now eats there once a week.  551 West King Street in Lancaster PA. http://www.551west.com/.  Seriously.

I’m headed to Pittsburgh this weekend but not for The Rolling Stones or Dierks Bentley.  I’m taking my family to visit mom and remember my dad.  He was a great man; I’ll never be half the father he was.  In the wake of another senseless race crime, I realize again what a blessing it was to have a blind gentleman as a father and role model.  He never judged anyone by their appearance; he couldn’t see them.  Of all my miles to cover this summer, this trip to my hometown feels the most important.

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapBetween Monday 6/22 and 6/29, I’ll visit venues in York, Harrisburg, State College, Millheim, Williamsport, Bloomsburg, Wilkes-Barre, Philly, Wilmington DE and western Maryland.  As I recruit bands for my fall showcases in Lancaster, I’ll be making arrangements for these venues to catch the bands on their way to/from my shows.  And I’ll love every mile and every stop.  Draw a circle around Lancaster and lines to these cities and you’ll see we are the hub in a big wheel of culture and fun.

Bullfrog5After a week in Denver, CO I’ll be staging my two biggest events of the summer: four days of hosting bands at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport and some of my favorite revelers (and bands) at Loyalstock.  That’s when I trade my Subaru for an inner tube and my smart phone for fireflies.  If you can make it to Billtown July 9-12, find me at the Frog for Stolen Rhodes, Lavacave and Medusa’s Disco (acousticlamor)!  It may be the only four days this summer when I’ll be holding relatively still… in my moving and grooving way.

chameleon10thTwo things before I dash: Happy 30th Anniversary to Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA and to its founder Rich Ruoff!  In June of 1985 he opened the door on Christian St.  In February of 1988 I attended my first Blues Festival there and realized Lancaster was where I was going to put down roots.  I never imagined then that thirty years later, I’d be working for Rich and Lancaster Roots and Blues, A Festival of Music.

Congratulations to the completely amazing Angela Sheik, whose submission video for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest landed her an interview and feature on NPR Weekend Edition this Sunday 6/21! angela npr

Thank you Rich and thank you Lancaster for being a hub that rolls smooth after all the miles.

Sulk or Burn?

I’ve been filling my rainy day with various Gigspotter tasks: uploading videos, contacting agents, reading the blogs and the latest Fly Magazine.  Were you at Tellus 360 for the tribute to the Radiohead album The Bends three weeks ago? bends tribute All twelve of the artists performed one of the album cuts and then a few originals.  Angela Sheik nailed it for me this morning.  Her performance of “Sulk” was singular and remarkable and I hope Radiohead hears it.  Hearing it today gave me the juice to care not a whit for the weather’s plans.  Seeing the joy and verve she threw into that performance reminded me why I started Gigspots and why it fascinates me every day.  Thank you bands and especially Dani Mari for orchestrating the night!  I’m not worthy!

Browsing 298 Recommended Pages and Notifications on Facebook lead me to a blog on The Key called “Philly Music 101: How to Book a Show at a Philly Venue.”  It was filled with sound advice and some notable quotes.  One of my favorites was by Christianna LaBuz of World Café Live.  Christianna La Buz: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice. It’s a pretty small industry and everyone knows each other, so don’t talk smack. Stick around for the bands playing after you. Be kind to your openers; you never know, you could be opening for them someday. Treat your sound engineers with respect – it’s a thankless job and they can easily make you sound like garbage. Tip your bartenders well – they talk to more people at the venue than anyone and it’s just the right thing to do.”

The Key blogger, Sarah Hughes, made some keen points around the quotes she got from LaBuz, Chris Ward from Johnny Brenda’s, Jesse Lundy for Point Entertainment, Yusuf Muhammad for Vintage Freshman and Sean Agnew from R5 (quoted below).  If your band wants to play Philly (or anywhere), I suggest you follow the link and read the whole blog.

So – you got your gig. What now? Performers might think that the only thing next is showing up at the right address on the right day without missing a band member, but there are some things that you can do in the meantime to show that you are adamant and grateful for the slot you got. Making a solid impression with show bookers can create an important relationship in the industry. A good place to start is with promoting the show on your end, and not just leaving it up to the venue. Promoters like it when a band is excited about their performance and getting people out to see them. Agnew talked about how this will start you off on a good note for venues:

You will quickly become every club’s favorite band if you hustle and get folks out for the show. You’ll definitely get invited back and then quickly rise to the top of the list for when we can add local bands to bigger shows.

Everybody wants to draw a crowd.  If this was middle school, all you’d have to do is yell, “Fight!”  We’re over that now.  But you need to fight to succeed in life and pursuing your art is a noble fight.  Radiohead does it.  Angela Sheik and Dani Mari do it.  The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were bar bands once.  Of course there’s a competitive element to landing a gig at the place and time that works for you.  But we’re all in this together.  One of the best things I heard that night at Tellus 360 (besides the bands pouring their hearts out in tribute) was all the musicians saying how great it was to be there together.

Sulk

By Radiohead

You bite through the big wall, the big wall bites back
You just sit there and sulk, sit there and bawl
You are so pretty when you’re on your knees
Disinfected, eager to please

Sometimes you sulk, sometimes you burn
God rest your soul
When the loving comes and we’ve already gone
Just like your dad, you’ll never change

Each time it comes it eats me alive
I try to behave but it eats me alive

LAUNCH 5 Worked for Me!

LAUNCH Music Conference in Lancaster, PA April 25-27 brought to town a lot of great music and interesting info about the state of the music industry.   Just closing DipCo three nights in a row would have been pleasure enough on any other weekend.  But I did a lot more.  I’m sorry I’m not a better still photographer but I shot over twenty videos that should satisfy your appetites for fresh live music.

I skipped the registration hoopla, free Heineken and opening performances Thursday night at the convention center.  I chose instead to meet and greet my pals in Sweet Leda as they arrived for the conference and to make sure they were settled.  Julie, Jaime and Don have adopted Lancaster as their favorite central PA city and planned to make a weekend of it.  Omar and his wife couldn’t come until Friday but they all intended to make the most of the visit and branch out from their usual stops at Central Market, Tellus 360 and Yorgo’s.  They also were psyched to be playing a new venue for them: Marion Court Room.  They hoped for as much success as they have felt at their past shows at DipCo and Chameleon.  Jaime had scheduled a bunch of conferences and workshops to attend as well.

It was refreshing for Sweet Leda to just chill at DipCo and chat with the regulars who hang there and have become fans.  Of course, as the opening shows around town finished up, everyone converged on DipCo for a last round or three.  By midnight the place was packed and rollicking with bands and industry insiders.  I was impressed with Holly Spears’ set and felt elated to see Canyon back in town.  2013-04-25 22.26.50  This young lady really writes some poignant songs and expresses them beautifully with her voice and guitar.  Canyon also wins my fashion award for the weekend.  Damn that girl looked pretty and stylish all weekend through three different showcases and a visit to LAUNCH Lounge at The Candy Factory.  I hope she is featured in one of the podcasts that Jason Mundock of Wood Stove House produced there over the weekend.   Anyway, they were locking the doors on DipCo when I headed home.

Both Friday and Saturday mornings I co-hosted at The Candy Factory.  We had light traffic both mornings so everyone got their fill of coffee and pastries.  Some pretty amazing jams sprung up among the musicians dropping in, usually lead by Jason Mundock and Aaron Gagne on percussion.  Randy B, Mickel, Canyon, Mark DeRose and a particularly gifted violinist (can’t recall the gent’s name) were among those who tested the acoustics and breathed some life into the mornings.  Everyone’s nights were quite late. 2013-04-26 13.47.07 2013-04-26 14.53.59

My Friday night involved a lot more miles.  It also involved many more tough choices about where to be.  It pained me to forego Dana Alexandra and Holly Williams at The Ware Center and I can only hope I’ll get another chance to hear one or both in such a grand space again.  Maybe Dana will debut her next album there or back at the Strand-Capitol in York.  Maybe Holly will come back.  Maybe the new grand space at Tellus 360 will be open by then!

My wife joined me for the most of Friday night.  We are both huge fans of Lovebettie and Sweet Leda so our evening had to include their shows.  Lovebettie played the Heineken stage: the big boy, a whole section of the convention center.   This was their second show since debuting their new ep Rise and they played with a lot of heart.  It’s a great record and will likely take them back to stadiums again this summer to round out some major US tours.  Last year they played SXSW, Summerfest, Van’s Warped and some major NHL events.  Next month they open for Rusted Root in Dewey Beach.

This room could hold 2,000 people.  When Lovebettie played at 7:30, there were maybe 200 people there.  I heard the crowd swelled to around 500 for Foxy Shazam’s headlining set.  With twenty million people living within a three hour drive of Lancaster, I can’t understand why Friday night’s lineup at the convention center didn’t draw at least 1,000.  I know there was great music being made at six other venues in town but they weren’t exactly thronged either.

After Lovebettie and a bit of Jesse Baker Band, we headed to Penn Square Grill to rendezvous with pals and catch a drink.  And there was Mike McMonagle (Mickel): a paying gig during Launch in a bar full of musicians and music fans!  I swear he played one of the best sets I’ve seen by him and that’s with dozens to compare with it.  The lad was on fire!

To Marion Courtroom next, we reconnected with Sweet Leda and company prior to their 9:30 set.  BAM!  Next thing we know, a band called Ill Funk Ensemble lights the place up with some serious blend of hip-hop, funk and rock!  The whole place animated.  Sitters stood.  Standers swayed.  When their third song was a mash-up of “Yo Diggity,” twenty people sprung to the dance floor.  Juls from Sweet Leda lead the charge and I’d have to say, the set by Ill Funk pushed Sweet Leda to new heights in their following set.  It certainly drove the crowd nuts and got everyone pumped.  You give Sweet Leda a canvas like that to work with and they will paint you a lush, funky landscape.  They laid down some broad, colorful strokes!

I sent the wife home and spent the rest of the night schmoozing at Marion Court Room and DipCo which again became the place to be to close out the night.  I was glad to have caught Jeff Reed’s set and to see the place packed with musicians and industry heavies again.  I was there until closing, gathered my guests and headed for home via Neptune Diner.

Saturday night was just as tough to schedule but I had made commitments to artists over Thursday-Friday to attend their shows.  I caught Lijie (sassy Strat slinger) and Matt Wheeler (joined by Canyon and Taylor Brandt!) at Spring House Tap Room.  I caught Mark DeRose and The Dreadnought Brigade at Penn Square (rock stars!).  I headed for the closing rounds at DipCo and holy cow, the place was jamming!  I saw four performances back-to-back that equaled anything I had seen all weekend!

Gretchen Pleuss from Ohio had a confident, natural vibe to her acoustic set and shared some fine songs.  Angela Sheik, looper extraordinaire, was a one-woman choir/ symphony/rock band/enchantress.  Until you’ve seen Angela, you don’t know how crazy good one of her shows can be.  Following her like they owned the place were Lauren Mann and The Fairly Odd Folk.  I had missed their set at Chameleon the night before but had heard good things.  When an extra twenty people showed up for their DipCo set, having seen them the night before, I knew I had heard right.  So right!  It was hard to believe they all fit on that little stage and easy to believe they were the real deal.  The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men and Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros will be feeling this band’s presence soon, maybe as they roll past them.  Lucky Lancaster gets a return visit from Lauren and company June 1st at The Candy Factory!

The last set of the night featured Emily Long.  I felt pretty stupid to not be familiar with her music, she being from the Lancaster area and all.  With just a percussionist by her side and her acoustic guitar, she played that room like the whole weekend was just her supporting acts.  Count on seeing me at many more Emily Long performances to come.

I thought it was great that a great local closed the best local festival at the best local industry bar.  Don’t just take my word for it!  Visit my YouTube channel to see videos from LAUNCH 2013 and keep tabs on these and other great bands at Gigspots.com.

Almost Famous and Intern Scott

Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies.  If I ‘d had any balls at all (and maybe a teacher who encouraged me), I might have become like the lead character in that film…or Cameron Crowe.  Anyway, intern Scott recently had a brush with being nice versus being an honest professional music reviewer.  He knows I am an  Angela Sheik fan and worried that if he wrote anything besides glowing praise for her recent album, that I (or she) might be upset.  I think he wrote a suitable and quite substantial review for his first try.  I guarantee that Angela performed a magnificent set of live music at Lancaster Dispensing Company 4/27 for LAUNCH Music Conference.  I encourage you to read Scott’ review, download Angela’s latest album One By One, and see her in concert immediately.  I’m working already to bring her back to town!  Here we go!

Scott Davis                                                                                                                                                                        3/28/13

Angela Sheik One By One Review

                Chilling and warm; haunting and inviting; digital and natural. Such are the contrasting words that come to mind when listening to Angela Sheik’s newest album, One By One. The critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, musician, looper-extraordinaire’s new album finely tiptoes the line between warm and inviting songs and cold, haunting melodies often about relationships good and bad. Ms. Sheik has garnered a storm of positive press around her unique folky-pop, electro-acoustic sound with her use of digital looping pedals to craft a blend of piano, string instruments, flutes, and percussion. Combined with her raw, powerful voice, there isn’t anyone making quite the musical blend like Ms. Sheik’s.

As mentioned, One By One is an album of contrasts. Lyrically, Sheik focuses much of her energy to sing about relationships. Musically, however, Sheik often combines love songs with chilling melodies and slower tempos to create some dramatic ballads. There are songs like “Love U Right,” “Glad You’re Here,” and a cover of “Falling (Can’t Help Falling in Love),” all of which are positive long songs, lyrically. In these cases, Sheik is direct with her approach, yet still able to write poetic lines like, “You and me, love, we’ve seen the world/ We cross the ocean like we’re crossing a street/ We’ve walked the skyline so many times/ That the blue has stained the soles of our feet,” in “Love U Right.” Sheik’s approach is surprising as she takes these pure love songs and turns them into cold, chilling ballads, often with heavy keys, soaring vocals, and crashing percussion as seen in the aforementioned “Love U Right” and “Falling (Can’t Help Falling in Love).” Sheik occasionally chooses to deviate from this pattern like on the charming “Pledge of Allegiance,” one of the album’s most intimate songs, with its plucking acoustic guitars, twinkling keys, and heartfelt lyrics.

The musical and lyrical contrast is also evident in some of the most energetic songs on the album. Whereas one would expect somber-sounding ballads to go with songs about broken relationships or disappointing years, Sheik flips the idea on the head and turns some of the more lyrically negative songs into upbeat, louder tunes. “My Turn” is a song about giving loved ones a taste of their own medicine – “Now it’s my turn to leave you standing there/ My turn to say that I don’t care” – and features a more up-tempo beat with a pop melody. “This Year” finds Sheik at her heaviest with bluesy, distorted guitars, and a snarl in her voice as she sings about turning her life around from a less-than-ideal prior year.

However, where Sheik occasionally runs into trouble is inconsistency with her overall sound. As mentioned, Sheik has a powerful, deep, raw voice that seems to work best with energetic, natural music accompanying it. “Rumblin’,” for example, perhaps the finest song on the album, finds Sheik singing with a deep growl, with a rhythmic acoustic chord progression giving the song a Western feel.  Her own background vocals repeat on a loop to create a mini-Sheik choir, and a couple of flute solos really get the song moving. Other songs with more natural textures, like the aforementioned “This Year” and “Pledge of Allegiance” work best precisely because of how the instruments blend with Sheik’s natural voice. On some songs, the keyboard tinkering and digital percussion clash with the raw power of her voice, forming sounds that don’t quite blend. Furthermore, that same raw power doesn’t always translate as well to some of the slower, more dramatic ballads, where her voice and energy can be restrained. Compared to Sheik’s live act, where she’s won awards for her skills on a looping pedal, the album at times fails to capture the raw, one-woman-band talent Sheik possesses. At times, in a recorded rather than live setting, the album contrasts in a negative way in the collision of digital elements and Sheik’s own natural talent.

Fortunately, this is only Ms. Sheik’s second LP, which means that it’s still early in the game. A musician with as much obvious talent as Sheik can surely figure out where her niche is and how to better define her overall musical approach. If the main gripe of One By One is that Sheik’s musical reach is a bit too far spread, trying to juggle too many elements, then she need only to look at songs where she’s at her best – preferably in a more natural, musical state, as mentioned in songs like “Rumblin’” and “Pledge of Allegiance” – and expand upon them. Defining a musical sound isn’t easy, but considering the steps Angela Sheik has already taken in creating her own unique blend of folk-pop, the future appears bright.