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.

Snorkels and Grappling Hooks

I’ve come up for air to fire a flare.  My November really rocked and I hope yours did too.  The grand finale happened 11/29 for WILMO Rock Circus at World Café Live at The Queen.  If you were one of the hundreds of people under the big top, I know I just made you grin (and maybe blush).  If you missed it, don’t let that happen again!  Twenty four bands for $20 doesn’t happen every day.  My friends at Gable Music Ventures know how to spot talent and produce an event.  Videos are uploading to my YouTube channel.

Jordan2Mid-month I took Pressing Strings on a tour of some of my northern PA clients and finished the loop at DipCo.  Again, thanks if you were there and I know you’re grinning.  I had been trying to woo this band north from Annapolis for over a year.  Jordan and Nick played three inspired shows and have promised to return.  The fine folks at Turkey Hill Brewing Company and Bullfrog Brewery sure were glad it happened!  For my showcase at Lancaster Dispensing Company, local amazeballs Little Dinos opened the show: Loretta, Scott Bookman, Matt Underhill and Kelly Buchanan.  Cool and classy just like Dino!  Click here to see videos.  Even better: come to McCleary’s Pub in Marietta 12/26 for a set by Jordan Sokel.

Kaleigh4Also playing 12/26 at McCleary’s will be Kaleigh Baker.  If you caught the tour I ran with Kaleigh and Skribe (plus special guest Bjorn Jacobsen), you know this lady can sing the blues with the best of them!  Maybe you have been watching her 30 Artists in 30 Days special on YouTube.  Either way, you should gather those you love and come out for a set or two.  Kaleigh and Jordan don’t play central PA too often and I’m very proud to be hosting them again.

The snorkels and grappling hooks of my title represent my consciousness the rest of the month.  Below the surface, I’ve been working like Cousteau to create another amazing experience for you at Lancaster Roots and Blues.  We targeted December for major announcements and a media blitz.  It’s a season of giving and we are giving you a ton of reasons to get tickets.  Click here to see my blog about the venues published in Fig Lancaster.  Then visit the ticketing link to see the specials we are running.  We have added an under-21 ticket which is good for The Ware Center and The Trust Performing Arts Center.

What will January bring?  I’m hoping for peace on Earth.  I’m counting on busy days and nights.  There are a million details to staging a festival this big and Rich and I and our new office manager Carrie Binkley will be working tirelessly to make your experience the best.  If you hope to catch me in a still moment, try McCleary’s 12/26, The General Sutter Inn 1/9 or DipCo 1/10.  I’m hosting three more local shows before Lancaster Roots and Blues including two acts you have never seen here before and shouldn’t miss.  Join me at DipCo 1/10 for David Pulizzi and the band Terra Voz!

100 More Tickets or The Ten Percent Rule

I’m in a weird flux position as I blog today.  No, it’s not a yoga thing. Triphazard Group Pic (1) I just finished a ten-day tour with the Liverpool, UK band Triphazard as their tour manager, roadie, chef and driver.  I’m about to reprise my role as Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues in pedal-to-the-metal mode.  I’m between tides.  These intense labors of love both thrill and exhaust me.  I couldn’t feel luckier than to have had these experiences.  Like all passionate loves, they make you feel lucky, invincible and vulnerable at the same time.  You discover you’re defenseless against whom or what empowers you.

I wrote a blog in October 2013 titled “Tour Life: Woe or WHOA!” and I reread it before beginning today’s piece.  I’m happy to say it stood up to the road test with Triphazard last week.  I’m unsure if they had read it but I must state that this trio earned all my respect for work ethic, energy, professionalism and fun-factor.  They played five powerful shows and obviously poured their hearts into every beat.  They were pure joy to work with, live with and watch perform for ten straight days.  They became the benchmark for all future bands taking a lap on the Gigspots circuit.  BANDS: please see blog above.

My only regret of the tour is not putting more money in their hands.  Two of our shows were “door shows;” the bands earn a percentage of ticket sales.  Two of our shows were “guarantees;” the bands get paid a pre-negotiated fee whether the audience is 200 or 20.  Ironically, our biggest guarantee show had the smallest audience and our “hot ticket” shows had lukewarm sales at best.  My goal for Triphazard and the other bands who joined us on the tour was to put at least $200 in their pockets after each show.  For the two ticketed shows, a three-way split of ticket sales equaled $80 per band.  That sucks.  These were great shows in great rooms; ask anyone who was there.  Each band sold some merch and got offers of future gigs, radio play and other potential support after their sets.  But they walked out those nights with gas money and a snack at Sheetz covered.

I first heard the phrase “100 more tickets” and learned about the 10% rule at a festival this summer.  The promoter told me his goal for ticket sales was 2,000 over two days.  Tickets were $60 for a two-day pass, of which he lost $10 to taxes and fees.  He had to sell 900 tickets just to cover grounds rental and sound/stage production.  Another 150 would have to sell to cover promotion/advertising costs and 150 more to pay for porta-potties and an EMT crew on stand-by (required by law).  That means 1,200 tickets at $50 would have just covered his $60,000 expenditure.  Did you notice I have yet to mention any compensation for the bands here?  Most played it to be there, to be seen, to network and to celebrate the season, the place and the amazing musical family they’ve become.  But all expect “…fair compensation from any profits earned.”  I promise that every band played their asses off and a great time was had by all.

Ticket sales this year were around 1,100.  Even with sponsorship money and a percentage of the food vendors’ take that meant our heroic promoter and over 70 bands earned nothing.  As we were starting the immense clean-up efforts Sunday morning and I asked about the turnout numbers, he said, “100 more tickets.  If we’d have sold 100 more tickets, everybody could have had a little something and I’d have covered costs.  If it was 200 more, or 10% of my target, everybody would have got a fair amount and I’d have seed money for next year.” All I could think was that if every band had sold two more tickets, 140 more, everyone would have gotten paid and next year would start on secure footing.  And it was all brought home to me that 90% of ticket sales at concerts and festivals go to cover costs.  If that promoter had guaranteed even $100 to those 70 bands, that plus only the costs I named above would have been $67,000 against his gross of $55,000.   I guarantee he had tons of other expenses and I have yet to mention any compensation for his time.  He spends over four months organizing this event.  It’s not a hobby.  This guy works like a machine about 350 days a year and it’s clear his bands love him.

What if my tour had sold 100 more tickets: say fifty each for the “door shows?”  That’s an extra $350 Friday and $500 Saturday to be split which meant the payouts those nights would have been $196 and $246 respectively per band.  Not $80.  These were venues that hold 200-300 people quite comfortably.

I apologize if all this talk of numbers and money bored you.  But I just watched a band I truly love work their asses off for ten days at great costs to themselves and barely cover living expenses.  And when people ask me about Gigspots, their second question is always, “So, how do you make money doing that?”  Here’s the short answer: from you.  You have to buy a ticket to a show or a t-shirt.  You have to buy advertising, management, agent or writing services from me or become a sponsor of my events.  I’m in the entertainment business.

Your short answer: “Everybody wants my money.  Why should you get it?”  Fair enough.  Not everyone finds music, art, cuisine and travel entertaining or worth more than the lowest common denominator.  There are a lot of comfy couches and big screen televisions and frozen pizzas out there and I enjoy them occasionally myself.  It’s the great irony of Gigspots; I use social media to tell you to turn it off and go see a show.  Those 900 videos on my YouTube channel aren’t a substitute for a show.  They’re meant to show you what you’re missing or to help you recapture that night at the show.

Queen4If William Shakespeare couldn’t sell tickets, you might never have heard of him.  He might have starved to death or gone off to work in the mills.  People still read the plays but not nearly the numbers of people who still buy tickets 400 years later to witness and feel the timelessness of live performance.  I’m no Shakespeare.  But you never know; the band I’m encouraging you to see might be the next Beatles.

For instance, my monthly showcases at DipCo don’t cover costs until I sell 80 tickets.  There are 100+ seats.  If you’ve been there on a night where the band and seating are tight, you know what a joyous, transcendent night it can become.  Ten percent of breaking even is eight tickets.  I have an amazing season planned and you’re invited. Appearing October 11: Lovers League with a guest set by Bjorn Jacobsen!

Bjorn Free

bjorn1About 16 months ago, I met Bjorn Jacobsen and music changed for me.  I had never seen anyone sing and play folk music with such abandon.  As I got to know him, the crazy sad songs made a lot of sense.  He was living in his car, had been abandoned by everyone he’d ever loved and had survived a deadly fall off Chiques Rock.  The mersa infection he developed in the hospital prompted the staff there to suggest they amputate his hands to save his life.  His response: “I’m a guitar player.  I’d rather die.”  I guess they took him seriously.  He still has his hands and can play the shit out of guitar, banjo and mandolin.  This dude is heart, scar tissue and gristle with a crooked grin.

Bjorn has decided to move to NOLA in early September.  I’m thrilled for him and sad at the same time.  So we are throwing shows at him left and right.  Thursday August 7 is our first Gigspots Presents event at World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington, DE and Bjorn’s Wayfarer Experiment is the headliner. jake and kate3 Ever-ready, ever-steady Jake Lewis opens this special duo show.  Jake plays with Katie Seifarth, his Clergy drummer/vocalist.  Bjorn is bringing Robin Chambers on violin and you know the heat she brings.

Friday August 8th, The Wayfarer Experiment plays their last Chameleon Club show.  Rock beasts Medusa’s Disco (formerly SEEDS) is also on the bill and will have copies of their just-released live cd.  Bjorn just got his electric Ibanez hollow body out of the shop so who knows what kind of show this might become!  We only guarantee that no holds are barred!  Bjorn’s other adieu shows include Gettysburg Rocks 8/9, Sofrito Gastro Pub (Reading) 8/15, Central PA River Fest (Wrightsville) 8/23 and Bistro 19 (York) 8/29.

plate scrapersThe Gigspots Showcase returns to Lancaster Dispensing Company Friday August 15 for a special Music Friday edition.  From the mountains of Ephrata, Clinton Hibshman (Burning McGuiness) will jangle your jingle and make you say, “Holy Cats, why haven’t we seen this guy before?!”  The night also features The Plate Scrapers, a dynamic string band from the south west: Hagerstown.  You will love this bluegrass band that bridges that Cumberland Gap.  Stay tuned for the Showcase schedule for September through May!

Of course Music Fridays in Lancaster are always special!  You know we’ll be at Binn’s Park at 6pm sharp to see Jake Lewis and The Clergy (full band)!  They have been working on a new album most of the spring and summer and we can’t wait to hear it!  The only hints I’ve received about the new work are that, “It’s what you love about Jake and the Clergy, just bigger and bolder.”  I’m intrigued.  There’s only one more outdoor Music Friday after this: September 19 with Silver City Rodeo.  Come feel the beauty of outdoor music in our wonderful, walkable city.  These shows are free and so are you.

Music Imports and Exports

I really enjoyed my run of showcases at Lancaster Dispensing Company from January to May and I hope you did as well!  The audiences were very appreciative and I’d like to thank my bands for playing their hearts out!  January: The Naïve Americans and The VCC Duo (aka Jeff Bryson and Leo DiSanto) gave us some fine folk and bluegrass.  February: The Lonelies Tour and Second Hand Suits shared some stylish performances.  March: Lovers League (aka TJ McGlinchey, Christopher Davis-Shannon and Dani Mari) and very special guests The KGB Trio (Kalob Griffin, Robert Dwyer and Eric Lawry) reminded us that the song rules and they live to serve it.  April: Jason Ager and C.O.P.O. and Angelo Melasecca are two great showmen who really know their guitars!

Me with Angela Michele Walker

Me with Angela Michele Walker

May: Ali Wadsworth and Satellite Hearts rocked and Angela Michele Walker Trio rolled.  It was important to me to have a night featuring women vocalists and these ladies definitely shone!

The tagline for the showcases was “Two Regional Gems and a Local Treasure.”  I wanted to introduce bands to Lancaster who I had seen in my travels and pair them with a local act with whom I thought they might connect on some level.  I also wanted the “import” bands to see what a great city and scene we have.  Several of the bands are already finding ways to share gigs and their audiences.  And I’ve had offers to take a version of The Gigspots Showcase on tour.

I “export” bands from Lancaster as well.  My client venues in State College, Williamsport, Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg usually feature someone I sent them at least once a month.  I am about to begin serving other I-80 venues as well as possibilities along I-70 in MD and WV.  I believe I will be hosting showcases at both World Café Venues (Philly and Wilmington) by the fall.  I’m ridiculously lucky to associate with Gable Music Ventures in DE and NaptownMusic in Annapolis, MD.  Of course you’ve all heard me blab about Pirate Rob, music guru behind OneKoast Entertainment (based in Baltimore), Frozen Harbor Music Festival and Jam at the Dam in Weatherly, PA.  It’s one badass indie music festival that becomes a two-day affair this year.  Gigspots is a perennial stage sponsor.  Contact me or visit PirateRob.com for tickets!

Bjorn Jacobsen and Freeman White at The Factory: Underground

Bjorn Jacobsen and Freeman White at The Factory: Underground

When I go out to “recruit” venues, I often take Bjorn Jacobsen with me on an open mic night or a night where a band I know is playing.  He sits in and I immediately get more respect!  I guess they figure if I know a musician that serious, I must be doing something right.  I’ve seen him win an audience playing AFTER Mike Miz and I’ve seen dudes like Freeman White ask to sit in with him.

One of my favorite services is helping a band fill out a tour or a venue fill a sudden hole in their schedule.  When a venue calls, I know I need to find a good audience fit that will sell some tickets and beer.  When a band calls, they usually have their weekends booked but need gigs to survive the mid-week drives between them.  Sometimes, you get the best for everyone.  I have recently made two national bands (Silencio and Carsie Blanton) very happy by filling their tour calendar.  And I can’t wait for the hugs I’ll get from the venue owners and fans who will get a chance to see them within three hours of home at a reasonable price!Carsie-Blanton-truck-758x392

So send me your poor, hungry bands and fans!  My client venues are the best around and my list is growing.  Check them out for yourself and tip the staffs please.  We’re saving the economy one gig at a time!

Regional Gems and Local Treasures

I recently blogged about new happenings in the Lancaster music scene for my FigLancaster.com column.  I announced here that I’m working with Rich Ruoff to help stage Lancaster Roots and Blues festival.  How do I follow that up? I get out of town!  I love Lancaster and our scene but hey, it’s a big world out there.  So I’ve been recruiting new client venues and bands all across Gigspotsland.  I’ll share some news here today.  And starting 1/11/14, I’ll be hosting The Gigspots Spotlight Showcase at Lancaster Dispensing Company (DipCo) on the second Saturday of every month!  My tag line: “Two Regional Gems and a Local Treasure!” DipCo

Here’s the idea.  I bring two acts to DipCo from a client venue of mine “out there.”  I team them up with a local act you love but maybe in a different configuration than you’re used to seeing.  There’s an all-jam at the end and we party till Fryth throws us out (in her nice way).  You get introduced to new music, bands get introduced to bands they can swap gigs with, and I get to play the host.  It’s a triple-play winner and will only set you back $5 at the door.  I guarantee it will be worth it.

So where have I been Gigspotting? I was way overdue for a trip to the homeland so I went west over the mountains to Pittsburgh 11/8.  Some friends treated me to a night in South Side and tickets to Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds at The Rex Theater.  South Side is pretty hoppin’ and The Rex is an old movie theater done over right to become a great concert venue.  Man, I love this band ever since I saw them play Long’s Park two summers ago.  I have to say their current material is more bluesy and soulful and they are tighter than ever.  Their brand new ep Fight proves it too.  Love those horns, that harmonica and Arleigh’s mighty wailing.  They pass through our area 1/30/14 at The Sellersville Theater and 2/01/14 Live at The Baby Grand in Wilmington, DE.  I wanted them for Lancaster Roots and Blues.  Maybe next year!

Three nights on the road kept me home for a few nights.  I did slip across the river to Burning Bridge Tavern for a special Series 42 show 11/13: Connor Christian and Southern Gothic.  No cover, melt-in-your-mouth smoked meats and a national touring act were impossible to pass up.  Music starts at 8:30 so you can be headed home with ears and taste buds satisfied by 11!  This band offers Southern rock with some real depth to it: more Marshall Tucker than Molly Hatchet for sure.  I’m awaiting ok to post the videos I shot and recommending the brisket in the meantime.

Friday night 11/15 brought the noise: white light, white heat and a big white van.

Harlot onstage at Rams Head Live

Harlot onstage at Rams Head Live

I rented it to drive The Wayfarer Experiment and Harlot to a huge OneKoast Entertainment event in Baltimore.  Harlot hails from The Rattler in Pittston and Lancaster was practically smack between the two.  It gave me an excuse to hang with Harlot and Rattler owner James Callahan.  They are splendid folks who have all but adopted The Wayfarer crew and man, do I love what happens when they all get together.  So we sailed on down to hang with Pirate Rob and play his latest show at Rams Head Live.  Called “Maryland’s Finest Volume IX,” I was proud to be arriving with two bands representing PA.  The Kalob Griffin Band made it three out of thirteen acts not from MD.  Trust me; Maryland is not running out of bands!

Pirate Rob finds bands.  I’ve written often of shows he produces and the immense array of talent he presents. Here’s the bill (minus PA) from Volume IX and ANY ONE of these bands would have been worth the $10 to get in: Bond & Bentley, Sticky Longfingers, Outram, Daniel and the Lions, Old Indian, Shawn Owen, Bret Staymates, Dirk Schwenk and Peyhey’s Poppies.  I’ve been proud to sponsor his Jam at the Dam series and never miss Pirate Rob’s Birthday Bash.  That is, until this year.  The Bash coincides with Lancaster Roots and Blues 2/21-22.  Don’t for a second think I’m abandoning ship on Pirate Rob.  Gigspots and OneKoast will continue together to promote and enliven the regional music scene for a long time.  But as I said in my last blog, I live in Lancaster because of Rich Ruoff and his Chameleon Club circa 1988!  Here’s something spooky; Rob, Rich and I all share 2/19 as our birthday!  Rob’s the baby.

Cabinet Preferred Photo Hi Res

Cabinet touring now and just released Cabinet Live Set II. They play Lancaster Roots and Blues 2/21/14!

By 11/20 I was on a new three-part mission.  Deliver The Wayfarer Experiment to Café 210 West in State College to open for Cabinet.  Close the deal on making Café 210 West a Gigspots client venue.  Convince Cabinet to play Lancaster Roots and Blues.  And I went three for three!  We got there and back in one piece and a five-piece version of the Experiment wowed the joint and their headliner.  The bill they’d be joining and the significance of this inaugural event swayed Cabinet.

Cafe 210 West in State College PA is at 210 W. College Ave

Cafe 210 West in State College PA is at 210 W. College Ave

And Café 210 West has joined the Gigspots family.  This club is the birthplace of The Kalob Griffin Band and Memphis Hat among others and hosts national touring acts occasionally.  My three biggest reasons for wanting them on the team?  They offer great food and drinks scandalously cheap.  They believe in and promote original music in a college town where that’s surprisingly rare.  Their music venue makes bands look and sound great and many bands I work with tour right past there…for now.  Count on it becoming a stop on I-80 Gigspots tours.  Not bad for a Wednesday night!  I saw a poster for Burning Bus hanging on the wall so Café 210 West has been doing it right for a while!

Friday night 11/22 was date night.  I left the cameras at home and took the lovely Tina to DipCo for dinner.  Vinegar Creek Constituency was playing and the night was pretty much perfect.  We both wanted to come back Saturday night for Hexbelt but a day of laundry, grocery shopping, and last-chance yard work wore us out.  We were hosting fifteen for Thanksgiving in just a few days so the night became perfect for pizza and a movie.  Do you know the classic It Happened One Night?

Scantron on the big stage at WCL the Queen for WILMO Rock Circus

Scantron on the big stage at WCL the Queen for WILMO Rock Circus

My brined turkey was a big hit.  I golfed with pals on Black Friday (10 years running!).  On Saturday it was out of town again.  11/30 was WILMO Rock Circus at World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington, DE.  Dude.  This show rules. S1370031  I cannot imagine this remarkable venue being used in a more creative, efficient or musical way.  It’s 20+ bands in one night, in one building, on three stages.  You know I love the Queen and it is 58 miles from my door.  The event producers, Gable Music Ventures, have become great friends of mine and I have sponsored WILMO and their Ladybug Festival for two years now.  They stage several shows a month at the Queen and like Pirate Rob, boy can they find the talent!  I have them to thank for turning me on to John & Brittany, Glim Dropper, Angela Sheik, TJ McGlinchey, Brooks Long, Madalean Gauze, Maggie Gabbard and dozens of others.  You will have the same experience if you attend one of their Singer-Songwriter nights at the Queen or the shows they produce across DE and MD.  Roll with me sometime!  Even a 90-minute drive gets old when you’re by yourself.

So November was pretty busy.  December has started the same way.  I made my first visit to Underground Arts in Philly 12/5 for a leg of the Communion Tour.  Eight great bands and a “Toys for Tots” benefit made me like this place immediately.  That night will need its own blog.  Friday 12/6 I was visiting my client Abbey Bar at ABC Harrisburg and reintroducing Leo and Jeff (the VCC duo) to Mike Miz and the Greenbelt Events team.  VCC opened for MiZ once in the Poconos and it’s time those bands started sharing gigs again.  Greenbelt Events had just released Season Passes for sale to current pass holders.  I had to renew mine; it’s the best investment I make every year! Mike Van Jura inside ABC's Abbey Bar. Photo credit: Ashley Elizabeth  By email  While I was there, I found out that The Hold Steady will be appearing there in February as part of a benefit for the K&L Guardian Foundation.  Yeah, I still miss Jersey Mike.

I’m pretty certain I’ll be staying local for the rest of 2013.  But maybe local means something different for me than it does for you.  At least you know where I’ll be the second Saturday of every month next year.  Stop out to DipCo 1/11/14 for my first Gigspots Spotlight Showcase and see what keeps me logging the miles.

Tour Life: Woe or Whoa!

“Ain’t in it for my health…”  Levon Helm

BnB FallSince I’m becoming an agent, I decided to send myself on the road with a few bands.  I wanted to see how they earn their money.  I wanted to discover first-hand the joys of traveling with a rock band.   I wanted to see what hardships they might face.  I didn’t have the time, money or guts to try something like The Autumn Anxiety Tour: PASADENA and Bumpin Uglies going coast to coast.  Instead, I did some long weekends with The Wayfarer Experiment and Bond & Bentley and an extended run with Lovebettie and Triphazard on their Unsocial Network Tour.  Want the abridged version? Bands don’t make enough money.

Being in a band is expensive.  You invest in gear and pay to maintain it.  You have to pay for gas to get to and from the gig.  You can’t always count on the venue providing food and drinks as part of your compensation.  Before you can sell merchandise, you have to pay to produce it.  And from what I’m seeing out there, bands get $150-300 to play a show until they really start to draw a crowd.

The hours are lousy.  Accounting for driving and loading in/out, you might leave home at 5pm and get home at 5am.  Have you ever tried to find gas, food or lodging after 2am?  You might have luck in a city but be prepared to pay more.  Time management skills only go so far when so few factors are within your control.  You start and finish when the venue says so.

Shrimpboat band“Touring is for the young.  You can only sleep on floors for so long.  And you must have complete immersion to do it right.  You can’t have baggage or responsibilities calling from home.”  So says Loretta, who fronted and toured with several bands including Burning Bus, The Dive Bar Pretties and currently Shrimpboat.  “It’s a great life.  It’s a hard life.  You must be completely into it to survive.”

Are all tour stories filled with hard luck and few rewards?  Of course not.  Imagine the best concert you’ve ever seen.  Now imagine what it must have felt like for the band to make that connection with their audience.  Now realize it can be you: if you make good music and find the right crowd at the right time.  Ray Wroten, who fronts Bond & Bentley, has been touring 200+ nights a year for six years.  He loves what he does and has plenty of stories good and bad.2013-02-09 23.39.51

“Man, our tour last spring is a great example.  We had a send-off gig at home: great night.  The next two nights, bam, great bars, great audiences.  People into it, dancing, never seen or heard of us before.  Made a lot of connections, sold a pile of cd’s.  It’s crazy; we’re from Baltimore but we now have a huge fan base in Buffalo, NY.  Night four we play a place in Indy that we’d done well at before.  We had a couple friends there from a previous show.  And that’s who we played to.  Two people.  So you play what they want to hear and mostly treat it as a rehearsal.  But if you’re being paid as a percentage of the gross, you’re in financial trouble already and you’re four states from home.  The next night we played to a packed house, but we might as well have been a fucking juke box.  People sitting five feet away couldn’t give two shits about what we were doing.  We made $600 and felt lousy.  You just gotta shake it off, roll to the next show and pour your heart out again.  You never know when you’ll find that Buffalo.”

The Wayfarer Experiment

The Wayfarer Experiment

So, you want to rock and roll?  Good!  Work hard at your music.  Make it an art and a craft.  Believe in yourself and the power of music to make the world a better place.  We need you.  Not everyone can do what you do.

Let me offer a few pointers and answer some frequently asked questions.

1.  Pack a cooler and a set of “emergency” clothes.  If you get hungry, thirsty or sprayed with who knows what, you’re set.  Living on drive-thru and diner food will take its toll and costs double the price of groceries.  Make sure there’s water in that cooler.

2.  Learn how to read a map.  Don’t let those commercials fool you.  You DO NOT have cell service everywhere and if you think GPS always works, you are too dumb to tour.

3.  Promote your own shows!  Every place you play likely has a Facebook, Twitter, etc.  When you have the dates set, start sending them photos, videos and links to stuff you want them to see/know/share.  Make it easy for their audience to get to know you.  It’s your job.  The venue’s job is selling food and drinks.  Allow me to suggest a Gigspots profile and let us help you with promotion.

Uglies2Can I make money by touring?  Yes, but not as much as you think.  Merch is where most bands make a small profit.  The audience already has pictures and video on their smartphones.  Can you make them want a piece of you to take home?  It’s not the shirt, music or poster they want.  They want an artifact.  Don’t say, “We have cd’s for sale.”  Say, “Come meet us after the show by the merch table.”

Can I get laid by touring?  Maybe, but usually only if you can get laid back home.  You can get STD’s, arrested, beaten up and/or stalked very easily by the types of people who are still in bars at closing time.   You can also really piss off your band mates who are hungry, tired and ready to leave.  Better to focus on your job out there.

Why tour if it’s so hard with no guarantees?  News flash: life is hard and there are no guarantees.  But if music is your life, and you make it because you have to, then express yourself.  If you’re tired of playing the garage and you’ve tested the waters at open mics, band competitions, etc, then bring it to us.  If your music is genuine, your talent obvious and your heart open, you’ve got a shot.  Taking music or any art public is to write an open love-letter proposal to the world.  Touring is a blind date.  If you can handle love and love lost, you can handle it.

Young Lions

This blog was originally published 8/22/13 as last summer ended.  I promised to re-publish twelve of my favorite blogs in the first twelve nights of April to celebrate Gigspots’ anniversary.  Then The Districts and Toy Soldiers played The Chameleon Club Thursday 4/3 and blogging duties were shunned.  I’d have to say the “young lions” I named have done pretty well.

The Districts just finished a second national tour and released an ep with Fat Possum records.  They logged numerous appearances in RollingStone.com and will be touring the US and UK all summer.

Bumpin Uglies has toured the US twice, played scores of festivals, played a Rombello cruise and opened for some serious national acts.  This May they play The Fifth Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival.  Maximum respect due, mon!

SEEDS finished their first studio album, Questioned By a Ghost, to many positive reviews including my own.  This band really rocks!  Then they sold out of it and all their t-shirts and other swag.  In short, people can’t get enough of this band and they now headline shows all over the region.

The Wayfarer Experiment continues to go through changes.  I saw a five-piece version open for Cabinet this fall.  I’ve seen Bjorn Jacobsen match licks and growls with some mighty players at open mics and jams across the state.  I’ve seen Bjorn and Robin Chambers draw a crowd away from other stages at festivals.  Bjorn, Robin, Nathan Arndt and Matthew King played a killer set at Lancaster Roots and Blues and then percussionist Matt quit the band.  Word around the campfire is that Bjorn and Robin just spent four days squirreled away with an unnamed producer and recorded the band’s fourth album.  Bjorn says it’s his masterpiece so I’m a bit freaked because the first three are damn fine works…………………………………….

I see a ton of bands and this summer has been filled with great music!  I haven’t forsaken my favorite bands of 2012: Kalob Griffin Band, Pasadena, Lovebettie, Sweet Leda, Toy Soldiers, The Slackwater News and Cabinet.  But you must be tired of hearing me praise them in every blog and all those bands have begun reaching national audiences.  August’s sign is Leo so let me spout about some of the young lions roaring on the scene right now.

The Wayfarer Experiment

The Wayfarer Experiment

I’m totally high on The Wayfarer Experiment.  This band has featured different players almost every time I’ve seen them (hence “experiment”) but the current lineup is a bonfire.  Matthew King on percussion and Nathan Arndt on guitar and xylophone have been playing together since middle school.  They are tight as tequila.  Robin Chambers on violin is some kind of gypsy/faerie madwoman and ohhh, look out for her sultry side.  Then there’s Bjorn Jacobsen.  He plays guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.  He sings like a mix of Jim Morrison and Tom Waits.  They call their music “dark folk and gypsy blues” and you will get it.   I have all three of their albums and a ton of videos here.  They don’t have a website, Twitter, Instagram or any of those fancy promotional tools.  They just enchant you and haunt you.

Uglies2Bumpin Uglies plays “white-boy reggae” and hails from Annapolis, MD.  They play lots of songs about girls, weed and trying to make it as musicians as you might expect.  What you might not be ready for is how well they play, how sincere and clever the songs are, and how groovy their grooves are.  They will likely remind you of Sublime in the best ways.  Front-man, guitarist and principal writer Brandon Hardesty is a focused, talented guy and I predict big things for this crew.  I like EVERY song on their latest cd Ninjah: Reggae Assassins and they are touring nationally to support it.

SEEDS played one of the last shows at Tellus360 before renovations began.

SEEDS played one of the last shows at Tellus360 before renovations began.

SEEDS is a brand new band with their first album almost completed.  Their website just went live.  They are a rock band, no doubt, but their sound is definitely influenced by Wynton Huddle’s sitar training.  He’s a nut, too, so their songs are funny, tragic, scary, weird, sexy, you name it.  I’ve been a Wynton fan since he played high school talent shows and have followed him across several bands.  This lineup (with Hunter Root sharing guitar duties, Alex Aument smashing drums and Tyler Smith thumping bass) looks like a keeper.  Their tag line: “We’ll grow on you.”

The Districts crushed it to open the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Fest 2013

The Districts crushed it to open the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Fest 2013

Do I need to mention The Districts?  Hell yes, even if your room is wallpapered with their posters.  You rarely see a band find so much success so fast, especially when they just graduated high school in June! Their first two albums really rock in a real rock sort of way.   Think early Aerosmith or Black Crowes for the vibe if you’re my age; think Spoon or Cold War Kids if you’re under 30.  If you haven’t caught up with this band yet, crawl from under your rock and go see them.  It will be easy to find them.  They just opened the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Festival (thanks WXPN!) then departed on a national tour.  They will be based in Philly next month as they all head off to Temple University.  We’ll see if textbooks or touring win out.

There is no reason you can’t find bands to love on your own.  I barely scratched the surface of all the fine young/new acts in central PA.  Tell me who you love and who needs to be on my short list to see!

Turn It Off

Turn it off.  It seems like a simple enough directive.  Have I been able to turn it off while on vacation?  Barely.  My Facebook, Twitter, band and venue clients call to me like sirens.  I might be spending my days crashing waves and eating slices but my mind can’t escape the music.

De Lazy Lizard bayside bar: 2nd Street OCMD

De Lazy Lizard bayside bar: 2nd Street OCMD

I love my family and friends and am grateful for this week to spend with them in leisure.  But I can’t stop Gigspotting.

I left town with some hot loose ends that are haunting me.  I coordinated a performance by Silencio at Zoetropolis Art House on 7/13 and didn’t get to see the show; we left town that morning.  My friend Bjorn Jacobsen of The Wayfarer Experiment hosted the open mic at Shank’s Tavern in Marietta on Tuesday.  I hated to miss that!  Matt Wheeler played WCL at the Queen Wednesday night after my urging him to connect with Gable Music Ventures’ Singer-Songwriter series.  Missed it.  Today, Thursday 7/18/13, is The Ladybug Music Festival in the streets of Wilmington, DE.  My banner will be flying over the Xtreme Pizza stage.  Awesome women musicians will be in the spotlight from 5-11pm and the streets will be filled with vendors and music lovers.  I will only be there in spirit.

So what am I spotting in OCMD?  Boy, am I seeing a lot of great cover bands!  Our vacation home for the week is triangulated between two great bars: Caribbean Pool Bar on the boardwalk and De Lazy Lizard on the bay.  Both have live music every night and great drink specials.  At the Lizard, I saw Brandon Hardesty of Bumpin Uglies playing solo acoustic.  Have you picked up a copy of their latest, Ninjah: Reggae Assassins?  It’s phenomenal fun!  It was great to be there just relaxing with friends and not working behind my camera.  Tonight we might slip up to 45th Street Taphouse to catch a set by Bond and Bentley.  But first, it will be a seafood feast and some go-cart racing.S1140026

So I’m turning it off for now.  I’ll be back in central PA to stir the pot Saturday night and Sunday brings Dawes back to Long’s Park Summer Concert Series.  I hope to visit my new outrageous pals at The Rattler in Pittston mid-week.  Then it’s Toy Soldiers at Chameleon Thursday and three glorious days of the XPoNential Music Festival in Camden.  Count on me catching some central PA bands on those wonderful stages, namely The Districts and The Stray Birds.  Saturday night I get to see The Lumineers with my daughter.  The festival culminates Sunday night with Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket and other great acts on the AmericanaRama Tour.  It can’t be much bigger or better than that!