Spring Review and Woo!

Spring has flown by but not without dropping a pile of great shows in my lap!  I talked about the wonderful LAUNCH weekend in a recent blog.  I have seen plenty of other shows that I wanted to put on your radar.  Three of my favorites are back in town this Saturday!

Lauren Mann and The Fairly Odd Folk will play with Canyon and The Pig Merchants this Saturday 6/1 at The Candy Factory in Lancaster.  The show starts at 7pm so don’t plan on rolling in around 10.  You will have missed a phenomenal night!  Here’s Lauren and company tearing up DipCo to close LAUNCH!

They didn’t play LAUNCH but The Wayfarer Experiment is leading the charge as my pick for 2013 central PA band of the year.  I have 6-7 Wayfarer shows under my belt already and am psyched to see them at DipCo Friday 5/31! They just released a new album and it continues their dark folk/gypsy blues saga.  Friday is Bjorn’s birthday so you know this show will be memorable!  This compelling three-piece might be 4-6 members on any given night so show up and witness the experiment unfolding.

Also this Friday 5/31 is an incredible show at Chameleon with massive local talents The Districts and The Seeds plus Philly faves Juston Stens and The Get Real Gang and Cheers Elephant.  I have seen all four of these bands and they rock!  You can see videos of most on my YouTube channel.  The Stonewall Vessels also appear and I’m anxious to check them out.

Here’s a special shout-out to The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company for hosting great shows and serving great food and beer!  Notable shows I have seen there this spring include Dirk Quinn Band, Andy Mowatt Trio and Start Making Sense: a Talking Heads tribute.

The Wayfarer Experiment

The Wayfarer Experiment

Dirk Quinn Band at Abbey Bar

Dirk Quinn Band at Abbey Bar

I loved DQB as house band for the Tri State Indie Music Awards this year and it was fantastic to see them playing whole sets of songs vs. just between awards.  Andy Mowatt is a jazz-rock flamethrower on guitar; see his trio immediately!  As for Start Making Sense: holy cow!  If you never got the chance to see Talking Heads or just want to relive that experience, here is your ticket.  I will be rolling to The Abbey Thursday 5/30 to see The Wood Brothers if anyone loves folk and wants to join me!  I just keep saying it; my season pass to Abbey Bar/Greenbelt Event shows is the best investment I make every year.  And yes, six months later, I’m still mourning the passing of Mike Van Jura.  Kudos to Sarah, Alec and Ben for keeping Greenbelt vibrant!

Last week’s show at Chameleon with The Slackwater News and Marco Benevento was pure pleasure-dome stuff!  Most locals know Slackwater and they draw a big, fun crowd for a lot of reasons.  Marco creates these sonic soundscapes that just transport your ass to another plane.  If you missed the show, I have videos up but they are just a tease of the experience.  See Marco.  Period.  He plays Abbey Bar 2-3 times a year.  And cheer on The Slackwater News as they expand their play-zone to New Hope (Triumph Brewing) and State College (The Shell).

May moved the Music Friday series outdoors and Toy Soldiers was the perfect kickoff act!  Stay tuned to MOOSE for complete events schedules.  Keys For the City has again filled our town with beautiful, original pianos/works of art; thank you sponsors and players!  Long’s Park will kickoff its summer concert series and yes, Dawes is coming back!  We are truly blessed to have so many live music opportunities here in Lancaster!

Three notable album releases (besides the new Wayfarer Ex) are Lovebettie, Bumpin’ Uglies and The Great Socio.  My love of Lovebettie is no secret. Bumpin Uglies are a reggae-rock band from MD who now tour nationally and are currently #5 and climbing on the iTunes reggae chart.  See them and you’ll know why I love them too.  The Great Socio is a nearly indescribable prog-rock band with no guitar player.  When I first heard their last cd, I thought the band must have at least 6-7 members.  Nope.  It’s four dudes who are all-in on every song and all about getting you off!  I will be rolling to see The Great Socio and PASADENA at WCL The Queen in Wilmington 6/6 and I’m looking for company.  Call me and call shotgun!  And if you really want a taste of the Gigspotter life, get your tickets soon for Jam at the Dam July 6th!  I’ll be hosting The Gigspots Lawn Stage smack in the middle of 50 acres of beauty and 800 very happy campers!

When Getting Shanked is Good

When Getting Shanked is Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’ll keep trying.  Please respond here or hit my Gigspots Facebook page to let me know if you have an open mic you think I should check out.  You can see many videos of this night (and over 500 more) on my YouTube Channel:  http://www.youtube.com/user/Gigspots1

March’s Lions and Lambs: Week One

If variety is the spice of life, I’m living on hot tamales.  I’m enjoying a great month of shows!  If I had to sum them up in one word, it would be “Brave.”  I’ve witnessed CD releases, bands playing new venues, bands debuting new members or saying goodbye to founders, and a venue celebrating a one-year anniversary.  Perhaps best, I’ve seen veterans and first-timers sharing music at open mic nights.  These brave nights trigger your fight-or-flight reflex.  It’s easy to find those ecstatic moments where artist and audience connect.  Here’s a rundown of my first week of March.

Joy Ike at Lancaster YWCA

Joy Ike at Lancaster YWCA

3/3: Joy Ike brought her new CD and supporting act Kim Edwards to Lancaster’s YWCA.  Joy radiates warmth and emotion.  Her physical beauty strikes you first.  Her honest, genuine lyrics bare her soul and speak her mind.  She and her combo played most of the new album with confidence and satisfaction.  “Everything You Have” reminds us all how tenuous life is.  See Joy live and you’ll be glad she’s in your life.

Kim Edwards was a delight.  Her piano is deliberate yet delicate.

KimEdwards: delicate and deliberate

Her song “No Other” is destined to become a wedding song for thousands.  “Wanderlust” betrays that it might be a while before Miss Edwards settles down.  I bought CD’s from both ladies and have kept them in top rotation since.  New material, new venue, new tour partners and open emotions added up to a brave night.

3/4:  I caught a tasty little show at Chestnut Hill Cafe, one of Lancaster’s tastiest spots.  A young lady named Canyon was passing through town and hoped to find a gig.  She had really impressed crowds at Tellus 360 at last year’s LAUNCH Music Conference.  On this night, she and local band The Pig Merchants played a surprise Monday show.  It turned into a two-band birthday celebration for Bob Glick and  the lucky dozens who dropped by.

3/8:  I sent my friends Toy Soldiers to play for my friends at The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport.  It tore at me not to be there with them.  I know the magic of that place and could vividly imagine the spark that could ignite between it and this fine band.  Also absent that night: Bullfrog owner Steve who was delivering the first bottled batch of his beers to Philadelphia.  My reports say band, venue and beers all had stellar receptions.

I spent Friday night in Wrightsville celebrating the one year anniversary of The Burning Bridge Tavern.  You must do an awful lot of things right to make a year in the restaurant business.  The capacity crowd all weekend proved that BBT is doing a lot of things right.  Just as on opening weekend, Vinegar Creek Constituency played their rousing style of homespun, folksy blues.

The Vinegar Creek Constituency

They call themselves, “Lancaster, PA’s swashbuckling, pseudo-legendary pioneers of Amerikindasorta string band music.”  See them and you’ll get it.  They get some heels kicked up and heads banging at the same time.  It was a great night to celebrate taking a leap!

3/9:  I had to see The Wayfarer Experiment’s first appearance at First Capital Dispensing Company in York.  The band is always full of surprises and the place is like a cabin outpost in a beer wilderness.  The original building was constructed in 1790 and you feel the age.  When the place filled with forty or so people chugging craft beers and rollicking with the Wayfarers, it was like the wild west

Ronn Benway jumps into The Wayfarer Experiment

Ronn Benway came charging through the door with his washboard rig, jumped in with the band and everything just broke loose.   Nate played guitar, that crazy little glockenspiel again and on other songs played electric bass.  Bjorn at times broke out an electric guitar and a bullhorn.  Then it would be banjo, mando and even harmonica.  Matt actually played drums when not smacking his cajon.  He had a very clever touch!  These guys put themselves out at the frontier every show and really owned it that Saturday night.