Fits & Starts for Roots & Blues

Are you having fits & starts over the schedule for Roots & Blues?  Do you know the phrase fits & starts?  In the case of deciding who to see, where and when during Lancaster Roots and Blues festival, the phrase could describe how you are wrestling with choices.  You decide who to see, you discover an option, you feel conflict and you flip.  It’s a good problem to have.  Don’t give yourself conniptions as my mother’s people would say.

Map-of-Festival-2016-LRB
I have to try and be everywhere at once.  It’s my job as Director of Operations.  Of course that’s impossible and I’ve learned to let it be.  I can’t introduce every band or even see every band.  I can’t stop what I’m doing and have a beer with every friend I run into.  So I build a framework for each night: start, middle and finish.  I try to mix business and pleasure into the decisions.  Then I let the chips fall.  All I have to worry about is getting everyone checked in, sound-checked, parked, fed, paid and pampered.

Friday 2/26.  By the time the VIP Reception opens at Lancaster Visitors Center at 5pm, I will have been on the job ten hours already.  So I’ll have a cup of Gerhart Coffee and a glass of Barossa Valley shiraz.  I’ll munch some delicacies by Chef Tim Carr.  I’ll hug and introduce my pal Kaleigh Baker before she performs solo acoustic.  Then I will dash to Convention Center to introduce Sweet Leda as they open the Main Stage at Freedom Hall B at 6pm.  I’ll get to boogie a few minutes there before I start the laps of this phase of operations: opening.

By 7:30pm most venues will have opened and the VIP event will be ended.  I’ll secure the Visitors Center and check in on the Food Truck Court on Market Street.  If I start a counter-clockwise lap from there, I’ll catch a bit of Sam Baker at Ware, Left Lane Cruiser at Tellus 360, The Ogham Stones at Elks Lodge, Banditos at Chameleon and Ten String Symphony at Trust PAC before introducing Kapali Long to open Dispensing Company’s stage.  Dude is coming from Hawaii to play our festival.  That’s my plan 7:30-9:30.

MaceoThat gives me 30 minutes to try and catch a few minutes of Marah at Tellus 360 and solve any festival problems before Maceo Parker hits the Main Stage at convention center at 10pm.  What could go wrong?  Of course I want to be there to see a legend and his 12-piece band show us what it’s all about.  That just doesn’t happen every day in Lancaster.   I hope to see 15-20 minutes before I begin the next phase of laps: finales.

Chameleon and Ware Center will be wrapping up between 11-11:30pm.  I hope to fit introducing Gabe Stillman and The Billtown Giants at Federal Taphouse into those laps.  They go on at 11pm and are some serious blues-rock pals who call Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport their home.  I know you never heard of them.  You heard it here first; be there!

Frog HollerAs I hit my 17th hour on the job Friday, I want nothing more than to introduce Frog Holler at Elks Lodge Ballroom and have my first beer of the night.  They will celebrate 20 years together in 2016 and for my money, they embody everything a roots and blues festival should be.  Last pause of the night will be at Federal Taphouse for Toronzo Cannon.  It will feel like being in Chicago and my feet will likely feel like I walked there!  Then it’s back to headquarters to review and prep for Saturday!

toronzo

Medusa’s Disco Forked Tongue Fables is The Truth!

The madcap dervishes of Medusa’s Disco released Forked Tongue Fables in January 2015.  It follows the fall 2014 release of their live ep Live at Max J. Variety Show which helped brand the young band with the weird name and frantic fans.  There’s no pussy-footing around here.  Forked Tongue Fables shows the band at top speed, top down and torching the underbrush as they pass.medusasdisco

The songs vary between trippy visions, wry observations and flip-offs to the status quo. Business or pleasure, seduction or stupidity: you hear these guys having some laughs in every song.  With the energy they bring, we should all be glad they have a sense of humor.  Otherwise, all the stupid stuff that bugs them on a daily basis could be the reason they lay waste to us all.  With their music: they are otherwise unarmed!

The opening song, “Medusa’s Disco,” presents temptations, seductions and sell-outs in a helter-skelter world where you can’t tell what’s real.  It’s a common theme on the album and songs like “Faceplant Attitude,” “Filling in the Blanks,” “Life Caused Cancer” and “Freezer Burnt” make it clear that bull-shitters need not apply.  They see life as weird enough without anyone needing to pose for it.

Other songs like “Nova,” “Cellophane Snake” and “Disease Was Written on the Sidewalk” take a snapshot of life and paint a psychedelic inside joke.  The nine-minute plus “Beautiful Creature” goes in many directions: some serious, some psychotic.  With only two of eleven songs clocking in at less than four minutes, it’s obvious that Medusa’s Disco has plenty to say and are ready to play.  What they’re really singing about is anybody’s guess.  They take satire and humor very seriously.

What does Medusa’s Disco sound like?  They are loud and heavy, as when Sabbath and Zeppelin were called “heavy metal.”  They can be fast and furious in the way of Green Day and Foo Fighters.  They play weird chords and scream like Nirvana and Soundgarden.  But none of these comparisons really capture the originality of their sound.  20150219_192547_resizedWynton and Hunter, the two guitars and two distinct voices out front, are unlike anything I’ve heard before.  If the Everly Brothers had been born in the 90’s, and raised on the bands listed above, and lived on coffee and Slim Jim’s, you might get two voices like theirs.  Tyler on bass and Alex on drums are the motor of this finely-tuned ride and when they step on it, hold on.

Get Forked Tongue Fables by Medusa’s Disco now.  Prime yourself for a show.  Then go leap around and laugh your head off with the band and their ever-growing fan base.  Unless you’re a “Dead Man:” then you’ll be watching them every night!  Get Forked Tongue Fables now at MedusasDisco.com!

 

Spring With Me

Did “spring ahead” mess you up?  You’re not alone if losing an hour to daylight savings time wrecked you.  And then it snowed on the first day of spring.  Did you cry foul?  I know it’s been a long, cold winter.  Just listen to all those birds outside your window.  Shake it off.  Spring is here.  I’m planting some seeds right now that will bring a fine harvest for bands and fans of live music.

I have a few more showcases scheduled in Lancaster for April and May.  Then the map zooms out.  The Gigspots Spotlight Showcase is going on the road!  I’ll be taking central PA bands out to visit all those fine bands I brought to town over the last two years.  You’ll get a chance to play at some new venues for some new audiences.  They’ll be ready and waiting; they’ve heard all about you since they sent their hometown heroes to Lancaster to open for you.  You will be music ambassadors for central PA.

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapWhere are we going? “From Pittsburgh to Philly, from the Poconos to the Potomac” isn’t just one of Gigspots’ slogans.  I have built a loop of client venues where you can play nearly every night of the week.  We can crash with all those bands that spent the night on my couches.  Or maybe like me you have friends all across the state who say, “Why don’t you ever visit?”  I’ll bet you know somebody along I-80 or I-70.

That’s just how it worked out with Working Breed when they drove from Pittsburgh to play shows for me in Manayunk and Lancaster.  They had friends and family in West Chester who attended both shows and gave them lodging.  Venues like it when you bring 10-12 people to a show on your first visit.  Working Breed played two shows and got three future gigs out of it.

DSCF0251I’m going off the grid March 23-28 for a retreat in the mountains.  When I get back, tour planning begins in earnest.  If your band has a profile on Gigspots.com, take this week to update it with your latest pics, videos, links and shows.  I’ll be cleaning house of bands that don’t do their homework and picking the bands that look road-worthy.  Don’t forget that you can ALWAYS post your info, events and fun stuff on my Gigspots Facebook page.  It’s your bulletin board too and it keeps you on the radar of me and my audience.  Ask the bands I’ve taken on tour if that’s worth it.

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.

Life, Death and Hyperbole

Life, Death and Hyperbole

I have faced plenty of deaths and tragedies in my life.  When death came to school, I always used to tell my students, “Death is a big part of life.  Save it for last.  Do everything else first.”  I taught the tragedies of Shakespeare and they always boiled down to a great person’s life ending because of a fatal flaw in character.  Pride, greed, avarice, jealousy: these emotions rob you of life and blind your vision of what makes life worth living.  I have lost four great people in my life in the last forty days.  They weren’t Macbeth or Othello or Lear but they were great to me: fine, humble, honest, loving people.  I will miss them and honor them by following their examples and owning my life.  “To be or not to be” is not the only question.  Better to start with the 5w’s: who, what, where, when and why.  Be in the present.

Triphazard living in the moment!

Triphazard living in the moment!

I’m feeling fully alive and activated right now, if a bit over-stimulated!  I built more great connections and memories in September and loved my opportunity to tour manage for Triphazard.  I’m booking tours on the Gigspots circuit and my showcases at DipCo.  I’m writing bios and album reviews for regional bands.  I’m sponsoring a rock festival in Wilmington and a simulcast charity concert from Charlotte.  I’m hired again to be Director of Operations for Lancaster Roots and Blues and it’s a thrill a minute.  I want to stand on Tellus’ roof and scream about all the great music and good times coming to Lancaster and the mid-Atlantic region.

But should you believe the hype? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Just because I say something’s great doesn’t make it so for everyone.  So let me try to quantify and qualify “great” with regard to music, performance and life.  When I say, “It’s a beauty,” what do I mean?

To me, the beauty value of a song or performance is in direct relation to how alive it makes me feel.  Physical manifestations may include toe-tapping and range through swaying to dancing.  I may hum.  I may sing along.  Regarding thought: does this performance make me curious and/or capture my attention?  Is it unique, familiar or a marriage of the two?  Can I identify with the story or idea being presented?  Life is measured in motion.  Can you put my body and my mind in motion?

Move my mind and body and you release my soul.  That’s where imagination and emotion live.  Your performance sparks my memories and/or desires.  My pains, my dreams, my secrets and my joys are animated by your melody or lyrics.  You become the soundtrack for the banquet in my head where your angels and demons meet mine.  Or you’re a nice distraction in the grocery store.  La-di-da, I need cereal.

Motion, thought, imagination: those are my criteria.  To what degree does a performance make me move, think and feel?  Genuine music moves you; it’s as biological as a heartbeat.  People are naturally curious too but humans mostly want to hear about themselves and familiar experiences.  Food, comfort, company: that’s what we like.  And not having those things makes us cry out from birth.  A great song reawakens those moments in life, beautiful or brutal, when you were totally in the present. Whether it was that perfect first kiss, watching that person walk away or just your imagination, great music takes you there.  And live music is better.  And America’s music takes me there: folk, jazz and the blues.  If you start there, I’ll likely follow a while.Queen2

So stand back while I crank up the hype machine!  The pride I take in facilitating these performances is based in humility, honesty and love for life.  Come celebrate humanity before the dust is all settled!

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.

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!

SEEDS’ “Questioned By A Ghost” Answers the Call

I wrote about central PA band SEEDS before in my blog Young Lions.  I received an advance copy of their first studio album Questioned By A Ghost and wrote the following review.  In brief: it’s a strong debut!

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS’ Questioned By A Ghost Answers the Call

Central PA band SEEDS has been threatening to release a full-length album for almost a year.  On Saturday December 21, 2013 they will deliver it to a raucous capacity crowd at Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA on a bill that includes The Districts, Pine Barons and Coronado.  That’s a lot of rock but SEEDS fans can roll with it.  They are devoted and obviously patient.  The band better bring a pile of copies to the show!  Questioned By A Ghost is worth the wait.

SEEDS fans expect a loud, rowdy show but what can they expect from this first studio album?  Two things still abound: unusual chords and whimsy.  The members of SEEDS love a good laugh.  Their humor is more wry than mocking and the twisty melodies and guitar lines match that tone well.  Songs like “Radiation” and “Not a Care in the World” don’t say people are fucked up.  They say humans are goofy as shit.   When they’re angry, they don’t look to lay blame.  They say, “C’mon, man!  We can do better than this!”  Songs like “Flystrip” and “Box of Animals” show the fallacies of image-consciousness and materialism.  Social networking is not socializing, people!  Go live life.

SEEDS sprout plenty of sex, drugs and rock & roll on this album too.  “Strange Chemistry” is an instrumental but it has plenty to say.  “Open My Mind,” “Eyes Are Oceans” and “Medicine” are pretty trippy, especially when the sitar kicks in.  These are also the songs where you can hear how vast the library of musical influences on this band must be.  Peter Gabriel and The Byrds meet Frank Zappa and Aerosmith?  Ravi Shankar and Carlos Santana sit in?  How does that happen?

Then there are the songs “Park Bench Pigeons” and “Endless Questions.”  These landscapes kind of epitomize everything the rest of the album sketches.  They’re weird, funny, ironic tales with jangly melodies.  They are rides through a not-quite-right fun house: twisted and twisty.

So does it rock?  Yes.  Will Questioned By A Ghost satisfy SEEDS fans?  It should.  It’s a youthful, rowdy exclamation and definitely delivers on the production values.  In fact, it might push fans to demand a better mix at live shows.  There’s a depth of layering on this album that rarely gets the attention it deserves on stage.  Now that fans can finally carry SEEDS of their own, maybe they’ll demand a show that’s more layers than lava.  For the lava lovers (and lava light lovers), just turn it up!

I Could’ve Been a Dude

It’s a funny story.  On April Fool’s Day in 1989, I met my wife at The Chameleon Club on Water Street in downtown Lancaster.  I had moved to Lancaster in January ’88 and first found the Chameleon when it was in Tom Paine’s back room on Christian St.  The Daves were playing that February night and I knew I’d found the place where Lancaster came alive.  I soon found myself there every Friday and Saturday night.  I never bothered to look who was playing.  I knew I was going to have a great time and man, did I see some phenomenal bands!  Little did I know how that club and owner Rich Ruoff would impact my life.

I married Tina in October of 1990.  We bought a house in town within walking distance of Chameleon: just off Plum Street behind Fulton Bar.  I was working as a painter for a large contractor here in town and she postulated that I might have more to offer the world than a fresh coat of paint.  When I got laid off that winter, I began taking night classes at HACC.  When I saw that I could handle college with straight A’s, we decided that I should get part-time jobs and go to school full-time.    I had decided to become a high school English teacher: to enrich my community and help young people find their dreams.

My painting buddies all thought I was crazy.  Why should I give up guaranteed pay for a degree that may never pay off? One guy in particular who managed a local paint store suggested I check out this new outfit, Two Dudes Painting.  They were young, skilled painters with a great attitude and a realistic business model, he said.  I was making great money and he felt sure I could get in right with these guys quickly, maybe even invest to become an owner/manager besides just painting.  “This valley will see massive development in the next decade,” he said.  “Don’t just paint.  Own.  Make your mark and make real money.  Besides, teenagers are mostly assholes.  Do you want to spend your days with them?”

By August 1991 I had made my decision and enrolled full-time at HACC.  I continued to paint and also lined up other part-time jobs.  We also found out we were expecting a baby.  So in the first ten months of our marriage, we had doubled our debt and cut our income nearly in half.  I had seven jobs.

Cut to May 1995.  I’ve graduated magna cum laude from Millersville and our daughter is three years old.  We might not have made it financially if it wasn’t for the GI Bill and lots of painting in the summers.  Tina had been climbing the corporate ladder and her work was becoming more rewarding but more demanding.  We were so glad I could paint all summer while I looked for a classroom to call home.  By fall I could have a regular work schedule and a job with benefits.  I could work my mind more and my body less.

That summer of ’95 also meant more regular returns to our favorite haunt Chameleon.  I had helped celebrate ten years at the Blues Festival that February.  When guests came to visit from out of town, there were three things on our must-do list: breakfast at Central Market, lunch at DipCo and a night at Chameleon.  Our “big city” friends would just laugh and laugh at how friendly, cheap and fun Lancaster is.

Cut to 2002.  I had only been a full-time teacher for four years after three years of substituting.  Rich Ruoff announces that he’s selling The Chameleon Club.  My first thought: if I had been making contractor money for ten years, I might have been in a position to buy it.  It would have taken me about an hour to come up with investment/management partners.  My second thought: where am I going to go to see great live music?

Cut to 2011.  I still love teaching but have grown a strong distaste for Administrators, bully teachers and the public school industry in general.  I decide to create Gigspots and leave the classroom.  I seek help and guidance from Rich Ruoff, who has “retired” from music and is staging huge bicycle races.

Cut to the spring of 2013.  Rich tells me he is getting back in the music business, “…and it’s all your fault hahaha!”   He lays out the scheme for Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival and asks if I’d be willing to help.   Four meetings later, he asks me to be Director of Operations.

Loretta told me once, “Ya know, nobody ever filled out a job application at Chameleon.  If you showed up and asked for work, they would tell you to ‘come back tonight and wear a cool t-shirt’.  If you showed up, worked hard and didn’t fuck up too much, you got to stick around.”  So that’s my plan.  I will wear cool t-shirts and work tirelessly to make this festival everything Rich dreams it can be.  I’m ready to see Lancaster firmly back in place as the crossroads for music in the mid-Atlantic.

Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival will be the biggest event our fair city has ever seen.  It will also be my biggest opportunity to pay back this wonderful city for giving me family, friends and a million things to be grateful for in my life.  And I might never have stuck around in 1988 if it wasn’t for Chameleon Club.

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!