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.

What Would Jersey Do? RIP in Rock Heaven MVJ

What Would Jersey Do? – MVJ RIP

I’m very lucky.  I have always had a music friend in my life.  That is a friend who is constantly feeding me great music I might have missed on my own.  If you have a friend like this, you know how lucky this is.  Surely more than half the music I own, I owe to these people.  I always think of them when I hear that music on the stereo or at a show.  The music helps me relive those moments.

I came to Lancaster to visit an Army buddy and stayed because of Rich Ruoff and his Chameleon Club.  I never had to wonder what to do on the weekend anymore.  Every Friday and Saturday night meant two or three bands for five dollars.  I went crazy for bands like The Daves, Ocean Blue, Urban Blight and Burning Bus.  At least once a month some national act like the Ramones, Los Lobos or Dickey Betts would roll through.  Every February we celebrated our shared birthday with Chameleon’s Blues Festival.  It was music-lovers heaven!  I discovered dozens of bands and made many music friends.

This brings me to Jersey Mike Van Jura.  I met Mike two years ago and became a huge fan of his taste in music and the bands he brought to the Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg.  When Mike said, “You need to hear this band,” that was all I needed to know.  He was always right.  When he offered season passes to Greenbelt Events shows, I plunked down the $100 in a blink.  It was my best investment in 2012.  He was one of the coolest, funniest, liveliest guys I have ever met.  He died of a sudden heart attack on November 18, just hours after staging a benefit for Toys for Tots.  He left behind two young children of his own.

The news of Mike’s passing shattered me.  I knew I would never feel the same when I heard bands he introduced me to or went to shows at Abbey Bar.  I knew I’d never again see his smiling face or hear his witty, no-holds-barred commentary on the music scene and society in general.  I knew I had felt this before: when John Lennon was murdered.

It was late November of my senior year in high school.  It had been ten years since Lennon’s Imagine album and Double Fantasy had just been released.   Both were getting plenty of airplay on WDVE in Pittsburgh as were the Beatles.  To celebrate these high times, I asked Lisa Silvestri to join me for a new show that was touring nationally, “Beatlemania.”  She said yes, I bought the tickets, and we hoped it would be a fun, sing-along kind of night.  Who knew, maybe it would be a prelude to a Lennon tour in the summer or even a Beatles reunion!

December 9 was a day of mourning at my school.  Ms. Kennedy, my Economics teacher, just played Beatles records in a darkened classroom.  We knew that music and the world had been changed forever by Lennon’s death just as it had by his life.  I saw Lisa at lunch and we wondered whether the show would go on or if we even wanted to go anymore.

The show went on and after much debate, we decided to go.  The crowd was pretty somber.  It was obvious we all were feeling the loss, feeling uncertain, as these four guys performed remarkable renditions of favorite songs.  They really looked and sounded like the Beatles, with vintage instruments and costumes, as their sets progressed from the early jackets and ties through the Sgt. Peppers uniforms.  Applause was polite but there was little cheering or chatter between songs.

As the curtain opened on the third set (Abbey Road-Let it Be), the young man playing Lennon came onstage alone, a guitar slung over his shoulder, his hair long, his glasses round.  He was almost to his amp when a girl in the crowd shouted, “Lennon lives!”  He raised his left hand in a peace sign and wave just as the other guys came onstage.  The catharsis had come.  The crowd came alive in a wave of relief, knowing that somehow everything was going to be alright.  The band struck up “Come Together.”

No lie, I had to stop typing to cry just now.  It’s been over thirty years since that night and it feels like last month.  Last month Jersey Mike lost his life to a hidden killer and I know I will feel it a long time too.  He left behind scores of friends and fans of his work.  Who knows what Greenbelt Events might have brought to us all?  The success of this summer’s Kipona Fest showed what Mike could accomplish on a grand scale.

On December 27, a tribute concert for Mike is being performed at Stage on Herr, HMAC, featuring some of the jam bands he cut his teeth with in Harrisburg.  Proceeds from the show will be donated to the K&L Foundation, a trust set up for his children, Kaiya and Lennon.  Here’s the link to the Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/events/448399775203926/  There is also a memorial night gathering and concert at Abbey Bar December 29.  Here’s that link: http://www.facebook.com/events/291934330909926/

I will be going to the Jam for Jersey 12/27.  I bought my season pass for Greenbelt Events 2013 this week.  I’m sure it will be another great investment because Mike’s vision lives on.  And we will come together, let it be, stay positive and hold steady.  It’s what Jersey would do.

Happy Birthday Gigspots!

My site was launched April 18, 2011.  I am very proud of how it looks now and how it has grown.  I hope you have enjoyed the show and I thank everyone who has helped me, encouraged me and offered constructive criticism.  It has been a wonderful learning experience and I feel more confident that I can help you find great music experiences.

I’m a pack rat by nature.  I get it from my mom who lived through the Depression and has never thrown away anything.  I also belong to an art group: The Airy Hill School.  I can’t paint or sculpt like those guys but I make a mean collage.  Here’s a view of my office wall.  I can’t describe how much fun it’s been to see all these shows and meet all these people.  I will tag everybody I can but count on me adding more later!

stubs and fliers

Thanks for the shows!

Out Like a Lion, Gigspots-Style

Out Like a Lion, Gigspots-Style

Curious how my last weekend of March turned out?  Hexbelt grooved the Lancaster Dispensing Company Friday night.  They command that room like few other local acts.  It might be torrid musicianship.  It might be a devoted following.  Surely one led to the other. People dance joyously at their shows. Plus, Danny can climb to the ceiling.

I did make it to Wrightsville to witness the official grand opening of Burning Bridge Tavern.  It bills itself as a friendly sports bar.  It appears to be much more than that.  The place was packed with people eating burgers and wings and large TV’s hung in every sightline.  A duo played covers and Vinegar Creek Constituency was performing later.  It’s big, clean and comfortable: part rustic, part urban.  The joint was hopping and 200 people looked happy.  With the Burning Bridge joining John Wright’s down the street, it appears the scene in Wrightsville is building a bridge to get bands and fans from Lancaster crossing “the moat” more regularly.

I made it from Wrightsville to north Philly in 95 minutes.  Kate and I had dinner at Max Brenner’s on 15th and Walnut.  Part chocolate shop, part coffee bar, part bistro: it simmered and swirled us.  An avocado BLT and fish tacos, both yummy and relatively healthy, were obliterated by a most decadent dessert.  The Euphoria sundae featured chocolate and peanut butter ice creams, peanut butter, fudge, nuts, crunchy praline kind of things and was accompanied by ramekins of warm chocolate and peanut butter fondues. Every bite was different and transporting, like watching clouds loft by and then being them.

MilkBoy Philly knocked me out.  The ground floor looks like a cool dairy bar but is every bit of a real bar. Unique cocktails, 30+ draught and canned beer selection and cheap featured shots beckoned.  The menu almost made me wish I had skipped dessert but Euphoria was still upon me.  My next visit will pivot around Mac ‘n Cheese Chili Rellenos and a Hand-Carved Brisket Au Jus sandwich with fries, I guarantee.

Upstairs is the music venue: a 6,000 watts of Clair Brothers sound-system kind of venue.  It holds 200 and was maxed Saturday night.  Local killing bands The Peace Creeps and TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb played the 9:30 and 11pm slots.  I drove in to see the headliner, Kalob Griffin Band, but these two bands alone would have been worth the $10 cover.  The frontman and guitarist for Peace Creeps also played a theremin like a wiry, wily wizard: trippy rock and blues.  TJ Kong and the Atomic Bomb lived up to their name: big, powerful and laying waste to the place.  Their sound is a bit old-timey and a bit sinister: like George Thorogood’s hillbilly uncle.

Kalob Griffin showed up shaved; I didn’t recognize him until he smiled!  He’s actually a pretty handsome dude.  It made me wonder if he would play “Beards.” His Band was primed and 200 people were chanting, “KGB! KGB!” when they took the stage at midnight.  Even the employees were excited; they all remarked on the size and enthusiasm of the crowd.

KGB opened with a new song, “American Dream,” and people were going nuts.  The band actually debuted a bunch of new songs but also nailed favorites like “Flood of 1889” and “Whiskey My Love.”  They DID play “Beards” but not before Kalob told a funny story about not being able to play it anymore.

Also, the band was giving away a 2-song demo from the cd to be released June 1st at World Café Live in Philly.  Get your tickets now.  If KGB can draw 200 people at a club they’ve never played before, you know a cd release at WCL will sell out.

I Love My Job!

Friend and social media guru Ken Mueller hit the Twittersphere with, “Do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?” this morning.  Man, all I have is interesting plans!  My job is going to concerts, interviewing musicians and artists, checking out great music venues and sampling food and beverages in the area.

The hardest part of my job (besides getting paid) is choosing the “who/where/when” of my itinerary.  There are so many bands and solo acts of every description.  Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, and Reading fall within 30 minute drives and Philly, Baltimore and Allentown are within 90 minutes.

Lancaster of course is home to Chameleon Club, Village Nightclub, Lancaster Dispensing Company, Pressroom, Annie Bailey’s, and Marion Court Room all within three blocks.  They are not the only places to see a band: more on that later.

York is stacked with small clubs but it’s typically Bistro 19 or The Strand-Capitol Theater that draw me downtown.  The Depot is near York College of PA.  Just south of there is a newer place I’m crazy about: The Cove.  My Rural Radio.com sponsors a showcase artist every Thursday but there is live music five nights a week.  The place is clean and cozy and man, wait until you taste the brisket!

A newcomer to the scene may trap me between York and Lancaster: The Burning Bridge Tavern in Wrightsville.  I got a preview of the place two weeks ago when they brought in Shane Speal, “King of Cigar Box Guitar,” to give the new sound system a workout.  He rules and it rocks!

I bought a season pass to Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Co in Harrisburg (great investment!) so I can always go there for a show.  They offer 4-5 shows per week and I have never been disappointed.  They draw some major acts and nurture some fine local talent. Cabinet recorded a cd there last winter!

That’s my 30 minute list; add Philly, Baltimore or Allentown to the list and the choices grow exponentially.  And I haven’t even factored in WHO to see.

Here’s how it broke down for this weekend.  I will start with Happy hour/dinner at ABG (American Bar and Grill, Lancaster) Friday.  Then, slip downtown to DipCo for Hexbelt.  I don’t plan to stay too late.  Trout season opens Saturday, so fishing must be fit in somehow.

By 3pm Saturday, I want to be at Burning Bridge Tavern for the grand opening.  South County Brewing will be featured and Vinegar Creek Constituency will be playing.  I can’t stay too long because I head for Philly from there.

Have you seen The Kalob Griffin Band yet?  Have you visited MilkBoy Philly yet?  I’m crazy for this band and very excited to see one of the hottest new venues around.  Plus, I get to check in on daughter Kate, buy her dinner and haul home her winter clothes.

Sunday will be more fishing, uploading photos/videos, writing show reviews and planning my blogs for the week.  If it’s nice, maybe we’ll have a cookout with the neighbors.  Tune in next week!!