Writing Pro

If you think it’s a cop-out to just re-post favorite blogs for the first twelve days of April, I beg your patience.  It’s giving new readers a chance to catch up.  It’s giving me a great opportunity to reflect on Gigspots’ progress and my writing as a whole.  Let me act proud while humbly thanking the bands, venues and personalities who have allowed me to write about them.  I’m learning and I love learning!

Besides my own blog, I’ve found some opportunities to write professionally since I started Gigspots.  I’m especially proud of a follow-up piece on Lancaster Roots and Blues I wrote for the March edition of Regional Musician magazine.  I like their motto: “Right-brain info for the left-brain artists.”  Once a teacher, always a teacher I guess.  Here’s this link to “The Road to Roots and Blues.”

I contribute fairly regularly to FigLancaster.com and find it exhilarating to be part of such a beautiful publication.  It gives me a great excuse to gush about Lancaster’s music scene.  Here’s a sample: follow this link to see my December post.  I have to say I was pretty thrilled to be a contributor to Fig Lancaster’s first Music Issue and be in print.  I got “…five copies for my mother.”

The folks at TriStateIndie.com have become mentors and trusted friends since I started Gigspots.  Contributing for them is fun and gives me a chance to do some different types of writing.  It was really cool when they published my album review for SEEDS’ Questioned By a Ghost.  I’m not sure if it’s related, but I receive music to review and invitations to shows regularly now.  I also write liner notes and bios for bands.

I wrote a ton for Lancaster Roots and Blues: press releases, sales pitches, website content, program notes, you name it.  I’ll be doing it again for 2015 so please give me some feedback if you’re in that audience.  It’s a primary way that I can work to assure your experience is the best it can be.

 

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!

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.

Transition Transmission

To open September’s Fly Magazine, editor Jessica Smucker reminded us that Fall is a time of transitions.  Indeed summer is over.  I gave mine a proper send-off this weekend at Dewey Beach Music Conference.

John & Brittany rocked it hard at Dewey Beach Music Conference

John & Brittany rocked it hard at Dewey Beach Music Conference

I am burnt inside and out.  My daughter joined me for part of it and said there’s a new buzz phrase at her college; “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.”  I’m interpreting that as a license to shoot my mouth off a bit.  I’ve spent just over two years introducing myself and Gigspots to people.  Let’s see whose attention I’ve won, whose cage I can rattle and how I impact my audience.  I have some exciting transitions of my own to share.

KGB on the Gigspots Lawn Stage at Jam at the Dam

KGB on the Gigspots Lawn Stage at Jam at the Dam

I spent a lot of time and money sponsoring stages at shows and festivals this summer.  I met, interviewed and filmed a ton of great bands.  I gave away piles of free advertising, beer, t-shirts and videos.  I had a ball.  I’m exhausted yet energized to take the next step.  Many bands have begun asking me to find gigs for them.  I am taking the leap to begin acting as an agent.  I’ve recently filled tour dates for Lovebettie, Triphazard, PASADENA, Bond and Bentley, The Great SOCIO, The Wayfarer Experiment and Harlot.  I’m establishing a small circuit tour with several of my client venues where I can offer 2-3 night runs to a band.  I also will begin a series of “Gigspots Spotlight” shows where 2-3 acts present a showcase.  My favorite part of this announcement is that I’ll be booking the music at Lancaster Dispensing Company for the second Saturday of every month starting in January 2014!   Some of you may remember my shows at Chameleon, Bube’s and Boondocks.  These will typically be more intimate but man, do I have a funk/hip-hop show and a prog rock show to pop at the right place!  So, who wants to work with me?  I am actively recruiting bands and venues.

Lovebettie coming at you from The Rattler in Pittston PA!

Lovebettie coming at you from The Rattler in Pittston PA!

The newest venue I’m working with is called The Rattler in Pittston, PA (between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton).  How cool is it?  It’s late 70’s CBGB/late 80’s Chameleon Club cool.  Everyone is welcome and anything goes.  It’s at the crossroads of Route 11, Route 309 and I-476 so it’s easy to find and visit.  You NEPA pals and Pocono ski bums need to get in there.  Tell ‘em Gigspots sent you.

I will no longer be doing business with The River Street Jazz Café in Plains.  Thank you to Tom Moran for all the great music, food and people you shared with me.  It’s a shame our philosophies have become disparate.  Best wishes.

This Fall means some special transitions in the Lancaster music scene.  DipCo is back in the swing after their summer hiatus with music Fridays and Saturdays.  The Fridge has begun hosting music some Mondays: 40-50 tickets for one hot act.  So far I’ve seen JP Harris and Toy Soldiers: sweet investment and of course great pizza and beer.  After nearly a three-year wait, Federal Taphouse opened with gourmet pizza, 100 draft beers and the promise of live music.  In three weeks they pissed off some of the most patient, professional music industry people I’ve ever known.  I have no idea what the music status is right now.  We’ll see if they can fix things.  I wish them well and am here to help.

Tellus 360’s renovations have progressed enough to begin hosting the Table Top Sessions again.  The first was 9/7/13 with Brethren and The Big Dirty and it was a hoot!  I wrote about it in my blog for FigLancaster.com.  They host Rootenanny this year 9/27 with Vinegar Creek Constituency, Mark DeRose & The Dreadnought Brigade and Vulcans.  It’s the perfect blend of music and community building as the show benefits Live Green and Carsie Blanton and Joe PlowmanBring On Play.  Another do-not-miss show is the return of Carsie Blanton 10/3.  All this place needs now is its liquor license approval.  Anyone who’s walked through its doors already considers it a home away from home.  Calling Mr. Sturla, calling Mr. Gray.  Call PLCB and tell them to step on it!  It’s not a bar!  It’s a community hub and Prohibition ended eighty years ago.

Did you know downtown Lancaster now has a legit open mic night every week?  It happens at 551 West at 551 W. King (former Kegel’s location) on Tuesday nights.  More players are coming every week and it’s a varied, talented bunch so far.  Lots of folks from the Blues Society of Central PA seem to have found the place.  If you like great food and beer, visit immediately.  They have 24 taps and whatever you eat will be your new favorite food.  How fresh, local and delicious is it?  They do not own a freezer.  Just mentioning it makes me hungry.  I need to wrap this up.  I need a French burger with extra au jus.

Some pledges and considerations on pending transitions:

I will eat breakfast.  I will not call six cups of coffee breakfast.  3am post-show breakfasts count.

I will not drink any more.  I might even try to drink a little less.

I will not monetize my YouTube channel.  Your performances are your property, not mine.  And who needs more commercials anyway?

I will not pay Facebook to promote my page.  That’s why I have friends, admins and interns.  When’s the last time you checked your settings on Facebook.com/Gigspots?  If my content isn’t holding your interest, I doubt that paying Facebook will change that.

I will blog more often and include more pictures.  I encourage you to post more pictures and links on my Facebook/Twitter/Instagram.  I’d love for someone to help me become a better photographer.

I will travel less…NOT.  I love my wife, dog and home but very few bands perform at my house.  I get 40 event invitations and nearly 300 notifications daily.  I can only offer so much help to my music/restaurant/travel industry pals by putting boots on the ground.  My boots.

Where to? Did you make my short list for the month?

Where to? Did you make my short list for the month?

So lace up your boots, sneakers, whatever and follow me.  We’re saving the economy one gig at a time and giving the hardworking musicians, bartenders, baristas and chefs the attention they so richly deserve.

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!

LAUNCH 5 Worked for Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost Famous and Intern Scott

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

Scott Davis                                                                                                                                                                        3/28/13

Angela Sheik One By One Review

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

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

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

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

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

LAUNCH Rocks its Fifth Weekend

I’m sure there were plenty of doubters and haters when Jeremy Weiss and Rick Gadd decided to initiate LAUNCH Music Conference and Festival five years ago.  Today kicks off the fifth annual.  So much for doubters and haters.  I plunked down $60 for a VIP pass so I can access all areas, every show and every conference.  Can I do it all? No.  Am I gonna try?  Yes.  It’s one hell of a bargain for that much creativity.

I love how alive downtown feels during LAUNCH.  I love the streets being filled with interesting, exhilarating, curious people.  I love showing off the town to visitors, especially first-timers.  They think Lancaster is barns and dirt roads.  I take them for crepes and craft beer and it settles them right out.

LAUNCH is easier to navigate than ever.  You can download a free app to make a schedule and connect with friends.  There are print guides in dozens of merchants around town.  Plus, besides the LAUNCH and Gigspots websites, you can access info via MOOSE and FigLancaster.com.  If you can find the town square (follow the music) and the two tallest buildings in town, you will have found the epicenter of LAUNCH at Lancaster County Convention Center.

If you would like personal navigation advice, a place to have a snack and recharge your devices and self, wander up to the 300 block of N. Queen St and visit The Candy Factory.  Those fine folks, Jason Mundock of Wood Stove House and I will be co-hosting a Launch Lounge for musicians and the like.  We’d love to welcome you to town, pour you a cup of coffee and invite you to help us create a sound and visual collage of this year’s LAUNCH weekend.  Follow The Candy Factory or GigspotsSam on Twitter for special updates.  Seizure later!

City Week, Country Week

I just finished two very exciting but very different weeks.  The week of Feb 11-17 carried me to big cities for wild times and a wide variety of music.  The week of Feb 18-24 brought me back to the country for more rootsy, traditional sounds.  I continue to be amazed at the scope of musical adventures I can find within 100 miles of Lancaster.

State College isn’t really a big city but it’s a big deal in PA.  The Kalob Griffin Band has been a big deal there since 2010 so I visited their birthplace, Café 210 West, to get a feel for their roots.  It’s a great venue with cheap, delicious food and beer.  Every college town should have a place like this.  The band was rousing, their fans carousing and the ladies just wouldn’t leave this band alone.

Lancaster isn’t a big city but it has everything a big one does; it’s “A City Authentic.”  I got to see KGB in the place I met them: The Lancaster Dispensing Company, aka DipCo.  The band sounded great but I called it a night early to save energy for Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday night carried me to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, namely Rams Head Live for Pirate Rob’s Birthday Bash Sixteen bands performed for over 800 people and as a sponsor, I had all-access passes.  This is not something I would recommend for the faint of heart.  These people party like they’re on the Mayan calendar.  You can still download a 19-song sampler from the Birthday Bash artists on my Gigspots.com homepage.  If you think you can hang in any rock show situation, mark your calendar for next year.

Sunday night meant Philly for The TriStateIndie.com Music Awards at World Café Live.  I’ve never been to the Grammy’s but I doubt they are more efficient or fun than TSI’s show.  Ron Gallo as emcee and Dirk Quinn Band as house band made the beautiful World Café Live feel like a giant house party.

I documented much more about this weekend in my last blog where I also discussed turning fifty.

Country weekends still kick off on Thursdays.  I slipped up to Elizabethtown’s Lynden Gallery for an intimate, acoustic round.  Sarah Blacker, Jessica Smucker and Eric White traded songs accompanied by Eran Shaysh on percussion.  The quiet while they performed enrobed their songs.  The direct connection between artists and audience crackled.  The show closed with a transcendent rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” that left me breathless.  I will never forget it.

I left that show and drove six miles closer to home before stopping at The Watering Trough.  The Wayfarer Experiment had a late show I just couldn’t pass up.  This trio is knocking me out: raw talent and wild abandon in every show.  It was a pretty late Thursday night even by my standards!

There were too many shows to choose from Friday night but the one I regret missing the most was Mike McMonagle and The Vulcans playing Lancaster’s newest interesting venue, “Live From the Cellar.”  Keep your eye on their page to be sure you don’t miss something extraordinary and intimate.

Saturday night was another double-header.  I began with a scrumptious dinner with my wife at Black Gryphon in Elizabethtown.  Serenading our dessert/beer course were the dynamic duo of Leo DiSanto and Jeff Bryson from Vinegar Creek Constituency.  Part one of the evening was delicious and satisfying to all senses.

Part two of Saturday night took me to The Depot in York, PA for some rowdy country and rockabilly!  My pals American Hollar opened the night and showed off plenty of new material.   The sooner you catch up to this band, the better.  Mike Males has a new electric guitar that’s pumping up the sound and word has it that Jeff Hostetter (resonator) is considering a move to Florida.  You can catch them March 28 at World Café Live at The Queen in Wilmington, DE as part of a great lineup as Central PA invades DE.

Carrie and the Dirty Pillows played an energetic set to transition from straight-up country to a rockabilly sound.  Then came DiDi Deluxe and The Dirty Devils, Fly Magazine (Harrisburg)’s cover band for March.  I must say, this band knows their stuff!  You have no chance of sitting still when they crank up their rockabilly.  They are an eye-popping, ear-splitting, foot-moving machine.

It’s hard to find time to write when you’re always going to shows but I’m trying!  Keep the invitations coming and I’ll do my best to catch your shows next!

A Million Thanks for Fifty Years

A Million Thanks for Fifty Years!

I turned 50 years old Tuesday 2/19/13. I see it as a sort of accomplishment.  My mind and body have taken some abuse over the years but I’m still moving, grooving and growing.  I heard some great “fifty” jokes and advice this week.  People obsess on numbers.

A toast from the Lovebettie family to mine Christmas 2012!

Cue up Bob Seger’s “Feel Like a Number” and check out some of the numbers in my life.

1963 – I was born then and share a birthday and birth year with a lot of great people.

1981 – the year I graduated from Moon High School just west of Pittsburgh, PA

150+ – people extended their best wishes to me Tuesday and it felt wonderful!

412/724 – the area codes where people still call me John, Johnny, the Camsman:  and I love it!

1+1 – one wife for 23 years, one daughter for almost 21

7,627 – miles logged running Gigspots in 2012 (probably closer to 10K but can’t deduct it all!)

100+ – live music events attended in 2012: How do you think I celebrated my birthday?

Between 2/13 and 2/18 I drove 500 miles to four different venues to see 22 different bands.

Wednesday’s and Friday’s shows were The Kalob Griffin Band: where they were born at Café 210 West in State College and at Lancaster Dispensing Company where I first heard them.  That made 12 KGB shows in a year.   I wrote about it for FigLancaster.com.  They could be this decade’s Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and on the verge of a thirty-year career.  See them local while you can!

Saturday night was Pirate Rob’s Birthday Bash at Rams Head Live in Baltimore: the big one, in the Power Plant complex at Inner Harbor.  It’s a super sick party with 19 killer bands and 1,500 tickets.  I helped sponsor the show and had all-access passes.  It was very rock and roll! No other indoor show features this much talent on one stage.  It helps me not to miss Rich Ruoff’s annual Blues Festivals at the Chameleon Club which were always on our shared birthday weekend.

Sunday was the Tri State Indie Music Awards at World Café Live in PhillyRon Gallo emceed, The Dirk Quinn Band rocked as house band, and seven other acts played between sessions of awards.  Sweet Leda played and won MD Indie Band of the Year and the Groupie’s Pick awards.  I got to present them the first and I’m proud to be their friend and fan.  I helped them become a presence in central PA.

Sweet Leda rocking the TSI Awards 2013

0 – number of miles I travelled on my actual birthday 2/19/13.  I was ready for a break!

#1 – The reason I wrote this blog was to thank you all for being a part of these fifty years.  I invite you to stick around for a few more and ask you to support Gigspots by giving it some attention.  My mission is to support the arts, encourage young people and help us all find some social leisure to enjoy.  If I can save you a buck or help you make a few, I’ll do that too.  You’ll never be just numbers to me.