Get LAUNCHed in Lancaster

LAUNCH Music Conference returns to Lancaster for their eighth blast-off Thursday thru Saturday night April 21-23.  Day-time events include over 40 panels and seminars conducted by music industry professionals.  Music starts at 6pm all three nights and includes performances by over 200 acts in many styles.  Fourteen downtown venues will be rocking all weekend!

LAUNCH is a good opportunity for musicians to learn, play and network.  It’s very much a gathering of the tribes and regular attendees (like me) treat it like a family reunion of sorts.  The music business can be a lonely road with few directional signs or welcome centers.  This annual weekend gives the musicians a chance to play for big crowds of their friends and to see those bands they rarely can catch due to their own performance schedules.  Plus they never know who might see them perform and offer new opportunities.

You can’t see everybody; it’s the dilemma of festivals with multiple stages.  But here are some acts I can vouch for as fun, talented, provocative models of what the weekend is all about.  As a disclaimer, I should mention that none of my picks are metal/hardcore/thrash styles.  I just don’t appreciate the genre enough to make informed choices.  If you like it, this weekend is custom-made for you because we get too few chances to hear bands like that in Lancaster and LAUNCH founder Jeremy Weiss is an absolute authority on metal.  My one heavy pick: From Under the Willow 7:30pm Saturday at Chameleon Club.

FRIDAY:

  • Noelle Picara 6pm in the lobby of LCCC piano chanteuse from another world
  • Dre Powe with Jamall Anthony 7:15pm LCCC Freedom Hall rap, R&B and soul
  • The Quixote Project 8:45pm at Chameleon Club neo-Roots and Americana
  • Meg and The Right Sound 9:15pm at The Candy Factory hometown Americana
  • Lovebettie 11:15 at Federal Taphouse pop rock with swagger
  • Colin McGetrick 12am at Federal Taphouse singer-songwriter-guitarist of WaveRadio

SATURDAY:

Here We Go Again

I was born and raised in Pittsburgh where “Here we go” is followed by “Steelers.”  The MNF game last night between the Steelers and San Diego Chargers was a lucky win for my team.  A friend of mine is fond of saying, “I’d rather be lucky than good.”  I think if you work hard enough towards a goal, luck just might find you.  I hope I’m right.

bjorn1I can tell you that Bjorn Jacobsen is working hard on his PA tour.  The NEPA leg included two Wilkes-Barre gigs and shows in Bloomsburg, Williamsport, State College, West Chester, Lancaster and East York: eight shows in ten days.  I was lucky to be his host, wheel man, sound man and big fan on five of those nights and I’m looking forward to a few more before Boy Wander heads back to NOLA.  His singing is stronger than ever and he still thrashes that acoustic guitar.  There was a brief sighting of Amanda and baby Adelei at DipCo and jeepers that baby is cute!  Bjorn is opening my big show this Friday 10/16 at Elks Lodge.  Come see how strong and lucky The Wayfarer has become!

Jamall AnthonyIf you want to see work that’s play, join us for Music Fridays in Lancaster at The BPOE Elks Lodge Ballroom this Friday. Bjorn opens with some jangly, rootsy tales of love and woe.  Soul singer Jamall Anthony from Coatesville is in the middle.  Maybe you saw one of his LAUNCH Music Conference shows or have heard him on 93.7 WSTW?  This guy can really sing and this could be an, “I saw him when…” moment for all of us!  Here’s a bit of what made me say YEAH two years ago at LAUNCH.

Shrimpboat is the 8-piece super-group that means PARTY in Lancaster.  They’ve played all the biggest events in town since forming: NYE, Celebrate Lancaster, FlyFest, The Long’s Park Summer Concert Series etc.  Their stated mission is to get hips shaking.  They do it and make it look easy.  Come get some easy!

As the stage doors at DipCo swing shut (one showcase left), a window is swinging open at Federal Taphouse.  I’ve been asked to book a series of performances there between now and Christmas.  First up will be Skribe on Friday October 23rd!  As I left the meeting confirming this experiment at Taphouse, thinking, “Ok, who do I get to play in two weeks?”  I received a call from Skribe.Skribe2  A venue had just cancelled a 10/23 gig on him and could I find something along his tour route?  I don’t know what to call that but luck.  If you’ve seen Skribe, you know how lucky we all are!  If you haven’t, your lucky day is 10/23 when you get to see him for free, eat artisan, wood-fired pizza and drink craft beer.

So I got lucky trying to do good for a local business and a touring musician friend.  It’s been a mantra at Gigspots and the folks I work with are doing well.  It’s also what motivates me to work harder.  I’m about to add ten new venues to Gigspots.com.  It will be a lot more work but I believe I’m serving the community.  I believe if you do good, luck finds you.  Doing good and doing well are not synonymous though.  Doing good is about rewards for others.  Doing well is about rewards for you.  The luckiest people find ways to accomplish both.

Stagelights Dim at DipCo

I got some sad news over the weekend.  The Lancaster Dispensing Company has decided to cease staging live music after Thanksgiving 2015.  They have been a live music venue since opening in 1978.  To me, it was the equivalent of having your favorite uncle die.DipCo new

I grew up in the restaurant business.  I know it’s a really tough way to make a living.  You count your inventory by the ounce and your profits by the pennies.  You work every weekend and most holidays.  There are hundreds of laws to comply with and you can’t choose your neighbors.  You are the top of the food chain so everyone else’s costs get passed on to you.

So why did the music have to die?  I can only conjecture on Bradley and Judy’s reasons for making what I’m sure was a very tough decision.  I’m not keen to guess and frankly it’s none of my business.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to stage eighteen Gigspots Showcases there.  I have two shows left: October 10 and November 14.  I’d be well pleased to see a good crowd!

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapDipCo has long been the hub of Lancaster’s music scene and it served me as a place to introduce many bands here.  It was a pivotal stop as I would take bands on tour around the region.  Besides getting their first exposure in our crucial Lancaster market, those bands knew they would get guaranteed pay at the end of the night.

There are few guarantees in life and fewer still for musicians and restaurateurs.  Most of those folks count on people coming in the door to cover their expenses and put some bread on their own tables.  Any musician will tell you that nights with a guarantee are what keep the boat afloat.  Any restaurateur will tell you that the only guarantees are that the bills will arrive and that regular customers can make or break you.

I’m not looking to lay blame any more than I’m guessing what motivated DipCo to stop the music.  There are a few facts that I can share.  The cover charge at the door is five dollars on music nights.  It’s been that price for decades.  Every night, I would see 12-20 people turn away at the door rather than pay it.  We all know that there is no place cheaper to eat and drink downtown and the food is great.  What’s the logic in paying $8 for a beer somewhere else when $8 at DipCo gets you a beer and live music all night?  On the other side of that coin: DipCo’s cover charge is $5 but their average sale per customer is nearly $12.  If you drop the cover charge, can you count on that clientele to meet your averages?  Or will six people share the large nachos and a pitcher of water while enjoying the music?  Either way it’s a risk.  And what value do you place on the artists’ work?

The only guaranteed losers in this equation are the musicians.  There is now one less place to play where you will be guaranteed a payout at the end of the night.  There is one less chance for you to reach the Lancaster market and build your following.  I know that’s crucial because so many nights are dependent on people coming through the door.  And yeah, I know that cover charges and hence band pay have been stagnant for thirty years.  It was $5 to see two bands in 1985 and it still is at nearly every venue.

Live, original music is only a small part of what The Lancaster Dispensing Company has given to our city since 1978.  I’ve had hundreds of great meals and memorable nights there.  It’s where I first met many of my favorite people in Lancaster, where I always brought out-of-town visitors and where I always could count on seeing friendly, familiar faces.  That’s not going to change.

bjorn1The Gigspots Spotlight Showcase on October 10 features two of my friends who are musical freaks.  Returning to the area from NOLA will be Bjorn Jacobsen, the Wayfarer himself, bringing savage tales of busking for a living and being a new daddy.  And yeah, all that dark stuff from the past and weird prophesies for the future will boil over too. Clinton Hibshman Opening the night and a whole can of whup-ass on guitars, harp and songs will be Clinton Hibshman.  I don’t waste a lot of words trying to describe him.  I just turn it up and grab a beer.  He embodies everything that happens at my favorite kinds of parties.

Help me make my last two shows at DipCo those kinds of parties.  Let the food, drinks and good times roll!  Have you partied there?  Have you played there?  Let’s celebrate what it’s meant to us all.

Up Around The Bend and Back

Ah summer!  I had a great season.  I shared a lot of laughs, adventures and good times with family and friends old and new.  I haven’t been blogging but boy have I been living!  The only problem with not writing is getting started again.  Then yesterday morning I heard the old Creedence Clearwater Revival tune “Up Around The Bend” from Cosmos Factory and knew I had my prompt.

Up Around The Bend

By Creedence Clearwater Revival

There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’
Just as fast as my feet can fly
Come away, come away if you’re goin’,
Leave the sinkin’ ship behind.

[Chorus:]
Come on the risin’ wind,
We’re goin’ up around the bend.

Ooh!

Bring a song and a smile for the banjo,
Better get while the gettin’s good,
Hitch a ride to the end of the highway
Where the neons turn to wood.

[Chorus:]

Ooh!

You can ponder perpetual motion,
Fix your mind on a crystal day,
Always time for a good conversation,
There’s an ear for what you say.

[Chorus:]

Yeah!

Ooh!

Catch a ride to the end of the highway
And we’ll meet by the big red tree,
There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin’
Come along, come along with me.

[Chorus:]

Yeah!

I guess I’m wired that way.  As a soldier, I learned that On Leave means leave it behind.  As a student and later a teacher, I treasured my summer vacations.  My life certainly is NOT a “…sinkin’ ship” I need to leave behind.  But when I get to “…where the neons turn to wood,” I’m glad to get out of the glare.

Of course I found time for some Gigspotting!  Have you seen my latest videos of Medusa’s Disco, Ton-Taun, Leo & Cygnus and Stolen Rhodes?  How about my playlists from LAUNCH or The Ladybug Festival?  If not, they’ll be there and they’ll soon be joined by many more.  I’ve been up around the bend but now I’m back.

jocelynf2And whoa, Daddy, do I have some great shows lined up for fall!  I hope to see you every second Saturday at Lancaster Dispensing Company and every third Friday at The Elks Lodge Ballroom!  Up first: Jocelyn Faro and The Ragazzi plus Justin Angelo at DipCo 9/12!

Sweet Leda’s New Album: Let It In and Turn it Up!

Sweet Leda’s latest album Let It In deserves tons of attention and hundreds of accolades.  The fat, lush sounds of the direct-to-tape recording process captured the layers of power and intensity behind these songs.  If you’ve seen Sweet Leda live, you’ll feel the heat off this record.  If you’re curious what all the buzz and awards are about, it’s time to Let It In and turn it up!  You’ll find chances later to have a quiet moment with the record.  Your first play should be loud as hell.  Wherever you do that, do it to it.SL4

Julie Cymek wrote these songs and sings them with command.  She belts in the same weight class as Dana Fuchs, Grace Potter, Sister Sparrow and Joan Osborne.  Jaime Horrigan on bass can thump it or go all melodious on you.  He’s a double-threat on beatbox too.  Omar El Dieahy is my favorite guitarist I know.  He plays these crazy prototype guitars and while he invents new tones and textures, he never loses the song or lets it get impersonal.  Don Boyette on drums is The Pocket.  Dude is all sweet spot and grace, a drummer’s drummer. SL6 Joining Sweet Leda on two album tracks, as he often does live, is tenor sax giant Ron Holloway.  How lucky for us all!  You can Google him now or after you hear him, but you will.

Here’s the ten-song playlist and a thing or two about that thing they do: sweet, sexy, funky rock with soul.

  1. “Resolutions:” one of the band’s resolutions for the record must be to let Omar turn it up! You’ll figure out right away that this band means what it says.
  2. “Go Get Your Money:” Omar and Ron Holloway earn it one this one. They go and they get it!
  3. “Fake It:” no posers need apply! If you can’t be real with the open-hearted people in Sweet Leda, you can’t be real.  Whoever you are, I don’t want to know you either.
  4. “Make It Happen:” get off your ass! What’s stopping you?
  5. “She’s Not Coming Home:” I think you blew it mister. This is a song for a woman wronged.
  6. “Baby:” one hot, slow-burning torch of a song about making love. Julie didn’t write it for you but you’ll believe she did.  Deep down believe.
  7. “Bad Boy:” one hot rock song for the bad girls in the house! Bad hasn’t sounded so good since Donna Summer.
  8. “Let It In:” five senses and a whole world right in front of you. Seize something and hang on!
  9. “Something:” by George Harrison…a big romantic version. It’s a love song to a love song.  Omar!
  10. “You Can’t Hold Me Down:” I always hold my head high. I keep moving on.

SL1Those last words are Julie’s and could well describe the album.  Sweet Leda has plenty of reason to hold their heads high with the release of Let It In and the record should definitely keep their careers moving on and up.  But they could serve us all well as a motto for life.  There is great beauty in life and we need to let it in.  When it sparks our curiosity, we need to act on it.  And when people bring the ugly, we need to let it go.  Crank up your copy of Let It In and proceed loud and proud!  Buy it now at SweetLeda.com!

All photographs and digital-oil images here are the work and property of Dan Gillespie and DGital.  Used with permission.  See other spectacular albums at https://www.facebook.com/dgital.me/timeline or for consultation email dgital.me@icloud.com

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.

 

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!