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. 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.
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.