Fits & Starts for Roots & Blues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

toronzo

It’s A (Road) Dog’s Life

LeoCygnusI’m so American.  When summer comes, I crave the road.  The only show I’m staging in Lancaster this summer is July 10 at 551 West featuring the dynamic Leo & Cygnus from Annapolis.  Maybe you caught them when I had them at DipCo in May?  If you missed them, don’t make that mistake twice.  The show is free but this band’s stock is rising and they’ll likely be playing huge festivals by this time next year. 551 West If you know 551 West, you know to go hungry.  Everybody I’ve taken there now eats there once a week.  551 West King Street in Lancaster PA. http://www.551west.com/.  Seriously.

I’m headed to Pittsburgh this weekend but not for The Rolling Stones or Dierks Bentley.  I’m taking my family to visit mom and remember my dad.  He was a great man; I’ll never be half the father he was.  In the wake of another senseless race crime, I realize again what a blessing it was to have a blind gentleman as a father and role model.  He never judged anyone by their appearance; he couldn’t see them.  Of all my miles to cover this summer, this trip to my hometown feels the most important.

OneKoast MD's Finest IX mapBetween Monday 6/22 and 6/29, I’ll visit venues in York, Harrisburg, State College, Millheim, Williamsport, Bloomsburg, Wilkes-Barre, Philly, Wilmington DE and western Maryland.  As I recruit bands for my fall showcases in Lancaster, I’ll be making arrangements for these venues to catch the bands on their way to/from my shows.  And I’ll love every mile and every stop.  Draw a circle around Lancaster and lines to these cities and you’ll see we are the hub in a big wheel of culture and fun.

Bullfrog5After a week in Denver, CO I’ll be staging my two biggest events of the summer: four days of hosting bands at Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport and some of my favorite revelers (and bands) at Loyalstock.  That’s when I trade my Subaru for an inner tube and my smart phone for fireflies.  If you can make it to Billtown July 9-12, find me at the Frog for Stolen Rhodes, Lavacave and Medusa’s Disco (acousticlamor)!  It may be the only four days this summer when I’ll be holding relatively still… in my moving and grooving way.

chameleon10thTwo things before I dash: Happy 30th Anniversary to Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA and to its founder Rich Ruoff!  In June of 1985 he opened the door on Christian St.  In February of 1988 I attended my first Blues Festival there and realized Lancaster was where I was going to put down roots.  I never imagined then that thirty years later, I’d be working for Rich and Lancaster Roots and Blues, A Festival of Music.

Congratulations to the completely amazing Angela Sheik, whose submission video for an NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest landed her an interview and feature on NPR Weekend Edition this Sunday 6/21! angela npr

Thank you Rich and thank you Lancaster for being a hub that rolls smooth after all the miles.

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.

 

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.

I Could’ve Been a Dude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Festivals a Go-Go!

Holy cow have I been rambling and rocking!  The last thirty days or so have brought me many miles, many smiles and many musical memories!  Since hosting my Loyalstock festival the last week of June, I have sponsored and attended some great events.  Festival season is a go-go!  Do you shy away from festivals because of the lack of electricity, cell reception, showers and flush toilets?  There are plenty of day-long events and I’ve sponsored two in July.  Pick one out and make a day of it!

I camped out for Jam at the Dam but that’s because it was a DNL event and that means party hearty.  I sponsored a whole stage there and gave out free Bullfrog Brewery beer for Likes and Follows. FYI, sponsoring a stage means you get use of an outlet.  That allowed me to brew a 30-cup urn of coffee Sunday morning and I needed it.  Many thanks to my co-sponsors Wood Stove House, Lancaster Roots and Blues Fest, Tellus 360 and The Rattler.  Without Jason Mundock of WSH and his talented pal Mark DeRose I might never have gotten my banner strung above the stage.  The Rattler brought Camp Rattler in full force and proudly staged Harlot on my Gigspots Lawn Stage.  You all really must check out The Rattler in Pittston.  It’s what a music-industry bar should be!  Pound for pound, I think my stage had the greatest lineup! Bravo and many thanks to: East Coast Turnaround, The Boiled Owls, Kathy and Dan Duo, Searching for Oneida, Harlot, Zach Bellas, Pressing Strings, Aaron Flinn, Karissa Laren, Kalob Griffin Band, Memphis Hat, Sunset Villains, Wise Eyes, The Great Socio and Sticky Longfingers & The Rusted Butter.  I have videos from many of them on my YouTube channel in a playlist called Jam at the Dam 2013.  Thanks again Pirate Rob!

I sponsored a stage for Ladybug Festival in Wilmington, DE while I was on vacation in OCMD.  Yeah, that means I didn’t even get to attend.  But my vacation was sweet and I love what Gable Music Ventures and World Café Live at the Queen keep cooking up down there!  How could I resist supporting a day celebrating woman-fronted bands in nine music-loving venues?  Their next event down there is the Rockabilly Rumble on Sunday August 11th from 12:00-10pm and it’s gonna be a humdinger!

The Districts

The Districts rocked the Marina Stage Friday night!

The Stray Birds

The Stray Birds enchanted the Marina Stage audience to start Saturday

 

WXPN hosts the best festival on the planet in my opinion.  I just spent three glorious days there soaking in the music and positive vibes. Our central PA bands (and FigLancaster.com alums) turned in memorable performances: The Districts and The Stray Birds.  I’ll devote a whole blog/show review to XPoNential Music Festival asap.  The event sold out for the first time ever and I’m thrilled for us all.  This station constantly pours money and music into the community and is a genuine bastion of culture and love.  If you’re not a supporting member of WXPN, I just don’t understand how you can call yourself a music-lover.

What’s next? Jeepers, I’m getting pulled towards two corners of the state this weekend!  How can I resist Musikfest in Bethlehem?  It’s ten days long and many events/shows are FREE!  How can I resist Flood City Music Fest in Johnstown?  It might feature the widest array of acts at any festival this summer and Robert Randolph is one of the headliners.  There are Gigspots artists playing both events including Sweet Leda, Lovebettie and Kalob Griffin Band.  Both are easy day-trips, both are in practically-new venues and both feature a fabulous array of local, regional and national acts.  For you Deadheads out there, the 8th Annual Bear’s Picnic starts today and runs Aug 1-5 at the Lycoming Co Fairgrounds.  Just in case it slipped your short-term memory…

Hot August Blues Festival is August 17th and might be the best one-off festival.  Grace Potter and The Nocturnals headline and wow, what a great lineup!  Kids 12 and under get FREE admission and this festival runs as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

My boys at DNL Entertainment have a great excuse for you to spend an extra day in OCMD on August 18th: Blockstock 5 at The Party Block!  You will want to take Monday the 19th off for sure.  At least a dozen bands will be ripping it up from 7pm to who knows?  If that’s your beach week, lucky you!  If you have a vacation day to spare, you can thank me when you get back!

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.

What Would Jersey Do? RIP in Rock Heaven MVJ

What Would Jersey Do? – MVJ RIP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the Love for G?

Thursday night 11/15 at Chameleon Club, I treated myself to another night of G. Love and Special Sauce.  The opening band, Guerilla Panda Dub Squad, played heartily but briefly.  I will keep my eyes open for another area appearance by them.  But I don’t miss G at the Chameleon and it’s safe to say the crowd was feeling the same way.

He opened with “Shooting Hoops” from the first album and people went nuts.  Then he slipped into “Who’s Got the Weed.”  Ten years ago that would have sparked many clouds rising from the dance floor.  This time it only brought security with flashlights.

The band played many crowd favorites: “I-76,” “Baby’s Got Sauce,” “Back of the Bus” and of course “Cold Beverage.”  G played a nice acoustic version of “Gimme Some Loving.”  I didn’t hear any new songs which surprised me.  Usually the band tries out a few new ones live before committing them to a new recording.  They played from 10:30 to 12:15.  That also surprised me as the last time they played Chameleon was a four-hour affair.

Two things at the show went beyond surprise to disappointment.  As I worked my way into a spot near the stage, some guy whacked me in the head not once but three times.  He was cursing me and asking who I thought I was to just move in front of him.  I was actually beside him but that’s not the point.  I moved back rather than picking a fight with this guy.  I have too much respect for Chameleon to cause trouble there.  As I got to the edge of the crowd, who should appear but former club owner and friend of mine Rich Ruoff.  I told him what happened and his reply was, “At a G. Love show?  What’s the world coming to?”  He asked if I was ok and we resumed our grooving but it was very upsetting.  If you are the guy who whacked me in the head, reply here and I’ll be glad to meet you on any corner in town.

The other upsetting thing was the distinct lack of an under-21 crowd.  When Lemonade was released on iTunes, people downloaded it that month more than any other album.  “Booty Call” and “Lemonade” were the singles but people downloaded the whole album.   G. Love and Special Sauce never got major radio airplay but they had a committed national following among young adults.  Where were they?  Did the Fixin’ to Die album with the Avett Brothers scare them off?  Was this show marketed wrong?

I suspect this is another symptom of “social mediatus”: confusing virtual reality with reality.  No amount of downloaded songs is going to provide you with a concert experience ie real socializing and seeing a band in person.  We veteran concert-goers need to get the next generation out there to some shows before venues turn into iPod bars!