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!

SEEDS’ “Questioned By A Ghost” Answers the Call

I wrote about central PA band SEEDS before in my blog Young Lions.  I received an advance copy of their first studio album Questioned By A Ghost and wrote the following review.  In brief: it’s a strong debut!

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS rocking Marion Court Room patio

SEEDS’ Questioned By A Ghost Answers the Call

Central PA band SEEDS has been threatening to release a full-length album for almost a year.  On Saturday December 21, 2013 they will deliver it to a raucous capacity crowd at Chameleon Club in Lancaster, PA on a bill that includes The Districts, Pine Barons and Coronado.  That’s a lot of rock but SEEDS fans can roll with it.  They are devoted and obviously patient.  The band better bring a pile of copies to the show!  Questioned By A Ghost is worth the wait.

SEEDS fans expect a loud, rowdy show but what can they expect from this first studio album?  Two things still abound: unusual chords and whimsy.  The members of SEEDS love a good laugh.  Their humor is more wry than mocking and the twisty melodies and guitar lines match that tone well.  Songs like “Radiation” and “Not a Care in the World” don’t say people are fucked up.  They say humans are goofy as shit.   When they’re angry, they don’t look to lay blame.  They say, “C’mon, man!  We can do better than this!”  Songs like “Flystrip” and “Box of Animals” show the fallacies of image-consciousness and materialism.  Social networking is not socializing, people!  Go live life.

SEEDS sprout plenty of sex, drugs and rock & roll on this album too.  “Strange Chemistry” is an instrumental but it has plenty to say.  “Open My Mind,” “Eyes Are Oceans” and “Medicine” are pretty trippy, especially when the sitar kicks in.  These are also the songs where you can hear how vast the library of musical influences on this band must be.  Peter Gabriel and The Byrds meet Frank Zappa and Aerosmith?  Ravi Shankar and Carlos Santana sit in?  How does that happen?

Then there are the songs “Park Bench Pigeons” and “Endless Questions.”  These landscapes kind of epitomize everything the rest of the album sketches.  They’re weird, funny, ironic tales with jangly melodies.  They are rides through a not-quite-right fun house: twisted and twisty.

So does it rock?  Yes.  Will Questioned By A Ghost satisfy SEEDS fans?  It should.  It’s a youthful, rowdy exclamation and definitely delivers on the production values.  In fact, it might push fans to demand a better mix at live shows.  There’s a depth of layering on this album that rarely gets the attention it deserves on stage.  Now that fans can finally carry SEEDS of their own, maybe they’ll demand a show that’s more layers than lava.  For the lava lovers (and lava light lovers), just turn it up!

Tour Life: Woe or Whoa!

“Ain’t in it for my health…”  Levon Helm

BnB FallSince I’m becoming an agent, I decided to send myself on the road with a few bands.  I wanted to see how they earn their money.  I wanted to discover first-hand the joys of traveling with a rock band.   I wanted to see what hardships they might face.  I didn’t have the time, money or guts to try something like The Autumn Anxiety Tour: PASADENA and Bumpin Uglies going coast to coast.  Instead, I did some long weekends with The Wayfarer Experiment and Bond & Bentley and an extended run with Lovebettie and Triphazard on their Unsocial Network Tour.  Want the abridged version? Bands don’t make enough money.

Being in a band is expensive.  You invest in gear and pay to maintain it.  You have to pay for gas to get to and from the gig.  You can’t always count on the venue providing food and drinks as part of your compensation.  Before you can sell merchandise, you have to pay to produce it.  And from what I’m seeing out there, bands get $150-300 to play a show until they really start to draw a crowd.

The hours are lousy.  Accounting for driving and loading in/out, you might leave home at 5pm and get home at 5am.  Have you ever tried to find gas, food or lodging after 2am?  You might have luck in a city but be prepared to pay more.  Time management skills only go so far when so few factors are within your control.  You start and finish when the venue says so.

Shrimpboat band“Touring is for the young.  You can only sleep on floors for so long.  And you must have complete immersion to do it right.  You can’t have baggage or responsibilities calling from home.”  So says Loretta, who fronted and toured with several bands including Burning Bus, The Dive Bar Pretties and currently Shrimpboat.  “It’s a great life.  It’s a hard life.  You must be completely into it to survive.”

Are all tour stories filled with hard luck and few rewards?  Of course not.  Imagine the best concert you’ve ever seen.  Now imagine what it must have felt like for the band to make that connection with their audience.  Now realize it can be you: if you make good music and find the right crowd at the right time.  Ray Wroten, who fronts Bond & Bentley, has been touring 200+ nights a year for six years.  He loves what he does and has plenty of stories good and bad.2013-02-09 23.39.51

“Man, our tour last spring is a great example.  We had a send-off gig at home: great night.  The next two nights, bam, great bars, great audiences.  People into it, dancing, never seen or heard of us before.  Made a lot of connections, sold a pile of cd’s.  It’s crazy; we’re from Baltimore but we now have a huge fan base in Buffalo, NY.  Night four we play a place in Indy that we’d done well at before.  We had a couple friends there from a previous show.  And that’s who we played to.  Two people.  So you play what they want to hear and mostly treat it as a rehearsal.  But if you’re being paid as a percentage of the gross, you’re in financial trouble already and you’re four states from home.  The next night we played to a packed house, but we might as well have been a fucking juke box.  People sitting five feet away couldn’t give two shits about what we were doing.  We made $600 and felt lousy.  You just gotta shake it off, roll to the next show and pour your heart out again.  You never know when you’ll find that Buffalo.”

The Wayfarer Experiment

The Wayfarer Experiment

So, you want to rock and roll?  Good!  Work hard at your music.  Make it an art and a craft.  Believe in yourself and the power of music to make the world a better place.  We need you.  Not everyone can do what you do.

Let me offer a few pointers and answer some frequently asked questions.

1.  Pack a cooler and a set of “emergency” clothes.  If you get hungry, thirsty or sprayed with who knows what, you’re set.  Living on drive-thru and diner food will take its toll and costs double the price of groceries.  Make sure there’s water in that cooler.

2.  Learn how to read a map.  Don’t let those commercials fool you.  You DO NOT have cell service everywhere and if you think GPS always works, you are too dumb to tour.

3.  Promote your own shows!  Every place you play likely has a Facebook, Twitter, etc.  When you have the dates set, start sending them photos, videos and links to stuff you want them to see/know/share.  Make it easy for their audience to get to know you.  It’s your job.  The venue’s job is selling food and drinks.  Allow me to suggest a Gigspots profile and let us help you with promotion.

Uglies2Can I make money by touring?  Yes, but not as much as you think.  Merch is where most bands make a small profit.  The audience already has pictures and video on their smartphones.  Can you make them want a piece of you to take home?  It’s not the shirt, music or poster they want.  They want an artifact.  Don’t say, “We have cd’s for sale.”  Say, “Come meet us after the show by the merch table.”

Can I get laid by touring?  Maybe, but usually only if you can get laid back home.  You can get STD’s, arrested, beaten up and/or stalked very easily by the types of people who are still in bars at closing time.   You can also really piss off your band mates who are hungry, tired and ready to leave.  Better to focus on your job out there.

Why tour if it’s so hard with no guarantees?  News flash: life is hard and there are no guarantees.  But if music is your life, and you make it because you have to, then express yourself.  If you’re tired of playing the garage and you’ve tested the waters at open mics, band competitions, etc, then bring it to us.  If your music is genuine, your talent obvious and your heart open, you’ve got a shot.  Taking music or any art public is to write an open love-letter proposal to the world.  Touring is a blind date.  If you can handle love and love lost, you can handle it.

Young Lions

This blog was originally published 8/22/13 as last summer ended.  I promised to re-publish twelve of my favorite blogs in the first twelve nights of April to celebrate Gigspots’ anniversary.  Then The Districts and Toy Soldiers played The Chameleon Club Thursday 4/3 and blogging duties were shunned.  I’d have to say the “young lions” I named have done pretty well.

The Districts just finished a second national tour and released an ep with Fat Possum records.  They logged numerous appearances in RollingStone.com and will be touring the US and UK all summer.

Bumpin Uglies has toured the US twice, played scores of festivals, played a Rombello cruise and opened for some serious national acts.  This May they play The Fifth Annual California Roots Music and Arts Festival.  Maximum respect due, mon!

SEEDS finished their first studio album, Questioned By a Ghost, to many positive reviews including my own.  This band really rocks!  Then they sold out of it and all their t-shirts and other swag.  In short, people can’t get enough of this band and they now headline shows all over the region.

The Wayfarer Experiment continues to go through changes.  I saw a five-piece version open for Cabinet this fall.  I’ve seen Bjorn Jacobsen match licks and growls with some mighty players at open mics and jams across the state.  I’ve seen Bjorn and Robin Chambers draw a crowd away from other stages at festivals.  Bjorn, Robin, Nathan Arndt and Matthew King played a killer set at Lancaster Roots and Blues and then percussionist Matt quit the band.  Word around the campfire is that Bjorn and Robin just spent four days squirreled away with an unnamed producer and recorded the band’s fourth album.  Bjorn says it’s his masterpiece so I’m a bit freaked because the first three are damn fine works…………………………………….

I see a ton of bands and this summer has been filled with great music!  I haven’t forsaken my favorite bands of 2012: Kalob Griffin Band, Pasadena, Lovebettie, Sweet Leda, Toy Soldiers, The Slackwater News and Cabinet.  But you must be tired of hearing me praise them in every blog and all those bands have begun reaching national audiences.  August’s sign is Leo so let me spout about some of the young lions roaring on the scene right now.

The Wayfarer Experiment

The Wayfarer Experiment

I’m totally high on The Wayfarer Experiment.  This band has featured different players almost every time I’ve seen them (hence “experiment”) but the current lineup is a bonfire.  Matthew King on percussion and Nathan Arndt on guitar and xylophone have been playing together since middle school.  They are tight as tequila.  Robin Chambers on violin is some kind of gypsy/faerie madwoman and ohhh, look out for her sultry side.  Then there’s Bjorn Jacobsen.  He plays guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.  He sings like a mix of Jim Morrison and Tom Waits.  They call their music “dark folk and gypsy blues” and you will get it.   I have all three of their albums and a ton of videos here.  They don’t have a website, Twitter, Instagram or any of those fancy promotional tools.  They just enchant you and haunt you.

Uglies2Bumpin Uglies plays “white-boy reggae” and hails from Annapolis, MD.  They play lots of songs about girls, weed and trying to make it as musicians as you might expect.  What you might not be ready for is how well they play, how sincere and clever the songs are, and how groovy their grooves are.  They will likely remind you of Sublime in the best ways.  Front-man, guitarist and principal writer Brandon Hardesty is a focused, talented guy and I predict big things for this crew.  I like EVERY song on their latest cd Ninjah: Reggae Assassins and they are touring nationally to support it.

SEEDS played one of the last shows at Tellus360 before renovations began.

SEEDS played one of the last shows at Tellus360 before renovations began.

SEEDS is a brand new band with their first album almost completed.  Their website just went live.  They are a rock band, no doubt, but their sound is definitely influenced by Wynton Huddle’s sitar training.  He’s a nut, too, so their songs are funny, tragic, scary, weird, sexy, you name it.  I’ve been a Wynton fan since he played high school talent shows and have followed him across several bands.  This lineup (with Hunter Root sharing guitar duties, Alex Aument smashing drums and Tyler Smith thumping bass) looks like a keeper.  Their tag line: “We’ll grow on you.”

The Districts crushed it to open the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Fest 2013

The Districts crushed it to open the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Fest 2013

Do I need to mention The Districts?  Hell yes, even if your room is wallpapered with their posters.  You rarely see a band find so much success so fast, especially when they just graduated high school in June! Their first two albums really rock in a real rock sort of way.   Think early Aerosmith or Black Crowes for the vibe if you’re my age; think Spoon or Cold War Kids if you’re under 30.  If you haven’t caught up with this band yet, crawl from under your rock and go see them.  It will be easy to find them.  They just opened the Marina Stage at XPoNential Music Festival (thanks WXPN!) then departed on a national tour.  They will be based in Philly next month as they all head off to Temple University.  We’ll see if textbooks or touring win out.

There is no reason you can’t find bands to love on your own.  I barely scratched the surface of all the fine young/new acts in central PA.  Tell me who you love and who needs to be on my short list to see!