When Getting Shanked is Good

When Getting Shanked is Good

It’s Tuesday.  Ever since I visited Shank’s Tavern in Marietta, PA for their Acoustic Open Mic night three weeks ago, I can’t get the night off my mind.  It was as if someone waved a magic wand and said, “Presto!  The perfect night of food, drinks and music awaits you.”  I know tastes vary and beauty is subjective but folks, you need to check out Shank’s for yourselves.  I’m now calling it my favorite place in Marietta.

For starters, there is plenty of free parking right outside the door.  The historic architecture is complemented by cozy décor.  It’s a grand building but only the horseshoe bar area and a small dining room were in use that night.  There was a great dinner rush but the kitchen, bartenders and wait staff kept everyone happy and made it look easy.  If you just want to drink, they offer dozens of tequilas, nearly one hundred craft beers and most anything else you could name.  Everyone there was eating and nobody had to twist my arm.  Tuesday means Asian specialties and the pho and spring rolls were perfection.  The regular menu is unique and a different special is offered every night.

The music made the night.  Guest host for the night Leo DiSanto opened with his partner Jeff Bryson; they regularly front The Vinegar Creek Constituency.  Leo’s brother Nick joined them then played a few songs of his own on his one-man-band percussion rig.  From there, the night became a veritable who’s who of musicians from the surrounding area.  Corty Byron has returned to the area from a stint in CA.  He joined forces with a percussionist and guitarist Chad Kinsey to perform The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and several originals.  They set the bar high for musicianship and energy and set the tone for the night.  Friends collaborated who rarely get to jam together and the audience cheered everyone heartily.

Matt Johnson (The Slackwater News) and Jeanette Stillman played tasty acoustic versions of several Slackwater tunes.  Jordan Rast and Tuck Ryan (Second Hand Suits) stepped up to serenade the crowd with a few of their band’s tunes and a stellar version of an old Sam Cooke tune.  These young men really know how to play to a crowd and everyone loved it.  Several local session men (not to be named) showed off their wares playing unique, flavorful versions of some rock and folk standards.  While the songs might have been old, their presentations proved that these guys still love to play and haven’t lost an inch of skill or creativity.  The night took on the flavor of a family reunion; that is, if everyone in your family is a stringed-instrument virtuoso.

At least two artists showed up that night that nobody recognized but everyone welcomed.  Samantha Danielson hails from the Harrisburg area.  She has a great voice and can play the hell out of an acoustic guitar.  She bailed shortly after her set before many folks got a chance to thank her and welcome her.  Samantha, come back!  Check in!  You rock!  Rockin’ Rob played some gritty, funny, “Told ya so” songs that got everybody hopping.  We all hope he comes back as well.

Then Bjorn arrived.  Bjorn Jacobsen fronts The Wayfarer Experiment, a Mount Joy based band that calls their style “dark folk gypsy blues.”  You would think Norm had just walked into “Cheers” to hear the reception he got.  Part of it was the fact that his whereabouts had been “parts unknown” for a few weeks.  Another factor is the band’s growing reputation for showing up with a varied lineup and shredding strings and blowing minds.  On this night, Bjorn sang, Nate Arndt played guitar and Alyssa Martin played violin.  While I missed Matt King on percussion, there was plenty of foot-stomping and table-tapping while they played.  Their three-song set felt like the headliner act in a night filled with headliners.   See them asap before Bjorn disappears again.  He plays everything with strings too.

The final highlight of the night was an act called “The Duke and The Duchess.”  The name refers to two ancient instruments these friends play and it was their first public performance.  The crowd went nuts with applause and approval as these friends concluded their arrangement of “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You.”  It was the perfect end to a perfect night.  Well, the night wasn’t quite over.  Almost everyone still there had performed so the whole bar took on an after-party glow.  It will be hard to find an open mic that combines the food, beverages and musicianship in such high quality.

But I’ll keep trying.  Please respond here or hit my Gigspots Facebook page to let me know if you have an open mic you think I should check out.  You can see many videos of this night (and over 500 more) on my YouTube Channel:  http://www.youtube.com/user/Gigspots1

March’s Lions and Lambs: Week One

If variety is the spice of life, I’m living on hot tamales.  I’m enjoying a great month of shows!  If I had to sum them up in one word, it would be “Brave.”  I’ve witnessed CD releases, bands playing new venues, bands debuting new members or saying goodbye to founders, and a venue celebrating a one-year anniversary.  Perhaps best, I’ve seen veterans and first-timers sharing music at open mic nights.  These brave nights trigger your fight-or-flight reflex.  It’s easy to find those ecstatic moments where artist and audience connect.  Here’s a rundown of my first week of March.

Joy Ike at Lancaster YWCA

Joy Ike at Lancaster YWCA

3/3: Joy Ike brought her new CD and supporting act Kim Edwards to Lancaster’s YWCA.  Joy radiates warmth and emotion.  Her physical beauty strikes you first.  Her honest, genuine lyrics bare her soul and speak her mind.  She and her combo played most of the new album with confidence and satisfaction.  “Everything You Have” reminds us all how tenuous life is.  See Joy live and you’ll be glad she’s in your life.

Kim Edwards was a delight.  Her piano is deliberate yet delicate.

KimEdwards: delicate and deliberate

Her song “No Other” is destined to become a wedding song for thousands.  “Wanderlust” betrays that it might be a while before Miss Edwards settles down.  I bought CD’s from both ladies and have kept them in top rotation since.  New material, new venue, new tour partners and open emotions added up to a brave night.

3/4:  I caught a tasty little show at Chestnut Hill Cafe, one of Lancaster’s tastiest spots.  A young lady named Canyon was passing through town and hoped to find a gig.  She had really impressed crowds at Tellus 360 at last year’s LAUNCH Music Conference.  On this night, she and local band The Pig Merchants played a surprise Monday show.  It turned into a two-band birthday celebration for Bob Glick and  the lucky dozens who dropped by.

3/8:  I sent my friends Toy Soldiers to play for my friends at The Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport.  It tore at me not to be there with them.  I know the magic of that place and could vividly imagine the spark that could ignite between it and this fine band.  Also absent that night: Bullfrog owner Steve who was delivering the first bottled batch of his beers to Philadelphia.  My reports say band, venue and beers all had stellar receptions.

I spent Friday night in Wrightsville celebrating the one year anniversary of The Burning Bridge Tavern.  You must do an awful lot of things right to make a year in the restaurant business.  The capacity crowd all weekend proved that BBT is doing a lot of things right.  Just as on opening weekend, Vinegar Creek Constituency played their rousing style of homespun, folksy blues.

The Vinegar Creek Constituency

They call themselves, “Lancaster, PA’s swashbuckling, pseudo-legendary pioneers of Amerikindasorta string band music.”  See them and you’ll get it.  They get some heels kicked up and heads banging at the same time.  It was a great night to celebrate taking a leap!

3/9:  I had to see The Wayfarer Experiment’s first appearance at First Capital Dispensing Company in York.  The band is always full of surprises and the place is like a cabin outpost in a beer wilderness.  The original building was constructed in 1790 and you feel the age.  When the place filled with forty or so people chugging craft beers and rollicking with the Wayfarers, it was like the wild west

Ronn Benway jumps into The Wayfarer Experiment

Ronn Benway came charging through the door with his washboard rig, jumped in with the band and everything just broke loose.   Nate played guitar, that crazy little glockenspiel again and on other songs played electric bass.  Bjorn at times broke out an electric guitar and a bullhorn.  Then it would be banjo, mando and even harmonica.  Matt actually played drums when not smacking his cajon.  He had a very clever touch!  These guys put themselves out at the frontier every show and really owned it that Saturday night.

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!

2012…What a Rush!

2012…What a Rush!

I hope you’re not sick of year-in-review lists!  2012 flew by for me and for the Gigspots.com team!  I’ll try to be brief in highlighting some of the amazing events, people and places who shared their lives with us this year.

My first shows of 2012 were Darry Miller and The Veil at The Boondocks Club and Kalob Griffin Band at Lancaster Dispensing Company.  My last show of 2012 was KGB and Darry at Chameleon Club.  Both bands enjoyed banner years, earned many new fans and rocked throughout the tri-state area.  I predict fantastic 2013’s for both bands!

Boondocks Club is gone: victim of ASCAP strong-arming.  DipCo remains the same: great food, great entertainment and all your friends are there.  Chameleon Club staged some of my favorite shows of 2012 and even let me stage a show in October.  I’m glad I know where it is; there isn’t even a light over the front door.

Some notable bands emerged in our scene in 2012. The Stray Birds, The Districts, Face for Radio, The Wayfarer Experiment, Glim Dropper, John and Brittany, The Great Socio, Rigby in the Box and Juston Stens and The Get Real Gang were some of our favorites.   The quality, quantity and variety of music styles in our region never fail to impress but 2012 was extra special.

Some great new music debuted in 2012!   The Stray Birds, Glim Dropper, John and Brittany, The Great Socio, Kalob Griffin Band, and The Slackwater News all released new albums you should hear.  Pasadena released a new album and toured to CA and back behind it.  The Lone Wolf Project has a song off his new album playing in all 50 states.  And yes, it’s true The Vinegar Creek Constituency finished another impressive album which they recorded live at Left Bank Studios.  Darry Miller, Lovebettie and Wayfarer Experiment are hard at it in the studios right now and we can’t wait to hear what’s next from them!  The Great Socio actually opened its own studio this year; who knows what mayhem might ensue!

I lost a favorite cousin and a favorite aunt in 2012 but neither of them hit me like the sudden, unexpected death of “Jersey” Mike Van Jura.  Harrisburg, the music scene and human society lost a strong advocate for right, reason and rock with his passing.  We are very pleased and proud to announce that our partnership with The Abbey Bar at Appalachian Brewing Company and Greenbelt Events will continue through 2013 and beyond!  Yes, I bought another season pass and expect it to be the best $100 I spent in 2013 just as it was in 2012.

Tellus 360 deserves special mention as a remarkable place to see live music!  Their special evenings have grown from organic, table-top, byo sessions into ticketed events.  The Shovels and Rope opening night and Carsie Blanton with Joe Fletcher show were two of my favorites anywhere in 2012: intimate, raucous, unforgettable.  We will be watching their plans for 2013 with eagle eyes and eager hearts!

We are very pleased to announce that both World Café Live venues (Philly and Wilmington, DE) have joined the Gigspots family!  We also added The Burning Bridge Tavern in Wrightsville to our network and we’re plum crazy about the place!  The food, drinks and service are fantastic and we’re very impressed with the array of live music you staged in your first year!  Keep up the good work!

Thank you to all the bands who joined Gigspots in 2012; we will work hard to help you achieve your goals this year.  Remember to keep your calendar updated and keep the event invitations coming!  We typically must choose from 10-12 shows in the region on any given Friday or Saturday.  Make sure we know about yours!

Special thanks to MyRuralRadio.com, FigLancaster.com, WXPN, TriStateIndie.com, Gable Music Ventures, Music For Everyone, MOOSE, and the Long’s Park Summer Concert series for your support, promotion, cooperation and above all a year of great music!

You can see videos of all the artists named above at our YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/Gigspots1