Not All Doom and Gloom
Posted by PintofStout on November 12, 2007
It may come as a surprise to many of my readers, but I don’t drink copious amounts of beer, such as my moniker suggests, because of the state of the world (though it helps!). No, most of the time when drinking outside of my home it is usually for the reason of listening to live music. If I’m drinking for the buzz, why not do it with some rhythm? Sometimes I go out simply for the sake of promoting it and/or contributing what I can.
Live local music drives a great deal of my social life. I’ve gotten to know some pretty amazing and interesting people in and around the bands that we frequently see. It has gotten to the point at Kelly’s in Bridgewater, PA, that on Tuesday nights the entire left side of the bar is full of what seems like a reunion. A___ and I are always invited to join a table or two and the service staff knows us by name and drink! It is this atmosphere and the approachability of the musicians in places such as this that is a major attraction for me. None of the bands or musicians we see are too “big,” but they are big enough. I’d sort of like to change that a little, since some of them make their living from playing in bars and other such venues. So this is a post to promote and share these favorites.
Regulars and Old Favorites
I’d like to start with one of the first bands that A___ introduced me to a long time ago, County Mayo (music samples at their MySpace profile). County Mayo is an Irish Folk band with a catalog as large as any I know of, not all recorded (this is about live shows, mind you). Ted Miller and Bill Lewis from the band played the ceremony of A___’s and my wedding, including a fiddle for the bridal march and a banjo for an interlude song “I Will.” Later that evening Ted Miller serenaded the reception with what is now a very personal favorite, “The Parting Glass.” We still love this band and see them when we can, but their public shows are few these days. The best time to catch them is in March and throughout the summer at various festivals in the Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania areas.
Although County Mayo helped to get Irish Tuesdays started at Kelly’s, John McCann helps to keep it going. John is the epitome of the guy with a guitar singing in the corner of the bar. People might not notice his skill on the guitar because he isn’t flashy, but in some of the later sets at Kelly’s he demonstrates that skill while improvising songs. Usually one doesn’t notice non-flashy skill because the human mind is drawn to problems, and one seldom notices John’s guitar playing. A night of music with John McCann is a night well spent.
John McCann is also the voice, guitar rhythm, and “corned beef” for the Corned Beef & Curry Band when joined by Bob Banerjee, the “curry,” and Todd Hartman (the “band”?). This trio is one of the most talented, energetic, and entertaining in the Pittsburgh Area (The Cream of Pittsburgh Irish music?). As with all the musicians I’m writing about today, the stage banter is fun with CB&CB, but don’t come to the show for the jokes! Bob used to be known locally as “that Indian guy who played with Gaelic Storm; you know, the Irish band from the Titanic movie.” Now, he can be more widely known for his local success and the locals’ awareness of his talent. Bob is also a huge promoter of music and musicians of all skill levels, constantly sitting in where he can or inviting folks to sit in so that they can have some spotlight. A generous and beautiful man who also plays superb music is how I know Bob.
Once John McCann drew us to Kelly’s regularly, we became aware when the veteran showman Seamus Kennedy (music samples at his MySpace profile linked here) swung through town. Seamus is a fun, fun show to watch because it is a show, not just a musical set. A___ and I even drove five hours to Baltimore one evening on a whim, having never before been to Baltimore, to catch his show before we turned around to drive back that night. Seamus isn’t a local Pittsburgh guy, but does come through town a few times a year in the midst of playing a much larger region.
Yes, all the musicians listed here (with two exceptions) are all “Irish” bands. I am drawn to this music by some of the themes prominent in this music, drinking and rebellion, and by the simplicity (meaning a clean sound) and instrumentality of the genre. I love to watch people play their instruments, and the acousticness of Irish music suits me great! But, unlike most of the traditional stuff, this next group is a bit louder. Ceann is also a regional band who travels so much more than I would find comfortable for myself. Ceann plays many fantastic original songs and puts new energy into the traditional songs and covers. And besides the great albums they have released, their live shows are also worth a hefty drive to downtown Pittsburgh or a “visit” to family in and near Baltimore when they play there. On the Ceann website linked above links to some of their songs can be found, as well as links to their MySpace profile which contains a
blog window into the life in a very busy road band.
It is hard to imagine what the endgame for a band like Ceann is within the genre that they play. Although many of their originals can easily crossover into rock (and therefore achieve some radio play), it seems they aim to simply play sold-out mid-range venues and headline the Irish festival circuit, something similar to Gaelic Storm. Unfortunately, the state of the music industry makes it nearly impossible for talented independent artists to have moderate commercial success. Regardless of the obstacles, these guys have enough drive to play about 340 shows a year, some with crazy commutes.
There are a few bands I have to mention because I have seen them one time and now follow them from afar. Sometimes physical distance can be cruel and made crueler with the tease provided by the easy communication of the internet. All of these bands would be regular shows for me were they not so far away. This is where we can break away from the Irish folk genre some as well.
The first and most emphatic on my list of “to-do” shows is definitely Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. I stumbled upon this unique trio at the Columbus Traditional Acoustic Blues Festival late last winter. Even though I only heard the last 10-15 minutes of their set, I was blown away and thought they were still the highlight of the festival for me. Before the festival, I had never even heard of them, but I was going to see John Hammond (who had delivered one of the best concert experiences of my life* in an old roadhouse-like broken-down barn in Northeast Ohio a few months prior). I was blown away by the Reverend’s guitar first, which was like lightning from a bottle (the neck of which he could have then used as a slide), and then just held in awe of the pace and beat of the performance. This band is a throwback to all the best that the acoustic/country blues genre has to offer.
The Big Damn Band plays out of Indiana, but they are always traveling. Their blog, similar to Ceann’s gives a fascinating look and account of life on the road, from the drummer being denied entry into Canada to unknowingly picking up an escaped convict with ill-intent on the highway. The blog contains many, many great pictures to put to the stories as well. Check out their websites and catch a show if at all possible.
Also at the Columbus festival was Austin “Walkin’ Cane” Charanghat, who I had seen a few times before (including a performance at very same barn with John Hammond). In fact, A___ and I went to see this band the night I proposed to her (five short years ago, plus a few weeks). Walkin’ Cane is bursting with soul in his vocals and his slide guitar is equally soulful and fantastic. While I’ve seen him more than once, it is equally hard to make a show since Cleveland is a bit further than Pittsburgh and puts it just out of reasonable reach for a Friday night or Saturday night show with a subsequent drive home.
I’m going from the blues into bluegrass now with a group we were impressed by in Baltimore one evening last winter/spring, Special Ed and the Shortbus. This band bills itself on MySpace in the bluegrass, punk, and blues genre. After hearing them play, I can’t argue with that distinction. Their show was energetic and chock full of very talented musicians strutting their stuff on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, just to name a few. A___ even caught some Django in one of their medlies, which I must have been too drunk to notice.
If fact my being too drunk to notice any detail about a band is a common theme and a reason why I must go see Scythian again. When I saw them just two weekends ago with some llamas I know from way back, the bar was really crowded and I was already two sheets to the drunk. Mostly, I didn’t get a good feel for the band because I could only hear them, but not see them because the bar was way too crowded. It was too noisy to carry on good conversation, so I had nothing else to do but drink. Alas, the bar was crowded because of the following this band has and from what I have heard about them and the little I heard of them, it is well-deserved. Hopefully, we will catch these guys again in a better venue.
When A___ and are out and about, are activities are either centered on food or drinking to live music or both. Neither of us are musicians ourselves, but I sure do appreciate the talent on display in the bars and small venues. Because of that we try to support these groups whenever and however we can. Hopefully, this will expose these bands to new fans who’ll go out to see them, buy cd’s, and make their stock with bar owners rise with an expanded fan base. If not seeing these bands, go and support the local music scene; they’ll appreciate it – and so will you.
*This John Hammond show is in close running with my other all-time favorite performance, Buddy Guy at the Cleveland Blues Festival in Tower City Amphitheatre in 2004 or 2005. Wow! Just wow!