On Stage: Junior Sisk rambles to Longwood

Also: Kim Edwards, Nik Everett, Lindsey Saunders highlight Labor Day weekend

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

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Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice are the featured artists at Longwood Gardens open air show, Friday night.

If you’re involved in something and nature calls, you’ve got to suspend whatever you’re doing at the time and answer the call. Everybody knows that.

If you’re a songwriter and music pops into your head, you’ve got to suspend whatever you’re doing at the time and answer the call. Just ask Junior Sisk.

Sisk, who will make his area debut On August 29 at Longwood Gardens (Route 1, Kennett Square, 610-388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org), is one of the top acts in bluegrass music today,

“We’re on the road about 175 days a year — playing over 100 shows a year,” said Sisk, during a phone interview earlier this week from his home in Virginia.

Just prior to the interview, Sisk was pursuing one of his other loves — deer hunting.

“I was putting deer cameras up on the mountain behind my home,” said Sisk. “I play bluegrass music nine months a year so that I can deer hunt three months of the year. I even wrote the third verse of our new single in a tree stand. I sang it into my phone.”

Sisk knew that he had to stop what he was doing (trying to bag a deer) and answer the call.

The 7:30 p.m. show at Longwood’s Open Air Theater will feature Junior Sisk & Rambler’s Choice. The band includes Jason “Sweet Tater” Tomlin (bass, harmony vocals), Jonathan Dillon (mandolin, lead and harmony vocals), Jason Davis (banjo, vocals), Billy Hawks (fiddle, guitar, vocals) and Sisk (guitar, lead and harmony vocals).

“I’ve been making music professionally for over 25 years,” said Sisk, during a phone interview earlier this week from his home in Virginia. “I’ve been in quite a few bands over the years. Junior Sisk & Ramblers Choice has been together now for over 15 years.”

Sisk, who lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western Virginia, became a member of Wyatt Rice & Santa Cruz in the early 1990s and also was a member of Blueridge. In 1998, he formed Ramblers Choice.

“In recent years, we won the (2012) IBMA and (2013) SPBGMA ‘Album of the Year’ award for ‘The Heart of a Song’ album,” said Sisk. “And, our single ‘A Far Cry from Lester & Earl’ won the (2012) IBMA and the (2013) SPBGMA ‘Song of the Year’ award.”

Sisk and his band have a definite link to the music of “Lester & Earl” — bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs).

“We’re trying to keep the Flatt & Scruggs tradition going,” said Sisk. “I was raised on the Stanley Brothers’ music along with the music of Larry Sparks (Larry Sparks & the Bluegrass Ramblers) and Dave Evans (the subject of the film “Last of the Breed”).

“We’re trying to keep traditional bluegrass music alive today. We’re traditional bluegrass with our own style. A lot of younger bands try to play as many licks as they can while we tend to keep it simple. When it comes to real bluegrass — the simpler the better.

“We have a new project but it won’t be out until September 16. It’s a brand new album called ‘Trouble Follows Me.’ And, we just released a new single called ‘Honkey-Tonked to Death.’ We’ll be playing some of the new songs at this weekend’s show.”

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Lindsey Saunders, one of the most promising and most talented young singer-songwriters to emerge in the last year, appears at two local venues in the next wee: Chaplin’s in Spring City, and The Grape Room in Manyunk.

Area music fans may be unfamiliar with Lindsey Saunders now but that won’t last long. Saunders, who is one of the most promising and most talented young singer-songwriters to emerge in the last year, will be making two area appearances in the next week.

Saunders will perform at Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) on August 31 and then a few days later will have a show at the Grape Room in Manyunk on September 2.

“I’ve played shows all over the West and Midwest but this is the first time I’m coming through your part of the country,” said Denver-based Saunders, during a phone interview this week from a tour stop in Chicago. “I visited New York once but none of the other cities in the East. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Saunders will be performing songs from her debut EP “Nothing Normal” along with a number of new, unreleased tracks.

“I’ve been singing forever,” said Saunders, whose resume includes performances in New York at the CMJ Music Marathon and showcase slots with Access Films and Koffeehouse at the Sundance Film Festival. “I’ve been writing songs since I was 12 — eight years now.

“Music runs in the family. My dad taught me guitar when I was I middle school. He had a cover band and I’d sing songs with them. I pretty quickly got used to performing in front of people — especially since I was in musical theater and plays at school.

“It didn’t take long for me to develop as a songwriter. I was playing gigs on my own by the time I was a senior in high school. Then, I decided to forego college. I wanted to concentrate on my music career.”

For Saunders, her music career as a singer/guitarist has been a D.I.Y. effort.

“There are so many things you have to learn when you’re promoting yourself — from learning Photoshop to make show posters to dealing with business contracts,” said Saunders.

“So far, my only release has been ‘Nothing Normal.’ My next EP will be all instrumental. I write a lot of instrumentals. I composed a score for a modern dance piece and that music will be the next EP.”

Catherine Tiso, a top-flight modern dance choreographer from Chicago, invited Saunders to compose and perform the score her modern dance piece “Diverge/Connect”.

“The music piece I wrote for the dance production is called ‘Paths Diverge’ and is composed of four different songs,” said Saunders. “It was fun to stretch myself — to take Catherine’s vision and make it mine.”

Saunders’ music features her strong vocals and impressive technical skills on the guitar. She is equally at home composing instrumentals or writing pop tunes.

“One of my biggest influences is Tool — especially their drummer Danny Carey,” said Saunders, who performs with her band out West but is just a solo act on this tour.

“Rhythm is one of my favorite things. It’s definitely influenced the way I write. Other influences are Fiona Apple and the other alt-girls from the 90s — and, of course, Stevie Nicks.

“The instrumental EP is just something I wanted to do for myself. After that, I’m working on another pop EP. I’ve had the songs for awhile. I have over three hours of original pop music that I’ve written in the last year.”

The show at 7 p.m. on August 31 at Chaplin’s is billed as “Open Mic Night featuring Lindsey Saunders” and tickets are $4. The show at the Grape Room (105 Grape Street, Philadelphia, 215-930-0321,www.graperoommusic.com) will start at 10:30 p.m. with tickets prices at $5.

Other shows at Chaplin’s this weekend will be Steve Madonna on August 29 at 7 p.m. and a multi-act bill on September 1 at 7 p.m. featuring Life on the Sideline, Home Again, Brosef Gordon Levitt and Whatever We Are. Tickets for either show are $10.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) has a variety of shows on tap for this weekend beginning with a performance by Splintered Sunlight on August 28 (9:30 p.m., $10).

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Kim Edward, a Lehigh Valley native, is part of “Summer Love & Music Tour” at the Ardmore Music Hall, Friday.

On August 29, the AMH is hosting the “Summer Love & Music Tour” featuring Kim Edwards, Vincent James, Jeff Twardzik, Leigh Goldstein, Kelsey Coan, Brooke Falls and Valerie West. Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $10.

Edwards is a singer-songwriter from the Lehigh Valley who has written and recorded a number of well-crafted indie-pop songs. Her instrument of choice is the piano.

“I started taking classical piano lessons when I was in kindergarten,” said Edwards, during a phone interview earlier this week. “When I was in high school, I wanted to write film scores.”

When Edwards was 14, she did online research and found the company in charge of Alan Menken’s Disney scores for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” She wrote to the company and said — “I’m a student of orchestration, could you send me some scores?”  The company honored her request.

“When I hit college, that’s when I really worked on performance,” said Edwards. “It was then that I also realized that I didn’t want to be a classical performer.

“After one year of studying classical music performance at Moravian College, it wasn’t in me to perform other people’s music. I started slowly but surely writing songs. The songs had a broad array of topics — love, life, anything and everything.

“I won third place at a national songwriting festival for a song I had written. But, I still hadn’t decided to make a career of it. When I finally made the decision, I knew it was what I wanted to do — what I loved.”

After a year at Moravian, Edwards transferred to Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas where she majored in theology and music. Her first recorded output was an EP titled “EP.” Her first real release was the “Wanderlust” album — an album of chamber-pop music that was released in 2012.

“I went on a few tours after ‘Wanderlust’ was released, “ said Edwards, who lived in the Dallas Metro area for a few years before returning to live in the Lehigh Valley. “I hope to have a new EP out in the next few months.

“I’m still writing songs and doing co-writes. Writing now is easier in the sense that I have a better idea of what I’m about. But, it’s also harder because I hear really good songwriters and the bar gets raised.

“I write mostly on piano but also sometimes I write on guitar or ukulele. Usually, the music comes first when I’m writing a song but lately I’ve been trying to change it up more and focus on the lyrics first.”

Fans will get a small preview of her new EP during her set at the Ardmore Music Hall.

“The EP is mostly done,” said Edwards, who was born in Seoul, South Korea. “It just needs some finishing touches. I recorded it in Dallas and it has six songs.

“For the show on Friday, I’ll probably do two songs from the new EP. I’m looking forward to testing them out in front of a live audience. Most of the songs I’ll play will be from ‘Wanderlust.’”

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Wilmington native Nik Everett headlines at the Ardmore Music Hall, Saturday.

After presenting a young artist in the early stages of her career on Friday, the Ardmore Music Hall on August 30 will have a much more experienced veteran performer — Nik Everett.

Everett has been recording and releasing music for 20 years now — if you count his cassette album “Paralyzed in Motion,” which was released in 1984.

“My first real record was ‘Surrender Tonight,’ which I did in 1988,” said Everett, during a phone interview this week from his home in Wilmington. “My next album after that was ‘Gravel and Honey’ in 1996.

“Like a lot of kids, I loved the Beatles in the 60s. I started out as a drummer. I loved Ringo (the Beatles’ Ringo Starr) and Ginger Baker (drummer for Cream and Blind Faith).

“I eventually migrated to guitar and moved up front. I loved singer-songwriters — Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello. I just loved guys who put an acoustic guitar and a harmonica around their neck.”

Everett played in small, local bands when he was in high school at Brandywine High in northern Delaware and Marietta College in Ohio.

“I always jammed around in bands,” said Everett. “In college, I really got serious about being a solo performer and began playing coffee houses. But, I always got back into bands.

“There was a good music scene in Delaware in the early 80s with Robert Hazard, the A’s and Ken Kweeder. I played the Cabarets (Chestnut Cabaret, 23 East Cabaret, Ambler Cabaret) and had a regional hit. I made an album in 1996 and then I got burned-out. I was semi-retired — just playing restaurants.

“I had a job as a limo driver in New York and quit on 9-11 (2001). My last stop the night before was dropping a guy off at the World Trade Center. When all that happened, I said to myself — I’ve got to get back to music. I’ve stayed with it ever since.”

Everett’s songs are characterized by driving rhythms and pleasant melodies. When he returned to music, he delivered three albums in five years — “Summer’s Gone” (2004), “Little Victories” (2007) and the soundtrack for “Greetings from Asbury Park” (2009).

“My seventh album — ‘Music’ — just came out in July,” said Everett. “I recorded it over the last year with Chris Hillis. He has a great studio in Phoenixville called The Hacienda. I also did some tracks at Studio 825 in Wilmington.

“This time, it was a band record. I’ve had the same line-up for my band for over two years — Eric Miller on guitars and mandolin, Richie Rubini on drums and vocals, Chris fountain on bass and me on guitar and vocals.

“The album had David Uosikkinen of The Hooters on drums. Most of the songs were written over the last year. When it’s time to make a record, it stirs the juices.”

The Nik Everett Band’s show at the AMH will also feature the Harry Walther Band and Adam Kowalczyk as openers. The show is slated to start at 8 p.m. with tickets listed at $10.

On September 1, the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, http://www.keswicktheatre.com) hosts R&B legend Jeffrey Osborne. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $39.50 and $49.50.

At the World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com), the

Upstairs Stage will present the Beta Hi-Fi Emerging Music Festival 2014 on August 28 and 29, Lonnie Shields and Jesse Loewy on August 30 and the “4W5 Blues Jam” on September 3.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, 717-397-7700, http://www.amtshows.com) will have “Music of the Night: Songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber” on August 28.

There is still time to catch a performance of the smash hit musical “Book of Mormon.” The show runs through September 14 at the Forrest Theatre (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia 866-276-2947,www.kimmelcenter.org/broadway) as part of the Kimmel Center’s “Broadway Philadelphia” series. Ticket prices start at $67.

The Sellersville Theatre (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) has an interesting schedule that features the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on August 28, Crack the Sky on August 29 and Jackopierce on August 30

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Tags: Brooke Falls, Jeff Twardzik, Jeffrey Osborne, Junior Sisk, Kelsey Coan, Kim Edwards, Leigh Goldstein, Lindsey Saunders, Nik Everett, Vincent James

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