On Stage: Brynn Elliott balances studies, music

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Also: Styx, Def Leppard at Allentown Fair

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times

brynn elliottA lot of college students have schedules that are challenging to keep balanced. But, few face the obstacles experienced by Brynn Elliott.

Elliott is a sophomore at Harvard University who is majoring in philosophy. She is also a musician who is heavily involved in recording her music and performing live shows.

Usually, Elliot balances her studies and music opportunities throughout the academic year and then goes on tour during the summer and school breaks. But, she is in the middle of an unusual situation right now.

Elliott is currently on the road as one of the opening acts on O.A.R.’s “The Back to Rockville Tour” — a six-week national tour that visits Philly for an August 28 show at Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing (601 North Columbus Boulevard at Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215- 629-3200, www.festivalpierphilly.com).

“We’re in our fourth week of the tour right now,” said Elliott, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It’s definitely going to cut into my fall semester. I start school with the fall semester at Harvard next week. “One of the days, I have to leave early to fly out to Michigan for a pair of shows and then fly back for my classes. Fortunately, the remainder of the shows on the tour are weekend shows.”

Elliott got into music almost by accident.

“When I was about 15, I was involved in sports at school but I was looking for hobbies,” said Elliott, who grew up in suburban Atlanta. “My dad had an old guitar that he never played so I started playing it. I just taught myself how to play the guitar and learned covers. It was just something to help me decompress after a long day of school and sports.”

Ironically, her sports career introduced her to Chester County years ago.

“I played basketball in high school and I also competed in equestrian sports — jumper class,” said Elliott. “When I was growing up, I came up to Pennsylvania every year to compete at the Devon Horse Show.

“When I was applying to colleges and they asked about extracurricular activities, I wrote about my music activities and put my lyrics on the applications.”

Two weeks before heading off to college, Elliott was invited by to spend a year in Portland, Oregon to write and record with Clif  Magness, a Grammy-winning songwriter/producer who is known for his work with such artists as Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson and Clay Aiken.

So, she decided to postpone her education to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The result of that decision was Elliott’s simultaneously-released EPs “Notions of Love” and “Notions of Youth.”

“I did nine months of recording out in Oregon,” said Elliott. “I did about 15 songs there. It was a year of writing and recording. It was also a year of finding my musical influences — like Paul Simon. From there, I found my own musical style.

“The EPs came out almost at the same time. Originally, I was planning on making an album. But then I got a summer tour with Tyler Ward so I made the eight-song EP to have something to sell at the shows. Artistically speaking, the EPs worked out well together.”

Even though Elliott is relatively new at the art of songwriting, she has already built a solid repertoire of well-crafted songs.

When you have a songwriter who is a philosophy major, it might seem logical that the words and stories would be the starting point for each song. But that’s not the case with Elliott.

“With my songwriting, the way I write is different for every song,” said Elliot. “Most of the time, I come up with a melody first and then put words to it. Usually, it’s always the skeletal melody that comes first.

“I have to declare my major this year and it will be philosophy. I was drawn to philosophy because it is a way to communicate human truths without being too heavy.”

That same description could also be used for her music. Combining the lyrical prowess of a singer-songwriter and the musical punch of a rocker, Elliott has found her own way of communicating without being too heavy.


Video link for Brynn Elliott — https://youtu.be/4M6L3jcljYw

The show at Festival Pier featuring O.A.R., Elliott and Allen Stone will start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $35.



The Great Allentown Fair (Allentown Fairgrounds, 1850 Liberty Street, A, 610-433-7541, http://www.allentownfair.com)  is one of the state’s great annual end-of-summer events — a traditional country fair and a venue for a full week of top-flight musical entertainment.

When the 2015 edition of the fair gets underway on September 1, the music portion of the event will slam into high gear with a triple-bill featuring three bands that were top-selling recording acts from the late 9170s through the 19802.

The trio of hard rock bands sharing the bill — MTV stalwarts that rode to success on the combination of records and videos — are Styx, Tesla and the headliners Def Leppard. Both Styx and Def Leppard hit double figures with Top 10 singles.

Styx’ long list of hit singles includes “Lady,” “Come Sail Away,” “Babe,” “The Best of Times,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Show Me the Way,” “Renegade,” “Boat on the River” and, of course, “Mr. Roboto.”

The current Styx lineup includes Tommy Shaw (vocals, guitars), James “JY” Young (vocals, guitars), Lawrence Gowan (vocals, keyboards), Todd Sucherman (drums) and Ricky Phillips (bass) — along with the occasional surprise appearance by original bassist Chuck Panozzo. Shaw and Young have been with the band since its start in Chicago in 1970 while Gowan and Sucherman joined the group prior to the turn of the century.

“On the Def Leppard tour, we’ve already done 23 of 47 shows,” said Gowan, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Springfield, Illinois. “In addition, we’re also touring ourselves — our own shows that we headline. We’re playing over 100 shows a year.

“The reason for this is the change in the music industry. A live show is the one thing that can’t be downloaded. We enjoy seeing the reaction of the audience — to realize that there are thousands of smiles created by what we’re doing.”

Gowan is a Scottish-born Canadian musician who had a long and successful music career in Canada prior to hooking up with Styx — both with his band Gowan and as a solo artist.

At the age of 19, he earned an ARCT (Associate of The Royal Conservatory) in classical piano performance from The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. He has won two Juno Awards (Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Awards) and has 10 other Juno nominations.

In 1997 during Styx’s tour, Gowan performed as a supporting act for the band at Montreal’s Molson Centre and Quebec City’s Colisée.

“I opened for Styx as a solo act,” said Gowan. “That’s where we first crossed paths.”

In 1999, Styx parted ways with original member Dennis DeYoung (lead and backing vocals, keyboards) and Gowan was invited to take DeYoung’s place. The band’s lineup has remained amazingly stable over its 45-year history.

“There only have been 11 musicians in Styx,” said Gowan. “Two of them are deceased — John Curulewski, who died in 1988, and John Panozzo, who passed away in the 90s.

“At our live shows now, half the crowd we play to are under 30. They weren’t even born when the hits were recorded but they know all the words. The length of time that rock has impacted the world — it’s amazing.

“We’re a band that loves to be on the road — loves to be making music for our fans. If the bands from our era don’t tour to the extent we do, they lose their ability to keep up the high level they should be maintaining. With Styx, we put on a high-level, entertaining show every time.

“We still make a lot of new music. We’ have more than an album’s worth of material done already. We just don’t put anything new out on record. We don’t want to just throw it out there. The question right now is — when do we put the finishing touches on it.”

If Styx waits to release something new until a time when its fans are tired of hearing “Come Sail Away,” “The Best of Times,” “Show Me the Way” and “Mr. Roboto,” there might never be a new Styx album.

Video link for Styx — https://youtu.be/w8s0VSH7pmw.

The triple-bill at the Allentown Fairgrounds will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $53 and $87.

Other headline acts at the 2015 Great Allentown Fair are Little Big Town (September 2), Carrie Underwood (September 3), Eric Church (September 4), deadmau5 (September 5) and Jim Gaffigan (September 6).

and the kids

And The Kids

Amazingly, there is a gap of two generations between Styx and some of the bands that will be playing in the area this weekend. One of those bands is And The Kids, an all-female band from western Massachusetts.

On August 27, And The Kids will play the final installment of their August residency at MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com).

Recently called one of “the Western Mass. indie scenes brightest creative lights” by Pitchfork , And the Kids recently released its debut album “Turn to Each Other” on Signature Sounds.

The band that made the album featured guitarist/vocalist Hannah Mohan (guitars, vocals), Rebecca Lasaponaro (drums) and Megan Miller (synthesizers and percussion). The current line-up is without Miller and has Taliana Katz on bass.

Playing what they call “accessible unconscious existential indie glitter popsicle crisis music,” they have been adding fans at a very fast pace with their fierce infectious harmonies, tight and unique grooves and inspired songwriting.

“We’ve been together for about three years,” said Mohan, during a phone interview Wednesday evening. “Rebecca and I met in middle school. When we went to a school for the arts in Goshen (The Institute for the Musical Arts in Goshen, Massachusetts), we met Megan.

“We had already started before we met Megan. We played a few shows and then Megan joined immediately after we met her. We were mostly paying shows in western Massachusetts.

“We made the album in May 2014 at Sonelab in Easthampton, Massachusetts. The songs had been building up. I write the songs and then everybody works on their parts. We recorded all the songs in one week — in four days. Then, we mixed it the following week — again in just four days.”

Not surprisingly, the album has a sense of urgency. It also is a showcase for Mohan’s impressive writing skills.

“My songwriting happens in a lot of different ways,” said Mohan. “A lot of times, I’ll think of a melody in my head and eventually it will grow into a song. I’m still writing a lot all the time. We have tour days in October and a lot of shows in November. Hopefully, we’ll start recording our next album after the holidays.”

Unfortunately, the band will be missing one of the key contributors from its debut album.

“Megan is Canadian and she ran into trouble with immigration and work documents,” said Mohan. “She got deported in December. It doesn’t look like she’ll be allowed back in the U.S. anytime soon. Taliana joined the band in May to take her place.”

Video link for And The Kids — https://youtu.be/MupDkG_jX_4.

The show at Milkboy, which also features Secular and Shana Falana, will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door.

Other acts slated to play Milkboy this weekend are Life In Film on August 28 and Michael Stasis on August 29.

roosevelt dime

Roosevelt Dime

Another relatively new band heading to Philly this weekend is Roosevelt Dime, which will headline at show at The Fire (412 West Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, 267-671-9298, thefirephilly.com) on August 28.

The quartet, which is touring in support of its latest album “Full Head of Steam,” includes Eben Pariser (guitar, vocals), Andrew Green (banjo, vocals), Tony Montalbano  (percussion, vocals) and Craig Akin (bass).

“We got our start in Brooklyn,” said Green, during a phone interview Tuesday morning form his home in Virginia. “Eben and I went to college together at Oberlin and started playing music together there.

“There is a pretty fertile music environment there. That’s where I got introduced to traditional music styles. I was unfamiliar with it because I grew up in New York. My time at Oberlin was when my ears first got introduced to traditional music.

“After college, we moved to New York — to Brooklyn. We started doing the whole New Orleans-style busking in the streets of New York. That’s where we got our first taste of bringing together people through music.

“We had all types of people stopping to listen to our music — bankers, politicians, kids, doctors, junkies — all types. Playing clubs and festivals doesn’t get as diverse an audience. We were trying to get people’s musical tastes to open up. Living in Brooklyn was a lot of fun. It was a dream.

“The band really started in 2009. At the time, we were doing more of an alt-country thing. Then, we added horns and played New Orleans music and Memphis soul. When we were playing in the streets of New York, it was so noisy. Bring out the trumpet and clarinet and they can compete with the honking horns and noise of the buses.”

Over the last few years, Roosevelt Dime has evolved.

“Last summer, we reconfigured the band,” said Green. “Eben switched from bass to guitar and we brought Craig in on upright bass. It’s a new hybrid string band — acoustic with upright bass and banjo but add R&B with electric guitar and drums. We were able to navigate a different territory.

“With the new lineup, Eben and I were able to cultivate a different sound. We settled into this really cool thing– a different Americana with folk and bluegrass and leaning toward early R&B music. We really feel the R&B element of Americana has been underserved. I try to model my banjo more on boogie-woogie piano than typical bluegrass banjo style.

“We’ve melded the sound into one thing — and it’s more than just a sum of its parts. In our live shows, we play a lot of new material from ‘Full Head of Steam’ along with a lot of our older material done with newer arrangements — Americana with R&B arrangements.”

Video link for Roosevelt Dime — https://youtu.be/5mUyh2nqK90?list=PL58E098452F340608

The show at the Fire, which starts at 8 p.m., also features Vinyl Spectrum. Tickets are $8.

Other shows at The Fire this week will be Stephcynie, Dynamo and Orion Freeman on August 27; Water Seed, New Pony and Herm D on August 29;

Reverend TJ McGlinchey, Odysseus Finn, The Ferdy Mayne and Slim Pickins on August 30; and Never Let This Go and Cedar Green on September 2.

On August 29, music fans who visit the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com) will find top-flight female performers both on the Upstairs Stage and the Downstairs Stage.

arum rae

Arum Rae

The headliner on the Upstairs Stage will be Arum Rae, a talented singer-songwriter who has released two stellar EPs and is working on her debut album. The headline act on the Downstairs Stage will be Nicki Bluhm.

“I grew up in Colorado Springs and moved east when I was 17,” said Rae, during a phone interview last week from her log cabin home in Virginia. “I just always sang when I was in Colorado. I was always in music programs.

“I went to Palmer (General William J. Palmer High School) and my high school music teacher took me under his wing. I was thinking of going to fashion school in Denver. He convinced me to go to Berklee School of Music in Boston and helped me get a scholarship to go there.

“I loved being in Boston but the learning curve was really hard. I studied music business and management. I wanted a standard degree — a broad degree. I was introduced to a lot of music there — composers like Mozart, Bach, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.

“I love music theory because it’s similar to math. The options are endless. After awhile, I gravitated toward soul music. It took me awhile to get into indie music. I listed to Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Etta James, Sade and Aretha Franklin. By the end of my college days, I finally got into Bob Dylan.”

After she graduated in 2004, Rae headed south.

“My mom bought a log cabin in Virginia — in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Rae, whose full name is Arum Rae Valkonen. “So, I moved there. I wanted to dive into songwriting. I started writing music late in my school days. When I found that, I was able to do Berklee concerts with my music. I got reinforcement from one of my favorite professors.

“I got a job at an organic market in Virginia. I also got a guitar and started writing songs. I’d drive three hours to play open mics. And, I played shows at a small vegetarian restaurant in Lexington, I was booking my own shows.

“Eventually, I moved to Austin. That’s where things really started to happen. I was hanging out with the guys from Spoon and then toured with Gary Clark, Jr. I even gort to open for Willie Nelson.”

Last year, Rea recorded and released two EPs — “Waving Wild” and “Warranted Queen.”

“I’m writing a lot,” said Rae, whose mother gave her the name “Arum Rae,” which means ‘water lily” in Latin. “It’s all I do. It’s not easy — but it’s what I do for a living.

“If I didn’t write, I’d lose my sense of identity. I write on electric guitar or keyboards — or just in my head. Guitar is my main instrument. Lately, I’ve been writing with other people. I’m working toward a new album. I’ve done a lot of demo-ing — a lot of preparing. I’ll start working on the album in October. I’ve already done some pre-production in Nashville.

“Has my music gotten better? When you get older, you want to say things have gotten better. But, what does ‘better’ mean? You’re just in a different stage of life. Things are just relative. I do feel more confident and my songs have more soul — and more rock-and-roll.”

Video link for Arum Rae — https://youtu.be/2WKpfJ3Zvao.

Rae’s show at the WCL will start at 8 p.m. and have Mechanical River and Steve West as the opening acts. Tickets are $10.

nicki bluhm

Nicki Bluhm

Bluhm, a native of Lafayette, California, first East Coast performance was back in 2012 at the Tin Angel — a tour in support of her solo album “Driftwood.” In 2013, she made her World Café Live debut with her band The Gramblers.

Since then, she has recorded two albums with The Gramblers on Little Sur Records —

“Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers” in 2013 and “Love Wild Lost,” which just came out a few months ago.

In the early months of last year, Bluhm and The Gramblers held 10 days of pre-production sessions at a friend’s ranch in coastal Pescadero — a period that gave them uninterrupted time to woodshed and collaborate — and to share songs and experiences.

“We recorded the album at Panoramic Studios in Stinson Beach,” said Bluhm, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Milwaukee. “We went in the studio and we were really prepared. We did a bit of pre-production to get ready.

“Most of the songs were written just prior to pre-production — in the winter of 2013-2014. I wrote about half the songs. My bass player Deren Ney contributed two songs. My husband Tim had two on the album and we worked on some together.

“We definitely wanted to expand. We have a lot on common but there is still a difference that adds to an eclectic sound. The last record had a little bit of soul, a little bit of country, a little bit of rock. This time, we wanted to move away from the multi-style. We wanted to make the sound more streamlined — more cohesive. It’s more a country rock record with not much soul influence.”

Bluhm and her band proved that they have the versatility to follow a variety of paths and reach happy endings. And, her songwriting has risen to a higher level.

“I try to write constantly,” said Bluhm. “I need to do it emotionally and mentally. I always write on guitar. I had a lot of songs for the album but some of them just weren’t the right kind of songs for the album. You really do have to narrow it down.

“For example, we road-tested one song — ‘Mr. Saturday  Night.’ We recorded it, listened back to it and hated it. So, we changed it — made it more outlaw. We recorded most of the album live in the studio.

“Most of the songs from the new album are in rotation for our live shows on this tour — at least nine of them. Two songs that haven’t made it yet are ‘Heavy Hey Ya’ and ‘High Neck Lace.’ And, we do have a few ‘must play’ older songs like ‘Jet Plane’ and ‘Little Too Late.’ It’s nice to build a catalogue.”

Video link for Nicki Bluhm — https://youtu.be/wwpgaRkQd3w.

The show at the WCL will start at 8 p.m. with opener Andrew Combs. Tickets are $15 and $21.

Other shows at the World Café Live over the next week are Kamasi Washington (August 27), The Hype (August 28), The Jenkins Project (August 30), Megan Nicole (August 31), the Jenkins Project (August 31) and The Harvest (September 1).

Ten years ago, a natural disaster put a hurting on a major U.S. city and also set the stage for the unlikely formation of a band.

honey island swamp band

Honey Island Swamp Band

When Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans in August 2005, it swept away vehicles, buildings and just about everything in its path — including people. Thousands of the city’s citizens were displaced. Many found new places to settle while awaiting normalcy to return to the Crescent City.

One of the results of the devastating hurricane was the formation of the roots music group Honey Island Swamp Band.

Still thriving, the New Orleans-based quintet — Aaron Wilkinson (vocals, mandolin, guitar, harmonica), Chris Mulé (vocals, guitar), Sam Price (bass, vocals), Garland Paul (drums, vocals) and Trevor Brooks (keys) — visit the area for a show at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

The Honey Island Swamp Band has its roots in New Orleans but actually was conceived and born on the West Coast — in the transplanted musicians’ temporary home in San Francisco.

“I was on a flight home when Katrina hit land,” said Mule, during a phone interview Tuesday morning from his home in New Orleans. “So, we had to turn back. Aaron was out in San Francisco with his girlfriend.”

Wilkinson said, “We all had known each other from the New Orleans music scene but we had never played together. We all made our way to San Francisco separately when Katrina hit New Orleans.

“Chris and I were on the road with a California musician named Eric Lindell. We were out west and our homes were gone in New Orleans so we stayed in the Bay Area. The other two arrived in San Francisco from other paths.”

Then, their paths crossed on Fillmore Street in San Francisco — at a club known as the Boom Boom Room.

“We eventually caught up with each other at the Boom Boom Room,” said Mule. “The club’s owner Alex Andreas offered us a weekly gig there every Sunday. We still go back and play the Boom Boom Room a couple times every year. We just got back from there.”

The Honey Island Swamp Band quickly became a favorite of Bay Area roots music fans. Two months into the band’s residency at the Boom Boom Room, sound engineer Robert Gatley approached the band with a rare opportunity. Gatley wanted to record an album with them at the legendary Record Plant studios in Sausalito.

The seven-song eponymous debut “Honey Island Swamp Band” was a rousing success with Wilkinson and Mulé both contributing favorite originals. The disc was received so well that they all decided to continue the band upon moving back to New Orleans in 2007.

“We were in San Francisco for about a year,” said Wilkinson. Then, things began picking up again in New Orleans. San Francisco is nice. But, for us, no place is like New Orleans. We recorded our new album ‘Cane Sugar’ there.”

“Cane Sugar,” which was produced by Grammy-winning producer John Porter, shows off the band’s intoxicating blend of country-inflected rock, New Orleans funky blues and infectious songwriting — a sound described as “Bayou Americana.”

“John Porter had been living in L.A.,” said Mule. “When he moved to New Orleans, we were one of the first bands he worked with. Aaron and I started meeting with him to play our songs and soon we had enough material to make a record. He made making a record fun for us.”

“Cane Sugar” was released in 2013 on Louisiana Red Hot Records. Now, the band is preparing for the making of its sophomore album.

“We’ve made some demos and have done some pre-production on new songs,” said Mule. “We want to make the new record but we don’t know where yet — maybe in western Louisiana in Lafayette. Aaron and I have been amping up our writing. After making a record, we lay off for awhile. I guess I work better when I’m under pressure.

“We have a nice little handful of songs. I think it’s going to be more of a groovier record — more into New Orleans funk. We’ve been road-testing some new songs and they’ve been going over great.”

Video link for Honey Island Swamp Band — https://youtu.be/OsW5Aj3TtJM.

The show at Sellersville, which has Bob Malone as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other shows at Sellersville over the next week are Ben Arnold and Andrew Lipke (August 27), Louie Anderson (August 28),  Manhattan Transfer (August 29),  Ed Palermo Big Band (August 30) and The Boxmasters featuring Billy Bob Thornton (September 1),.

The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present the Joe Trainor Trio along with Valdez (members of Tinyfish, echolyn & Cold Blue Electric) and Jason Reed (solo) on August 28 and Empty Shapes, Slave Dog, Space Caravan and The Aponic Blue on August 29.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Stacc Decc on August 28 and The Fabulous Taco Brothers with Leisure Suit on August 29.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Ray Adkins CD Release Party along with The Steve’s on August 28 and BennKessler and Bruda on August 29.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Splintered Sunlight- Grateful Dead Tribute  along with Bobby Paltauf on August 27.

Melodies Café (2 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, 610-645-5269, www.melodiescafe.com) will host JP Bailey, Paul Heckart and Byron Winchester on August 29.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Jake Shimabukuro on Augsut 27 and Bruce in the USA on August 28.

World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com) will have Johnny Swim with Jeff LeBlanc on August 28 and Downingtown native Liz Longley along with Delta Rae on August 29.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, 800-0 648-4102, www.AMTshows.com) will present its current house production “Inspire” on August 27 and the Monkees on August 28.

Rainbow’s Comedy Playhouse (3065 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, 800-292-4301, http://rainbowcomedy.com) is presenting “Over the River & Through the Woods” now through October 24.

Matinee performances are every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and selected Saturdays with an 11:30 a.m. lunch and a 1 p.m. curtain. Evening performances are every Friday, Saturday and selected Thursdays with dinner at 6:30 p.m. and the show following at 8 p.m. There will also be “Twilight Performances” on selected Sundays with dinner at 2:30 p.m. and the show at 4 p.m. Ticket prices range from $30-$55.

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