On Stage: Kiss The Sky

By Denny DyroffStaff Writer, The Times 

Kiss The Sky

Attending a show by tribute band can be a risky proposition as the quality can range from acceptable to downright dreadful. There is a big caveat.

It’s especially risky if it’s a major act from the 60s or 70s as much of the audience has only been exposed to live performances by the act on YouTube videos – rarely live in person. In many instances, the tribute act has never even seen the original act perform live.

But, anyone heading to the show on January 25 at at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, 610-356-2787, www.uptownwestchester.org) need not worry.

The headliner will be Kiss the Sky — The Jimi Hendrix Re-Experience.

Kiss the Sky is the real deal.

Led by Jimy Bleu, who has the age and the experience to look and sound like Hendrix, Kiss the Sky does an amazingly great job of recreating a Hendrix concert – both with the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Band of Gypsies.

Through meticulous-detailed reproductions in every aspect of look and sound in recreating Jimi Hendrix’s most classic concert and landmark stage show performances, Kiss The Sky presents the world’s most historically-accurate Jimi Hendrix tribute show ever. The band is fronted by Bleu, a virtuoso guitarist and former Columbia recording artist, and backed by a cast of world-class touring musicians from the NYC metro area.

Kiss the Sky is the only Hendrix tribute wearing custom made 60’s wardrobes that Jimi and his bandmates actually wore at his most historic concerts and the only Hendrix tribute with stage sets of replica gear and backline rigs accurate to Jimi’s most classic concerts – stacks of Marshall amps, Ludwig drums, and Fender Stratocaster guitars.

When it comes to being exposed to Hendrix’s music and live performances, Bleu has “been there and done that.”

“I’ve been doing a Hendrix tribute since 1968,” said Bleu, during a phone interview last week from his home in New York City.

“I was attending The School of Performing Arts in New York back in the 60s – the school that was featured in ‘Fame.’ Jimi and Buddy Miles used to hang out on the steps at the school because Buddy’s daughter was dating a student there.

“I was doing a James Brown tribute show. I was a James Brown guy since I was in junior high. A girl came to school one day with a big Jimi Hendrix Fan Club button. I wanted to get closer to her so I joined the fan club.

“Fan club members would get in free at all of Jimi’s East Coast concerts. Soon, we started chasing him around the country. Before I got into Jimi, my favorite guitarists were Jeff Beck and Grand Funk Railroad’s Mark Farner.”

Being a New York music fan, Bleu also got to see Hendrix play at many of the legendary late-night/early-morning post-show jam sessions at Steve Paul’s The Scene – a popular music venue that frequently was the site of amazing jam sessions featuring the best rock musicians from the U.K. and the states.

Decades have flown by and Bleu is still nailing it with his presentation of Hendrix’s music and live performances. Kiss the Sky was named by AXS-TV as the “World’s greatest tribute to Jimi Hendrix.”

“My manager Mike Gotch and I have the same vision of presenting Jimi,” said Bleu. “It’s our mission. It’s like being in a Broadway play production. Nothing this intense has ever been done by a tribute band. I do the music, live shows and even lectures on Jimi Hendrix.

“It’s the longest-running tribute artist show. We’re the best in the authenticity. When fans come to the show, they’re shocked. It’s hard to get the Jimi Hendrix sound live because he had problems himself onstage.”

It’s a fact.

The first time Jimi Hendrix Experience – Mitch Mitchell on drums, Noel Redding on bass and Hendrix on guitar – played Philly was at the old Electric Factory in February 1968. The music coming out of the band’s wall of Marshall amps rattled the woodwork. It also buried the needles on the venue’s soundboard and that added to the trio’s already heavily-distorted sound – at times unintentionally hyper-distorted.

“We’re the only show using authentic replica costumes and the same musical gear Jimi used in the 1960s,” said Bleu, “We are the only show that can faithfully reproduce three of Hendrix’s most historic concerts – 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival, 1969’s Woodstock and the 1970 Band of Gypsys’ show at the Fillmore East in New York. We’ll be playing stuff from all three at this show.”

Fans of classic rock and 1960s guitar gods should also enjoy the show’s opening act – “Heavy Cream – the Ultimate Tribute to Cream.” An evening of Hendrix and Clapton – it doesn’t get much better for those wanting to hear the guitar music that shaped the future of rock for the following half-century.

Video link for Kiss The Sky – https://youtu.be/f2947jUwtAw.

The show at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Other upcoming shows at the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center are Chosen Dance Company “Evvolution” on February 2 and 3 and Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County “An Evening of G&S and Trial by Jury” on February 9 and 10.

Once a month, The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) presents its “Candlelight Comedy Club.”

Rubi Nichols

The show for this month is scheduled for January 25 and will feature Big Daddy Graham as the headline and Rubi Nichols as the opener.

Nichols is not your everyday comedian who draws humor from everyday life as an American woman.

As a first-generation American woman of Pakistani and Muslim descent, Nicholas is the antithesis of what one would expect with such a strong ethnic background. Born to a culture steeped in the tradition of the quiet, compliant female, Nichols breaks the mold. Far from choosing the typical life as an obedient wife, she has walked a variety of career paths, chosen a non-traditional family route and now, has succeeded in breaking even more rules.

“I was born in Albany, New York – in a blizzard,” said Nichols, during a phone interview Tuesday night from her home in Lancaster. “My parents came from Pakistan in light coats and flip-flops in the winter of 1967 to where they called ‘ALL-bah-nee.’ I was born there three years later.

“I grew up in Pottsville. It was a shock when people would come to my home. They were always asking questions like ‘why are you here?,’ ‘what are you?,’ and ‘why are you brown?’

“I went to school here and became Americanized — – oppositional defiant disorder, I guess. I went to a liberal arts school – Villanova University. I rebelled at things from my culture. I got to wear what I wanted. And, I told my parents to stop bringing home husband candidates. My parents never met until their wedding day.

“My older sister paved the way for me. I stretched out and spread my wings. I’ve always been a hard-core feminist. Not surprisingly, the Islamic community didn’t accept me.”

Nichols’ website describes her as “Single mother, professor and leader/manager by day…standup comic by night, and corporate humorist whenever you need a refreshing change of pace for your next event.”

A single working mom, with two kids, three master’s degrees, day jobs in health care and academia, and many nights as a working professional comedian, she was recently selected the winner of TV’s “Search for Funniest Mom in America,” on Nick@Nite –  a nationally televised series.

Nichol’s humor incorporates her ethnic heritage, her family life, the antics of her two little girls, and how taking a risk can change you for the better. Her ability to weave together her story and allow the audience to experience her life while thinking about the ways in which we can all take a chance and find common ground is a remarkable experience.

“People think that standup is easy – you just get up onstage and act cool,” said Nichols. “Comedy is an art – and therapy – and a way to hear the truth.

“Comics are known for telling the truth. On stage, I talk about my background. My patents are parents. Your parents are parents. There is a lot of common ground.”

Video link for Rubi Nichols — https://youtu.be/PkyzKNskKwM.

Big Daddy Graham

wanted to be a singer and now he has a career in which he gets to sing onstage — but not as he originally planned.

“I started in entertainment as a drummer in bands,” said Graham, during a phone interview from his home in Philadelphia. “I had a job as a paid actor for a few years but I wanted to be a singer.

“Now, I am doing singing — funny songs. If I’m singing funny songs, it doesn’t need a good singer — it’s to make people laugh. At first, I was singing cabaret with a piano player. Some of the songs were parodies. I built up a following of people who wanted to laugh at me not with me.

“Around that time, comedy clubs were starting to explode. A guy from Comedy Factory Outlet booked me for two shows on Friday nights and two shows on Saturday. I liked that people came in and were quiet. In the clubs I worked before, it was hard to be heard over the crowd noise.

John DiBella started hosting shows on Friday nights. I was doing a song called ‘Nuns.’ Philly being the Catholic town that it is, the song got popular. DiBella said he’d play it on the radio. So, I recorded the song and it was a hit.

“It was the right place at the right time. I became really popular in Philly. That’s where it all started. Now, I do entire shows without any music at all.”

That’s because Graham is a comic who understands how to make Philly laugh. He does it onstage and on the airwaves. He is currently in his 19th year as a host on the sports talk radio station 94WIP, and hosts “Big Daddy Graham’s Classic Rock Throwdown” on Wildfire Radio. As a comic, Graham has appeared on a number of networks including Showtime, A&E and MTV.

Video link for Big Daddy Graham — https://youtu.be/9xSddvZZVD0.

Tickets are $30 and include complimentary lite fare buffet. Call 302-475-2313 for reservations or order online. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. The host for the evening will be Jason Pollock.

This weekend, the Candlelight will feature performances of its new production “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” on Friday and Saturday eveinngs and Sunday afternoon.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is an uproarious farce about two con men who discover the meaning of the phrase “what goes around comes around” while plying their trade on the French Riviera. Based on the 1998 film starring Steve Martin, it is a fast-paced, energetic free-for-all. “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” premiered on Broadway in 2005 and was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and 10 Drama Desk Awards.

“Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is running on weekends now through February 25.

For the past few summers, Gabel Music Ventures has been presenting a free music-oriented street festival on Market Street in downtown Wilmington – a festival with its own spin. The annual Ladybug Music Festival focus on female and female-fronted acts.

In February 2017, a spinoff called “Sisterbugs,” which was being presented by the Ladybug Festival, was staged at the former World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington.

A 2018 edition of “Sisterbugs” will be held January 26 at Kelly’s Logan House (1701 Delaware Avenue, Wilmington, 302-652-9493, http://www.loganhouse.com). The show will feature three of the acts from the original “Sisterbugs” line-up – headliners Nalani & Sarina along with Joy and Peace Ike and the Lullanas. The show will also include Cecilia Grace.

Nalani & Sarina

have been building a huge fan base in the Mid-Atlantic region for the last five years. The duo has performed at a variety of venues around the area — including Kennett Flash, the Eagleview Concert Series in Exton, World Café Live at the Queen, and the Ladybug Festival.

The highly-talented twins, who are in their early 20s, have already established themselves as top-flight vocalists, songwriters, and multi-instrumentalists.

They have self-released several well-crafted albums and singles. Now, they are ready to take it to another level.

“We’ve been in and out of the studio,” said Nalani Bolton, during a phone interview last week from her home in central New Jersey.

“Lately, we’ve been finishing up mixing and mastering – putting the finishing touches on our latest project.

“We record with our engineer Julian Herzfeld and Greg Thomas at Julian’s studio in Wayne and also at Carriage House Studio in Stamford, Connecticut.

“We’re going to have enough material for a full-length. We’ll probably do a couple single releases and that will lead to a full-length. It’s a singles-driven world and we’ll be trying to build momentum through the singles.”

Sarina Bolton said, “We’ve been recording a lot. We’re taking a pretty relaxed approach — doing it piece-by-piece…song-by-song. There are no deadlines and that makes it a lot less stressful.

“With the songwriting, we had a new approach this time. The songs on our last album were based on personal experiences. This time, it’s other people’s stories — more of a world-wide approach. It’s observational writing geared to people our age.

“It’s a combination of first person and third person. We’re writing about people our age – observing other people’s stories. It’s like a story about kids’ lives from their early to late 20s – love, first relationships, work.

“The songs are about what life is like for people our age. But, people of all ages can relate to these songs. We’ve had older people tell us that they can identify with these songs.”

The twins hit the nail on the head with their new single “Young and Inexperienced.”

“A lot has been going on,” said Sarina. “We’ve gotten a lot of press for the new single, which was just released a few weeks ago

Nalani & Sarina were featured in the New York Post about their new single, “Young & Inexperienced”.  They appeared in the Business section of the paper in an interview with MarketWatch about their single with the headline “‘Loan’ Them Your Ears: Troubadours of Youth Woe$”.

MarketWatch featured Nalani & Sarina in an article entitled “Millennial sisters who never went to college write anthem on the evils of student debt.” The article focused on their latest single, “Young & Inexperienced” — offering insight in writing the song. The Hunterdon Democrat did an article on Nalani & Sarina featuring the pair on the front two pages of the paper. With the write-up entitled, “Sisters Pen Song About Struggles of Today’s Youth.”

More impressively, Billboard featured Nalani & Sarina and their new single, “Young & Inexperienced” on its website in a praiseworthy write-up written by Thom Duffy.  He highlights their songwriting and titles the article as “Nalani & Sarina’s ‘Young And Inexperienced is an anthem for the student-debt generation.”

“Our new single was featured in Billboard,” said Nalani. “It was really awesome to see the single up there. We’ve also had some stuff on SiriusXM.”

“Young & Inexperienced” got spun on Debatable on SiriusXM’s The Volume. Last week, Nalani & Sarina were the featured guests on SiriusXM’s The Spectrum for “Kick Out the Jams,” with legendary rock critic Dave Marsh asking them about their new record, their songwriting inspiration, and even aired some of their new tunes.

“We started our own label – Telepathy Records/Kobalt — and signed a distribution deal with AWAL. They’re a good company for independents because they let you keep your rights and you keep control. AWAL is part of Kobalt, which is a label servicing company that handles publishing, licensing and a ton of services.

“We recorded two versions of the single,” said Sarina. “We did it months ago at our producer’s studio in Wayne. Initially, we had tons of ideas and rolled with it because we liked the song. Then, after internalizing it and playing it live, we changed our attitude. We decided to cut it live with our band. We wanted to capture the feeling of how we do it when we play the song love onstage.

“We recorded the second version at Shore Fire Studio in West Long Branch, New Jersey. Everything is cut live except for a fee overdubs. We did five or six takes and decided which one we liked the best. The version we eventually released had a collaborative vibe with the band – Jim Hines on drums, Oscar Rodriguez on guitar, and Chris Kussner on bass. Nalani and I we both played guitar. It was the first guitar solo I ever recorded. We really liked it. The second version is the keeper.”

Nalani said, “With the single’s topic, it wasn’t our intention to capitalize on a situation that’s going on. We just wrote it from what we were observing. The world has changed completely with college and jobs. People look at our generation as young and inexperienced. A lot of people in our hometown are recent college grads who are having trouble finding jobs.”

The sisters graduated from high school with honors but never looked to continuing their education on in college.

 “We graduated early from Hunterdon Central High a few years ago and we’ve been doing music ever since,” said Nalani.

With roots based in rhythm-and-blues, soul, rock and especially funk, the sisters create vocal harmonies that only twins can make.

“We’re identical twins,” said Nalani. “We both started playing classical piano when were six and then studied operatic vocals when we were in sixth grade.

“Classical music and opera provided good basics for us. Our mom was a folkie, so we listened to a lot of folk music when we were young — great songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. And, we’ve listened to a lot of classic rock.

“We always have the funk. It’s impossible for us to keep the funk out. We’ve always had funk in our blood. We play shows with just the two of us, it always sounds more singer-songwriter. When we do shows with our band, it gets funkier.”

Nalani & Sarina will have another area show this weekend. On January 27, they will perform at The Four Crows (41 North Main Street, New Hope, http://www.thefourcrows.com). Show time is 6 p.m.

Video link for Nalani & Sarina – https://youtu.be/brxtDnPxes4.

Baltimore-based pop duo,

Cecilia Grace

, began getting noticed five years ago at open mics – impressing audiences with their breathtaking harmonies. The sisters are best known for their chemistry and the interplay of their vocals that complement each other in harmony – using rhythm and tone to seemingly create one melody.

From the time singer-songwriting sisters, Cecilia (23) and Tessa (19), were born, their parents trained their ears, believing that as long as very young children listen only to good music, they would learn to sing in proper pitch.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was 12,” said Cecilia, during a phone interview last week from the family home in Towson, Maryland. ‘Tessa has been writing since she was 14.

“We grew up mostly in Sacramento, California. Then, our family moved to Baltimore when I was 15 and Tess was 11. We were always home schooled.”

Tessa said, “I think it was a positive to be home schooled. But, I was curious as to what it would be like going to school with other kids. But, being home schooled allowed us to work on our music more.”

Cecilia said, “Both our parents taught us music. Our mom was a music teacher – and also part of a home school music co-op.”

Tessa said, “Our mom played piano and sang – and always put us in classes. We learned how to play trumpet, clarinet and piano when we were very young. Our brothers also played instruments too. Now, I play guitar and we both play guitar and piano. We write mostly on guitar.”

As they matured, singing was like breathing and harmonizing was second nature. Being home schooled allowed them the freedom to sing all day long, without restrictions, to flex their vocal muscles and fine-tune their sense of sound through acapella choir harmonies in the likes of Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus.”

The girls began churning out harmonies just for fun when they were just pre-teens — inspired by sibling groups like the Bee Gees, Wilson-Phillips, Aly and AJ, and the Jonas Brothers.

Cecilia is an award-winning songwriter and one of her first compositions won first prize in a contest. She spent her winnings on her first guitar and became a prolific songwriter. She recorded her songs and covers and gained an impressive international following on YouTube. Audiences liken her pure, raw style to the vocals of Adele, Katy Perry, and Stevie Nicks. 

Tessa is a champion gymnast-turned guitar player, which surprised her family who thought she was more inclined toward sports than music. Her knack for performance before judges made a natural transition into playing before a live audience.

They are both versatile vocalists. Cecilia, with her powerful lead vocals, was the winner of Voices of Baltimore 2017, and Fox 45 and Z104.3’s 2012 Baltimore Idol winner.

Tessa’s high, bluesy soprano makes for breathtaking harmony as she rocks hard on her acoustic guitar with her mature and unique style. She plays hours of original and cover songs at gigs while singing — never stopping to look at the frets to check her precision … never looking at sheet music to recall how to play a song.

“We have a few singles from when we first started and then an EP we made in 2015,” said Cecilia. “Our single ‘Giving Up’ came out last summer. Everything is available digitally and on social media.

“We each love to write – and we love to write together. I’m the lead vocalist and Tessa is the lead guitarist.

“We’re in the process of working on our next album. We have four of five songs that are just about done. It’s taking a long time to record everything. We’ve been recording our album with producer Ryan Anderson at Wright Way Studios in Baltimore.

“For our live shows right now, 70 per cent is original music and 30 per cent is cover songs. For ‘Sisterbugs,’ we’ll be going with a 70s theme.”

Video link for Cecilia Grace — https://youtu.be/JV9o8vssgyU.

Joy Ike had known for a long time that she wanted to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter. It just took her awhile to make the move in that direction.

“Music was always a part of my family when I was growing up,” said Ike, during a phone interview. “In college, I realized I wanted to be a songwriter and that writing on piano was the way I wanted to go.

“I was a communications major at the University of Pittsburgh. I thought I wanted to be a news anchor and even did an internship at (Pittsburgh television station) KDKA. After college, I worked three years as a publicist from 9-5 and then came home and wrote music.

“I built my own catalog of songs. When I started playing live shows, I was getting good feedback.”

Born to Nigerian immigrants, Philadelphia-based independent artist Ike’s music, voice, and writing have drawn comparisons to female musicians such as Corinne Bailey Rae, Regina Spektor, Norah Jones, and Fiona Apple. But her percussive piano-playing and soaring vocals give homage to her African upbringing.

Leaving her career as a publicist in 2008, Ike has since played thousands of shows across the Northeast, Midwest, and South. She has had the opportunity to share the stage and open for Allen Toussaint, Cody Chestnutt, Tyrone Wells, Najee, Jeffrey Gaines, Denison Whitmer, Deas Vail, Butterfly Boucher, Serena Ryder, and Ken Whitely & The Levy Sisters to name a few.

Ike’s path has consistently taken an “anywhere for anyone” approach playing for intimate audiences in coffeehouse, universities, house concerts, churches, and small theater settings.

Video link for Joy Ike — https://youtu.be/9jYgDcByma8.

Like Nalani & Sarina, the Lullanas are also twin sisters in their early 20s — Atisha and Nishita Lulla. They have been singing together since they were little girls but it wasn’t until their senior year in high school that they performed in public.

“We’ve always liked music,” said Atisha, who graduated with her sister from Penn State University in 2014. “We’ve been singing our whole lives but never took it seriously until we sang at a talent show at our high school in our senior year. That was our first time to sing in front of an audience.”

That performance at Methacton High was the start of a musical career that is starting to flourish.

“When we were at Penn State, we’d perform at events,” said Nishita. “And, there is this place at Penn State called the Hub (Hub Robeson Center) where people are walking by the main area all the time. We’d go there and perform too. The last time we went back to Penn State was to play at the Relay for Life.”

The twins have made a name for themselves by posting their performances of covers on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/LullaNAs_) but they also are emerging as artists with original material.

“We started writing originals our sophomore year in college,” said Atisha. “Now, we have over 50 originals that are completed. One of us will come up with the idea and then we come up with the melody.”

Nishita said, “We have two videos or original songs on YouTube. ‘I lost My Heart’ went on about a year ago, ‘Don’t Say’ went on recently and it’s just now is out on iTunes. In our live shows, we play half originals and half covers.

“We have a little over 50 videos of us playing covers on YouTube. That helped us get out there a bit. It got us comfortable performing in front of a crowd — without really performing in front of a crowd. And, video covers allow us to get into different genres.”

Video link for the Lullanas — https://youtu.be/s6gsjYZBwBE.

The schedule for “Sisterbugs” on January 26 is: 7:00-7:40 p.m., Cecilia Grace; 7:45-8:25 p.m., Lullanas; 8:30-9:10 p.m., Joy Ike and Peace Ike; 9:20-10:00 p.m., Nalani & Sarina. Admission is free.

Nalani & Sarina’s show in New Hope will be coinciding with the final weekend of the 2018 Lambertville-New Hope Winter Festival (www.Winterfestival.net) – and with the festival’s showcase concert. The featured concert will be the John Hall Band Reunion on January 26 at New Hope Winery (6123 Lower York Road, New Hope, 215-794-2331, newhopewinery.com).

Hall has gone from musician to politician and back to musician. Along the way, environmental and political concerns have kept Hall moving in and out of direct community involvement. He was elected to the Ulster County Legislature in 1989 and served one term in 1990 and 1991.

In the late 1990’s, he was elected twice as trustee of the Saugerties New York Board of Education, where his fellow trustees elected him president.

Hall also served as a volunteer member of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s board of directors before running successfully for Congress in 2006. He represented New York’s 19th District until 2011, when he returned to private life — and a life of music.

Well known founder of the band Orleans, Hall is an American musician, congressman, environmentalist and community leader. He brings together the John Hall Band Reunion show for the 2018 Lambertville New Hope Winter Festival Concert which is sure to be an exciting evening full of storytelling and fantastic music.

Prior to forming Orleans in 1972, Hall wrote and directed the music for several Broadway shows. In early 1972, John’s local jam band in Woodstock became Orleans with Wells Kelly, Larry and Lance Hoppen. Orleans recorded four albums in the seventies scoring radio hits with “Still The One” and “Dance With Me.” Hall left Orleans in 1978 and made two solo records, “John Hall” and “Power.” The latter featured the anti-nuclear anthem “Power,” which later became the theme of the No Nukes concerts, recorded by the Doobie Brothers with James Taylor.
 In his post-political career, Hall started writing songs again, performing solo and with Orleans, and continuing with his environmental leadership.  
Along with his latest CD, “Rock Me On the Water”, Hall published a book documenting his music and political career – “Still the One: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Journey to Congress and Back.”
This weekend’s concert marks the first time the 1981-1983 quartet of Hall, Bob Leinbach, John Troy and Eric Parker have been on stage together in decades. John and all the band members are also part of the Orleans’ legacy. The John Hall Band reunion members also include Fly Amero and Peter O’Brien.

“For this show, we’ll be playing some Orleans songs – combining then with John Hall songs,” said Hall, the only professional rock ‘n’ roll guitarist to serve in the U.S. Congress. “These guys have all toured with me as the John Hall Band or Orleans in one form or another. They all have lengthy credits to their names. It’s a really great group of musicians.

“Every Orleans or John Hall album had at least one political or environmental song. My song ‘Power’ was big with the ‘No Nukes’ effort. It was printed in Sing Out magazine and then Peter, Paul & Mary and Pete Seeger did it. That’s when I officially became a folksinger.”

With Orleans, Hall was a player in a rock band. But, at the same time, he had roots that went way back in the world of folk music.

“When I was a kid, we had an old RCA wooden radio,” said Hall. “I jerry-rigged a turntable and listened to my parents’ records of Pete Seeger with the Weavers. Until electric guitar got my attention, I played acoustic guitar.”

In early 1972, Hall’s local jam band in Woodstock turned into Orleans when Wells Kelly and then Larry Hoppen joined the ensemble.

Later that year, Lance Hoppen joined on bass, freeing Larry to play guitar and keyboard. Orleans recorded four albums in the 1970s with the singles “Still the One” and “Dance with Me” both reaching certification of more than four million airplays in the United States.

Hall left Orleans in 1978 and made two solo records, “John Hall” and “Power.” The latter featured the anti-nuclear anthem which later became the theme of the No Nukes concerts, recorded by the Doobie Brothers with James Taylor. In late October 2004, Hall publicly commented that the presidential campaign of George W. Bush had not asked for permission to use the Orleans song “Still the One” at campaign events.

The campaign later dropped the song from their playlist. Four years later, Hall expressed similar disapproval when John McCain’s presidential campaign also used the song without asking for permission.

Hall has been involved with Mid-Hudson Nuclear Opponents, who successfully fought the siting of a nuclear power plant on the Hudson River in Greene County.

While living in Saugerties, New York, Hall co-founded Saugerties Concerned Citizens, and helped write the town’s first zoning law. When Ulster County announced plans for a 200-acre solid waste dump on the historic Winston Farm, Hall led the opposition.

“Right now, I’m very happy to be back playing music,” said Hall. “This reunion is a one-off as of now. There has been a lot of interest in this reunion, so I’d like to do more.”

Video link for John Hall Band – https://youtu.be/doUR5KW-ii8.

The show at the New Hope Winery will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50.

Big Head Todd and The Monsters

The rock band Big Head Todd and the Monsters was formed in 1986 with Todd Park Mohr on guitar and vocals, Brian Nevin on drums and vocals and Rob Squires on bass and vocals. The three friends had attended Columbine High School – yes, that Columbine High School — together. Later, Mohr attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado and transferred to the University of Colorado to join Nevin and Squires.

The trio began touring clubs in Denver, Fort Collins, and Boulder as Big Head Todd and the Monsters in 1987. The band soon built up a following throughout Colorado and the West. They toured extensively throughout the Mountain States and West Coast of the United States in their van dubbed “The Colonel,” which was driven over 400,000 miles.

Fortunately for Big Head Todd and the Monsters fans, the band is still going strong with its original members three decades later. The only personnel change in these three decades has been the addition of a fourth member, putative “new guy” Jeremy Lawton, in 2004.

On January 26, Big Head Todd and the Monsters are playing the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com) in support of their new album “New World Arisin’,” which is out now on the band’s own Big Records imprint. The record is the band’s 11th full-length LP and marks their 30th year together.

 Big Head Todd and the Monsters are not that big on anniversaries, so there won’t be any big hoopla over the fact that the band is officially crossing the three-decade mark this year

“Thirty years,” said Mohr, during a phone interview from a tour stop in St. Louis, Missouri. “Every year, we’re playing a gig and, if it goes well, we say we’ll have another year.”

Thirty years would seem like something to commemorate, especially with the same core lineup — an achievement few other name-brand bands can boast of. Yet right now they’re less about celebrating stability than volatility, in the form of their new album, “New World Arisin’,” which makes good on its forward-facing title with what might be the brashest rock and roll of their career.

The new album hit #60 on Soundscan’s Top 200 upon its release a few weeks ago, and the second single “Glow” was #1 added at AAA recently. “Glow” follows on the heels of the successful first single “Damaged One.”

“I’m a writer that writes all the time,” said Mohr. “I had a batch of songs to bring to the band. We had several weeks of rehearsal and then it was recorded in six days in January 2017.

“We recorded it at eTown Hall in Boulder. It’s a room I really like – an exclusively designed room with a lot of space but not a lot of reflection. It was my preferred method of recording – a lot of songs in four or five takes.

“Two of the songs – ‘Glow’ and ‘Mind’ – are 20 years old. There were other songs we had that didn’t make it on the album because they didn’t have the cohesiveness. There are no ballads – not as lot of soft stuff. This may be more of a rock album than we’ve ever made before. It started as a vibe and then became more conscious.

“When it was done, it was really rewarding because it’s the first time that I feel the song in my heads was what was on the disc. It has a lot of freshness – a lot of variety.”

According to Mohr, “We’re in a real exciting part of our career right now. We’re a viable band with a great audience and we’re able to work at a very high level. It’s a career that’s getting more and more interesting, rather than less, which is remarkable. I mean, 30 years into it, I really feel like — Wow, this is getting fun. I’m learning more about music and about my instrument, and it’s just really engaging in every way. We also dovetail well with the times, I think. I feel like we have something to say.”

Video link for Big Head Todd and the Monsters — https://youtu.be/3qPMOc59syI

The show at the TLA, which has Luther Dickinson as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35.

Other upcoming shows at the TLA are DMX on January 27, Benjamin Clementine on January 29 and Brockhampton on January 30 and 31.

Inara George

Inara George (half of the beloved group the Bird and the Bee) will be hitting the road for a string of North American solo tour dates later this month – and she’ll be coming to Philadelphia to perform at The Boot & Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com) on January 26.

George is touring in support of her new album “Dearest Everybody,” which was just released on January 19. It is her first solo album since “Accidental Experimental” in 2009. Her most personal album yet, “Dearest Everybody” showcases her trademark airy vocals and details her story – in music and in life – of taking the losses that formed and strengthened her and sharing them with the rest of the world.

“I’ve been writing these songs for about five years,” said George, during a phone interview last week from her home in the Beverly Woods section of Los Angeles. “I have a record release show this Friday (January12) in Hollywood.”

George is married to director Jake Kasdan, with whom she has three children — son Otis and twins Beau and Lorelai.

“I don’t have the ability to record for long stretches of time because of my family responsibilities,” said George. “With my solo stuff, I didn’t have the space to write.”

But, George was able to create some songs when the motivation was there.

On “Dearest Everybody,” George mines that initial loss and others that friends and family have suffered, to find the sorrow, and sometimes the joy blooming in the rockiest of places.
Sometimes the line between joy and sorrow is hard to parse, as she sings on the opening song, “Young Adult,” a tender, uplifting homage to the messy thrill of growing up. In “Release Me,” George sings from her mother’s perspective regarding the loss of her husband.

A few of the songs, including “Tusker 4,” “Slow Dance” and “Take Me to Paris” stem from her annual tradition of writing a song for a dear friend’s baby who was lost in childbirth. The sweetly playful “All for All” was written for her producer Mike Andrews who told her of a funny misunderstanding between him and his elderly father in his last few days.
“I’d write songs for friends who were getting marries to play on their wedding day,” said George. “I wrote a song for a friend who had a loss. I’d write her a song every year around the anniversary. People were losing people more. So, I stated writing songs for people who had someone pass away.

“After a while, I realized I had a lot of songs about the topic. I wasn’t being too critical of myself. I think I was trying to be very transparent. A lot of songs are from other people’s perspective.”

The shoe was on the other foot for George back in 1979.

Her father Lowell George, a founding member of Little Feat and one of the most highly-regarded guitarists of the day, passed away from a heart attack when he was 34 and his daughter was four. Jackson Browne wrote the song “Of Missing Persons” for Inara George after the death of her father.

“With my dad, I have a feeling of the essence of who he was,” said George. “I wasn’t worried about memories of him but rather what was the fallout of not having him in my life Two songs on my new record deal with this.

“At the shows coming up, I’ll be playing a lot from the new record and some of the older stuff. I’m coming with a band – four of us…all girls.”

Video link for Inara George — https://youtu.be/Qts0H9dE6Iw.

The show at Boot and Saddle, which has Rupe Stearns opening, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Slaughter Beach, Dog, Three Man Cannon, and Eight on January 25; Madalean Gauze, and Dave Bakey on January 27; Dreamswell, Aster More, Katie Jo Knaub, and Haunted Homesea on January 28; and The Wonder Years, Mannequin Pussy, and Nervous Dater on January 31.

Nicole Atkins

Nicole Atkins, who is opening for Umphrey’s McGee on January 26 and 27 at Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com), is touring in support of her most recent album, “Goodnight Rhonda Lee,” which came out last July on Single Lock Records.

“This is just a short weekend tour,” said Atkins, during a phone interview from Nashville Tuesday evening. “I’m doing a lot of touring this year. I’m going to do another tour of the U.K. And, I’ll be singing at a Led Zeppelin tribute concert at Carnegie Hall.

The album is filled with timeless songs that were written during a time of deep self-examination for the New Jersey native, now Nashville resident – several years of intense personal struggles.

“It was a tough couple of years,” said Atkins, during a phone interview from Nashville Tuesday evening. “Now, my health is good. Everything is good.”

In the middle of much personal turmoil — getting and staying sober and dealing with her father’s cancer — Atkins moved from her native Asbury Park to Nashville.

In Nashville, Atkins’ once hectic life was very different. Left home alone as her tour manager husband plied his trade out on the road, Atkins found herself writing songs that examined “feelings of separation and being scared of new surroundings.”

Not surprisingly, her sobriety faltered. She drifted in and out of it. Atkins knew the wagon was good for her, but she had a hard time staying focused on what was good for her.

“I knew I was in depression and I knew that I wasn’t who I was,” said Atkins. “Drinking and being pissed off were all things that were holding me back.”

As it went on however, the clarity of those sober days started to shine through. And, she was able to string them together in longer stretches. It helped that she had to be strong for herself in order to be strong for her dad.

“The more I started taking a break and incorporating healthier life patterns, I learned to stop worrying and to live without anxiety and anger,” said Atkins. “It helped my writing a lot.”

She reconnected with her old friend Chris Isaak who encouraged her to write songs that emphasized the one trait that most sets her apart from the mere mortals of the industry — telling her, “Atkins, you have a very special thing in your voice that a lot of people can’t or don’t do. You need to stop shying away from that thing and let people hear it.”

Atkins said, “I treated writing more as a job. I just got up and wrote. As an artist, you encounter a lot of pitfalls. So, you need to incorporate order into your life.”

The direction in which these songs were headed was obvious. Atkins’ voice had always recalled a classic vinyl collection. She is the heir to the legacy of Roy Orbison, Lee Hazelwood, Sinatra, Aretha, Carole King, Candi/Staton.

Even though Atkins moved to Nashville, she provides living proof to the old saying that “You can take the girl out of New Jersey but you can’t take New Jersey out of the girl.”

“My music is 60s soul music,” said Atkins. “That’s the music I’ve always written and I wanted to record it that way.

“I started writing the album in 2013. I wrote the songs over a period of three years and the songs kept getting better. I made the final selection of songs and then cut the album last August in Fort Worth, Texas.”

According to Atkins, “This record came to me at a time of deep transition. Some days were good, some not so good. What I did gain, though, from starting to make some changes and going inward, and putting it out on the table, was a joy in what I do again. Joy in the process and a newfound confidence that I don’t think I’ve ever had until now.

“The album title, “Goodnight Rhonda Lee,” also came from those feelings. Rhonda Lee was kind of my alias for bad behavior, and it was time to put that persona to bed.”

Now, Atkins has bonded with Nashville.

“I love Nashville,” said Atkins. “I’m working in music every day. I’m busier here than I’ve ever been. I started working on a new album – writing songs, getting people to come play and roll the tapes. It’s part Bobby Vee and part Funky Meters.

“Playing songs live feels like every night is New Year’s Eve. That’s the party. Now, we’re coming to open for Umphrey’s McGee and we’re going to bring the thunder.”

Video link for Nicole Atkins — https://youtu.be/paLarbLjc6s

The shows at the Fillmore with Umphrey’s McGee headlining will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $32.50.

On January 26, the Lansdowne Folk Club (84 North Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 484-466-6213, http://folkclub.org) will present April Verch – a Canadian singer-songwriter-fiddle player who also incorporates step dancing into her show.

Verch is a Canadian fiddler and step dancer born and raised in the community of Rankin, Ontario. She attended Berklee College of Music in Boston prior to starting her professional career. She is best known for playing traditional Ottawa Valley style fiddle tunes.

Verch knows how relevant an old tune can be. She was raised surrounded by living, breathing roots music—her father’s country band rehearsing; the lively music at church and at community dances; the tunes she rocked out to win fiddle competitions.

She thought every little girl learned to step dance at the age of three and fiddle at the age of six. She knew nothing else and decided early on that she wanted to be a professional musician.

Verch took that leap, and for more than two decades has been recording and captivating audiences worldwide — exploring new places each step of the way. The veteran musician/dancer from north of the border released her first album “Springtime Fiddle” in 1992.

“My most recent album with the trio is “The Newpart,” which came out in April 2015,” said Verch, during a phone interview Tuesday morning from her home near Asheville, North Carolina.

“The trio will be going back into the studio in the fall – hopefully in Nashville. Making an album every 18 months in general is good for us.

“We’re starting to write some new things for the album. And, we’re trying some of the things out live. It’s a lot of fun for us to try new things out live.”

On her most recent album, Verch dug deep into songs and tunes from the era before the mid-century heyday of bluegrass and folk — going back to vaudeville and beyond.

“I did a lot of research,” said Verch. “I listened to a lot of older music and kept a list of what strikes me.”

Verch and her band pared down their arrangements to highlight the simple pleasures of upright bass, guitar, clawhammer banjo, mandolin, voices and fiddle — along with Verch’s step dancing extraordinaire. Some of the songs were chosen with Verch’s step dancing in mind.

In addition to her music, Verch has built a reputation was a world-class step dancer.

“I grew up step dancing,” said Verch. “The Ottawa Valley style is very unique. Dancers don’t stand up straight with their arms down. It looks similar to tap but it’s very high energy with a lot of hopping. Just like the fiddle style from this area, it’s a melting pot.

“The old stuff gets me moving my feet as percussion. Our style — leather soles on wood — that sort of puts a stamp on it. If you learn Ottawa Valley style, you have a routine. I don’t do that anymore. In my live show, I dance both tap and leather.

“I’ve had no physical problems from step dancing so far. Sometimes, my feet are sore. Knee problems are common to Ottawa Valley dancers but I haven’t had any – maybe because I do more hopping.

“In my live shows now, I’m doing new stuff and not much from ‘The Newpart.’ We’ll be doing a few favorites that we have back in our anthology. We’re also doing some new stuff as a band that we really enjoy even though it might not be on our next record. The show doesn’t change much from folk clubs to theaters to festivals. We usually do two sets with music and dance. We want the live experience to mean something to the audience.”

Video link for April Verch – https://youtu.be/zjCg10wJuXY.

The show at the Lansdowne Folk Club will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.

Also on January 26, another genre of music will be performed live when Belle Game headline a show at Ortlieb’s (847 North Third Street, Philadelphia, 267- 324-3348, http://www.ortliebsphilly.com/).

Belle Game is a spacey West Coast Canada crush pop band from Vancouver, British Columbia that has been around for eight years. The band’s lineup features Adam Nanji, Andrea Lo, Alex Andrew, and Katrina Jones.

Nanji and Andrew were friends since preschool days and later formed the band with high school friend Andrea Lo in the summer of 2009. The band recorded its first EP at Vogville Studios with producer John Franco the same summer.

“Adam met Katrina in Momntreal when he was going to school at Magill University,” said Lo, during a phone interview last week as the band travelled to Chicago from a gig in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

When Lo visited Montreal that fall to perform some local shows, the three of them played some shows under the name of The Belle Game, keeping to the original melody/harmony-focused sound of the band. Not long after that, the band transformed into a quartet with Jones aboard.

“Adam moved back to Vancouver in 2011 with Katrina,” said Lo. “We were still pretty young and didn’t know what to do. So, we gave it a go as a band. After a while, it all came together.

“Our first album was in 2013. We had every intention to start writing and releasing sons in the beginning back in 2011 but life had other plans for us. We had some songs. But, we decided to get more introspective with our music and express our personal selves.

“We started writing the first album and it became a four-year process. Some songs didn’t come into fruition until late. We all write together. Our previous writing was very structured and logical. This time, it was a physiological flow.

“The change was spiritual and musical. We were in a chrysalis. As a result, the changes we were experiencing manifested in our music – going from rigid to something more present and more flowing. It’s about letting go.”

Inspired by this move away from logic, they decided to scrap previous sessions and opted to rebuild. Andrew sold his six-string electric guitar to sit down behind the drum kit/electronics. The rejuvenating songwriting periods that followed at a run-down house in Vancouver saw them relearning what they loved most about their band –each other. No song written without every band member present. This ultimately led to the breakthrough that shaped the sounds and themes for “Fear/Nothing.”

According to Lo, “It was a really exceptional, amazing experience in the sense that it helped us move from logic to a feeling.” “Fear/Nothing” is a 10-track collection produced by Dave Hamelin (The Stills) and executive producer Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene).

“We met Kevin Drew in the fall of 2013,” said Lo. “Having him as a mentor was a catalyst. We cut the album in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. We did some fine-tuning and wrapped it up in Spring 2017.”

Video link for Belle Game — https://youtu.be/VVLcUrVBTO0

The show at Ortlieb’s, which has cheeky as the opening act, will start at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at Ortlieb’s are Knightlife, The Stone Eye and Wallace on January 25, and Former Belle, Sammi Lanzetta and Hemming on January 27.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will present The Rose Project, Earth Radio, and Saint Atlas on January 26; Chris Barron of The Spin Doctors and Angelee on January 27; Born To Be Blue – Films & Words at The Flash with Matt Cappy (Trumpeter, Guest Lecturer) and Jane Lee Hooker and Blues Reincarnation Project on January 31.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host the Harry Walther Band on January 27.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will host Broken Arrow (Neil Young Tribute) and AM Radio on January 26; Splintered Sunlight and Miz on January 27; and Jeffrey Gaines and Amy Faden on January 28.

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present

Under the Oak with Chris Peace on January 25, Chelsea Sue Allen and The Nodd on January 26, and Cabin Dogs with Walty on January 27.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Lalah Hathaway on January 25.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Alexis P. Suter Band and Sister Blue on January 25, The Ventures and Black Flamingos on January 26, Hollywood Nights (Bob Seger Tribute) on January 27, Joe Lynn Turner (of Rainbow & Deep Purple) and Chevonne & The Fuzz on January 28, and Live Dead & Riders ’69 on January 31.

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