On Stage: The Lil Smokies much more than a snack

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Lil Smokies

If the act headlining a show at Boot and Saddle (1131 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-639-4528, www.bootandsaddlephilly.com) on March 5 sounds more like a sausage links brand then a music band, there is a good reason.

The band that will perform at the South Philadelphia venue is The Lil Smokies, a Montana-based bluegrass/Americana band featuring Matt Cornette (banjo), Andy Dunnigan (vocals, dobro), Scott Parker (bass), Matt “Rev” Rieger (guitar, vocals), and Jake Simpson (fiddle, vocals).

Around 10 years ago, the first configuration of the band was assembled in Missoula, Montana when a few musicians met at a jam while attending the University of Montana. There have been several line-up changes over the years, but the current line-up has been stable for the last few years.

“I joined just over four years ago,” said Rieger, during a phone interview Monday morning from a tour break in Philadelphia. “And, this is coming up on Jake’s fourth year.

“There has been 10 years of being friends and musical comrades. The band took off around 2015 and became an established part of the string band world.”

The band members are linked together in influences and can play some smokin’ songs but should not because of their name be confused with Hillshire Farm Lit’l Smokies Smoked Sausage. There is a believable explanation for the band’s unusual name.

According to Dunnigan, “For our first ever official paid gig, we were welcomed to our green room with nothing but a twelve pack of beer, toothpicks, and a silver tray of Lit’l Smokies sausages. We devoured them. Being that it was our first gig, we were also nameless, and when asked after our set what our band name was, we gazed to that empty tray of toothpicks and had our answer.”

Drawing on the energy of a rock band and the Laurel Canyon songwriting of the 1970s, The Lil Smokies are reimagining their approach to roots music on “Tornillo,” named for the remote Texas town where the album was recorded.

Produced by Bill Reynolds (The Avett Brothers, Band of Horses) at Sonic Ranch, “Tornillo” is the band’s third studio album. Formed in Missoula, Montana, The Lil Smokies have built a national following through constant touring.

“The bands started in Missoula and is still based in Montana,” said Rieger. “For several months of the year – the summer months – Montana is one of the most beautiful places in the country.

“The people there love this band. They see us as their child sent out into the world to achieve greatness.”

Sonic Ranch is an internationally acclaimed live-in recording complex located on a huge pecan farm in Texas.

On “Tornillo,” The Lil Smokies dove deep into their well of influences—most notably Laurel Canyon songwriters from the 1970s—and used their traditional string band instruments to craft very non-traditional songs and arrangements. Throughout the album’s 11 tracks, the band found itself moving into new sonic territory. With Reynolds at the helm, hints of drums, baritone guitar, and synth pads wove their way into the band’s usual instrumentation.

“We spent 10 days at Sonic Ranch,” said Rieger. “It was a great environment. We got most of the tracking done in a few days.

“We recorded in one big room facing each other. Ninety per cent of what you hear came from that. The recording process was lovely – just us sitting around in a circle.

“Our ‘pre-production’ for the album was hitting the road prior to the session to see how the new songs were received by the audiences. Now, you can expect to hear almost all of the songs from ‘Tornillo’ played every night.”

Video link for Lil Smokies — https://youtu.be/IG4bCNBaohA.

The show on March 5, which has Quaker City Night Hawks as the opening act, will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20.

On March 6, you have a choice of live shows representing an array of music genres from which to choose – hot jazz, stoner rock, Anglo-Irish/Cajun, sludge metal, and intergalactic space disco.

This weekend, top-flight jazz will be in the menu in Kennett Square.

Matt Cappy

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting a concert by The Matt Cappy Band on March 6.

Cappy, a trumpeter, composer and arranger from Berlin, New Jersey, has been recording, touring and performing with the biggest names in music since graduating from The University of The Arts in Philadelphia. He has performed around the globe from small clubs to big venues, appeared on national television shows and performed at major music festivals for more than twenty years.

Cappy’s studio credits include Michael Jackson’s “Butterflies” and Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “Elevated.” He has recorded on multiple Grammy and Latin Grammy Award winning albums, including Fred Hammond’s “Free to Worship” and Kirk Franklin’s “The Fight of My Life,” which both won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Gospel Album in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He also recorded on the John Legend and The Roots album “Wake Up!” (Grammy Award for Best R&B Album 2011) and Alejandro Sanz’s “Sirope” (Latin Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Album 2015.)

Cappy has recorded on nearly a dozen gold and platinum certified albums, including Experience: Jill Scott 826+, a live gold selling album that is widely considered a genre-defining staple and signature of the Neo Soul Movement. Matt has toured with Jill Scott, Maxwell, The Roots, Kirk Franklin, Mary J. Blige, The Mavericks, Queen Latifah, and Patti LaBelle.

Highlights of these tours include playing at the North Sea Jazz Festival and Hollywood Bowl with Jill Scott, appearing in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party with The Roots, playing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival with The Mavericks, playing at The Essence Festival and Hollywood Bowl with Queen Latifah and headlining Glastonbury, Isle of Wight, Bonnaroo, Coachella and Roskilde music festivals with Jay-Z. He has also performed at Bonnaroo with Amos Lee and The Roots and headlined Bonnaroo with the Dave Matthews Band. 

The highly respected trumpeter is a Yamaha Performing Artist and Ropeadope Records recording artist. He released his debut album, “Church and State,” on Ropeadope in June 2017. Cappy has maintained a private teaching studio for more than 25 years and has given master classes throughout the Northeast United States.

Later in March and throughout April, Cappy will be touring the states with Patti LaBelle.

Video link for Matt Cappy — https://youtu.be/rOnYShWp2h8.

The show at Kennett Flash will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Kennett Flash will keep its weekend jazz vibe going with a show on March 8 featuring The Matt Galletti Band. Show time is 3 p.m. and tickets are $15.


On Friday night, City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com/philadelphia)will present a show billed as “Poguetry – Songs of the Pogues – Featuring Spider Stacy & Cáit O’Riordan (of The Pogues) and Lost Bayou Ramblers.”

Original Pogues members Spider Stacy and Cáit O’Riordan, accompanied by Grammy-winning Lost Bayou Ramblers Ramblers, will be undertaking their first proper tour of select U.S. markets playing the iconic songs of the Pogues under the banner of “Poguetry.” The Ramblers will be playing their own set to kick shows off.

The Pogues emerged out of London in the early 1980’s, playing an incendiary music that merged punk rock ferocity and Irish lyricism, an intoxicating rush of accordions, banjos and tin whistles driven by a locked tight rock-and-roll rhythm section that gathered lifelong fans along the way including Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and The Clash’s Joe Strummer, who even fronted the band for a while.

The band’s original bass player Cáit O’Riordan went her own way shortly after the release of the band’s second album but has now reunited with founder member, tin whistle player and sometime singer Spider Stacy in Poguetry.

Poguetry is a music project that brings live audiences the songs of the Pogues, backed by Louisiana’s own Lost Bayou Ramblers. The 2018 Grammy-winning group, acclaimed by many as “the finest Cajun band on the planet,” adds its own inimitable fire and fury to the project. 

Stacy and the Ramblers have been playing together since 2015. In 2018, they added bassist O’Riordan to the mix after they met again at Shane MacGowan’s 60th birthday celebrations in Dublin that year.

“There were huge celebrations for Shane MacGowan and I got the job of playing in the house band,” said O’Riordan, during a phone interview last week from New York City.

 “I follow Spider on Twitter. He was excited about an album the Lost City Ramblers made – ‘Kalendra.’ The album won a Grammy.”

According to Stacy, “I saw the Ramblers play back in 2011 and immediately recognized them as kindred spirits. I felt they’d be a fantastic vehicle to give the old songs some new life. I’m not ready to stop playing live but at the same time I don’t think the world needs any new music from me, so this works nicely. Bringing Cáit in just took us up another level” 

O’Riordan and Stacy rekindled a musical flame from the past.

“Spider and I reconnected, and he invited me to New Orleans,” said O’Riordan. “So, I went down there, and we did a couple gigs. We did holiday shows in 2018 and 2019. We also played a gig last at Tipitina’s in New Orleans. “Last summer, we played a show at the Brooklyn Bowl. Al the Pogues’ fans from the area showed up along with their children and sang along with all the Pogues’ songs.

“I play bass in Poguetry. I also sing on a couple songs. I never sang on any songs with the Pogues because Shane is such an amazing singer.”

With Poguetry, O’Riordan does lead vocals for the “I Am a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day” and a duet with Stacy in the Pogues’ cherished Christmas tune, “Fairytale of New York.”

Lafayette, Louisiana’s Grammy-winning Lost Bayou Ramblers just celebrated their 20th anniversary as a group. They released a deluxe DVD/CD package comprising the “On Va Continuer!” documentary on the band and its mission to preserve and promote the Cajun French culture and language through their music and the “Asteur’ live album recorded in seven venues around New Orleans.

After being awarded a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Music for “Kalenda ,” which features a guest spot from Stacy, the group issued the “Rodents of Unusual Size (Music from the Motion Picture)” featuring their original score for this documentary. Soon after, they composed and recorded another original score, this one for director Brian C Miller Richard’s feature film “Lost Bayou.”

Even though quite different, the music styles of the Pogues and the Lost Bayou Ramblers mesh together nicely. It is a fluid blend of second-generation Irish music made in London and the international mixing pot of Louisiana music.

“These guys (the Lost City Ramblers) have deep, deep roots much wider than the Pogues,” said O’Riordan.

“They channel multiple cultures. And, unlike us, they didn’t experience punk and setting fire to what went before. Their modernism is more in technology.”

Video link for Poguetry — https://youtu.be/IRDAqS6xI4Q.

The show at City Winery on March 6 will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $32-$44.

Circles Around the Sun

Circles Around the Sun, which is headlining a show on May 6 at the Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com), has not followed a trajectory anywhere near close to any other band.

If you’re a Dead Head, then you probably thought that November 2015 wasn’t going to get any better for you than it was when you picked up your copy of the Grateful Dead’s “Fare Thee Well” album. Then, Rhino Records sweetened the pot with a related release by Circles Around the Sun.

Few albums have the creation myth of “Interludes For The Dead” by Neal Casal’s Circles Around The Sun. The 10 instrumental jams that encompass the release were commissioned by Justin Kreutzmann, the filmmaker son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, to accompany the biographical visuals he was compiling to be shown during set break at the “Fare Thee Well” concerts the living members of the Dead played in the summer of 2015.

As guitarist in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, and a sometime participant in Dead bassist Phil Lesh’s Phil & Friends jam sessions, Casal was a natural for the project. He brought on Brotherhood keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne and drummer Mark Levy.

“It originally started as pre-recorded music commissioned by Justin Kreutzmann,” said Levy, during a phone interview Tuesday evening from a tour stop in Hamden, Connecticut.

“The Fare Thee Well people asked Neal and then Neal asked Adam. The, Neal and Adam decided to give me a call. Neal knew dan from a previous project.

“It was done at a two-day recording session at Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura. We recorded five hours’ worth of material in just two days there. We all played together live in one room. We recorded 80 tracks. There was a ton of material I didn’t hear play until ‘Fare Thee Well.’

“It wasn’t a band. We weren’t called Circles Around The Sun until well after ‘Fare Thee Well.’ It was pretty cool – and unique. We found our own little slice of the jam world. It was an intergalactic space disco vibe. The whole process was very organic.”

The material received a rapturous response, which was a pleasant surprise to Casal, who admitted, “We figured it would be low-volume background music that people would ignore in their eagerness to hear the headliners.”

Because of its reception, Rhino Records decided to give the music a proper release — issuing it digitally and as a two-CD set.

“Rhino came to us and wanted to issue it as a CD,” said Levy. “Rhino also did our second record. We wanted to make another record and they were cool with it. That album was ‘Let It Wander’ in 2018.”

The third album by the band – “CATS III” – has a great sound and a sad story. Not long after the recording was finished, so was Casal’s life.

On August 26, 2019, a week after laying down his tracks for Circles Around the Sun, Casal committed suicide. He left behind a note for the group, asking for them to continue in his absence—to continue recording, touring, and playing together.

“We wrapped up the record on a Tuesday and Neal was gone on Sunday,” said Levy. “It was a complete shock. He was in his own hell and we couldn’t see it.

“We dedicated the album to Neal. He left us a letter. He specifically told us to get the album out and to keep going.”

They’ve chosen to honor his wishes.

According to Levy, “Our mission is to extend Neal’s musical legacy. He was a classy dude and had a regal vibe about him. The other side of it is the mental health legacy. Maybe there are people out there in the same sort of darkness Neal was in, who can hear us and say we can work positively on multiple fronts in his memory.”

Circles Around The Sun enlisted Casal’s longtime friend and collaborator Eric Krasno to help complete the album.

For live shows, the trio has not added a permanent replacement and has opted to use different guitarists for various live shows. The current run – including the show in Ardmore — features Scott Metzger.

Video link for Circles Around the Sun — https://youtu.be/Puv2dHdxeUc.

The show at the Ardmore Music Hall, which has Frank LoCrastro as the opener, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets prices range from $20-$39.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Little Brother on March 5, Bill & Fred of Little Featand NOLA Suspects on March 7 and Melvin Seals & JGB on March 8.


Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org) will be a primary destination for area metalheads on March 6 when the venue hosts a quadruple-bill featuring Weedeater as the headliner with Atomic Bitchwax, Goddamn Gallows and Worshipper as the support acts.

Weedeater, which hails from Wilmington, North Carolina, is a trio of southern rockers featuring Dave “Dixie” Collins (bass, vocals), Dave Shepherd (guitar, vocals) and Ramzi Ateyeh (drums) – a trio that steers away from playing traditional southern rock.

Weedeater has been described as a sludge metal band, a stoner metal band, a doom metal band, a weed metal band and sludge outlaws. It’s metal but don’t expect prog metal, technical metal or anything too complicated – “stoner sludge” says it all.

“It’s cave metal,” said Collings, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from a tour stop in Brooklyn, New York. “Our writing is all in the same vein as when we started. We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel here.”

Formed in 1996, Weedeater have since released five full-length albums — “…And Justice For Y’All” (2001, Berserker); “Sixteen Tons” (2003, Berserker/Crucial Blast); “God Luck and Good Speed” (2007, Southern Lord); “Jason… The Dragon” (2011, Southern Lord); and “Goliathan” (2015, Season of Mist).

Based on the pattern established over the course of its last four albums — the band drops a new album every four years – there should have been an LP release in 2019 but it never happened.

“We’re working on a new album,” said Collins. “But we’ve been so busy touring with the band that we really haven’t had the time to record it.

“We’ve been touring non-stop. We took a couple months after our shows in Russia around Thanksgiving, but we didn’t get in the studio.”

Weedeater isn’t the type of band that spends months writing songs, doing pre-production work and making demos to take into the recording sessions.

“We like to do it spontaneously in the studio,” said Collins. “Me and Dave Shepherd write pretty much all the riffs, I leave the drumming to the drummer. Ramzi Ateya, our current drummer, has been with us since last year.”

Ateya is a Carolina drumming legend formerly with Sourvein, Betrayer, CWIC, Notch, and Buzzov*en. Ramzi grew up with Collins and Shepherd and was bandmates with Collins in Buzzov*en for the recording of the “At a Loss” album and subsequent tour.

“What we’re writing now is very similar to what we’ve always done,” said Collins. “We’re a metal band but our sound is groovier than a lot of technical metal bands. It’s more basic. I don’t want it to go over people’s heads.

“We have a European tour coming up followed by a South American tour. As soon as we get off the road, we’re going to start working on our next record. We’re going to do it at Electrical Audio in Chicago with Steve Albini – the same as we did with ‘Goliathan.’

“On this tour, our set s usually run around 60 minutes because most shows have three or five bands. We’re not focusing on ‘Goliathan’ anymore. We go all the way back and play songs from every record.”

Video link for Weedeater — https://youtu.be/SQkTQIN_5Fk.

Atomic Bitchwax

There are some definite similarities between The Atomic Bitchwax and Weedeater. They are from the same area in New Jersey, were formed in the mid-1990s and play a “no holds barred” style of music. The Atomic Bitchwax was formed in Long Branch, New Jersey in 1993 by bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist Ed Mundell and drummer Keith Ackerman.

The Atomic Bitchwax is a band with a “what you see is what you get” attitude. The hard-rocking trio doesn’t use any gimmicks, never subscribes to current trends and refuses to give less than its best — every time out.

The current band — bassist/vocalist Chris Kosnik, guitarist/vocalist Garrett Sweeny and drummer Bob Pantella — hails from the North Jersey shore area — a region is known for blue-collar rock acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Southside Johnny.

The Atomic Bitchwax is also blue-collar band like its Garden State neighbors but its music is far-removed from the rock-folk-blues sound of Springsteen and the like.

According to the band’s bio, “The Atomic Bitchwax is an American ‘Super Stoner Rock’ band that mixes elements of 1960s psychedelic rock and 1970s riff rock, filtered through modern progressive rock.” The band’s music has appeared in popular TV shows including Jackass, Home Wrecker and various Fox Sports broadcasts.

The group originated as a jam band playing local bars in the New Jersey and New York area

“We started playing as a band in 1993 in the Neptune, Long Branch, Bricktown area in North Jersey,” said Kosnik, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon from a tour stop in Brooklyn, New York.

“We were just a bar band playing jams. We didn’t have a lot of songs. We were all in different bands and we did this as a side project.

“I was in Godspeed. Our original guitarist Ed Mundell was in Monster Magnet. When we weren’t on tour with our other bands, we’d get together and play.

“We played a show at CBGG’s in New York. The owner of Tee Pee Records was at the show and liked what he heard. He offered us a record contract and we made a record.”

TAB released its debut album “Atomic Bitchwax I” in 1999 and followed with “Atomic Bitchwax II” a year later — both on Tee Pee.

“We actually are still on that label,” said Kosnik. “After the first two albums, we went with Meteor City and they released ‘3’ in 2005 and ‘TAB 4’ in 2008. Then, we came back to Tee Pee.”

The band’s first release in its second stint with Tee Pee was an album titled “The Local Fuzz” in 2011.

“We had been recording a lot of riffs — not songs, just riffs,” said Kosnik. “Then, we decided to put them all together. The result was a one 42-minute track that had more than 50 riffs back-to-back. That became ‘The Local Fuzz’ album.

“We’ve had different line-ups with this band and the one we have now is the best. Bob and I go back for a while. He was in Raging Slab and then went to Monster Magnet. The following year, our drummer quit, and Magnet was up in the air. So, Bob joined Bitchwax.”

“Me, Keith and Ed formed the band. Ed left in 2005 after 13 years and was replaced by guitarist/vocalist Finn Ryan. Finn left a year-and-a-half ago and I asked Garrett to fill in.”

Sweeney and Pantella were bandmates with Kosnick in Monster Magnet.

“They’re both still in Monster Magnet,” said Kosnick. “I left Monster Magnet last summer. I wanted to stay home more with my family and young daughter. When I played with both bands, I was on the road too much each year. It’s different for Bob and Garrett. They’re younger and are still single.”

The Atomic Bitchwax’s most recent albums – both on Tee Pee – are “Gravitron” in 2015 and “Force Field” in 2017.

“It’s been 21 years since our first album – ‘The Atomic Bitchwax’ – came out and Tee Pee just re-issued it. “This is our 20th anniversary tour – but not officially.

“Still, more than half the set is from the new re-issue. I could guess you’d say it’s a re-introduction. The songs have definitely morphed a little. The main thing is that they are faster.

“We just finished making a new album. It’s done already. It’s being manufactured now and will be released on May 29.

“The title of the album is ‘Scorpio.’ It has 10 tracks – three of which are instrumentals. When we write, the music comes first, and the lyrics are always an afterthought.”

Video link for Atomic Bitchwax — https://youtu.be/vwlaoEThcJA.

The show at Underground Arts which features Weedeater, The Atomic Bitchwax, Goddamn Gallows and Worshipper, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043,www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Rob Pallett on March 6 and the Blue Moon Band with Magnolia Street String Band on March 7.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will present SimpleFires, The Climaxers and Florida Wayne Band on March 7.

Living Room at 35 East (35 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, https://thelivingroomat35east.com) will host “Songwriters Night with Craig Bickhardt, Lizanne Knott, Aaron Nathans and Avi Wisnia” on March 5, The Fractals on March 6, Phil Nicolo Presents An Evening of Deconstruction on March 7, and Jeffrey Gaines on March 8.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will have Waynard Scheller’s Rainbow Full of Sound (Grateful Dead tribute) on March 5, Johnny Showcase & the Mystic Ticket on March 6, Atlas Gray on March 7 and “Dinner & A Show: Blues w/ Hannah Taylor + the Rekardo Lee Trio” on March 8.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents Tom Papa on March 7 and Dweezil Zappa on March 8.

Annenberg Center (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, https://annenbergcenter.org/events) will present Jenny Lin on March 5.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present

The Weight Band Ft. Members of The Band and Levon Helm Band on March 5, The Davisson Brothers Band & Special Guest John Kruk Of The Phillies on March 6, Eric Johnson on March 7, the Celtic Tenors on March 8, “On A Winter’s Night” featuring Christine Lavin, John Gorka, Patty Larkin, Cheryl Wheeler & Cliff Eberhardt on March 8 and Lankum on March 11.

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577,www.thegrandwilmington.org) will host Paula Poundstone on March 6 and the Pink Floyd Laser Spectacular on March 7.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will have The Jimmy Pritchard Blues Band March 5 and Stevie and the Bluescasters on March 7.

The Locks at Sona (4417 Main Street, Manayunk, 484- 273-0481, sonapub.com) will host Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen with special guest Mark Schultz & the Wayne Rangers on March 6 and Robbie Fulks with special guests Darren & Mike on March 8.

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