On Stage: With live shows dwindling, Greg Sover adapts to new realities

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

The Greg Sover Band

Live music in the area is still alive (barely) – not quite dead (completely).

Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 restrictions have made it hard for live venues to keep presenting music on stage. It is much worse in Philadelphia where the city’s additional restrictions have closed things down entirely.

Sellersville is 37.5 miles from Philadelphia which is not very far as the crow flies. But it is light years away when it comes to being a place to hear national acts play live on stage.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) has found a way to continue its tradition as one of the top music venues in southeastern Pennsylvania.

This message is posted on the website of the Sellersville Theater:

Sellersville Theater Coronavirus Safety Measures 

We are currently able to present live music and comedy at 10% occupancy to live performances with ticketed livestreams as well. 

We are doing everything we can to keep people safe and to be able to continue to present live shows. Please help us by doing your share to contain the virus. We are grateful for your patronage! Below are the protocols we have in place in order to safely host an audience. 

What we ask of our patrons: 

While in the lobby, auditorium and restrooms, we ask that you have your mask covering your mouth and nose at all times. We have masks on hand if you should need one. 

Please wear your mask while seated. 

If you purchase a beverage or snack in the theater lobby, you may pull your mask down to consume it. Please replace your mask when finished. 

Please maintain a safe distance from other patrons at all times while moving about in our lobby, bathrooms and auditorium. 

What we ask of the artist: 

Band and crew will check their temperatures and answer a Covid questionnaire upon arrival. 

Band and crew will wear masks when they are not on stage. 

Band and crew will maintain a safe distance from staff and patrons. 

What we are doing: 

Staff will check their temperatures and answer a Covid questionnaire upon arrival. 

Staff will wear face masks at all times. 

Staff will wash hands frequently and use hand sanitizer in between hand washing. 

High touch areas are frequently disinfected. 

Auditorium, lobby, bathrooms and green room are all sprayed with a disinfectant before and after each show. 

Patrons will be seated in every other row and Lexan plexiglass dividers will separate groups of ticket holders sitting in the same row. 

Some cabaret tables have been removed from the seating chart. 

Please note: Pennsylvania requires anyone traveling from out of state to have a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of arriving. 

With that in mind, the theater has an announced schedule that features 15 shows in December and another seven in January.

Three of those shows will take place this weekend – House of Hamill on December 4 at 8 p.m. and December 5 at 2 p.m., the Greg Sover Band on December 5 at 8 p.m., and “Charlie Brown Jazz With The Eric Mintel Trio” on December 6 at 3 p.m.

Sover is a blues/rock musician from Philly who is well known to Chester County audiences from shows at area venues – especially the Steel City Coffee House in Phoenixville where he recorded a live show.

Like all musicians, Sover has been sidelined – or at least sidetracked – by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been trying to keep busy,” said Sover, during a phone interview Monday evening. “I was fortunate to have some sold out outdoor shows over the summer that kept me busy. Now, I’m just remembering things as they used to be.”

In the time since the pandemic began wreaking havoc, Sover had a show at 118 North in April, an outdoor show in Ardmore in July, and a drive-in show at People’s Light Theater in Malvern in August.

“My last indoor shows were at Steel City in February and then 118 North in April,” said Sover. “I did do an outdoor show in Manayunk and the drive-in show at People’s Light.

“I had a big festival booked for this summer and a lot of gigs opening for big acts and they’re all cancelled. Fortunately, a lot of those acts said they’ll keep me on the bill. But it might not be until fall of next year. Whatever it takes to get back.

“I had a show scheduled for September 4 at the Sellersville Theater which got cancelled. It got postponed and now it’s coming up this weekend.”

Sover will likely be playing to a sold-out house on December 5 – something he already used to. Sover will likely be playing to an audience of just a few dozen people on December 5 — something he is not used to at all.

“The show at Sellersville will be limited to 30 people,” said Sover. “This one we’re depending on people viewing on the internet. Everyone around the world can watch the live show.”

There are some benefits to livestream shows. But watching a concert on a computer instead of in person at a venue is like having sex while wearing a condom. The level of intimacy is just not the same.

“Gigs over the internet are not my thing,” said Sover. “I like the interaction during the show. I like the interaction after the show – signing albums and shaking hands.”

Sover has a new album that was released last month – “The Parade.”

“The Parade” features five originals and the band’s interpretation of the Cream classic, “Politician.”  In celebration of the release, Sover was a guest on Steel City Live’s podcast on November 6 performing to a limited audience of 20 guests.

“That sold out at $50 a ticket,” said Sover. “It featured an acoustic set and a question-and-answer session. I think there was 20-25 people in on it.”

With heavier guitars, blazing solos and impactful lyrics, “The Parade” explores themes of personal evolution, staying true to oneself and perseverance.

“There’s also politics,” said Sover. “It deals with what’s going on in the world – things like George Floyd and the pandemic. It’s the most personal album I’ve done – and it’s more hard-hitting. It’s me looking at the world and holding up a mirror to the world.”

Recorded in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, “The Parade” was co-produced by Garry Lee, Mike Tarsia and Sover.

“This album is something different from what I’ve done before and a big reason is Mike Tarsia,” said Sover. “He’s worked on my previous records but came on later in the process each time. This time, he was here from the beginning and it made a big difference.

“We were fortunate enough to finish the recording before the pandemic hit. We had 10-12 songs done but then decided to just go with the six that are on ‘The Parade’ and use the other songs later.”

In addition to Greg’s impassioned vocals, pointed songwriting and blistering lead guitarwork, the band features Garry Lee on bass guitar and backing vocals, drummer Tom Walling, guitarist Allen James and keyboardist Wally Smith. Gloria Galante performs harp on select tracks.

Sover, who grew up in Philly and attended William Penn High, became fascinated with the guitar at age 13. His father taught him the French song “La Maladie d’Amour” and Sover took it from there. He taught himself how to play guitar, how to write songs and, eventually, how to sing.

“I was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. and my family moved to Philadelphia when I was 10,” said Sover. “I was exposed to music when I was really young.  I had musicians on both sides of my family. My whole life I’ve had access to the guitar.

“With guitar, I started really knowing what I was doing when I was around 15. At the same time, I was playing electric bass at my church.”

Sover says his music doesn’t fit into one particular genre. It includes elements of “blues and rock with a dash of everything else.”

The Philly musician first attracted serious attention when he won the 2015 Hard Rock Rising competition at Philadelphia’s Hard Rock Cafe. His development is due in large part to his band, which is comprised of three Philly veterans with extensive resumes –Lee, James and Walling.

Lee, who has played with June Rich and The Rhythm Cats Revue, is currently the bassist in the Deb Callahan Band. Lee assembled the band for Sover — enlisting James and Walling, his long-time band mates in the Deb Callahan Band.

Their cohesiveness as a unit enabled Sover to develop as an artist and take his music to the next level.

“The band all started with Gary Allen,” said Sover. “I played an open mic at the Grape Room and Gary was doing sound that night. Garry really helped me get my career going.

“I needed top level musicians and he brought them. It’s been amazing working with Garry and I’ve really learned lot from these guys. Allen is one of my favorite guitarists ever.”

Over the last few years, the Greg Sover Band has opened for many renowned blues-rock artists including the Yardbirds, Jeffrey Gaines, Jimmy Vivino, Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers, Johnny A, Ana Popovic, Walter Trout, Sonny Landreth, Popa Chubby, Marcus King Band and Davy Knowles.

Those days will come again – but no-one knows when.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Sover. “I like the response of playing to live audiences. Without them, the vibe is not there.”

The Greg Sover Band show on December 5 will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $19.50 and $29.50. Livestream option is available at $10.

Video link for the Greg Sover Band — https://youtu.be/lyTPAmeuEUA.

Eric Mintel

On December 6, the Eric Mintel Quintet will be playing Vince Guaraldi’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” along with a variety of holiday jazz favorites.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is classic holiday album by American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi which was released in December 1965. Coca-Cola commissioned a Christmas special based on on the comic strip Peanuts and Guaraldi was hired to score the special. Guaraldi composed most of the music, though he included versions of traditional carols such as “O Tannenbaum” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

Over the two decades, Mintel and the Eric Mintel Quartet — Nelson Hill, alto sax; Dave Mohn, drums; Jack Hegyi, bass – have established themselves internationally as one of the premier American jazz ensembles.

The quartet’s choral concerts feature the rarely heard sacred choral music of Duke Ellington performed with various choirs throughout the country combining jazz and choral music. Mintel performed at the White House for President Clinton in 1998 and the Obamas in 2011. In 2005, Mintel was the featured guest on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on NPR. The Eric Mintel Quartet’s resume also includes a gig as the opener for Dave Brubeck at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia.

Jazz legend Dave Brubeck said, “As long as the music attracts dedicated young musicians like Eric Mintel and the Eric Mintel Quartet, jazz will continue to thrive and progress as a voice of freedom.”

Brubeck was one of Mintel’s earliest influences.

“I got into music as an only child when we had a piano in the house,” said Mintel, during a phone interview from his Bucks County home in Perkasie.

“When I was 14, I found an old 45 record of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ and that got me interested in his music. I met him for the first time years ago at the Keswick Theater and we started a great writing correspondence.”

Mintel was born in October 1967. As early as age three, Mintel could be found sitting at the piano creating his own melodies. Music, especially classical and jazz, was always part of the Mintel household.

In 1982, when his high school piano teacher was trying to teach the basics to Mintel, the young pianist was already playing compositions like “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” “Take Five” and other demanding pieces. In 1993, he formed the Eric Mintel Quartet.

“I’ve had this lineup together about 15 years,” said Mintel. “They all are local. Dave is from Bucks County, Nelson is from Mount Bethel and Jack is from Atco, New Jersey.”

Mintel started his recording career with a pair of albums in the late 1990s – “Impressions of Jazz” (1996) and “Lullaby” (1998).

“I’ve recorded 15 albums altogether,” said Mintel. “My latest recording is ‘Eric Mintel Quartet (Live At the 36th Annual Celebration of the Arts Festival),’ which was recorded in 2013. Prior to that, I had been putting out an album a year since the early 2000s.

While Mintel will play covers of songs by artists such as Dave Brubeck, he prefers tunes he has penned himself.

“I always perform a lot of originals,” said Mintel. “That’s why every show is always different.”

Video link for Eric Mintel Quartet — https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxWJTvGYaXs.

The Eric Mintel Quartet show on December 6 will start at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$39.50. Livestream option is available at $10.

This remainder of this month’s schedule at the Sellersville Theater is: December 8, Bears on Soundbooth Sessions; December 12, Kasim Sulton; December 15, The Micah Graves Project on Soundbooth Sessions; December 18, Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy Present: A Celtic Family Christmas At Home; December 19, Deb Callahan Band; and December 26 and 27, The Launch (A Tribute To The Music Of Styx & Queen).

Live original music is also being presented at 118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) as part of its “118 North presents the Tailgate Under The Tent Series.”

Scheduled to run through the winter, “118 North presents the Tailgate Under The Tent Series” features live pop-up concerts from under the Wayne Picnic Grove. Every Wednesday-Sunday night, the venue will feature favorite local musicians with food and cocktails to-go available to order.

Announced shows for next month are The Quixote Project on December 4 at 6 p.m., Newspapers Taxi Duo (Beatles Tribute) on December 4 at 8:15 p.m., Vilebreed on December 5 at 8:15 p.m., Pawnshop Roses on December 6 at 6 p.m., Jawn of the Dead (Grateful Dead Tribute) on December 10 at 6 p.m., Kenn Kweder on December 11 at 6 p.m., Brown Sugar (Rolling Stones Tribute) on December 11 at 8:15 p.m. and Joe Kenney on December 12 at 6 p.m.

In the event of inclement weather, or if you are unable to attend, all performances will also be streamed on 118 North’s Facebook Live.

“Yuletide Jazz & Wine at Winterthur” will be presented every Wednesday evening at Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library (Route 52, Wilmington, Delaware,800-448-3883,www.winterthur.org).

The events, which will run from 5:30-7:30 p.m. each night, feature an evening of live jazz, food, and wine among the twinkling lights of the Visitor Center. Visitors can enjoy concerts by some of the area’s best musicians playing holiday music.

Winterthur’s Pavilion Restaurant is open for dinner with cash wine and beer bar. Reservations required as capacity is limited.

The schedule for this year’s “Yuletide Jazz & Wine at Winterthur” is December 9, Tony Smith Trio; December 16, Sharon and Shawn Trio; December 23, Aniyajazz; and December 30: The Greg Farnese Quartet

The shows are Included with general admission ticket. For those not purchasing a Yuletide general admission ticket, tickets are $10.

There will also be live music at Longwood Gardens (Route 1, Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org)

The “Outdoor Christmas Musicians Holiday Series” is running now January 3 in Pierce-du Pont House Plaza.

Rob Dickenson

Longwood visitors can revel in the delightful instrumental sounds of Rob Dickenson and the Brandywine Christmas Minstrels as they celebrate “A Longwood Christmas.” Performances will be held nightly Fridays through Sundays from 5-8 p.m. — weather permitting.

Some of the local venues presenting live music shows throughout November and December are:

Brickside Grille (540 Wellington Square, Exton, bricksidegrille.com) is hosting David Pickett on December 5, KP? on December 6, Chris Lebresco on December 12, Clay MacElwee on December 13, Samantha Seider on December 19, Dave Saunders on December 20, Dan Graber on December 27 and Madeline Knight on December 27. 

Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) will present Sam Seider on December 3 and Sunshine Jones on December 12.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will present Mr. Mody on December 3 and 25, Mike Kropp on December 5, and Bill Ferreri on December 11. 

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