On Stage: Cotton finds ways to overcome tragedy, headlining at Sellersville

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Danielia Cotton

The COVID-19 pandemic has ripped through the music industry – especially the live aspect of the music world — like a California wildfire relentless torching thousands of acres.

Fortunately, things are looking up – if only a little.

The fires have not been extinguished — but they have been controlled a bit. There are even areas where some vegetation is beginning to grow again.

The gates for live music have not been thrown wide open – but some are starting to be cracked open a little. There are even some venues where concerts featuring national acts are being presented on a fairly regular basis.

One of these venues is the Sellersville Theater.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) has a variety of shows scheduled for this month — Matt Nakoa on March 19, Danielia Cotton on March 20, Phil D’Agostino on March 23, Tim Farrell on March 26, Jawn Of The Dead on March 27, and Ben O’Neill on March 30.

On March 20, the Sellersville Theater will be rocking out like a Saturday night should be rocking out when headliner Danielia Cotton takes the stage.

Cotton, who is known for her emotive vocals and blistering guitar work, is excited about having the opportunity to command a stage in front of an indoor live audience.

“I’m psyched to play Sellersville again,” said Cotton, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from her home in New York City’s Tribeca area.

“I did a Soundbooth Session there but that was without an audience. It will be really great on Saturday to have a live audience to play for.”

Cotton rocks — and rocks hard. Her music has the swagger of the “Let It Bleed” era Rolling Stones. Her singing has the raw emotional power of Janis Joplin. Her songwriting places her among the genre’s top musical storytellers.

Cotton has been rocking hard for almost two decades.

Her debut album “Small White Town’ was released in 2005 – the same year she introduced herself to Chester County fans with a free show in Exton as part of the Eagleview Town Center’s “Concerts on the Square” summer concert series.

“I’ll be playing with my band on Saturday night at Sellersville,” said Cotton. “These guys are great musicians – Ben Stivers on keys, Greg Gonzalez on drums and Anthony Mullin on guitar. I sing and play guitar and Bret plays bass.”

“Small White Town” was released in September 2005 on Hip Shake Music and followed by “Rare Child” in May 2008 on Adrenaline Records/Cottontown Records. Cotton put out “The Gun in Your Hand” in October 2012 on Redeye Label and “The Real Book” in October 2014 on Burnside/Cottontown Records.

Over the last decade-and-a-half, she has played numerous venues in the area including the World Café Live in Philadelphia, The Point in Bryn Mawr and the Ladybug Festival in Wilmington (twice).

Cotton is very strong as a singer, songwriter and performer. She is also very strong at dealing with life’s challenges.

About a decade ago, five months into her pregnancy Cotton lost the twins she’d conceived through in-vitro fertilization. In 2012, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.  Through it all, she has just kept moving forward.

“Losing the twins — that’s just something that shouldn’t happen to people,” said Cotton, during a previous interview. “But I learned a long time ago that if you fall, you get back up.

“I get physicals regularly because I run marathons and it was during a routine physical that the doctors discovered cancer. When I heard the ‘C’ word, I just cried — especially because it was in my throat and I’m a singer.

“I stayed calm and got to work on finding good doctors. I had seven-and-a-half hours of surgery to remove cancerous nodules. Amazingly, I was able to speak normal that night. And I later found that I had gained an octave in my voice. It was really strange.

“Battling cancer showed that there was a part of me I didn’t know. There was a strength I didn’t know I had. I got it from my mother and the way she raised us. In life, you fight to keep your head above water and build character along the way.”

Cotton’s mother also was a big musical influence.

“My mom Wenonah Brooks and her six sisters had a gospel a capella group called the Brooks Ensemble,” said Cotton. “She was a jazz singer too. And she did background vocals for a lot of recording artists, including Bon Jovi.

“She gave me a guitar when I was 12. The guitar saved my life. It gave me a place to put all that energy. I started writing songs as soon as I learned the G and C chords.

“Then, I studied with horn player Bill Dixon when I was at Bennington College. He really trained my ear and opened up my voice. He taught me that it was harder to sing a line straight instead of doing it with a lot of vocal embellishments.”

The hard-rocking attitude came from somewhere else.

“I grew up in Hopewell, New Jersey,” said Cotton. “There were just two black families in the area. So, when I was at Hopewell High, I was listening to a lot of hard rock like AC/DC and Ozzie Osbourne as well as musicians like Todd Rundgren.”

Prior to her show at The Point in 2014, Cotton talked about her relationship with straight-up rock.

“Being black and doing rock and roll definitely makes me different,” said Cotton. “There really hasn’t been any black female artists who really rock since Tina Turner.

“There’s a little prejudice in the music industry as to what black females can do. We’re supposed to be singing R&B, pop, soul or dance music. We’re not supposed to be playing rock. It’s hard to break through.

“If it would allow itself to be a little more liberal, the music industry could move to a whole new level. Rock is rock and roll when you play it hard and rock out. Even back to the Rolling Stones, rock and roll had a hard edge from its blues influences.”

Despite belting out songs onstage for years and dealing with a bout with cancer, Cotton’s voice has gotten better with age.

“I still go to a voice coach,” said Cotton. “I actually have more octaves than I did when I was in my 20s. My voice is better by three or four octaves.”

Cotton’s most recent album release was “The Mystery of Me” LP which was released on December 1, 2017 on Cottontown Records.

According to Cotton, “This is sort of the album that’s coming up to the other side. There was an EP released before it that was sort of the beginning of the emergence. I was just coming up for the first bit of air. This is me standing more solidly on the ground. It was just writing in a better headspace, mentally and physically.”

She credited her recent dedication to the piano with taking her to new creative heights.

“It gave me more vocabulary. And instead of coloring with seven colors, suddenly I had like 19 colors. My vocab expanded and I was off to the races. It just opens up the door and there’s a new way to say hello. It’s like learning a new language and all of a sudden you can just say things completely different and the inflections are different. It’s awesome.”

The most recent recorded output by the New Jersey native is “A Different War” EP by Danielia Cotton & The Church Boys which was released on May 29, 2020 on Cottontown Records.

“I released ‘A Different War’ during COVID,” said Cotton. “I’ve been working on new music. I’m about to release a new EP which will be part of a new album. It’s a preview – a taste of what’s to come.

“The single ‘Good Day’ is really soulful. I haven’t gone there before. ‘Follow Me’ is an anthemic rock song. ‘Elysian Planes,’ which is like a Bonnie Raitt or Susan Tedeschi song, is about heaven.

“These are three really powerful songs that I co-wrote with Nashville songwriter Jeff Cohen. It’s the first time I co-wrote. He’s the lyricist and I write the music. We cut the tracks at His House-Innsbruck Recording Studios in Brooklyn. The music was mixed by Dave O’Donnell.”

O’Donnell is a Grammy Award winning record producer, engineer and mixer known for his work with James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Bettye LaVette, Eric Clapton, and Keith Richards. O’Donnell produced, recorded and mixed James Taylor’s “American Standard,” which won a Grammy in the category of “Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album” on March 14, 2021.

“We were in the studio the night the Grammys show was on TV,” said Cotton. “Dave got a call during the session that he had won a Grammy. He’s really a great guy to work with.”

Cotton keeps a lot of irons in the fire.

“I’ve been working on other projects,” said Cotton. “There is a musical I had written that is based on my life story. I didn’t set out to write a musical, but it just came.

“After COVID, we changed it to a musical series like you’d see on Netflix. When COVID limited live playing, people were forced to re-imagine things.

“It was a few years in the making. It’s going to be a journey. It’s about a relationship I’m in. He’s Jewish and I converted. It’s more than just a Cinderella story.

“I’m mostly Hispanic. It was a deep journey to find myself in that world – economically and racially.”

Video link for Danielia Cotton — https://youtu.be/sHkEc3OUapw

Cotton’s show at Sellersville, which starts at 8 p.m. on March 20, will also be available online via Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $21.50. Livestream tickets are $10. 

Matt Nakoa

Matt Nakoa is a musician capable of wearing many hats – classical pianist, singer, guitarist, piano-based songwriter, and rock band leader/vocalist.

After a relatively dormant year with regard to live performances, Nakoa now has two shows in the next five days. One of those shows is on March 19 at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

“I’m in Brooklyn now,” said Nakoa, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “This is where my band lives. I live in New York’s Hudson Valley – in a little town called Kerhonkson.

“I came to Brooklyn to rehearse with my band because we have a show on Monday in Albany, New York. It’s the ‘Live at the Lindy’ radio show.

“For the show at Sellersville, I’ll be performing solo. Because of pandemic lockdown regulations, the in-person attendance is limited. So, we all agreed that it would be better to go solo now and then come back later with a full band.”

Nakoa first got into music when he was growing up in a small town in central New York State called Smyrna.

“I was about eight years old,” said Nakoa. “It was Christmastime and people were getting together to do caroling.

“That got me interested. It led me to classical music and big band music – Tommy Dorsey, Glen Miller and the classical musicians like Beethoven and Brahms.

“That led to all kinds of things. I played classical piano in high school and played trombone on the high school band. Then, I discovered Led Zeppelin and the Beatles and wanted to sing in a band.”

Nakoa trained to be a concert pianist before accepting a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music as a vocalist. He developed his dramatic songwriting style with his college alt-rock band, The Fens.

After The Fens disbanded, Nakoa relocated to New York City. It was in Manhattan’s all-night piano bars that Nakoa developed an uncanny ability to command the attention of any audience.

“I went to Berklee to learn how to sing,” said Nakoa. “I also had a rock band called The Fens when I was at Berklee. I graduated in 2006.”

While at Berklee, he studied with songwriting greats Pat Pattison and Livingston Taylor. Additionally, Nakoa was selected to collaborate with Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea during her residence at Berklee.

His first solo albums, released in 2012 and 2014, garnered multiple songwriting awards, including a win at Kerrville Folk Festivalʼs New Folk Competition.

“My first solo album – ‘Light in the Dark” – came out in 2012,” said Nakoa. “I still really like that record. It has some of my best writing on it.

“I’ve released two more albums since then – ‘A Dozen Other Loves’ in 2014 and ‘Casting Shadows’ – which came out in 2019.

“I really didn’t have a home for seven years because I was touring all the time. If I wasn’t on the road, I’d stay with friends or at hotels. Prior to COVID, I was touring non-stop.

“I recorded ‘Casting Shadows’ while I was touring — over a course of four years from 2016-2019. I was doing a lot of solo shows.

“And I toured a lot with Tom Rush – opening for him and then joining him on stage for a few songs. That was really rewarding. I even played Sellersville with Tom Rush.

“When I play live, it’s about even between piano and guitar – just about 50/50. I play guitar left-handed on a right-handed guitar. I learned to play on a right-handed guitar and never changed.”

Nakoa’s focus lately has been on piano.

“The thing I’m working on now up here in Kerhokson is piano,” said Nakoa. “I just got a piano and I’ve been practicing pretty steadily.

“I’ve been working on a new album. It’s a solo piano album with a lot of classical piano repertoire – neo-romantic piano music.”

Video link for Matt Nakoa – https://youtu.be/-gSQGzvG7Oc.

Nakoa’s show at Sellersville, which starts at 8 p.m. on March 19, will also be available online via Livestream. Tickets for the theater are $19.50 and $29.50. Livestream tickets are $10.

The Candlelight Theatre (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, www.candlelighttheatredelaware.org) has a pair of shows on its schedule for this weekend.

Sean Reilly

On March 19, vocalist Sean Reilly will present his show “Sinatra 101: The Tales Behind the Tunes” at 8 p.m.

Reilly “Tells the Tales” and “Sings the Tunes” for many of Sinatra’s most popular songs.

The Wilmington native is a popular vocalist in the Sinatra style who performs all along the Eastern Seaboard for clients, both public and private. Reilly possesses a vocal style that exudes confidence and class, making him reminiscent of his idol, Frank Sinatra.

Though not an “impersonator”, his natural ability to sing in the Sinatra style, along with his perfected mannerisms and physical resemblance, places Reilly on a plateau all his own.

Video link for Sean Reilly — https://youtu.be/7KzF85nd-Sk.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $20. A cash bar is provided, and table snacks are included. Free parking is available adjacent to the theater.

The Candlelight Comedy Club is back with a show scheduled for March 20.

Erik Terrell

The headliner will be Erik Terrell, the feature will be John Kencil and the emcee will be Laura Bellini.

Terrell headlines comedy venues along the East Coast and works regularly at various New York and Los Angeles Comedy Clubs including Carolines on Broadway, Gotham Comedy Club, the Laugh Factory, the Stand, and New York Comedy Club. Terrell was named one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch” at the New York Comedy Festival in 2019.

Tickets are $25. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and show starts at 7:30 p.m.

A cash bar is provided, and table snacks are included. Onsite parking is free.
All seats are reserved. You must call the box office if you have special seating requirements or if you are joining another party. 

More comedy shows can be found at venues in Philadelphia.

Upcoming shows at Helium Comedy Club (2031 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, philadelphia.heliumcomedy.com).

are Michael Blackson from March 19-21, Mike Cannon on March 24, Kelsey Cook from March 25-27, and Big Jay Oakerson on March 28.

Punch Line Philly (33 East Laurel Street, Philadelphia, www.punchlinephilly.com) has announced four upcoming comedy shows starting with Comedy Allstars featuring Seamus Millar with special guests Brittany Carney and David James on March 24 and Tony Woods with special guest James Altucher from March 25-27.

Lovable Monsters & Friends are scheduled to perform on March 31. The Philly All-Pro Comedy Showcase featuring a yet-to-be-announced lineup of top Philadelphia-area comedians is slated for April 7.

Live music can be found at several local venues.

Josh Komorowski and Rob Mastrippolito

The Kennett Brewing Company (109 S. Broad Street. Kennett Square, https://kennettbrewingcompany.com) will host Josh Komorowski and Rob Mastrippolito on March 19, The Sermon on March 20, and Paul Wilkinson on March 21.

The Bridgeport Ribhouse (1049 Ford Street, Bridgeport, www.ribhouse.net) is presenting Dead Flowers on March 20, Bob Tomlinson on March 20 and Hot Sauce Junkies on March 21.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com) will host Allan Combs II on March 19 and Mr. Mody on March 26.

Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) will present Singles Going Steady on March 21 and 28, Lima Bean Riot on March 19, Triple Rail Turn on March 20, IV Stone on March 26, and Modern Luxe on March 27.

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