On Stage: Countdown to Ecstasy brings the music of Steely Dan to West Chester

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Countdown to Ecstasy

Tribute bands continue to gain popularity for many reasons.

In some instances, it is because the act being celebrated is dead. Other times, the band is no longer together or no longer performing live.

No matter what the reason, fans still want to hear the music – whether delivered by the original or by a worthwhile tribute band.

Some venues such as the Ardmore Music Hall and 118 North, have found success with booking tribute acts. Over the next 10 days, 118 North will have bands honoring the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers Band while the Ardmore Music Hall has Grateful Dead and Phish tribute acts on its upcoming schedule.

One of the premier venues to hear a concert by a top-flight tribute act is the Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, uptownwestchester.org).

The Uptown has established a pattern of presenting shows by nationally acclaimed tribute bands including “Hollywood Nights — the Bob Seger Experience” last weekend, “Beginnings — A Celebration of the Music of Chicago” on January 21 and “Double Vision — The Foreigner Experience” on January 7.

The hits keep on coming this weekend when the Uptown presents Countdown to Ecstasy on February 4.

Based in the Delaware Valley, Countdown to Ecstasy is considered one of the nation’s most authentic Steely Dan tribute bands with setlists including “Reelin’ In The Years,” “Midnight Cruiser,” and “Do It Again,” from Steely Dan’s 1972 album “Can’t Buy A Thrill” and several songs from the band’s 1973 album, “Countdown to Ecstasy.”

Countdown to Ecstasy, which was formed by bassist Glenn Marrazzo, is well into its second decade of recreating Steely Dan songs.

“It was the summer of 2009 when it all came together,” said Marrazzo, during a phone interview Monday afternoon from his home in Langhorne.

“Myself and three other original members were just fooling around—getting together on Wednesday nights to play classic rock music.

The other three members from back then that are still with the band are guitarist Tony Winkler, trumpeter David Laich and trombonist Nancy Kribbs.

“Tony asked if we knew any Steely Dan songs. I wanted to challenge myself. So, the four of us did some Steely Dan songs. A light bulb went off. I realized I wanted to form a Steely Dan tribute band.”

Steely Dan was founded by core members Walter Becker (guitars, bass, backing vocals) and Donald Fagen (keyboards, lead vocals) in 1971. Blending elements of rock, jazz, Latin music, R&B, blues and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Initially the band had a core lineup, but in 1974, Becker and Fagen retired the band from live performances altogether to become a studio-only band, opting to record with a revolving cast of session musicians.

Since reuniting in 1993, Steely Dan has toured steadily and released two albums of new material. The band has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. Becker died on September 3, 2017, leaving Fagen as the sole official member.

“In the summer of 2009, I started adding more members to the original four,” said Marrazzo. “My concept was to have 11 players. I was playing in a wedding band, so I had access to horn players.

“The following spring, we had our first show. After that, it was off to the races.

The band’s current lineup also features Matt Sevier (guitar, vocals), Chelsea ViaCava (vocals), Michael Kernicky (drums), Kevin Coltri (saxophone), Khrista White (vocals), Dan Sedile (keyboards), Naeemah Harper (vocals), Vahe Sarkissian (guitar), Teresa Grace (vocals) and Mark Schreiber (percussion).

“We’ve had this lineup together for a while,” said Marrazzo. “Dan, Kevin and Matt came in about eight years ago. Our singers have been with us about four years. Mike has been around for six years and Vahe for five. Mark has been with us for about four years.

“You set the bar high when you’re a Steely Dan tribute band. I never built the band to be a clone of Steely Dan. We interpret it as close as we can.

“We are musicians in stage playing tribute to the music. We’re definitely true to the music. We play Steely Dan’s music as accurately as possible.

“It’s been a couple years since we’ve been to the West Chester area. We played the Kennett Flash a lot. We only played the Knauer once in the past – back in 2019.

“We stick to the script. We can play 70 Steely Dan tunes – including all the hits. And, if we’re playing two sets, we will go to deeper cuts. We’ll be playing two sets at the Knauer.”

Video link for Countdown to Ecstasy — https://youtu.be/B28E9kb3voE.

The show at Uptown! Knauer on February 4 will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30.

Other upcoming shows at Uptown! Performing Arts Center are “An Evening of Love Songs with The Paul Jost Quartet” on February 12, “Evvolution: Chosen Dance Company” on February 19), “Killer Queen” on February 25 and “Magical Mystery Doors” on February 26.

The Two Johns

John Colgan-Davis is a key member of two Philadelphia area music acts – the Dukes of Destiny and The Two Johns.

In a recent e-mail to fans, Colgan-Davis wrote – “The Dukes are not doing any club gigs in January due to the uncertainty around the Omicron variant. Numbers of new cases of infection have been going down recently, and we will see how things stand in February and March. Looking so forward to returning to some of our favorite, clubs, concert spaces, and festivals. Miss the playing and miss you, our fans. Hopefully we will be back playing soon.”

No Dukes’ shows were on the schedule but two shows by The Two Johns were – January 29 at Hummingbird to Mars in Wilmington and February 5 at the Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com).

Snowy weather wiped out the gig in Delaware but it’s full speed ahead for this weekend’s show in Phoenixville.

“We didn’t want to do the Dukes shows because of Omicron but it’s different with The Two Johns,” said Colgan-Davis, during a phone interview Monday night from his home in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia.

“There is a real difference between five people on stage and two people on stage. John and I can be separated enough. And we don’t sing loudly.”

“The Two Johns” is a duo featuring John Colgan-Davis and Johnny Never.

East Coast bluesman Johnny Never has a mission to deliver pure, unadulterated vintage blues to those who already love the blues as well as those who have never heard it. Whether solo or with accompaniment, Never has energized audiences in Northern Maryland, Southeastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey from small bars and restaurants to music halls such as the MAC Concert Series, The Mainstay, the Kennett Flash and Jamie’s House of Music.

Never, who has also performed in variety of music festivals, delivers his take on the blues as a solo performer as well as with a duo and a trio.

Often referred to by blues enthusiasts as “the real deal,” Never pays homage to, but does not mimic, the vast array of original bluesmen that gave birth to the genre more than a century ago. He is known for his covers of artists like Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton.

His original compositions possess the qualities of the genuine article, delivered through deft finger-style guitar work and a voice that reeks of authenticity.

These qualities have earned him recognition by blues and folk music societies from Memphis to Philadelphia. In 2014, Johnny was a quarterfinalist in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

Johnny Never – a.k.a. John Dorchester — is a multi-discipline artist/creator who grew up in West Chester and attended West Chester Henderson before graduating from Westtown School.

Colgan-Davis, harmonica and vocals, started playing the harmonica in local blues and folk clubs back in the late 1960s while he was still a high school student. He played and recorded with Philadelphia singer-guitarist Jesse Graves and played with Bonnie Raitt when she lived in Philadelphia in the early 1970s.

Through Raitt, he had the opportunity to meet and play with Mississippi Fred McDowell, Arthur Crudup, Buddy Guy, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, and others. He has also jammed with James Cotton, John Hammond, Charlie Musselwhite, John Lee Hooker, Bill Dicey, and Louisiana Red.

Colgan-Davis has toured nationally and has recorded two CDs — “Cold and Lonesome on a Train” and “Heroes and Hard Times.” A founding member of The Dukes of Destiny, John also taught social studies at Friends Select School in Philadelphia for 29 years and has written articles and supplements for The Philadelphia Inquirer on Blacks in the American West, Black Literature, the History of Black Philadelphia, and other topics.

For a long time, the two Philly area blues aces were aware of each other and their talents. A few years ago, their paths came together.

“About four years ago, Johnny and I were at the same gig and started talking,” said Colgan-Davis.

“We started hanging out together. Then, I sat in with him at a mini-festival bit I can’t remember where. It was somewhere out in the country. He also had a bass player with him – Dave Young who since has moved to Colorado.”

In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Never said, “John is a great harmonica player. I’ve been playing blues for decades and had a parting of ways with my previous harmonica player. I called John up to see what would happen.”

Colgan-Davis said, “For the past few years, we’ve been playing as The Two Johns. Our first real show was at Hummingbird on Mars in Wilmington.

“I love playing acoustic again. There are things you can do as an acoustic harp player that you can’t do with a loud band.

“Johnny is a very good picker and a great slide player. He’s also a great Piedmont Blues player.”

Colgan-Davis and the harmonica have a long history together.

“I started acoustic harmonica when I was in high school at Philadelphia’s Central High School,” said Colgan-Davis. “Central High had a folk music club, and we had a budget big enough to being Skip James and Son House to play at our school.

“With The Two Johns, we play a couple songs I played in high school – including Son House’s ‘Death Letter Blues.’ We play a lot of Piedmont Blues, ragtime and some 1920s jazz ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’,’ a Fats Waller song. We do things I haven’t found a way to do with the Dukes of Destiny.”

Never said, “Music is about feel. When you play with somebody, you need to make sure you can connect with the feel. John’s playing works very well with old blues – especially Piedmont style. I play guitar almost exclusively acoustic. Early blues didn’t have electric guitar.

“I got attracted to early acoustic blues as a young person. It was a slow evolution. As a teenager, I heard recordings by Charley Patton and Son House. It hit me – and really stuck with me. When I was in my late 30s and early 40s, I really started working at it.”

As an adolescent, Never had a keen interest in landscape painting and filmmaking — studying painting with Nantucket artist, Warren Krebs, and filmmaking with Earl Fowler, whose famous brother, Jim, made nature films for Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom.”

“I’ve had a bunch of different jobs,” said Never/Dorchester. “I started as an AFA painter and then got into commercial filmmaking from 1993-2014. Now, I’m back to being a fine artist working in oils”

He is also back to being a fine musician who has teamed with Colgan-Davis to keep early acoustic blues alive.

In the same e-mail, Colgan-Davis shared his affection for Steel City Coffee House – “An intimate place that harkens back to the golden age of 1970’s coffeehouses in a town that is charming, full of great spots to wander and shop, and filled with a great vibe. The Dukes have played this place several times, and this is the first time here for the Two Johns. We are so excited about the gig and looking forward to seeing some of our area friends and fans who came out so often to support the Dukes. Proof of vaccination is required, and advance tickets are recommended.”

Video link for The Two Johns — https://youtu.be/ny2EmfXYMR0.

The show at Steel City on February 5 will start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door.

Mykal Kilgore

On February 9, the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, www.worldcafelive.com) will host a return performance by one of the top young R&B vocalists in America – Mykal Kilgore.

“I played the same venue around the end of 2019 or early 2020,” said Kilgore, during a phone interview Monday evening. “I also did a gig with the Philadelphia Opera a few years ago.”

Kilgore’s artistry cuts through traditional barriers and represents the hope of gospel, the soul of R&B and the vulnerability of country. The singer/songwriter’s debut album, “A Man Born Black,” was released on September 6, 2019, and was an exploration of faith, loss, the stumble and spills on the way to maturity, and the beauty of hope and love.

“I recorded the album in 2019 at the Red M Studio in New Orleans,” said Kilgore. “I wanted New Orleans’ energy. It’s a city that celebrates music. I had one band and we were in the studio four days — start-to-finish. We put the meat on the burner.

“I went out and toured a little after the album was released. Then, I had to cancel so many shows because of the pandemic. We played a little bit last year. Now, it’s 2022 and we’re touring. This touring band is the band I’ve been spending most of my time with. It’s a four piece—guitar, keyboards, bass and drums.

Recently, Kilgore released his new single “The Man In The Barbershop” via Affective Music. The song is a story told from a Black Gay man’s perspective about his and many other’s experiences at the neighborhood barbershop where people gather and gossip about their community and the world.

“The Man In The Barbershop” is the first single from Kilgore since his GRAMMY nominated single “Let Me Go,” from his “A Man Born Black” album. At the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, Kilgore made history as the first openly gay artist to receive a nomination in the “Best Traditional R&B Performance” category.

With the release of “The Man In The Barbershop,” Kilgore has once again stepped into the forefront to share his unique perspective with the world. As a Black queer man, he uses his platform to serve as a change agent for civil rights as well as issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community. His instrument is guaranteed to educate, entertain and elevate the lives of all who have the luxury of experiencing his unmatched sound.

“The GRAMMY nomination was shocking in a way,” said Kilgore. “It confirmed to me that doing thing – stop, listen to me – was working. In another way, it wasn’t a shock because people were listening to me.

“The nomination means a lot to me. It hopefully means there will be a lot more coming after me.”

Kilgore is an inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.

“I am a gay man – a black gay man – and I welcome all types.”

“I’ve been ‘out’ since I was 16. I was ‘out and proud’ already when I met Billy.”

Billy is Billy Porter, a world-famous American actor, singer, and author. Porter graduated from Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama and achieved fame performing on Broadway before starting a solo career as a singer and actor. Porter won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role as Lola in “Kinky Boots.”

Kilgore, who grew up in Orlando and earned a degree in “light lyric opera” at Florida State University, will be in a new play called “The Life” with Billy Porter in March at New York City Center.

“Billy is my mentor,” said Kilgore. “He taught me to ‘hone in on your art and pour your whole soul out.’ He told me to move to New York. I moved to New York, and he’s been holding my hand ever since.”

Porter’s careful mentorship opened lanes for Kilgore to move to New York City and to enter the Broadway world. To date, his credits include “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Motown the Musical,” “The Book of Mormon,” “Into the Woods,” “Smokey Joe’s Café,” and “Hair.” Kilgore has consistently chosen roles that elevate positive representation of people of color including “The Wiz Live!” (NBC) and “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” (NBC).

In addition to his previous performances in the area. Kilgore has another link to Philadelphia.

“We had a close church-going family in Orlando and one of my uncles was Darryl Dawkins,” said Kilgore.

Darryl Dawkins, a 6-11 center, played seven seasons for the Philadelphia 76ers. His nickname, “Chocolate Thunder,” was bestowed upon him by Stevie Wonder. When he was 20, Dawkins was one of the top players on a team that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Lloyd Free, and Doug Collins. He died of a heart attack in 2015 in Allentown.

“Yeah, my uncle was ‘Chocolate Thunder,’” said Kilgore. “He was the first NBA player to smash a backboard with a dunk.”

Dawkins named the first backboard-breaking dunk “The Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump-Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam, Glass-Breaker-I-Am-Jam.”

Now, Kilgore is on a path of his own smashing different kinds of barriers — and he has already shown the potential to be just as powerful as the “Dawk.”

Video link for Mykal Kilgore — https://youtu.be/wK0uEzKK4OI.

The show at the World Café Live on February 9 will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting Raymond the Amish Comic on February 4 and Sin City on February 5.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) will host Katie Henry Band on February 4 on her penultimate show prior to a three-week tour of Germany and Jack Stanton on February 5.

The Kimmel Cultural Campus (Broad and Spruce streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org) will host the Philadelphia Ballet from February 3-12 and Hassan Minhaj on February 4 and 5.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Sister Nancy on February 4, Orchard Lounge on February 5, and John Scofield on February 9.

118 North (118 North Wayne Avenue, Wayne, www.118northwayne.com) will host Valentina Sounds on February 4, Brown Sugar on February 5, Wally Smith Hammond Trio on February 6, and Steal Your Peach on February 6.

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) will host The McCartney on February 5.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will present Johnny A on February 4, Lotus Land on February 5, Phil Vassar on February 6, and Carl palmer on February 8.

The Xcite Center at Parx Casino (2999 Street Road, Bensalem, 888-588-7279, https://parxcasino.com) will have a concert by The Spinners on February 4.

Fillmore Philadelphia (1100 Canal Street, Philadelphia, 215-309-0150, www.thefillmorephilly.com) will have The Wood Brothers Fillmore on February 3, Kolby Cooper Fillmore on February 3, The Warning on February 6, Bruce Dickinson on February 7, and Fit for an Autopsy on February 9.

PhilaMOCA (531 North 12th Street, Philadelphia, 267-519-9651, www.philamoca.org) will present digitally mediated daydreams on February 3 and Hangman on February 5.

Annenberg Center (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, https://annenbergcenter.org/events) will host the Jazz Gallery All Stars on February 4.

The Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 202-730-3331, www.thequeenwilmington.com) will host Spokey Speaky on February 5.

City Winery (990 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, citywinery.com/philadelphia) will present Marc Cohn on February 3.

The Met (858 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, http://themetphilly.com) will host Courtney Barnett on February 4.

Union Transfer (1026 Spring Garden Street, Philadelphia, 215-232-2100, www.utphilly.com) will have Current Joys on February 5.

Underground Arts (1200 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia, http://undergroundarts.org) will present Jena Friedman on February 3, Nation of Language on February 5, Death From Above 1979 on February 6 and Gang of Four on February 8.

MilkBoy Philly (1100 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, 215- 925-6455, www.milkboyphilly.com) will present Memba on February 5.

The American Music Theatre (2425 Lincoln Highway East, Lancaster, 800-0 648-4102, www.AMTshows.com) will feature “An Evening with Harry Connick, Jr.” on February 3.

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