Nearly one year ago, the Evansville Living staff met to discuss the editorial calendar for the year when someone lofted the idea for a music issue. The objection: Isn’t the River City for cover bands? The answer sounded like music to our ears. From simple country to folk ‘n’ roll to inspiring raps to — yes — covers, the local music scene is about to make some noise.
Music matters, but what about the show?
Six years ago inside the Evansville Country Club, a new band was set to debut at a wedding. Court Alton, who was a lead asset specialist at American General Finance by day, headed the six-piece band. What partygoers were about to learn is that Alton was a showman by night. The singer led the big band through a set of high-tempo, nostalgic songs from the 1960s onward. Alton played with the crowd, encouraged singing, and inspired dancing.
What followed was an enterprise based in music. Alton’s company, Big Slick Entertainment, provides musicians for private parties, galas, and more. The acts rotate from big bands to three-piece groups to solo shows. They perform throughout the Midwest — and Kentucky and Tennessee — yet remain deeply rooted in Evansville, playing regularly at Old National Bank, Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, and Casino Aztar.
What the crowd sees at shows are musicians with wildly varying day jobs — from engineer to teacher — and the six-piece band is no different. Corey Folz plays the bass. Erick Scales is a master in the horn section and on the keyboard (sometimes playing both at the same time). “He’s amazing,” Alton says. “He can play four or five instruments. Can’t sing a lick though.” Brian Glick keeps beat on the drums. Rod Bennett holds down the lead guitar, and Alton’s “right-hand man” is Brittany Murray, the female lead vocalist.
The chemistry they’ve developed throughout the years encourages crowd participation, and their performances range from playing in private homes to taking the stage at the Fork, Cork & Style Festival at Churchill Downs in Louisville while celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse held a cooking demonstration. With Big Slick’s upbeat tunes in the background, Lagasse had a lot more “BAM!”
McFly! cruises between decades in a smokin’ hot ride
In the 1985 hit movie Back to the Future, Marty McFly says, “Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me that you built a time machine…out of a DeLorean?” Yes, the car-turned-time-machine zipped its occupants into the past and future, thanks to a fictional contraption called the flux capacitor. More than 25 years later, a DeLorean transports an Evansville cover band to the 1980s and back to the future nearly every weekend.
Their journey began three years ago when a group of nostalgic musicians — all with day jobs — formed the ’80s cover band McFly!. Soon, keyboardist Clayton Daugherty found a car on Ebay and told his band members: “I’m thinking about buying a car. What do you think about me buying a DeLorean?” Mike Mitchell, bass player and one of the band’s founding members, thought it was a great idea — until he had to ride in it. We’re “literally laying down in it,” he says.
At first, the band used it as an elaborate promotional tool: They parked the aluminum carriage amid strobe lights and a fog machine outside the band’s venue-of-the-night. With bird-wing doors and the personalized license plate “FLY 1” and a corresponding “McFly” vanity plate, the vehicle was a hit, except the display caused some passersby to believe the car was on fire. Last year at a West Side bar, Mitchell recalls, “We were playing, and then someone told us the fire department had blocked off the road.” He ran outside in time to save the car from the firemen’s torrential dousing. The next night at the same location, someone once again called the fire department to put out a DeLorean aflame in lights. That was the end of the strobe light and fog machine.
The car, sans special effects, still is visible in front of venues where the band performs. It will be when McFly! plays at the new Downtown arena Oct. 28 to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville. “I have no idea what the plan is, but I’m sure we’ll incorporate (the DeLorean) somehow,” Mitchell says. “I may need to clear it with the city fire marshal first.”[pagebreak]
How instruments shape a jam band
Namaste makes rock music, and the members of this five-piece jam band know their instruments well. Guitarist Stephen Horning looks like he was born with a six-string in his hands. Here is their story, told through their love of instruments.
Stephen Horning – guitar, vocals, keys
I ended up working two jobs at 70 hours a week to pay for this (guitar). I’d get up and go to work at 6 a.m. and then get up and go to work at 6 p.m. I was very confused as to if it were dusk or dawn. It was the first guitar that I’d ever played that was professionally made for people who are supposed to know what’s going on. I’m not a big guitar buff, but I like fine-crafted instruments. When I put this in my hands, it played so amazingly. The guy at the music store said this guitar wasn’t the kind you just want to take around to every gig. You want to take care of it, pretty much keep it under the bed. I have never done that.
Andy Fulton – keys, vocals
I was 16 years old. Most kids are saving up for a car. I was saving up for an electric keyboard. It was a Kawai K1. I remember my mom saying, “If you spent as much time on your homework as your keyboard, you might really get somewhere.” I thought, “Well I might get somewhere with my keyboard.” I like this because it has a full-sized keyboard. The keys are weighted, so I’ll use this one for my piano sounds.
Eric Gettings – bass
I had another bass. It was stolen, so I had this one made by Damon Dawson (a local luthier featured in the September/October 2009 issue of Evansville Living, p. 72). I made him a computer. He made me a bass. It was a collaboration. These knobs are made of glass. Our percussionist blew these knobs. It took about a year to make it. It took about five years for it to actually settle with the temperature. It took a bit to get to know her.
Jordan Green – guitar
My brother was in middle school when he got a drum set. I felt left out at that point, so I picked up a bass. I don’t play bass anymore. The guitar player in my high school band had a rough situation at home, so he left his equipment around. I pretty much spent the whole summer playing guitar. My first electric six-string was a Strat, and I played the hell out of it. I wanted something different, and a buddy of mine who owns a music store in town calls me one day. He got a Japanese Telecaster in. It was moderately priced and played as well as an $1,800 American Telecaster. I had the money, but I didn’t have the money. I ate ramen a lot that week.
Zach Slingerland – drums
When I was old enough to sit up at a drum set, I was playing it. You can only express so much beating on things, so I picked up a guitar. But then I came back to these (the drums). I’ve always had a set lying around. I have a Slingerland set from the 1970s. It’s also my last name, so that’s kind of cool.
Indie band Heypenny doesn’t need money to make the right impression
Thirty years have passed since video killed the radio star on Music Television (MTV). The then-upstart cable music channel aired videos as the new way to enjoy music, but a few years ago, MTV dropped the words “music television” from their logo — a nod, some critics say, that the cable network airs much more reality TV and a lot less music video. But if video killed the radio star and video slowly died, then credit the Internet for resurrecting music videos.
That’s why Nashville-based Heypenny front man Ben Elkins thinks video is more important than ever. His indie rock band, which includes drummer and Evansville native Aaron Distler, has a 1980s dance pop sound and uses the power of YouTube, an Internet super haven for videos, to show their songs.
Much like their music, the three-man band’s videos aren’t too far removed from their 1980s predecessors. “I want a strong creative idea that matches the song,” Elkins says, and “a good story line.” For that reason, Heypenny debuts concept videos rather than live jam or concert flicks. (Not that the band doesn’t put on a good show. In 2009, they performed at Bonnaroo, an annual music fest on a Tennessee farm with 80,000 concertgoers in attendance.)
The result of the concept videos is pure fun. Heypenny’s “Cop Car” features the band members rebuilding an old box TV in time lapse fashion, chasing criminals with 1970s machismo through a sleazy hotel, and dancing in elaborate robot costumes that flash like a police car’s lights.
Heypenny’s signature throwback vibe often comes from the band’s limited budget. “We always do stuff really, really cheap,” says Elkins. “We’re proud of what we do. We love it, but we’ve got like 50 cents to spend on it.” So the band calls in favors from their camera-wielding friends.
Those favors make the videos possible, but the real stars are the band members who love to stand out. In their “Parade” video, the musicians wore custom-made (by a family member) band uniforms and invited a local high school band to join them on the shoot. “It’s so hard to make a video on a low budget,” Elkins says, “and ours tend to be elaborate undertakings.” Yet those limitations define their style that is “foundational to us,” Elkins says, “and that will never change.”
Heypenny comes to the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science on Sept. 24 for the annual Brew Ha Ha. See our Guide for more details.[pagebreak]
How a voice captivates
When the guitar-wielding Andrea Wirth takes the stage, she doesn’t rely on her lyrics to capture the crowd’s attention. She wants to connect to an audience. “I know Nashville will tell you, ‘Separate yourself from the crowd. Wear something completely different. Put some sequins on,’” Wirth says. “To me, that goes against the whole grain of music because the whole grain of music is we share a common drive.”
Her drive began in church, and with a powerful voice — think of a stronger Bonnie Raitt — she commands the masses. Heavy on a folk and rock style (folk ‘n’ roll?), Wirth’s voice is worth listening to, and she also has something to say. She paints portraits and crafts stories with her lyrics. Whether fictional or deeply rooted in her real life, the songs evoke emotions, and Wirth rarely settles for a cliché. Her songwriting process comes organically. “It’s more of a random passing thought that I latch onto because I think somebody else, or maybe a lot of people, might connect with that thought,” Wirth says. “Maybe they even need to.”
We snagged one of her setlists to see how Wirth builds a relationship with her fans.
P.S. – This song about suicide is told through Wirth’s intimate connection with the tragedy: Her younger sister and a good friend took their own lives. Wirth uses energy from her band, the Dirty Lil Fun Havers, to carry her through an intense but uplifting song. “P.S.” begins with the idea to rest in peace, love, and happiness and ends with the notion to live in peace, love, and happiness. “I’m finally learning how to transition my writing into more ‘Come on. Take my hand. We can make it through this,’” Wirth says.
Photograph – In this Wirth original about a breakup and longing, the only remembrance left of a failed relationship is a photograph.
What’s Up – The blonde singer covers this popular 1990s hit by the 4 Non Blondes.
Soulshine – Wirth, who mixes folk and country beautifully, takes on a piece from legendary guitarist Warren Hayes.
Feels Like the Blues – This is an original song from Jonas Cowan, an Evansville musician. The two friends produced it for Wirth’s album Something to Hold Onto. “Talk about the ability to penetrate your soul,” Wirth says.
Remember – This slow, powerful ballad, a Wirth original, continues this portion of the show composed of meaningful lyrics.
Purple Rain – “It’s not the way Prince does it at all,” Wirth says, “but it is his song.” The key to a good cover? “Whenever I sing with conviction, something I truly believe in, it’s contagious,” she says. “It really is.”
Crimson and Clover – Wirth isn’t the first to cover this 1960s song from Tommy James & the Shondells. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts remade the song in the 1980s.
Old Friend – One message from Wirth’s song “Old Friend” is that a drink can bring temporary solace and peace — as long as that drink isn’t a crutch. The song isn’t “even remotely about me at all,” she says. “There wasn’t a bottle anywhere around when I was writing it. I just have a very vivid imagination.”
By Your Side – This Wirth original offers this lyric, “making music, making love with guidance from above.” The immensely upbeat song leaves people humming — and wanting more.
From the baseball diamond to the music stage, Jason Clutter lands a new deal
If there is one thing aspiring country artist Jason Clutter believes in, it’s that things happen for a reason. In the summer of 2003, the Haubstadt, Ind., native was running the bases with a USA Athletes International team in Italy. A few months later, just before the opening of his senior year on a baseball scholarship at Oakland City University, he was sidelined with an unexplained injury. “My shoulder just couldn’t do the things it used to,” he says. His baseball career was over.
The next few months were tough for Clutter who was majoring in graphic art. “It took me awhile to even look at a baseball,” he says, “but it happened for a reason.” To work through his disappointment, the lifelong guitarist made music.
The songs became the inspiration Clutter needed to take a chance on his music, and he never doubted that he’d “make it all the way,” he says. He hooked up with four guys from Princeton, Ind., and formed the Broken Arrow Band. They played their first gig in September 2004 at the Brass Ring, a tavern in Haubstadt, Ind. “Within a year, we were booked everywhere,” Clutter says.
Lots of bookings didn’t mean lots of money. “Most of the money I made from music I spent back on music,” says Clutter. During the next six years, he worked 40-50 hours a week laying tile and played seven to 16 nights a month with the band, which had taken on new members and the moniker the Dirty South. “They were hard circumstances for me and my family,” Clutter says, “but we’ve been able to make it through.”
Things changed six months ago when Clutter started working with manager Robin Linton and signed a developmental deal with Cupit Music. CEO Jerry Cupit has worked with such country powerhouses as Tim McGraw, Lonestar, and Hank Williams Jr. Clutter still lays some tile, but most of his music time currently is not spent in concert but rather in perfecting his craft. He penned “I Can Say I Tried” with Michael Tetrick this year. Offers to buy the song have come from a few of country music’s biggest stars. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about it with the money situation,” Clutter says, but he wants to record the song himself.
Clutter’s musical team is banking on country music’s readiness for another “outlaw.” “I’ve got the big break now,” he says. “I just have to make the most of it.”
The band currently is working on a new album ready for national release by the end of 2011.[pagebreak]
In 2007, Michael Powers was in the passenger seat of his mom’s car when he heard his band’s song “Better Me” playing on the speakers. He was confused. He looked to his mom. “Are we listening to the CD?” he asked. “No,” she said, “that’s on the radio.”
That was the first time Michael (then about 13 years old) and his band Mission Six had a song on the radio. But it wasn’t the last. Band mates — Michael, Noah Hayden, David Horner, Isaac Alling, and Anthony Barthel — have been playing together since they were fifth graders at Evansville Christian School. Since then, the now high school juniors have released three albums, become regulars on the hit show iShine KNECT, and had numerous songs playing through car speakers on a variety of stations including Radio Disney and Radio iShine. Those two radio outlets have a dedicated following who have made Justin Bieber a star. (Consider Bieber the Andy Gibb of his generation).
For David, after a lifetime of listening to his favorite bands on the radio, it shocked him to hear his own tune. “I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s my band. We’re on the radio,’” he says, but “it’s not something I look forward to every day.”
They want to do more than play pop music. The band wants to spread a Christian message. “God’s given us talent,” Noah says, “but we alone can’t do it.” Hence their band name, Mission Six, meaning God is the sixth band member.
Four of the five members are home-schooled, which allows them to travel an average of six months out of the year. They perform in churches, schools, theaters, parks, civic centers, and college campuses. “We’re following God’s plan,” Noah says, “and we trust if this isn’t what he wants us to open, he’ll shut the door.”
Mission Six performs at the Fall Festival on Wed., Oct. 5 at 8 p.m. To hear Mission Six, visit www.missionsixband.com.
Forget the smoky bar. These musicians belong in a more elaborate venue
While performing, six students from Mount Vernon High School — known as Angelus — normally don long, dark robes. The cloth is heavy and hot, so they ditched the garbs last summer for a concert in an enormous church without air conditioning. The space, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City’s Times Square, is more than 100 years old, and it’s earned the nickname Smokey Mary’s due to a liberal use of incense. But Angelus isn’t about smells; they are about sounds.
The choral group, Angelus, focuses on sacred music, a form of a cappella designed to resonate throughout structures with sky-high ceilings and marble floors. The music they practice comes from “musicologists and researchers going into dusty libraries and finding even dustier manuscripts,” says Dana Taylor, the director of vocal music and instructor of technical theater at Mount Vernon High School. These are songs composed for choirs, not individuals. It makes for a different sound than today’s pop music where Auto-Tune is king. Sacred music is peaceful, sharp,
and (appropriately) angelic.
The singers in Angelus make it sound effortless. It is not. Take, for example, a piece from composer Michael McGlynn, a renowned contemporary Irish choral composer who “is notable for a sophisticated compositional technique that’s always tied to appealing emotional directness,” said one reviewer from the Irish Times. McGlynn’s words often come with Gaelic pronunciations. The songs were “giving us fits,” says Taylor, so he arranged a videoconference over the Internet with McGlynn. (Taylor has perfected the persistence needed to secure big favors from prominent people.) McGlynn suggested different pronunciations and gave notes on balance. The girls practiced with him for an hour.
That dedication readies them for concerts. For the past two summers, the young group (Taylor launched the choir in 2008) has toured the East and West coasts and performed in churches from New York to San Francisco. The girls’ resounding success is one reason the Arts Council of Southwestern Indiana named Taylor the 2011 “Artist of the Year” — a sure sign he is hitting all the right notes.[pagebreak]
Inside a Downtown music studio is the power to bring a community together
One year ago on the second floor of Impact Ministries was a former tech center designed to improve the lives of inner city residents — the mission of the nonprofit organization. The old computers might as well have been Commodore 64s, and papers and boxes filled the closets behind the rows of computers. When Sean Little saw the room last July, he envisioned a rap studio, though he didn’t know how to produce a song. “I’ve been rapping since I was 15,” Little says, “but I’ve never made a beat in my life.”
The beats Little raps to aren’t the same as the pop-rap fusion that often litters the top of the radio charts. Those dandies usually are laced with euphoric hooks but with misogynistic lyrics, critics say. Little’s beats are more methodic — toe-tapping, for sure, but his lyrics portray more gutsy honesty than mainstream rap artists. His words inspire, provoke questions, or comment on society. So if pop sensations Usher and Young Jeezy want us to “make love in the club,” Little wants us to “Stand up./If you a man,/man up.”
That’s the vibe he brought to Evansville when he and his wife, a native, moved to Southwest Indiana two years ago. He learned an entire community here needed a studio where musicians could record professional sounds for free. “I had one guy tell me he recorded in his friend’s basement,” Little says, “and the basement was flooded.” When Little landed as the communications director at Impact Ministries, he saw possibility in that crowded closet. “I was interested in creating a space that engaged people and got them thinking about hip hop in a certain manner,” Little says.
To engage musicians, Little launched a class, Voice & Choice: Hip Hop 101, at Impact Ministries. The free course takes students — of any age — through the history of hip hop in America. “When we see rappers, DJs, graffiti artists, or break dancers, people say, ‘That’s hip hop,’” Little says. “Well, that’s an expression of the overarching culture. (In the class), we talk about history, culture, identity, and expression.”
Upon completion, students earn time in a studio with professional equipment largely donated by community supporters. There, they record the hip hop Little loves. “I think what hip hop is great for — especially historically — is expressing myself articulately and honestly because no one else is telling my story,” he says. “It’s from a subculture, from an oppressed culture. I want to tap into that self-analysis, that critical thinking, especially with young men, because everything within the dominant culture is telling them to sell dope, be misogynistic, and not value education.”
As much as this studio is about music, what Little is doing is so much more. “I’m glad we can offer something desirable,” he says. “It shows that we value our neighbors.”
For more information, visit www.impactevansville.org/hiphop101.
If you could see music, what would it look like?
In September 2010, Chad Gesser — an Owensboro, Ky., resident and part-time DJ — met Meagan Williams, a native who recently had returned to her hometown and worked at a coffee shop while she continued to paint. He asked her to paint on a canvas while he clicked away on his laptop to fuse and craft new songs. It was not a cheesy pick-up line from a married man. Gesser wanted to do this publicly. It would be live art. Williams agreed. Rather easily. They’ve performed nearly 25 times in one year.
Chad Gesser: Back in 1999, my wife and I moved to New Orleans. To experience the culture and music there is just completely different than any other place in the United States. In 2010, I saw this group play — a drummer and producer combo. The producer played keyboard and used his laptop. It just hit me. I thought, “I can do that.”
Meagan Williams: Chad would come into the store, and after a few weeks, I said, “I feel like I need to talk to that man.” A few weeks later, he said he deejays on the side and he would like to throw visual art into the mix.
Gesser: We both hadn’t done something like this before — or at least I hadn’t. I had a laptop. I had a digital console that I would hook up to my computer and I would run a software program for music.
Williams: I was really sick all day. I don’t know what was wrong, but magically, I felt better before our first show (at a local pub). It was on a small stage. Chad had two tables for his equipment. I had a canvas, an easel, and some tarps.
Gesser: No one had ever seen anybody do anything like this at the location.
Williams: People gave us such positive feedback. I think it was weird for them to see what was going on because you don’t see a lot of public art happening here.
Gesser: Then we started doing it at (Crème Coffee House), which is probably the most unique venue in Owensboro. We liked that vibe so much that we just started doing it there for free.
Williams: Besides the last six shows or so, everything I’ve done has been more abstract because when painting live with music, I don’t get any subjective matter. I didn’t normally do abstract stuff. I do portrait work. It was freeing for me.
Gesser: I’ve always been intent on doing something that’s a little bit free-form. I’ll take samples of things and mix stuff up. Then I’ll add a lot of audio effects over the top of it, but I’ll also play stuff that people know to try to keep them grounded with what’s going on.
Williams: With the last six or seven shows, I’ve used more imagery. I’ve been sketching. I’ve been working with pop art. I’ve done robots. My art style has really morphed.