Monday, December 31, 2012

Kick in the New Year

Glenn Stewart

Still without a New Year’s Eve plan? Still haven’t carved up any of this fresh snow? Boom, problems solved. Hit the trails then catch Glenn Stewart in the Coppertop.

Stewart has become a Wachusett fave, playing both band shows and stripped-down acoustic sets. His brand of country music is so in line with the big guys_ think Eric Church and Jason Aldean_ that Stewart has been recording in Nashville at Fun House studio with producer  James “Bubba” Hudson. Stewart and Hudson return to Fun House in early January to continue work on what could be the singer’s next big professional step.

Stewart, who is from Auburn, has been at this for years, coming up through the local rock clubs and realizing that modern country is a lot like the classic rock and pop metal he liked performing in the first place. But the country setting let him update his writing and deliver songs that are mature without necessarily being grown up (this is a guy who can entertain a bar crowd, after all).

Stewart dug in, releasing a CD of his original country tunes a few years back just as the region’s country audience was growing at a crazy pace. He also honed a show that earned the title “Country That Kicks.”

Bridging traditional country and rock led to Stewart getting his first gig at Indian Ranch this summer, where he was called upon to open for Grand Funk Railroad, serving as an ambassador of sorts, welcoming classic rockers into the region’s preeminent country venue.

It’s pretty cool seeing Stewart sticking to his roots while he can, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find him having outgrown the intimate setting of the Coppertop by this time next year.  

Skiing and riding for NYE begins at 4 p.m. show time in the Coppertop is 9 p.m.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A "superhero's" welcome

 With his Coppertop shows last season and appearance at the MusicFest in September, Andy Cummings has quickly become a Wachusett favorite, so much so that he was tapped to perform Saturday, Dec. 22, for the ski area’s 50th anniversary. Cummings will be the party entertainment from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Coppertop.
Andy Cummings

Watching Cummings, it takes no more than a couple of songs to know how well the guy can sing and play guitar. But the real eye-opener may be how seamlessly he moves from smooth crooning to fist-pumping anthems.

That talent is especially pronounced on “Backyard Superhero,” Cummings' new CD. The dozen songs are all over the place, from the roots-rock hijinks of “I’d Like to Tell You More” to the urgent folk-pop of “Your Only One” to the edgy new-New Wave glimmer of “Trial on TV.” I’ve already started jokingly calling this record “Andy Cummings Radio” simply for its diversity.

But “Backyard Superhero” is not scattered. Cummings creates not so much an arc, but waves that rise and fall around his knack for knocking out songs that sound like he is channeling them from a bygone era of big microphones and bigger sentiment. “I Wish,” which begins the record, is just such a song, with a breezy melody and colorful wordplay (“I wish I were an ocean so I could wash away some of the things I say.”)

The original “Be My Delight” and covers of “After You’ve Gone” and “Hello! Ma Baby” (the latter radically overhauled from the way you may remember it as performed by a singing frog in the Looney Tunes cartoon) are the other old-timey tunes peppered among the album’s dozen tracks in a way that sets up a smooth flow for Cummings to explore other song styles

He nails a rustic country vibe covering Amy Allison’s haunting “Thank God for the Wine” and pays homage to the late Scott Ricciuti, one of the region’s songwriting greats, with a tender rendition of Huck’s “Postcard,” the “wish you were here” refrain coming off as especially poignant.  

Cummings’ songwriting is sometimes overlooked in his live shows, since they incorporate a lot of interpretations of others' work. "Backyard Superhero" rectifies that situation, especially with “You’ll Understand,” a defiant, quietly turbulent acoustic song that shows how this troubadour is a hell of a writer too. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Time for more mountain music

So let’s review the drill. When in full swing, the Coppertop Lounge presents live music from 8 to 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and from 4 to 6 p.m. Sundays. You ski, you ride, you kick back and hear artists from around the area who specialize in rock, blues, acoustic, and country music. No cover, no hassle.
Sean Fullerton

Now, “full swing” doesn’t begin until January. But this month is busy nonetheless. Acoustic-blues troubadour Big Jon Short plays in the Coppertop from 5 to 7 p.m. today, Dec. 14. Sean Fullerton, who digs blues, Beatles and finger-style guitar picking, is playing from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday, then turning things over to the Pats-49ers action.

Derek Drowne returns to the Coppertop on Friday, Dec. 21, to play from 3 to 5 p.m., serenading the “shortest” day of the year (day with most dark?).

As you’ve probably heard, Wachusett Mountain ski area turns 50 this year, and there will be an anniversary bash Saturday, Dec. 22, with Andy Cummings playing from 2 to 5 p.m. Cummings became a Coppertop favorite last season and wowed a slope-side crowd this fall at the MusicFest performing a repertoire that spanned Sinatra to the Who.  
Andy Cummings at MusicFest

Then on New Year’s Eve, another mountain favorite Glenn Stewart brings his rocking brand of country to the lounge for a show that starts at 9 p.m. and ends around 2013.
Glenn Stewart

We’ll have more updates here on these artists plus others, so add “routinely check this blog” to your regimen of ski/ride and listen.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A "Big" opening

Big Jon Short (Ted Theodore photo)

The trails are open, and the tunes are flowing. Besides being Central Mass’s go-to place for skiing and riding, Wachusett Mountain also offers up as good a music schedule as any traditional nightclub you’ll find in the area.

The Coppertop Lounge music series kicks off in high style Friday, Dec. 14, with the return of Big Jon Short. Short is a reservoir of blues knowledge; he goes to Mississippi every year to perform and immerse himself in traditional blues culture, and he teaches students in public schools all around the state about America’s roots music.

But when he plays, there’s nothing academic to it. Instead it’s joyous. Or mournful. Or mesmerizing. I’ve seen Short belt out tunes from a hill next to Worcester’s Park Ave, near the steps of a county courthouse, and while parading around a crowded bar room. In each case he simply made the old blues feel young and vital again.

Short’s solo show at the Coppertop comes on the heels of releasing his latest record “34 Special,” a collection of original and traditional songs performed on National Resophonic guitar. Short recorded the tunes in a shack that’s behind Vincent’s bar in Worcester, sort of recreating the field recordings from the South that have served as his own texts for learning the different styles of country blues.

By focusing on songs that he wrote or was performing around the time he first met his wife, Short imbues his new record with heart and soul, even when the hard times are knocking on his door. “Skin & Bones” and “Skinny Jean Mama” are originals that seamlessly fit alongside Short’s fresh arrangement of “Crossroads” and lesser-known country blues staple “Long Hair Doney.” He somehow pushes his own sound back in time while pulling the old music forward, all of it settling into a comfortable meeting spot that honors the tradition without getting shackled by it.

Short plays from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Coppertop (you know there's no cover, right?)  for the start of another round of impeccable “small stage” bookings. I'll give you a deeper look into the schedule tomorrow. Now, go hit the snow.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Little Texas brings the rocking country to MusicFest

Little Texas

A rock ’n’ roll influence is pretty common in today’s popular country music _ even Kenny Chesney, in one of his latest hits, says he feels like a rock star.

 Little Texas was one of the bands that opened that barn door, so to speak. Formed in Nashville in the late ’80s, Little Texas generated heavy rotation on country radio with such hits as “You and Forever and Me,” “What Might Have Been,” “My Love” and_ of course_ “God Blessed Texas.”

“It was a natural thing for us,” bassist Duane Propes says of Little Texas’ patented “rocking country” sound. “Arena lions like Journey, Kansas, and Queen influenced us more than country did.”

But the band members were determined to make their way in Nashville and that meant charting a country course, which Propes now says he’s glad happened since Little Texas found itself at the start of something fresh rather than at the tail end of Southern rock’s heyday.

Little Texas is set to headline the 15th annual Wachusett Mountain MusicFest happening Sept. 9. The main stage  also features Orleans and E Street Shuffle’s tribute to Bruce Springsteen, while the local-spotlight stage features James Keyes and Andy Cummings. Music starts at noon at the Princeton slopes.

Little Texas toured the country for a couple of years before signing a contract with Warner Bros. records and releasing its debut album in 1991. Over the ensuing six years, the band released four more records, including a greatest hits package, and became one of country’s hottest touring acts. The band broke apart in 1998, with members taking off into other projects and in some cases just settling back with family.

In 2006, Little Texas reunited and carries on minus the manic pressure to produce like it used to, Propes says.
Little Texas today consists of original members guitarist and singer Porter Howell, drummer Del Gray, guitarist Dwayne O’Brien, and Propes. (Even though original singer Tim Rushlow did not take part in the reunion, Howell has proven himself a compelling singer in his own right)

“We’re having as much fun as we ever did,” Propes says. “We’re not doing 200 shows a year. We keep it to weekends, and I think that keeps it dynamic. It doesn’t become a job. And we all have 11-year-old kids at home and want to be there with them.”

Little Texas also just released its first batch of new songs since reforming. “Deep in the Heart, Vol. 1” and can be sampled and purchased online at

Even though what Little Texas started doing more than 20 years ago is pretty prevalent in today’s country scene, Propes sees some differences.

Fort starters, there are a lot of star singers, but not many star bands. Propes figures the record companies realized it’s easier to deal with one Chesney or one Shelton versus a gang like Little Texas, which the bassist admits could be difficult to round up or to get everyone agreeing on one thing.

Propes is also a little suspect of county songwriting.

“We wrote 98 percent of what we sang, and that lent it a legitimacy. We wrote about what we lived,” Propes says.

Propes like quoting a bit of Vince Gill, who said, “If I want a hit today, all I have to do is write a song about a truck.”

Checking out “Deep in the Heart, Vol 1,” we couldn’t find a truck song. Instead there’s that blend of rowdy  (“Hot in Texas”) and tender (“Take This Walk With Me”) that worked so well in the first place.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Boss tunes shuffle to MusicFest

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have been barnstorming the region this summer, playing two nights at Fenway Park and one at Gillette Stadium this month. Maybe you were there and want more Boss. Maybe you missed out, and are itching for some live “Jungleland” and the like.

Either way, E Street Shuffle will have you covered at Wachusett Mountain’s  MusicFest happening Sept. 9. The festival starts at noon and also features Little Texas, Orleans, Andy Cummings, and James Keyes.

A popular Springsteen tribute since 2008, E Street Shuffle works so well because its members are dedicated Bruce scholars as well as talented musicians. Singer Sean Loughlin doesn’t just understand the fanaticism; he lives it. He collects the innumerable Springsteen concert bootlegs, stays atop the artist’s history, and sees his own life experiences through the filter of Springsteen’s lyrics.

And he learned that people seeing E Street Shuffle are just like the people seeing a real Springsteen concert, and want to have the band dig deeply. And Loughlin has yet to be stumped by a request.

“I’ll know the song, but the band may not necessarily be ready to play some obscure tune that pops up once or twice on a demo recoding. But we learned pretty quickly that Bruce fans want to hear more than the hits. When we started, people, shouted out for ‘Thundercrack’ all the time” says Loughlin, referring to one of Springsteen’s long story songs that just circulated among bootleg traders before finally appearing on the “Tracks” box set.

E Street Shuffle balances the what with the how, meaning it doesn’t just play Bruce songs, it plays them the way the real E Street Band does in concert, going beyond the recorded versions from studio albums. Loughlin points out how some songs, like “Promised Land” have 15 different arrangements as Springsteen performed it over the years.

“What we’ll do is borrow a little something from all of the versions,” Loughlin said. “We want to give people a taste of why Springsteen has such a fanatical following and why his shows are so legendary.”  

Loughlin entered the fandom early. It started when he was 9 years old and his dad routinely played Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” album. As he got older, Loughlin developed his own appetite for the music.

After spending 10 years playing his own music in an original band, Loughlin formed E Street Shuffle with his brother Ryan and the lineup now includes two keyboards, sax and rhythm section.

Since starting this project, Loughlin says he has even more admiration for Springsteen

“I have even greater appreciation of him as a vocalist. When you put on a full show of this music, it’s a lot of work,” he says. “I don’t have the natural rasp that he has. When we started, I blew my voice out the third night of our first run. And there’s the sheer amount of lyrics he puts into a song. If  this were a Pink Floyd tribute, the band could play ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond' for 25 minutes and give the singer a break.”

E Street Shuffle comes from the Boss’ own home state of New Jersey, and is anchored along the Jersey shore, just like Springsteen himself.

“It’s always a little different when we play outside of New Jersey,” Loughlin says. “They are fascinated that we are from New Jersey and playing this music. When we play in Monmouth County where Bruce lives, it’s a little different. There’s a little more pressure at home to do it right.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Orleans celebrating legacy, honoring founder

Orleans quartet featuring Fly Amero, Lane Hoppen, John Hall, and Lance Hoppen (John Bruno photo)

What should have been a year of celebration for Orleans_ which turned 40 in 2012_ took an awful turn when Larry Hoppen, one of the band’s founders, died last month.

“My brother Lane called me at 5 o’clock on July 24th to tell me Larry had passed. My whole world just went up in the air,” says Lance Hoppen, who joined Orleans on bass when he was just 17 years old, a few months after Larry launched the band in 1972 with John Hall and drummer Wells Kelly.

Despite the recent tragedy, Orleans is fulfilling its previously booked engagements, with Hall coming back into the fold for these shows, including the band’s performance at Wachusett Mountain’s Sept. 9 MusicFest with Little Texas, E Street Shuffle, James Keyes, and Andy Cummings.

Orleans pulled together a variety of sophisticated pop influences to build its following then crashed the mainstream in the mid ’70s with the indelible hits “Sill the One” and “Dance With Me.”

“I hate to reduce anyone’s career to two or three songs,” Lance Hoppen says. “But Orleans made its mark on Americana with ‘Still the One’ and ‘Dance With Me,’ and that’s not something most people can say. We actually got to work for 40 years because of those two songs. We always worked on new things and continued to develop songs, but we knew people were interested in the warm and fuzzies of those songs.”

At the peak of Orleans’s popularity, Hall left the band, setting up the entry of Dennis “Fly” Amero. Amero, who lives in Gloucester, regularly played around Worcester with his namesake band and the Mitch Chakour Band when not busy with Orleans.

Amero recalls making a casual remark among musician friends, wondering how Orleans would pull off the signature dual guitar parts in “Still the One” without Hall.  The comment reverberated through the league of seasoned session players familiar with Amero and Orleans, and, as the guitarist and singer put it, “in the fall of  ’79 I was on a Greyhound to Woodstock,” and entering the Orleans base camp.

“I considered myself a singer until I joined this band,” Amero cracks about the intricate vocals woven into Orleans’s signature sound.

Hall rejoined Orleans after performing at a memorial concert for Kelly, who died in 1984. Then Hall ran for Congress in 2006 and represented his district in New York until last year, during which time he left the group and Amero was back in.

Hall wasn’t actively touring with Orleans during the 40th anniversary run but jumped in to fulfill the dates already booked before Larry Hoppen died, turning shows such as the one at MusicFest into celebrations of Hoppen and his musical legacy.

Lance Hoppen points out that Orleans wrote many songs the band is proud of  (and please audiences) in the years after the big hits. One of the newer compositions_ “God Never Gives You More Than You Can Handle”_ has become especially poignant, he notes.

For MusicFest, Orleans will perform as a quartet, with Lane Hoppen on keys, Lance Hoppen on bass, and Hall and Amero on guitars.

“When we finish this calendar of events, I can’t see beyond that,” Lance Hoppen says. “There are no decisions about continuing. The one thing that I have learned over the years is that every time this band goes down it manages to get backup."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Are you ready for MusicFest?

For its 15th year, Wachusett Mountain’s MusicFest delivers a rich earthiness to it. Headliners  Little Texas blends country and rock; Orleans conjures indelible, generation-spanning pop anthems; and E Street Shuffle pays tribute to blue-collar rock hero Bruce Springsteen.

Similar musical values spill over to the festival’s side stage which features James Keyes and Andy Cummings, two guys who have built their followings with music full of grit and heart.

MusicFest takes place Sept. 9, and starts at noon. Tix are on sale now here on the Wachusett Web site. Check back here for news and weekly profiles on the bands playing the festival this year.

Catching up with Keyes recently, he was singing the praises of Alabama Shakes, the blues-rooted, indie rockers that bubbled up this year.

“They’re the only new band I feel is not trying to sell me something,” Keyes says. “It’s refreshing to hear a musical band, by that I mean a band that puts the music first and made it on its music, not an image.”

You could say the same about Keyes’s music, a smoky blend of country, folk, and rock.  Keyes writes and sings like he’s riding shotgun with you on a long road trip. But his hard strumming, foot-stomping playing style keeps this from turning into idle conversation. There’s urgency and immediacy in Keyes’s work; he projects energy akin to that when he plays guitar in the punk rock band The Numbskulls.

“I’ve been in rock bands forever, and I had that kind of performance under control. I wanted to take just an acoustic guitar and still generate that kind of energy,” Keyes says. “I’ve got to make the song work. I’ve got to get somewhere. You can get somewhere in a Ferrari or with a skateboard. You just gotta make it work.”

And Keyes has been making it work pretty good. He’s toured around the region and out to the Midwest as a solo artist and is working on his new album “Yankee Peddler.”

While it took him a while to transition from band member to solo performer, the spirit of the music is much the same in both settings (volume, he says, being the biggest difference).

“As a kid, I listened to Oldies 103 _ Buddy Holly, the Platters, stuff like that while my friends were listening to Guns N’ Roses,” Keyes says. “Then I got into Nirvana and worked back to Black Flag to the Stooges to John Lee Hooker and the blues. Through Social Distortion, I worked back to Johnny Cash and country. And I kept going back to bands like from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s like the Carter Family and they were as heavy and bad as anything today.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Greening the mountain

Any musician with even a hint of Irish heritage is pretty busy this time of year; who doesn't want to hear reels, jigs and those incredibly vivid Celtic folk songs around St. Patrick's Day?

But tracking down Boston's Katie McD was difficult not because she was gigging non-stop, but rather the singer/songwriter was busy recording the soundtrack for the Irish film "No Eye to Pity Her."

Fortunately, the mountain will be getting McD out of the studio and onto a sun splashed deck  for a St. Patrick's day concert from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.

"We played at the mountain last year too and it was so much fun. People came skiing down into us playing all of these Irish tunes. And there were so many kids we could play a few children's songs too," McD recalls.

Since her last visit to the mountain, McD has been writing pieces for the above-mentioned film as well as setting classic Irish poems to music for a theatrical production. Though she has made her home in Boston for many years, McD returns to her native Galway often enough to plug into her native culture, and that's a big deal for her.

"I love these kinds of challenges," McD says, mentioning how both the film and play required her to put a contemporary touch to some very traditional stories, music and writing. "It dredges up all that I  grew up with. It helps me know what I need to know about my culture."

While her previous CD focused on contemporary tunes with a Celtic accent, her next project is shaping up to be a collection of the more traditional music she has been cooking up.

"I've never done a purely Celtic CD,"  she says. "But I'm ready to do one now, and I can bring a lot to it. I couldn't have done something like this 10 years ago."

McD's Irish Cross Country Band includes bodhran player Martin Butler and fiddle player Matt Leavenworth. They will be working in their new songs alongside the repertoire of traditional tunes, and the blend has already proven popular in concert.

"The new age Celtic meets old school went over really well. We played (last) Friday and I did 'No Eye to Pity Her,' a song nobody has really heard, and the whole place jumped out of their seats," McD recalls. "It just touched everybody, and that is very gratifying."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Macey country

Country singer Joe Macey is set to take the Coppertop stage at 4 p.m. Sunday, making up a show originally scheduled for January. As noted back then, Macey has been singing and writing songs for more than 30 years. He’s concentrated his work around his Massachusetts home, but did spend time in Nashville where he honed his craft. Most recently, Macey formed a duo with singer Liz Hartman that is just starting to make the rounds, so keep an eye out for that too.

A few weeks back, some of the Coppertop’s returning performers weighed in on their favorite music. Macey did the same when asked to make a list of what he considers to be “Essential Country Music.” Here’s what he had to say:

“Toes” and “Cold Weather” by the Zack Brown Band. “‘Toes’ is extremely popular with fans of all ages and ‘Cold Weather’ is a great modern country ballad.”

“It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. “This has become the essential party tune over the last five years or so. Who doesn’t dream of being at a tropical paradise everyday at 5?”

“Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. “This is essential due to the legend of Johnny Cash. He made timeless music spanning all generations. This is one of the most requested songs that I play.”  

“People are Crazy” by Billy Currington. “This song has a great storyline and is very popular among the younger country fans.”

“Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee. “A huge hit on the ‘Urban Cowboy’ soundtrack, which popularized country back in the ’80s.”

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Familiar, but a little different

Can a folkie and a funkster peacefully coexist in a band? Apparently so, according to Now & Then guitarist Mike Holley.

Little more than a year ago, Holley, acoustic guitarist and singer Pete LeBlanc, and bassist Tom Coleman put together Now & Then.  All three are longtime friends but been involved in other, separate musical projects.

"We got together to just jam and see how it would go," Holley says. "I'm an R&B, funk and blues guy. Pete is a folkie. The jamming went well, then the goal became to find songs we could bring in and  make our own."

To that end, Now & Then can take a familiar tune such as Steve Miller's "Fly Like an Eagle" and give it new accents.

"On that song Pete will play a djembe and we'll look for ways to weave the guitar and bass that make the song structure a little different," Holley says.

Now & Then makes its Coppertop debut Friday, starting at 8 p.m.

Now & Then also has pretty broad tastes, bringing in some left-field song choices such as "Spooky" and "So Into You" by Atlanta Rhythm Section.

But, Holley says, the band won't tackle material that doesn't connect with an audience, no matter how much fun it may be to play from a musical point of view.

"It's not about how many notes or how intricate the guitar solo is," Holley says."We want a song to bring someone back to a to a time in their life."

And sometimes the audience members themselves come up with the ideas for Now & Then.

"Someone asked us to play 'Dock of the Bay.' We ripped out a version that went over well," he says. "Now we worked on the song some and play it early in the set a lot because it gets people warmed up."

The guitarist notes that Now & Then is playing for the fun of it _ both the fun of musicians that enjoy working together, and the fun of an audience willing to go out and support live music.

But as fun as it is, Now & Then takes its job seriously.

"We work hard on the songs and arrangements.They are like our babies, and we see what happens when we put them out into the world," Holley says.

And when he sees someone grooving in a seat, tapping a foot, or singing along, Holley knows the kid is all right.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Springing ahead

No doubt, last week's snow provided the necessary launching pad into the season's spring fling. The Coppertop does its part as well with a robust music schedule this week.

The acoustic duo Hit the Bus, shown above, arrives Thursday night. Eric Yanaway and Dave Gardner anchor the group, though it's typical to find guest musicians joining in.

Now & Then plugs in for the Friday night show, airing a mix of blues and classic rock.

On Saturday, Stump! Trivia tests your grasp of fun if-not-essential facts from 3 to 5 p.m., and then Second Base returns to the Coppertop for an encore set at 8 p.m.

And on Sunday, Joe Macey makes it to the Coppertop to deliver a couple of hours of country music starting at 4 p.m.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Katrin at the next level

It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become fluent in a foreign language. Singer/songwriter Katrin Roush feels like the concept also applies to music.

“It’s a spiritual thing. You really have to reflect on where you came from, where you’re going. You have to develop that ability to open up and not hold back,” says Katrin (as she is more commonly known).

Katrin seemingly hit the 10,000-hour mark with “Frail to Fearless,” her stunning new CD recorded in New York with producer and drummer Jerry Marotta, who has worked with Peter Gabriel, Sheryl Crow and others.

Marotta’s involvement introduced Katrin to a whole new caliber of collaborator, as King Crimson/ Peter Gabriel bassist Tony Levin, Lovin’ Spoonful guitarist and harmonica player John Sebastian, Styx singer Lawrence Gowan and other notable session players participated in the recordings.

“This really brought me to a new level. There’s something to be said about building confidence when you work with really great people,” says Katrin.

She does admit, though, to feeling a little intimidated during a drive from her Boston home to Marotta’s studio in Woodstock, NY, knowing that Levin and Sebastian would be waiting there for her.

“But the minute we started playing, I loosened up, and it felt like we were playing in my living room. It just felt so easy. When I’m in the moment, I don’t worry,” she says.

And you can catch one of those moments when Katrin and Marotta perform Saturday in the Coppertop. The show begins at 7 p.m. and will preview material from “Frail to Fearless" which is available online at and has an “official” release next month.

While the production and team involved brought Katrin into a new league, her songs and her performance provide the solid foundation for the album. Since her earliest days playing around Central Mass (and hence a loyalty to doing a show at the Coppertop even as her star is on the rise), Katrin has stood out with songs and a style that rocked a little harder than conventional singer/songwriter fare, but did not really comfortably belong in rock clubs either.

But rather than compromise, Katrin just kept honing her style over a series of albums and countless live performances (her days as a street busker are nicely captured on the new tune “Cobblestones”).

Vocally, Katrin can swing from a smoky blues to lighter, jazzy tones, and she covers that range on the new record. Her subjects are likewise a blend of inner musings about the ups and downs of love and broader observations about people and places around her.

“Jerry’s rhythms, his groove, provided the glue and his production expertise made sure the whole album hung together,” she says.

Katrin revisited three of her older songs_ “Dreams,” “Ivy” and “Blame”_ for updates that better accentuate the depth and angles of the material. In other cases, such as “Breeze,” the singer had a rough idea built basically in the studio.

Katrin ends the CD with an insightful arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “That’s the Way,” making it sound more gritty than wistful.

Her goal throughout was to create recorded performances she could reproduce live.

“You’re always in different settings as an independent artist, sometimes playing solo, sometimes working with a nice core of people like I have,” she says. “So while there may be some variations live, the foundations will be there. The melodies, and groove will be there. The variations, though, are pleasing.”

As is the very work itself.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Nome that tune

Musicians find success in many different ways, but how Athol's Derek Drowne parlayed a stint as a popular performer in Alaska into having one of his songs placed in a high-profile daytime soap opera is one of the more interesting versions of career connect-the-dots.

Drowne had been playing in various rock bands around Central Mass and working at radio station WAAF when an opportunity arose in 1990 to head to Alaska where his sister was starting an entertainment company.

"I brought karaoke to the Aleutian Peninsula," he jokes. But more importantly, Drowne met a lot of musicians, some who specialized in the region's native folk music, others who were simply good players.

"In Alaska, I was a sponge that took it all in. Native drumming, throat singing, you name it. It really opened me up as a musician," he says. "I even built an electric guitar because I was bored."

Drowne makes his first appearance at the Coppertop on Friday playing from 3 to 5 p.m. during the Pass Holder Appreciation activities slated for the mountain that day.

His time in Alaska led Drowne to Nome, where he played six nights a week with a band that held down the house gig in a trading post saloon.

"In Nome, you can play music, drink, and go to church," Drowne says. "I didn't go to church."

But he became a pretty skilled musician.

While in Alaska, Drowne recorded two CDs of original material. The song "Breakfast in Paris" caught on as a regional hit. Drowne performed around the state and opened for members of the Beach Boys when they toured in the region.

Through a series of connections the singer-songwriter made touring and working with radio stations, Drowne's songs came to the attention of the music director for a few of ABC's soap operas, who flew the singer to New York to see what they could work out. That's how "Breakfast in Paris" landed in a scene of "All My Children" in 1998.

In 2001, Drowne moved back to Massachusetts. He developed a solo-acoustic show that mainly features his interpretation of popular songs. He is also writing material for another CD.

"When people go out to a club show, I think they like to hear songs that they know. But I've learned a bunch of songs from all different genres and put my own spin on them," Drowne says. "For me, if the song has a good hook, I'll usually love it and learn it."

He even surprises himself sometimes with songs that find their way into his set.

"I hated Bon Jovi's  'Dead or Alive.' When I worked at 'AAF, the song was so overplayed that I just got sick of it," he says. "But now I love playing it live. And when you hear me, it's definitely my own version."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Pass holder party and sneak peek of breakout artist

Pass holders have a party in their honor this week and a perennial performer returns, though on this trip to the Coppertop she is on the brink of a big career breakthrough.

Bruce Jacques kicks off the Coppertop shows this week, bringing his energetic routine to the mountain Thursday for an 8 p.m. show.

On Friday, Wachusett has bargains on food, drink, gear and lift-tickets for friends for all Century Pass holders, as well as two shows. Derek Drowne will perform a solo set from 3 to 5 p.m., and Trebek is on tap starting at 8 p.m.

Saturday has another two-fer with Brian and  AJ playing the afternoon apres session and Katrin Roush performing at 8. Katrin, as she is more commonly known, has played many times at the mountain, even after she shifted her base from Central Mass to Boston. Her years of hard work are paying off with the release of a stellar new CD called "Frail to Fearless," which already has a lot of buzz around it due to the heavyweight players involved in its production. We'll have more on Katrin later this week, but check her out in the video above.

And it looks like blues band Rugged Road is taking the Sunday afternoon slot after a scheduling snafu with a previously booked act. Again, check back to make sure this is ironed out.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Men at Work to Metallica

Josh Briggs works in the restaurant business, but he never lost his appetite for being a working musician too. The band he sings in and plays guitar for, Five on Friday, has been staying busy in the area, and as a solo artist Briggs recently released the CD “Back to Bliss.” It’s as a solo performer that Briggs returns to the Coppertop Sunday for a 4 p.m. show. Briggs answered a few questions about his concert-going experiences, and reveals a bit of his eclectic tastes. Here’s what he had to say:

What was the first concert you saw and what do you remember most about it? “Harry Chapin in ’82 or ’83. I was 9 or 10, and really the only thing I remember is that everyone was smoking ‘funny smelling’ cigarettes, and I thought it was weird that he just sat on a chair the whole time. As opposed to my second concert Men AT Work! I was on my father's shoulders the whole show and decided right then and there that I had to play the saxophone. I spent about one year trying that until I realized that bass guitar was cooler.”

What was the best concert you’ve seen, and what made it the best? “Without question, it was Fishbone at the Berkshire Performing Arts Center. I had never really seen a band put every ounce of energy into performing while at the same time just being absolute masters on their instruments. I still think about that show when I go to concerts.”

What was the worst concert you’ve seen, and what made it so bad? “I guess I have two that really stand out. The first is when I went to see The Cult open for Metallica at the old Centrum.  I was a huge Cult fan and didn't really know or care about Metallica. The Cult were so terrible, however Metallica blew me away. I think that night changed me forever. I had a similar experience when I saw the Smashing Pumpkins at Lollapalooza. I thought they were going to kill it, but they followed The Beastie Boys on the ‘Check Your Head’ tour and they just couldn't come close to comparing.”

If you could see any artist from any time, who would you pick to see? “This one is tough. I have so many shows that I would have liked to see, but I guess if I had to pick one, I would like to have seen Jimi Hendrix perform the night that ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ came out. I guess Sir Paul and Eric Clapton were in the audience and Hendrix played the title track. I'm sure that was pretty fantastic.” 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Country singer's rock roots explored

Glenn Stewart is back in the Coppertop Saturday night at 8 to deliver his “country that rocks.”  Like other Coppertop performers this week, Stewart answered questions about his own experiences seeing live music. And now it's clear where the "rock" in his sound comes from. Here’s what he had to say:

What was the first concert you saw, and what do you remember most about it? “Kiss was my first concert. It was the 1983 ‘Creatures of the Night’ tour. I remember sitting there blown away. Now remember, this was before the Internet and the modern day computer, so we had to rely on MTV and Hit Parade magazine to get our rock and roll gossip. I remember sitting there thinking to myself, ‘Did Ace Frehley change his make up?’  Later we found out he was fired and Vinnie Vincent was the new guy. This show was at the Centrum in Worcester.”

What’s the best concert you’ve seen, and what made it the best? “The Kiss reunion show, seen from the front row. Of course for this one I was a bit older than the ‘83 show. I felt like a little kid all over again. I was looking at this band on stage, back in make-up, and all the chrome so super shiny, and the crowd losing their minds over four old men in make-up and high heels. Sounds like something from ‘RuPaul's Drag Race’ lol!!”
What’s the worst concert you’ve seen, and what made it so bad? “Worst concert had to be a Scorpions' 1989 Love at First Sting show. I remember the lack of energy from the band. They were just standing there. Hell, one of them was even yawning. Total waste of my time, and totally disrespectful to the audience who paid the 20 dollars for the show.”

If you could see any artist from any time, who would you pick to see?  “I would love to have seen Johnny Cash and his concert at Folsom Prison. It’s classic.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fullerton recall

Sean Fullerton is an in-demand solo artist whose audience has grown as his own musical journey has matured. This week, artists playing in the Coppertop are weighing in here on their own experiences seeing live music. Fullerton, who performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, has this to say:

What was the first concert you saw, and what do you remember most about it?  “My very first live concert was Janet Jackson at the Worcester Centrum, I believe around 1990.  Not my first choice, but a buddy of mine and his sister had an extra ticket and invited me.  I was amazed at the whole concert experience, and actually seeing a Jackson live, but it still wasn't my first choice for a concert. Then she performed her rock hit ‘Black Cat,’ and after that, I was a fan. What a song!”

What’s the best concert you’ve seen, and what made it the best? “ I've seen a ton of great shows _ Van Halen, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Chicago with Earth, Wind & Fire_ but hands down the best concert I ever saw was a solo acoustic performance by my modern-day blues hero John Hammond, Jr.   My favorite music is the old Delta style blues, one singer, one guitar, maybe a harmonica, maybe light percussion. I'd been playing and writing rock/pop tunes for 12 years professionally up to this date.  After this show, I knew what direction I wanted to go musically. Besides being blown away by the show, I got to meet Mr. Hammond afterwards, and he was over-the-top gracious with his time and attention to my seemingly endless questioning of him. I play the blues and the harmonica because of him.”

What was the worst concert you’ve seen, and what made it so bad? “Although the line-up was all-star caliber_ Amos Lee, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan_ the show wasn't to my liking at all.  The best part of the night was Amos Lee. I was psyched to see Elvis Costello, but he played acoustic through amp, and the distortion covered a lot of the words. Finally, I just couldn't understand one single word Bob Dylan sang with his electric band.”

If you could see any artist from any time, who would you pick to see? “I would've loved to have seen The Beatles last official concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, August 29, 1966.  Their last ever concert show before recording ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.’"

Fullerton also notes a personal best from his career, saying, “Besides having people enjoy my performances, I had the opportunity to open for my ‘80s hero Colin Hay of Men At Work back in 2004 at his performance at the Lucky Dog Music Hall in Worcester.”

Monday, February 20, 2012

No vacation for returning performers

February Vacation Week is a favorite time of year for skiers and riders, and the Coppertop has some of its favorite performers coming back in to entertain throughout the week,.

Things begin on a one-two shot of blues, as Sean Fullerton plays Thursday night and Hoodoo Revelator hits the Coppertop stage Friday night. Both shows begin at 8 p.m.

Though blues in the base, Fullerton and Hoodoo (shown in video) head off in different directions. Fullerton is a solo performer with a feel for the rootsy, country side of the blues, while Hoodoo Revelator likes the big chug of electric blues.

Glenn Stewart brings his rocking brand of country back to the mountain on Saturday. And Five on Friday front man Josh Briggs does a solo show at 4 p.m. Sunday.

Now, since these artists have been previewed in this space before, something different will unfold this week. Because this is all about enjoying live music and being out and about, this week's performers will share some recollections of their own experiences in the audience and talk about great (and not-so-great) shows they have seen.

So check back (you're on vacation, you have the time) before coming up.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Carrying it all

Jay Graham never knew how good he had it playing in a band until he started doing solo acoustic gigs. During a period in between being in the Arthur Dent Foundation and taking his current spot playing guitar in Soulstice, Graham developed a solo acoustic show.  He honed his act with a long-running Thursday residency at Funky Murphy's in Worcester, playing 40 to 50 tunes over the course of a night.

"It made me realize how much work it is to carry a song 100 percent. But it made me a better player and singer, and it made me a better teacher," says Graham who also teaches guitar at Union Music. "Now I can better explain to my students what needs to be done to carry a song 100 percent."

You can catch Graham carrying the ball Sunday afternoon in the Coppertop, starting at 4 p.m.

While Graham has some original material that he is preparing for a CD now being mapped out, the guitarist and singer says he prefers to be an interpreter of others' songs with his solo show. And rather than cover the usual fare from the singer-songwriter canon, Graham champions more contemporary sources.

"I'll plays songs by Ray LaMontagne and David Gray, and do some Radiohead and Kings of Leon," he says. "But I do older songs too, like stuff by the Beatles and Johnny Cash."

Graham says he has been surprised_ and pleasantly so_ by the reaction to his set lists, and thinks the whole notion of "standards" may be expanding.

"I  was playing in this little townie bar, and I went in expecting to be playing classic rock all night," Graham recalls. "But it wasn't the case at all, and people were requesting these modern songs all night. So you  never know at all what you're walking into."

But this vet of the Central Mass club circuit has covered a lot of ground, playing jam-band material, soul and R&B classics, reggae, and rock as well as the acoustic material. So it's safe to say he's ready to handle whatever curves are thrown his way.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Don't mean a thang without that twang

Kier Byrnes hears it all the time: "Oh, I don't like country music, but I like your band."

That band is Three Day Threshold, a fast-pickin', hard-drinkin', hell-raisin' sort of troupe some call "Americana" because the musicians aren't old geezers, and  others simply like to call good ol' country music. No matter what it's labeled, Three Day Threshold's music has a distinct twang in its Boston accent.

Three Day Threshold really jelled when given the opportunity to be the Thursday night house band at the old Mama Kin club on Lansdowne Street. The band has gone on the rake in all sorts of "best of" accolades, and not just around home.

"We were flown to Kentucky by Fred Noe, the master distiller at Jim Beam, to play at a private party for him. He had no idea where we were from. He just heard our music and liked it," Byrnes says.

With a bunch of songs about whiskey, and even more about being under the influence of whiskey, it's easy to hear what in Three Day Threshold's music caught Jim Beam's ear. But beneath the hijinks is a band with some serious chops.

Byrnes plays banjo and guitar, and the group also includes washboard, bass, drums, and, at times, fiddle, all of it wielded with precision and authority.

"Finding the right musicians is like finding the right girlfriend," Byrnes says. "Fate plays a role in finding the right ones."

But he knows what he's looking for, saying, "Personality comes first, but they also need a high level of musicianship. We're playing at breakneck speeds."

You can see for yourself when the Three Day Threshold does a special bluegrass set Friday in the Coppertop. And by bluegrass Byrnes means fleet-fingered picking with no less attitude compared to when the band is fully plugged in. Show time is 8 p.m.

Three Day Threshold spent so much time touring last year_ including shows in the Middle East where it entertained U.S. troops_ that the band is just now getting down to putting together material for the follow up to the raging "Straight Out of the Barrel" CD.

Byrnes says he may try out some of the new tunes at the Coppertop. New or old, though, he knows what he wants out of a Three Day Threshold song.

"I love music that tells a story and that is lively," Byrnes says. "And that's what this music does."

And that's probably why no matter what it's called, a lot of people are liking it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All bases covered

From calypso to country, the Coppertop has you covered in what may be the most diversely booked week of music yet this season.

Island Breeze performs Thursday, making up a date that was scuttled by rain earlier in the season. The calypso trio features Kelley B, leader of the reggae band Hot Like Fire, on keys and vocals with steel pan player Charleston Sarjean, and guitarist Ron Butler. Here's the original piece on Island Breeze for a brush up

On Friday, Three Day Threshold brings its raucous country show to the Coppertop, where it may be tough to duplicate the scene from the above video shot at a somewhat larger nightclub. But nobody will stop you from trying.

This week also marks the return of two-show Saturdays. The acoustic duo Fern & Rita handles apres-ski duties from 3 to 5 p.m. Then the popular blues man Chris Stovall Brown returns to the Coppertop for an 8 p.m. show.

Soulstice guitarist Jason Graham (whom jam fans of a certain vintage will remember from Arthur Dent Foundation) does a solo show at 4 p.m. Sunday .

Pretty much this is the musical equivalent of an "all trails open" sign.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Highest highs

Tall Heights_ the duo of Tim Harrington and Paul Wright_ really found its sound little more than a year ago when it eased into a melodic acoustic setting that wove together pop and folk music influences. That natural-sounding pairing of Harrington's guitar and Wright's cello reflects a growing trend among contemporary artists to emphasize fine craftsmanship in both songwriting and playing _ music that is quiet but not soft.

Tall Heights, which returns for an encore performance in the Coppertop on Sunday afternoon, supplied a list of essential "folk-rock/acoustic-rock" listens that fits its own mindset:

"For Emma, Forever Ago" by Bon Iver - It changed the scene forever.  Production value and song structure alike, Justin Vernon paved the way for our EP, "Rafters," along with so many others (the video is of Tall Heights performing the song "Skinny Love" from this record).  
"This Empty Northern Hemisphere" by Gregory Alan Isakov- With some help from his friend Brandi Carlile, he just nailed it with this record.  His melodic structure and, at times, cryptic lyrics continue to influence us.  From "Big Black Car:" "Heartbreak, you know, drives a big black car, I swear I was in the backseat just minding my own."  
"I Speak Because I Can "by Laura Marling- So pleasantly British.  Her voice is softened margarine. 
"Shallow Grave" by The Tallest Man on Earth-  His song "The Gardener" fascinates us in the way its extremely major key and melody maintains a very dark quality (it is, after all, about a man who kills all who know of his infidelities in order to preserve a positive image of himself in his lover's eyes).
 "Fleet Foxes" by Fleet Foxes- This record brought reverb and beards back into the mainstream, and I thank them.
"Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen - Mood.  I feel that he makes me feel exactly what he wants me to feel in this record.  For my money, you can't beat the opening verse of Thunder Road: "Screen door slams.  Mary's dress waves.  Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, hey that's me and I want you only don't turn me home again I just can't face myself alone again."  He really just brings me there, and keeps me.  So good. 
Tall Heights hits the stage at 4 p.m.