I’ve written several times on this blog about Doylestown, PA. In the extensive suburbs of Philadelphia, Doylestown is perhaps the prettiest, the most charming, the most interesting village. I’m referring not to Doylestown’s generic housing developments, but to its quite large historic district. This section is worth a visit, and for many people, such as my wife Sandy and me, multiple and regular hellos.
You like art? Go to Doylestown’s high-quality Michener Museum. You like non-blockbuster movies? Try the County Theater. You like artifacts from America’s pre-Industrial Revolution past? The astonishing Mercer Museum was built for you. And if you are a popular music buff, the place to frequent in Doylestown is Puck, a spot with chic indoor and outdoor eating areas and, incongruously, a grungy cellar where singer-songwriters and rock and country and funk bands take the stage a few times each week.
I’ve been to Puck’s music room 15 or more times over the years. Puck’s management brings in a wide array of musicians, a few of whom are touring artists with decent-sized national followings. But generally the players at Puck are little-knowns from Greater Philadelphia. I once had a small career as a music presenter for a summer music series in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill neighborhood (see my article The Music Biz And I). It was at Puck that I found several local acts (Cheers Elephant; Toy Soldiers; The John Byrne Band) who knocked my socks off and whom I ended up booking for the series.
What I like about Puck’s music room is its casual and boho vibes. Aside from the handsome bar, the space has been inspired by Frat House Finished Basement Magazine. The mottled floor could be mistaken for a Jackson Pollock painting. There are pillars that obstruct views of the stage. My kind of place.
As for the music, I tend to approach Puck with an open mind, with few expectations, and usually everything works out just fine. Many times I find the music to be good but nothing special. And sometimes, as with Cheers Elephant et al., I’m wowed. On a recent Saturday night, Sandy and I both were floored by Grady Hoss And The Sidewinders, the opening act of a double bill. I’d never heard of them, had little idea how they would be. What they were was tight and exciting, a country band in the classic mode, with some latter day tweakings. Anyone who favors Waylon Jennings, Gram Parsons and Dwight Yoakum would find good fun with Grady Hoss And The Sidewinders. For me, their 45-minute set was 45 minutes too short.
Grady Hoss And The Sidewinders, as I’ve learned from post-concert research, is a Philadelphia area band just starting out. They are working on a maybe-soon-to-be-released EP. Their Puck engagement, much to my amazement, was their public debut. Lance Davis, the leader, apparently had a fairly long career as an engineer and producer and rock musician, but for various reasons put all of that on an extended hiatus a number of years ago. In 2014 he emerged from his musical hibernation with country tunes on his mind. As the band came together, Lance decided that each member needed a colorful stage name reminiscent of the kinds of names (Ernest Tubb, Buck Owens) that once populated the country charts. Voilà, Lance adopted Grady Hoss as his moniker. The others in the group were dubbed Bucky Vennerson (in real life, Vince Federici), Dusty Reigns (Dan O’Neil) and Earl Smokesman (Charlie Heim).
Lance and pals played nine songs at Puck, eight of them originals. The songs were good. Lance’s vocals were heartfelt, his high notes reverberating with longing or regret, as they should in tales drawn from country music’s traditional wellspring. Lance strummed an acoustic guitar all evening, his face half-hidden beneath a big Stetson hat, and The Sidewinders created a rich palette of sounds around him. I knew I was in for an evening of treats right from the opening moments of the opening song, Rivertown. The chuga-chuga Johnny Cash-like beats from Heim’s drums and O’Neil’s electric bass built a strong template. Federici’s guitar licks ignited and pushed. And guest pedal steel guitarist Dave Van Allen’s poignant statements were as Nashville as you can get.
Two head-nodding honky tonk numbers followed Rivertown. I didn’t catch their titles, but their themes were classic country: lost souls and drinking. “Lord, I don’t know where I’m going/But I just want to get there” came from the first, and “I’m going back to the bottle/Back out in the rain/Back to the girls I need to see” from its successor.
So, how were these guys able to sound so good in their first-ever club performance? I imagine it’s because they’ve practiced a whole lot, and because they have heaps of talent. I can see this band going places. They without doubt have the chops, the look and the laidback attitude. What they will need to make it, if indeed making it is part of their game plan, is a bunch more original songs. As I discovered at home a few days later, two of the eight originals that I heard at Puck predate GHATS. They come from a rock album, The Hovercraft Diaries, that Lance released nine years ago. Maybe Lance possesses much new countrified material that he didn’t reveal at Puck. If not, I hope that composing sessions are on his agenda. Grady Hoss And The Sidewinders are a band about which I’d be happy to say one day, “I saw them when . . .”
(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)
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