Monthly Archives: March 2012

Artist Feature: Stopwith & Their Performance for Revival Society

photo by alec berry

By: Alec Berry

A Saturday night and the Morgantown Brewing Company is filled with a variation of people. Forty-five, 50 in number. Backgrounds unknown.

Past the tables, booths and all other expected restaurant amenities sits a relatively small stage. It’s basically a slightly elevated stair which extends seven or eight feet until meeting a wall. You only really know it’s a stage because of the few speakers and microphone stands resting on it.

This would be the stage on which local band Stopwith, a relatively new act making headway in the Morgantown scene, would perform. But this isn’t just another bar show. There’s a cause.

Revival Society is why Stopwith is here. It’s a monthly benefit show held at the Morgantown Brewing Company which presents a variety of local musicians for reasons of charity.

On this particular event, there are five bands set to play, and it’s all in effort to raise money for a WVU doctoral piano student named Jen Livingston.

Livingston has cancer.

According to Revival Society founder Michael Hamm, Revival Society exists to both benefit members of the community as well as promote local music. It’s a monthly feature, most recently held regularly at the Morgantown Brewing Company.

In Hamm’s eyes, Livingston was an obvious choice to be the most recent Revival Society beneficiary.

“I’m a music major here at WVU, as are many of the artists who play on the shows, and Jen is a dear friend of ours in need,” says Hamm. “If you don’t take care of your family, who will, man?”

Hamm started Revival Society back in the Fall of 2010, completely with the purpose to look out and take care of the Morgantown community when others would not. At first, he housed the show at the Sozo Coffeehouse atop of High Street, but Sozo eventually closed down in the summer 2011.

Hamm needed a new spot.

“I met with the management of Morgantown Brewing Company in the Fall and we began anew this semester,” says Hamm. “In terms of space, we had outgrown Sozo anyway and really needed a larger space, so MBC is a great place to call home!”

On the subject of music and its involvement with Revival Society, Hamm cites music as the natural kicker to get things moving.

“Music has the power to bring people together and make people think beyond themselves and that which is merely in front of them,” says Hamm. “It only made sense to involve music.”

Hamm also mentioned that while Revival Society looks to raise money, the program is just as much about creating awareness, and for a start-up band nothing could be better.

photo by alec berry

When asked what point of development he considers Stopwith to be in, vocalist Daniel Crowder says the band is just past the first steps.

“We’re at that point where we’re still trying to get people to hear us,” says Crowder. “That’s somewhat difficult here in Morgantown given the strong local music scene. It can be hard to get noticed, especially when you don’t play music that’s easy to categorize.”

Oddly enough, that seems to be Stopwith’s calling card — that they’re difficult to label with a genre. Crowder himself has a tough time describing the band’s sound, but when asked he manages to sell an idea.

“We lean toward the chamber rock side of folk, at least, that’s the sound we’re heading to,” says Crowder. “We want a massive sound with guitars and strings and songs that continually build and build.

“The main goal is to play songs that are as enjoyable to play as they are to listen to, which is why we’ve been ending our sets recently with a 12-minute song that gets progressively louder and faster as it goes. At this point the challenge is seeing how many layers you can put onto a song with just four people.

“One guy said that ‘if your redneck cousin had a hipster sister, she’d like this band,’ which I thought was pretty accurate, even though we don’t play particularly twangy music.”

As Crowder mentions, Stopwith is a four-piece operation. Other than himself, the band consists of Eric Lopez on violin, Brandon Shaw on the drums and Spencer Clites on the bass. Crowder sings and plays guitar.

All four are West Virginia natives, ranging from all different areas of the state such as Huntington, Bridgeport and Keyser. Stopwith, however, formed right here in Morgantown after Crowder decided it was time to build a band.

“I had been playing music at open mics around Morgantown and Huntington, and on rare occasions as far as Memphis or Chicago, for about a year,” says Crowder. “After that year, I was presented with the opportunity to play a show for Revival Society. Up to that point it had been just me doing everything, but then I realized I needed a band because the music needed more than just one person with a guitar to sound exactly how it should.”

Crowder set to work, eventually finding Lopez, Shaw and Clites through classroom connections here at WVU. According to Crowder, building the band has thus far been the most difficult part of the process. Even more difficult than the actual gigs. He cited it as “the biggest hurdle.”

photo by alec berry

But the band’s been together for a year now, writing songs, making plans, and Crowder says he’s with musicians he can trust.

He even says he enjoys the band setup more than the solo situation he had previously.

“When you’re playing music with other people who know what they’re doing, it’s not so bad because you have other people to fall back on,” says Crowder. “Playing by yourself is worse on the nerves; there’s not a lot of room to hide. If you miss a chord and it’s just you with an acoustic guitar, that’s all anybody can hear. But with a whole band, you can take cover with a missed note here or there, which can free you up to take chances with the songs a bit.”

Any chances they took did not damage the performance, though. Stopwith went off without a hitch, and another Revival Society show was an overall success.

“Confidence is pretty high coming out of the show,” says Crowder. “Expect to see us playing out more and more frequently in coming weeks and months.”

Hamm also seemed pleased, but even if the show were a failure, he’d consider this round of Revival Society worth the effort.

“If it’s a success, great,” says Hamm. “If not, I can rest knowing that we played a great show, made a difference, and did it for free.”

You can check out Stopwith’s music here: http://www.reverbnation.com/stopwith
Check out the band’s Morgantown Sound performance here: https://morgantownsound.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/mgtsnd-02-27-2012-stopwith/

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MGTSND 02-27-2012 / Stopwith

photo by alec berry

photo by alec berry

This week you’ll hear from local act Stopwith. This performance was recorded on Febraury 27th, 2012.

Consisting of two medical students and two engineering students, Stopwith supplies an interesting blend of folk and garage rock which could possibly be described by referring to the band as something “your redneck friend’s hipster sister” would enjoy.

Manned by Eric Lopez, Daniel Crowder, Brandon Shaw, and Spencer Clites, Stopwith originates here in Morgantown and seems to have some life ahead of it. Though a young band, you can tell these musicians enjoy the process and are not afraid to take risks in terms of their performances.

We’d like to thank Stopwith for taking the time to perform.

This is the performance. Live from the Gluck.

You can sit back and enjoy the entire performance, or use the following time code to jump around.

Ironside – 1:22
Chains – 4:46
Baby in the Fire – 7:45
No Grave – 11:00
Dig a Hole – 13:50

Also, check out Stopwith on ReverbNation.

Recorded and mixed by John Casey.

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Artist Feature: Shawn Owen

By: Alec Berry

I think I walked into the Morgantown Brewing Company sometime around 8:45 p.m. It may have even been nine. The Brewpub was packed, though. I know that. Chatter of all sorts bounced off every wall and floorboard. Yet , the scene wasn’t harsh or eager. It felt subdued … like a manageable chaos brought on by the dim lights and wood stain color pallet.

It’s safe to say though that if I were twenty-one, I probably would have joined the patrons and mingled amongst that chaos. I’d be in a seating booth somewhere, propped up against a chair backrest sipping on ale, and my mood would be light and I’d probably add to the chatter all throughout the restaurant, occasionally dropping in curse words.

But I’m not twenty-one; I’m nineteen, so it’s funny to note then that upon entering the MBC, I immediately shuffled over to the bar and took a stool.  There stood a reason for this, though; it’s where Shawn was sitting.

Shawn Owen writes and performs his own music – sometimes solo with a lone acoustic guitar, other times with a full band behind him. His sound ranges anywhere between the usual acoustic singer/songwriter aesthetic to something similar to a more boiled down take on reggae.

Back in 1999, Owen jammed around the Morgantown scene with his band Stolen Element. They played house shows as well as clubs, and they eventually set out on an East Coast tour, selling 3000 copies of their original EP. Five years later, with many parties and good times behind them, the band wrapped it up and split, and Shawn left Morgantown.

Today, Owen is 31, lives in Annapolis, Maryland and still possesses a passion for music. The Morgantown Brewing Company just happens to be the spot of his latest performance.

When I took my seat at the bar, Shawn had just been handed a sandwich by the bartender. I couldn’t tell you what was on it. I really wasn’t looking. There were french fries beside it, though. But before he could take a bite, I stole his attention and got him talking.

“So what’s it like being back in Morgantown?” I asked.

“It’s good,” says Owen. “Although, somewhat different.”

And from there Shawn went on to describe a Morgantown music scene ten years gone.

“The scene was different back then,” says Owen. “Much of the music is club and bar oriented today. Before, house parties and house shows were the epicenter. That’s what bands were playing.  123 Pleasant Street wasn’t really booking smaller bands, and Sunnyside was just blowin’ up.”

Owen recalls many of those house shows, citing some of their eccentricities. One that sticks out took place near the current location of Summit Hall. Stolen Element was playing another house show, but rather than the usual living room setup, the band scoped out a balcony and plugged in.

For Owen, that experience felt like playing a festival. All he can remember are the countless people standing down below, looking up.

A lot of that street festival party vibe has died away, now. When I asked him if he could think of any reason for the calm, Shawn could only guess.

“The University cracking down probably has something to do with it,” says Owen.

Although, Owen may not have as close a connection to the University as most local inhabitants as he was never actually a student during his time in Morgantown. Instead, Shawn worked a handful of odd jobs while not on stage, and he can gleefully remember his friends waking up early for class as he slept in.

The freewheelin’ take on life even stretches back to before Shawn came to Morgantown. Growing up in Snowshoe, West Virginia, Owen picked up snowboarding at a young age. He even worked in his father’s ski shop, and eventually moved to Colorado at age 17 to chase a dream of professional snowboarding.

The dream didn’t work out, though. Shawn’s snowboarding career was interrupted after an injury, and that’s when he fell back on music.

But Shawn says that music was always apart of his life.

Early on, artists like Bob Marley and Sublime caught his attention, and later on he would draw from these sources to craft his own take.  He eventually got to a point where he couldn’t imagine himself doing anything other than music.

At this point in the conversation, Shawn has nibbled through most of his french fries. The status of the plate becomes my only indication of time. I’m scribbling in my tiny blue flip notebook, trying to make sense of everything being thrown at me.

I pause for a moment and look around once again at the packed club.

“How are you feeling going into this one?” I asked. “Nervous, confident?”

“I’m excited,” Owen says. “I love Morgantown, and I’m ready to be back in it.

“Although, I didn’t know Rusted Root was playing tonight, too,” he mentions while laughing.

Other than a few acoustic shows, this performance at the MBC is Shawn’s first full band presentation in Morgantown. He calls his backing band The SOBs – short for Shawn Owen Band. Consisting of Zach Ditmars, Tobias Russell, Paul Clagett and Ben Bays, Shawn says the SOBs compliment his sound nicely and really bring the music to life.

“So, yeah, I’m ready,” says Owen. “I think the audience will be into it.”

Shawn has no plans to permanently move back to Morgantown, though. I got the vibe that era of his life was over. Instead, Shawn wants travel with his music, and to prove he’s more than talk, Shawn mentions playing one his more recent songs, “Make Money,” at Occupy Wall Street.

“It was a very cool experience,” says Owen. “What they were doing sort of inspired me to write the song in the first place, and to play it there, for the protestors, I think I may have been to supply a little inspiration for them.”

After finishing this statement, Shawn cast a lingering eye over his sandwich, now becoming stale from the air because of my presence. I figured it was time to leave the man be. I thanked him, shook his hand and parted ways.

He had a show to play anyway.

You can check out Shawn’s music here: http://www.shawnowenmusic.com/
Check out his Morgantown Sound performance here: https://morgantownsound.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/mgtsnd-02-13-2012-shawn-owen/

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Artist Feature: Best Friends

photo by alec berry

By: Emily Meadows

Looking on stage at a Best Friends show, you might see pink hair, blue jeans, bandanas, and shiny blazers. No two members project the same personal taste, instrumental style or stage presence. Nonetheless, they have somehow effortlessly managed to intermix their individual idiosyncrasies and make them into the ingenious and creatively versatile musical child that is Best Friends.

“I just want people to feel inspired by our music,” drummer Jami Calandros says with sincerity, “I want them to feel inspiration for anything.”

As it is customary, and usually quite simple, to categorize a local band by genre, the Morgantown based Best Friends are not so black and white. From the chilled out alternative riffs that can be heard on “All Alone”, to the bluesy rock and roll on “What the Planet Needs is Love” and softer pop, key friendly ballad that is “Black Cloud”, this ensemble remains uncategorized.

Made up of Jordan Pack, Jami Calandros, John Casey, Paris Leonard and Jacob Pierce, every member plays more than one role to make up the pop sounds of the multi-talented group. You will hear the BFF’s utilize a wave of instrumentals on nearly all their tracks, including (but certainly not limited to) rhythm guitars, keyboards, harmonicas and tambourines, alongside the ever-present guitars, drums, bass and superb vocals.

“Everyone is talented, and we’re all trying as hard as we can, so why not?” lead guitarist and vocalist John Casey tells me when asked why Best Friends chooses to modify their positions entirely, all the way down to the lead vocals, avoiding that “staple” sound so many other bands try hard to establish.

“I would feel limited on just one instrument,” says Calandros, “everyone has multiple talents, and we get a sound out of that, and it keeps everything fresh and fun.”

photo by alec berry

Their most recent performance at the Gluck Theater for Morgantown Sound on February 20, 2012 was the group’s favorite performance to date. With an expanded, matured and well-crafted set, it was easy to sense an authentic good time. While becoming part of an on stage party, sitting in the audience you are if nothing else simply compelled to have fun.

No strangers to covers and constantly full of surprises, they not only closed their Gluck set with the premiere of “Rocking in the Free World,” but unveiled yet another hidden (and really awesome) talent: Jordan Pack’s rap debut.

The dazzling vocal performance allowed Pack, lead vocalist and keyboard player, to spit his flow as well as belt his strong, high-pitched and unmistakable vocals for the surprise cover of classic hip-hop tribute track, “I’ll Be Missing You.”

“We literally prepared it twenty minutes before we walked out of the door to go to the show!” Calandros said, but she and Casey agree it will definitely not be the last time we hear Pack behind a beat.

“We absolutely would love to use hip-hop influences and more rapping [in the future], we already use a lot of it for influence now,” Casey adds.

photo by alec berry

With a slew of ever-changing performances, it is easy to speculate if the long time friends ever find themselves in a bind of creative differences. On the contrary, it might be just those that keep them together.

“We’re all crazy and different, but it works,” Casey says, “if it didn’t we would all just be a bunch of weirdos on stage.”

Calandros adds that they all appreciate various styles of music, which likely contributes to their ability to craft tracks without discrimination.

“No one’s a music snob, so we all take from the each others differences,” Calandros said, “but we stay on the same wavelength. We have similar influences as well; like I think we could all agree on a heavy influence from Prince.”

No matter what angle the BFF’s are trying to capture your ear buds from, their dedication and love for all music is obvious, and their appreciation for their support and growing fan base is sincere. Calandros and Casey both light up with joy when asked about their fans, and shared how much they truly appreciate the love and support from their already budding fan base. After all, they are your best friends.

photo by alec berry

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