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.
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.”
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/