On Stage: Elkton Music Hall to feature familiar acts this weekend

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Quinn Sullivan

Two music acts sharing the bill at Elkton Music Hall (107 North Street, Elkton, Md., www.elktonmusichall.com) on March 1 are no strangers to area music fans.

The Gretchen Emery Band has played many venues around the area including Kennett Flash, Jamey’s House of Music, Stoney’s English Pub and Bellefonte Cafe

Massachusetts native Quinn Sullivan has played a lot of clubs around the region and has found a home away from home at the Sellersville Theater.

“I’ve played the Sellersville Theater a lot over the last six years,” said Sullivan, during a phone interview from his home in the New England whaling town of New Bedford.

“The last time I played there was summer of 2022. I really like performing there. It had great people working there and really good fans.”

Sullivan first performed there in July 2017 and played dates later that summer with blues legend Buddy Guy. Three weeks earlier, Sullivan was sitting in class as a student at New Bedford High School in Massachusetts.

Sullivan’s history with Guy goes back almost 20 years – which is pretty impressive considering Sullivan just turned 24 in March.

“I first saw Buddy Guy play in a video of the Crossroads Festival in 2004,” said Sullivan. “I was playing a guitar but wasn’t into blues yet. Prior to that, I was playing rock. Blues came into the picture after I saw Buddy Guy.

“I started playing guitar when I was really young. My parents were music lovers, and my dad was a drummer. I dabbled with a lot of musical instruments but no guitars at first. Eventually, I just gravitated toward guitar. I loved the way it made me feel.

“When I was three, my parents got me a guitar as a Christmas present. A few years later, I started taking guitar lessons. It seems that playing guitar is something I’ve always been doing.”

Sullivan first gained national media attention at age six when he appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

“Once I saw Buddy Guy and how he played his guitar, I said to my family – we have to go see this guy play,” said Sullivan. “In 2007, he came to New Bedford to perform at the Zeiterion Theater.

“We made friends with the people at the theater and got to go backstage. I went to his dressing room, and he was very welcoming and signed my guitar. I was seven or eight at the time. He asked me if I could play. I played a few licks for him, and he looked at me and said – be ready when I call you.”

“He called me out onstage to play with him that night at the Zeiterion Theater,” said Sullivan. “That started the journey I’ve been on for the last 16 years. In July 2007, he came for a show in Lowell, Massachusetts and I got to jam with him for a second time. That was when it clicked for us.

“We kept going to see him every time he came to the area. Eventually, he asked me to open some shows for him. The first time I opened for him was in Arlington, Kentucky when I was 11. It got to a point where we were opening a lot of shows for him.”

Sullivan has released four of his own albums – “Cyclone” in 2011, “Getting There” in 2013, “Midnight Highway” in 2017 and “Wide Awake” in 2017.

“I recorded the ‘Cyclone’ album in Nashville in 2010 and it came out in 2100,” said Sullivan. “That was my first time in the studio, and it taught me so much.

“I was working with Buddy Guy’s producer Tom Hambridge. He pushed me a lot – which was needed. I’ve worked with Tom on all four albums. We recorded at Blackbird Studio in Nashville which is a legendary studio.”

Sullivan has been touring the world since he was 11 years old, playing storied venues such as Madison Square Garden, the Hollywood Bowl and RFK Stadium in Washington D.C., as well as India’s Mahindra Blues Festival, Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, and three Montreux Jazz Festivals.

He has shared the stage with Carlos Santana on several occasions. Sullivan’s performance experience includes appearances on leading national television programs such as The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Conan, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

“My music is a lot more than just the blues,” said Sullivan. “I’ve definitely started to expand with other styles of writing. My writing hasn’t changed but it has progressed. ‘Wide Awake’ was an opportunity to explore other styles. It’s guitar-driven and bluesy but it’s not just traditional blues.

“There are elements of rock-and-roll, indie and alternative. It’s always been my goal to write songs I love and to bring more diversity to them. I was still in high school for my first three albums. ‘Wide Awake’ was an introduction to Quinn Sullivan. The album title was a metaphor. To get a younger generation into it, I needed to expand and have more variety.”

Now, it’s 2024 and time for new things for Sullivan. He has recorded a new album with a new producer in a new city.

“‘Wide Awake’ came out in June 2021 and now another one is in the can,” said Sullivan. “It’s coming out next year.

“I recorded it in Minneapolis with producer John Fields. We wrote and did the whole thing at his studio at Creation Audio. He came to mind when I was thinking about a producer to use. And my manager knew his manager. We set up a time to write together and it went well.

“We just finished it a few weeks ago. It’s very expansive. It’s another record with a variety of different styles – and some blues.”

Video link for Quinn Sullivan — https://youtu.be/nKFU6O3rTnQ.

Both acts have new albums looming on the horizon.

Sullivan’s new LP, “Salvation,” is scheduled to be released on June 7 while the Emery release is scheduled for later this year.

Gretchen Emery

Vocal powerhouse Emery was recently honored with the 2023 award for “Best Lead Singer” by Delaware Valley Hometown Heroes. Her husband Kenny Windle is the band’s guitarist and Emery’s co-writer. The band also features Randy Waters (bass), Mike Leger (drums), and Frank Donato (keys).

The Gretchen Emery Band has toured steadily in the Mid-Atlantic region over the last four years. The band released its debut EP, “If Love Were Enough,” in July 2022.

The EP, which was released on a/i/r records, has been described as a “rootsy, soul-fueled mix of rockin’ R&B…. blending both traditional and contemporary influences, creating something that feels instantly familiar yet excitingly fresh at the same time.”

Now, they are working on a new release on a/i/r records. Their most recent area show was at Stoney’s Pub in Wilmington back on Thanksgiving Weekend.

“We took a break and sort of hibernated the last two months,” said Emery, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from her home in Newark, Delaware. “We didn’t play any shows from mid-December until now because we’ve been working on our new album.”

The band is moving in style with a trip planned to one of the most respected recording studios in the world – FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

FAME, an acronym for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, is a studio that has been the recording home for such acts as Otis Redding, Duane Allman, Aretha Franklin, Oak Ridge Boys and Jason Isbell.

“We’re going to Muscle Shoals in May to record at FAME,” said Emery. “This is a bucket list for Kenny. He always wanted to record at FAME.

“We’re taking the whole band to Alabama along with producer Derek Chafin, who produced our last album. It’s like everything lined up just right.

“We also have musician friends down there – The Dirty Rain Revelers. We’ll be doing some shows together when we’re down there.”

The Dirty Rain Revelers features husband/wife duo, Matthew and Melissa DeOrazio, both on guitars and vocals.  The music they make has a kinetic energy that connects to roots and blues, and weaves in the human experience through the songs they share. Both lifelong musicians, they’ve been playing together for 16 years under various guises and lineups.

Both groups focus on husband/wife teams that write and play together.

“My husband and I write together,” said Emery. “He comes up with the chord structure and I develop the melody. Then, I take care of the lyrics.

“‘If Love Were Enough’ was the first one where we achieved the result that we were really happy with.

“We recorded it at BarnSound Studio in Newtown Square. It’s Derek Chafin’s studio which he has now moved to Chester Springs.

“We used Derek Chafin as our producer for the EP. He made all the difference for us.

“We brought him the song ‘If Love Were Enough’ to listen to. He liked it and agreed to produce us. We had never used a producer before. Now, we’re working on a full-length with him. The new album won’t be out until? – when we’re all done.”

Both Emery and her husband grew up in Dover, Delaware.

“I stayed in Dover for college and went to Wesley College,” said Emery, who spent more than two decades as a pediatric nurse. “My mom was a professor there.

“I went to nursing school and got my degree. I worked as a nurse for a long time. Now, I work for the V.A. in Philly. I’m in administration so fortunately I can work from home.

“When I was growing up, music was obligatory in our home. Everyone is musical. My mom has been a singer since she was really young. My dad played the clarinet and his brother played organ and piano. I started singing in church. In school, I played flute in the band and sang.”

Emery, who has been involved in quite a few bands over the years, now has found the right sound and the right mixture of players.

“We had a band called Gretchen Emery Band and Dirty Boots,” said Emery. “We competed in the IBC (International Blues Competition) in 2013 and then broke up a year later.

“Kenny and I stopped playing for a while. Then, we realized we can’t not play.”

Video link for the Gretchen Emery Band – https://youtu.be/yUWijOc-OuM.

The show at the Elkton Music Hall on March 1 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $31.

Selwyn Birchwood headlined a show in Sellersville late last summer and now is making a return appearance this week.

Birchwood, who is touring in support of the release of his highly acclaimed fourth Alligator Records album, “Exorcist,” will perform at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) on March 6.

The young guitarist, lap steel player, songwriter and vocalist sets a course for the future of the blues with his visionary, original music. He calls it “Electric Swamp Funkin’ Blues,” an intoxicating mix of deep blues, blistering, psychedelic-tinged rock, booty-shaking funk and sweet Southern soul, played and sung with fire-and-brimstone fervor.

With his fiery guitar and lap steel playing, his trailblazing, instantly memorable songs and gritty, unvarnished vocals, Birchwood is among the most extraordinary young stars in the blues. His deep familiarity with blues tradition allows him to bust the genre wide open, adding new sounds, colors and textures, all delivered with a revival tent preacher’s fervor and a natural storyteller’s charisma.

On “Exorcist,” Birchwood delivers the most far-reaching, musically adventurous album of his career. Recorded in Florida and produced by Grammy Award-winner Tom Hambridge (Buddy Guy, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Susan Tedeschi) each of the 13 vividly detailed songs was written and arranged by Birchwood. The soul-baring tracks all hit with lasting rhymes and unexpected rhythms.

“We finished recording ‘Exorcist’ in December 2022 and finished mixing it in January 2023,” said Birchwood, during a phone interview while travelling to Chicago for the fifth gig of the tour.

“We cut it in Florida. We recorded it at Fat Planet – the same studio I used for my last three albums. We did about a week of tracking and a few days of overdubbing and background voices. Then I flew up to Nashville to do the final mixing with Tom Hambridge.

“The new album definitely shows growth. Musically, it’s the most expansive album I’ve made.”

The award-winning Florida bluesman first hit the blues scene in 2011 with the self-released, self-produced, “FL Boy.” After winning the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis (beating 150 other bands), Birchwood found doors swinging open. He took a giant step forward in 2014 with his Alligator Records debut album, “Don’t Call No Ambulance.”

The album won both the Living Blues Award and the Blues Music Award (BMA) for Best New Artist Debut. He followed in 2016 with fan favorite “Pick Your Poison” and, in 2021, with the groundbreaking “Living In A Burning House.” He won the coveted BMA Song Of The Year Award for that album’s “I’d Climb Mountains.”

Now, Birchwood is in full-scale touring mode – bringing his impassioned music to his fans.

According to Birchwood, “My goal is to be sure you cannot listen passively. We’re going to make you dance, and we’re going to make you think.”

Birchwood’s previous album, “Living in A Burning House,” was released in 2021 on Alligator Records.

“The album won two Blues Music Awards,” said Birchwood. “It got the award for ‘Contemporary Blues Album’ and for ‘Song of the Year’ and my band member Reggi Oliver got one for ‘Best Horn Player.’

“We finished making the album in December 2019. It was set to be released in May 2020. Obviously, 2020 had different plans. It finally came out in January 2021. I was ecstatic with the reception it got.

“We released the new album in 2021. Even with so much uncertainty, we decided to put it out. We did two shows in January 2021 when the album came out – shows with social distancing. We didn’t do any concerts outside the state until mid-2021.

“We didn’t get to tour the album too heavily. But I always try to stay busy. COVID was a trying time. Music was a release for me. It’s a different landscape since 2020. But people seem ready to come listening.

“I didn’t write any songs about the pandemic. For people, it’s an escape from reality so I don’t think anyone wants to hear songs about COVID.”

Birchwood has found much better paths for expression.

“With my music, I’m really trying to straddle the line between contemporary and traditional,” said Birchwood. “I’m just trying to find my own stuff. I think people would be hard-pressed to name another band like us. When I’m asked to describe my music, I use four words – electric swamp funk blues.”

Since the 2014 release of his Alligator Records debut, “Don’t Call No Ambulance,” Birchwood has made a meteoric rise from playing small Florida clubs to headlining international festival stages.

That album received the Blues Music Award and Living Blues Critics’ Award for “Best Debut Album of 2014,” and Birchwood won the 2015 “Blues Blast Rising Star Award.”

Birchwood’s follow-up was “Pick Your Poison” in 2016.

Birchwood wrote and produced all 13 songs on his latest album “Pick Your Poison,” which was released in 2017 on Alligator Records. The album is a testament to Birchwood’s overflowing talents as a blues master – despite his young age of 36.

“The ‘Pick Your Poison’ album was nominated for two Blues Music Awards,” said Birchwood. “We started making ‘Pick Your Poison’ in May of 2016.”

Birchwood is one of the top acts to emerge in the world of blues music in recent years. In 2013, he won the world-renowned International Blues Challenge — beating out 125 other musicians from the U.S. and abroad.

He also took home the Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award. After that, it didn’t take long for Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer to offer Birchwood a contract.

“Bruce heard me play at IBC (International Blues Challenge) in Memphis,” said Birchwood.

“I gave him some of my tracks to listen to. I was just hoping to get his opinion on them. Instead, he asked me to make an album for his record label.”

Birchwood was born in 1985 in Orlando, Florida. He first grabbed a guitar at age 13 and soon became proficient at mimicking what he heard on the radio. But the popular grunge rock, hip-hop and metal of the 1990s didn’t move him, and he quickly grew bored.

Then he heard Jimi Hendrix. By the time he was 17, Birchwood was deep into the blues — listening to Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins and especially Buddy Guy.

“When I was young, I decided I wanted to play an instrument and landed on guitar,” said Birchwood. “I was bored with just hearing the stuff on the radio in the late 90s.

“When I heard Jimi Hendrix for the first time, I was blown away. It was like a spaceship had landed. Then, I started listening to Hendrix’ roots — Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy.

“Buddy Guy was one of my favorites. He was coming on tour to the House of Blues in Orlando when I was 17 and living there. I went to his show and was completely floored. I said — what I’m feeling coming off this stage is what I want to do.

“I’m just trying to write the best songs I can and have the strongest live performances. I want to just make sure we’re doing everything right.”

Video link for Selwyn Birchwood — https://youtu.be/NcxdptrFQCc.

The opening act on March 6 will be Katie Henry.

Henry is one of the bright new prospects in America’s flourishing blues scene — a talented and versatile blues guitar player. Ironically, neither blues nor guitar were her starting points.

“I grew up playing piano,” said Henry, during a phone interview. “I also played clarinet in middle school.”

Henry’s musical journey began when she was six and started taking piano lessons. She quickly became the “house” piano player for all night family singalongs and very soon began crafting her own songs in the back of her school notebooks. Heavily involved in school band, her passion for music continued to grow in college, where she also picked up the guitar.

“I loved being in bands,” said Henry, who grew up and attended high school in Vernon, New Jersey. “I also loved playing for family and other gatherings. It was the best way to bond with other people.

“I went to Manhattan College in the Bronx. I graduated in 2014 with a degree in education. I was a teacher for three years in Riverdale in the Bronx.

“I joined a jazz band in college playing piano and also went to open mics. It was just a way for me to continue playing.

“One night, I was at an open mic at the Bitter End and met Antar. We had similar interests, so we started a blues band. I was playing piano at the time. He put a guitar in my hand, and I stared playing chords. He opened the door, and I stepped through. That was five years ago.

“My first guitar was a Strat and then I got an SG. Now, the Atele Guitar is my favorite.”

Henry’s musical world had expanded.

“When I started playing guitar, I was listening with new ears,” said Henry. “I had listened to the Allman Brothers Band. Now, I was tuning in to Dickie Betts. I like simple melody lines – like the playing of Robbie Robertson. I consider myself a melodic guitarist. Some of my biggest influences have been Freddie King and Susan Tedeschi.”

Video link for Katie Henry — https://youtu.be/Br9hoDnQrjY.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on March 6 will start at 8 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $25.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Fleetwood Mask on March 1, G.E. Smith on March 2, Dàimh with Seasons on March 3, and Heirloom / Illusion of Solace / easternfault on March 5.

“Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Hello Dolly!” just closed their respective runs in Philadelphia and Wilmington – but when one or two doors close, another one opens.”

Starting this week, Ensemble Arts Philly and The Shubert Organization are presenting “The Girl From The North Country” now through March 10 at the Forrest Theater (1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia).

This is the Philadelphia premiere engagement of the Tony Award®-winning musical, which was written and directed by celebrated playwright Conor McPherson and features Tony Award®-winning orchestrations by Simon Hale.

“Girl From The North Country” reimagines 20 legendary songs of Bob Dylan as they’ve never been heard before, including “Forever Young,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Hurricane,” “Slow Train Coming,” and “Like A Rolling Stone.”

One of the key roles – Kate Draper – is performed by an actress from the Deware Valley – Chiara Trentalange, a graduate of Gwynedd Mercy Academy and native of Southampton.

“I auditioned in September 2019 and got the call in October that I got the part,” said Trentalange, during a recent tour stop in Greenville, South Carolina. “I was the understudy for Kate Draper on Broadway and was dance captain for the show.

“We had rehearsal in the winter. Then we spent a week on Broadway before COVID closed everything down. That was a crazy time. We expected to be back in two weeks but that never happened. Now to be on the road with this show is great.”

Fortunately for area theater fans, the show has found new life.

“All I knew was that it was written by an Irish playwright and had music by Bob Dylan,” said Trentalange, who graduated from Emerson College with a B.F.A. in Musical Theater. “The show is set in Duluth, Minnesota in 1934. The story is not about Bob Dylan. It just uses his music to tell the story.”

The setting takes place on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth in the winter of 1934 and America is in the grip of the Great Depression.

The story is narrated by Dr. Walker, physician to the Laine family. Nick Laine is the proprietor of a rundown guesthouse. The bank is threatening to foreclose on the property, and he is desperate to find a way to save his family from homelessness.

His wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from a form of dementia which propels her from catatonic detachment to childlike, uninhibited outbursts which are becoming difficult to manage. Their children are Gene, who is in his early twenties, and their adopted daughter, Marianne, who is 19.

Marianne is five months pregnant, and the identity of the father is a mystery she guards carefully. Nick is trying to arrange a marriage between Marianne and a local cobbler, Mr. Perry, in order to secure her future.

The social awkwardness is complicated by the fact that Marianne is a black girl living with a white family. She was abandoned in the guesthouse as a baby and brought up by Nick and Elizabeth.

Gene is unable to get a grip on his life, and veers between ambitions of becoming a writer and debilitating alcohol binges, a situation not helped when his sweetheart, Kate, announces she is marrying a man with better prospects.

Nick has become involved in a relationship with a resident of the guest house, Mrs. Neilsen, a widow who is waiting for her late husband’s will to clear probate. They dream of a better future when her money comes through, although she scolds Nick for his constant pessimism.

Also staying at the house are a family, the Burkes. Mr. Burke lost his business in the crash. His wife, Laura, and his son, Elias, share a room upstairs. Elias has a learning disability and the family struggles to come to terms with their reduced state.

Late at night, during a storm, a self-styled reverend bible salesman, Marlowe, and a down-on-his-luck boxer, Joe Scott, arrive looking for shelter. The arrival of these characters is a catalyst, changing everything for everyone in the house.

“Girl From the North Country,” which had its Broadway run cut short a month in due to the pandemic, reopened at the Belasco Theatre on Broadway in October 2021. It was the first Broadway show to reopen after the Coronavirus pandemic forced theatres to close in March 2020.

Even Dylan himself is a fan of the show.

In an interview with The New York Times, Dylan said, “Sure, I’ve seen it, and it affected me. I saw it as an anonymous spectator, not as someone who had anything to do with it. I just let it happen. The play had me crying at the end. I can’t even say why. When the curtain came down, I was stunned. I really was.”

Video link for “Girl From The North Country” – https://youtu.be/8YsFznBBLfo.

The show will run now through March 10 at the Forrest Theater,

Ticket prices start at $45.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is continuing its love affair with tribute acts this weekend with a show on March 2 featuring Whammer Jammer: J Geils Tribute Band.

Before that, there will be a concert on March 1 showcasing the West Chester Jazz Orchestra with Joanna Pascale.

Lyric is paramount for Philadelphia-based vocalist Joanna Pascale, who insists that she cannot perform a song unless she can connect personally with its lyrics. A singer of sophisticated taste, profound expressiveness, and raw emotion, Pascale is also a gifted educator who is a member of the vocal faculty at both Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.

She has been featured on recordings by Jeremy Pelt, Tim Warfield, Orrin Evans, Larry McKenna, the Temple University Jazz Band, and Garry Dial and Dick Oatts. Pascale made her recording debut with 2004’s “When Lights Are Low,” followed by the 2008 CD “Through My Eyes” and a 2010 duo recording with pianist Anthony Wonsey. With the 2015 release of “Wildflower,” she revealed her most personal and diverse collection to date.

Video link for West Chester Jazz Orchestra — https://youtu.be/uB-59M_7ENQ.

The show at Uptown! on Friday will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $35.

Whammer Jammer – Boston’s own tribute to the J. Geils Band is billed as “an experience not just a show.”

The band presents faithful performances dedicated to keeping the sight and sounds of the J. Geils Band in the hearts of the fans old and new.  It features six dedicated professional musicians from the Boston area with a singular goal — to share with audiences the timeless music and non-stop live action stage shows of the J. Geils Band.

Video link for Whammer Jammer – https://youtu.be/ceZpwKMuz_s.

The show at Uptown! on Friday will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $35.

Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) is presenting “THE ACOUSTIC JAM” hosted by Bruce Richards and Wes Davis on March 1 followed by Koh Show Show Live Live on March 2 and Open Mic Night with Todd Chapelle on March 3.

On March 2, the Colonial Theater (227 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, thecolonialtheatre.com/events) will present Total Mass Retain YES Tribute Band.

Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985,www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) has a pair of attractive main stage shows on tap for this weekend.

On March 1, the Delaware County venue will present the Larry Price Quintet.

Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

The show on March 2 will feature Stevie and the Bluescasters.

Showtime is 8 p.m. and tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

Every Sunday, Jamey’s presents “SUNDAY BLUES BRUNCH & JAM” featuring the Philly Blues Kings. Another weekly event at the venue is the “THURSDAY NIGHT JAZZ JAM” featuring the Dave Reiter Trio.

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