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Stumbling Across Musical Gold At A California Open Mic

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California Open Mic

Guest Post By Sammy Milone

Open mic nights are like yard sales. With few exceptions, the quality of the merchandize is generally pretty inconsistent with a smattering of eclectic vanity pieces designed for individual tastes. But every once in a while – and usually by compete accident – you uncover a gem.

A few weeks ago, I accompanied friend who lives in the Bay area to an open mic in Mill Valley, California at a venue called Sweetwater Music Hall. As someone born and raised just outside of Philadelphia, I don’t get out west as much as I’d like. I’ve been to Sweetwater exactly once before a few years ago to check out Johnette Napolitano (formerly of Concrete Blonde) as she delighted a packed house with an inspired solo set. Sweetwater is a great sounding little venue for live music. And it’s pretty rare to find an open mic being hosted by someone as accomplished as Austin de Lone. With my expectations set to mediocre, I agreed to come out that Monday night.

sweetwater in the sunMy friend tells me that there was a time when Sweetwater’s open mic nights would regularly include many of the world class musicians who lived in the area: Sammy Hagar, Jerry Harrison, Huey Lewis and Carlos Santana would often sit in for a song or two – much to the delight of the ever adoring locals. While at least one of those casual gods could be spotted in the back of the room that Monday night, I’m sad to report that none of them took the stage.

On this night, it was mostly like other open mics you may have been too. Some talented performers, a group from the local high school shrieking into the microphone like Yoko Ono and at least one unfortunate soul who made the unforgivable sin of forgetting the words and/or the chords to their favorite Beatles song. Just your typical, ordinary, for the love of god please keep the drinks flowing Monday night open mic.

open mic
And then something special happened. The house lights dimmed and a six-foot tall, maniacal ball of energy appeared on the stage. The people at the table next to me whispered to us: “that guy was here last week, and he was fantastic!” But neither of them seemed to know who “that guy” was.

Turns out – that guy’s name is Alan Chapell. Chapell has a quirky stage presence that could easily hold the attention of a much larger room and combined with the charm and intimacy of someone who was playing in your living room. I’ve never seen someone command a room full of strangers to enthusiastically sing a song that they’d never heard before. But that’s exactly what happened when Chapell began singing “Soul Man”. From the very first song, Chapell had this crowd in the palm of his hands.

Chapell mostly plays the piano and sings. I say “mostly” because he kept getting up in the middle of songs or in between them to direct the crowd or share an aside off mic. He stood up and got the audience clapping during the third verse as Chapell sang a cappella on the song “Waiting”. Sort of reminded me of the great Jonathan Richman minus Tommy Larkin on drums as Chapell got the entire room clapping along.

Chapell did four songs that night – remarkable in that its sort of an unwritten rule at open mics that everyone is allowed to play only one or two songs. Getting asked to do another song by the host is almost the equivalent of a stand-up comic being called to Johnny Carson’s couch after their set. (Yeah, I’ve probably been watching too much of Showtime’s “I’m dying up here” – sue me.) Chapell most certainly did not squander his additional songs and closed with a haunting etude called “I’m Coming Over” – one which really drove home how vulnerable and sweet Chapell’s voice can be when he’s not screaming off mic.

guitar live show
I caught up with Chapell briefly after he left the stage. Turns out that he’s an east coast guy too. Chapell hails from New York City but occasionally spends time in the houseboat community in nearby Sausalito. He started coming out to the Bay area a few years ago to record an album with Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame and now views Sausalito as second home.

Chapell has a seven-piece band back in NYC, but has started playing shows with a smaller lineup – which is one of the reasons he was at Sweetwater that night. “I was initially reluctant to play without my full band, but I kept getting asked to play places where it wasn’t practical to bring everyone,” says Chapell. “We were invited to play a show in Sandpoint Idaho with the Flobots earlier this year and my violinist Lorenza Ponce and I were the only ones from my band who were able to make it. When that concert went over so well, I realized that I could be a bit more flexible in my approach.” So, while Chapell still mostly plays with the full band, he’s done stripped down shows opening for bands like Big Head Todd and the Gin Blossoms as well.

So, what’s next for Chapell? “We’re currently mixing my third album and are making plans for later this year to start recording my fourth. And we’re in discussions to play a show or two with the Bacon Brothers in August. Finally, I’ll have my whole band with me at City Winery in NYC on August 16th.”

chapell
I’ll be there at City Winery on August 16th. If you want to catch Chapell before he completely blows up, I suggest you be there too.

Sammy Milone is a part-time author and full-time skeptic. He lives with his wife Wendy and dog Niko in Lower Gwynedd Township, PA.

Rock

Texas-based Musician Mark Winters Drops An Acoustic Jam, “Copper Queen”

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Texas-based Musician Mark Winters Drops An Acoustic Jam, "Copper Queen"
Here’s an acoustic jam for the weekend! The new Mark Winters single “Copper Queen” makes us realize that soft rock is absolutely delightful. Hailing from Sugar Land, Texas, he puts all his energy and love for the guitar melodies. Moreover, I’m really impressed by his poetic style, inculcated in early life thanks to his grandmother. For some reason, his voice soothes your body and mind, bringing positive vibes right from the start. Recently, Mark revealed that his new album ‘SlipStream’ drops in August and monthly music videos are coming our way… Stay tuned!

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Lounge Act Jam Pushes The Boundaries Of Experimental Rock Music

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Lounge Act Jam
Alan Tzu-yu Yang aka Lounge Act Jam is an avant-garde artist who has a special love for acoustics. This has become evident on “Pluto Waits For Nothing”, a unique track taken from his 2019 album ‘Diabolical’. One way or another, he pushes the boundaries of experimental music by mixing rockish guitar solos and crispy drums. However, what grabbed my attention is the balance he keeps between high and low frequencies of this instrumentation. Besides that, if you’re into glitchy sonic textures, then all these driving chords will help clear your mind or escape reality for about two and a half minutes.

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US Rock N’ Roll Band Remember The Monsters Drop New Video For “Sink”

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Remember The Monsters
“Sink”
by Remember The Monsters is a virtually perfect Rock N’ Roll song for today’s generation. The Arizona-based quartet create a sense of introspection with the lyrics, which appear to reference that sometimes you have to start over from scratch. This is especially so when a destructive person tries to sink you down into the abyss. In other words, as soon as your five senses perceive any uncomfortable situation, you must take action before it’s too late. Well, I really like the concept behind this effervescent rockish anthem because it invites listeners to lift their spirits. Best of all, these guys offer a high-quality music video to capture the lead singer’s raw emotions and overall performance. Watch it down here.

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KAATO, An Original Rock & Roll Band Release “Somebody, Someday”

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KAATO
It’s finally here! KAATO have released the first single from their latest 7-track album ‘Slam!’. The track “Somebody, Someday” is available to stream now on all major digital platforms. Definitely, you can tell these guys excel at delivering ferocious hard rock energy. The Tennesse-based band is made up by four members: Kurt Lowney (vocals), Mika Nuutinen (bass), Hunter Lovan (lead guitar), and Christopher Williams (drums). Furthermore, they put all their heart and soul into this project, which was recorded at their home studio. This killer new tune carries a driving nature that will have everybody hooked in an instant. Don’t just take my word for it, witness the powerful/aggressive beats for yourself right here!

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Matthew Browning Releases Music Video Filmed In Jean-Roach Dry Lake Bed

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Matthew Browning
Matthew Browning
captures the natural scenery of Jean-Roach Dry Lake Bed on his latest clip. The Progressive Rock artist chose wisely this beautiful location for his single “Underneath The Willow Tree”. In fact, the incredibly shot music video invites us to reflect on suffering. Of course, it is part of the human condition, and the key is to learn how to react to it. One way or another, some scenes can help arouse emotions or make a call to our collective conscience.

The most striking thing about these visuals is watching a woman grieving over sporadic images of refugees. Likewise, his lyrics won’t fail to touch your heart. Beyond that, the human tragedies that cause displacement is an issue that should not be taken lightly. We must put ourselves in their shoes in order to understand the harsh reality others live.

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