Allegheny Mountain Showcase – The Red Hot Summer Tour makes a stop at the Pocahontas Opera House
American storyteller and West Virginia champion liar Bill Lepp calls them the Nirvana of Honky-tonk, the Rush of rockabilly and the Beastie Boys of bluegrass – he’s talking about John Lilly’s band Blue Yonder.
Blue Yonder is Robert Shafer on guitar, Will Carter on bass and John on vocals and rhythm guitar. They’ll be at the Pocahontas Opera House on August 17th as part of the Red-Hot Summer Tour. The band formed when John was asked to play for a wedding.
“I didn’t have a band or anything, I called several musicians that I thought would be available and none of them were available to play,” says John. I was going down my list of people to call. I never played with Robert Shafer or Will Carter but they were the two guys who were available.”
Six years later that partnership is still going strong with performances every Tuesday night at a club in Charleston WV. Their music is a mix of country, bluegrass, and western swing. John owes much of his musical style to the influence of Hank Williams.
“I really admire his songwriting,” he says, “and his singing and his guitar playing and his way of mixing together different strands of county music traditions. It’s all part of his repertoire and became part of my repertoire as I began to learn and develop as a musician.”
Robert Shafer is a national flat-picking guitar champion and upright bass player Will Carter is the founder of the Appalachian string band music festival held annually in Clifftop, WV, now in its 29th year.
Co-headlining the Red Hot Summer Tour is an eclectic band out of New York City, Banjo Nickaru and the Western Scooches. Nick Russo and Betina Hershey are the driving force of the band. Nick is a multi-instrumentalist and has played as a sideman with numerous groups in the city. Betina is a vocalist, lyricist and a dancer with plenty of experience on Broadway and in film.
Similar to Blue Yonder, Banjo Nickaru formed after Nick got a request to play at a festival . Using contacts acquired over the years, it didn’t take long to put together a group.
“I just put together the band on the spot when I got the call,” said Nick. “So we got all these great amazing New York City musicians played the gig.”
They liked the sound and decided to keep it going. Folk, Americana, and New Orleans jazz are among the genres that make up the band’s sound. They also incorporate elements of Gullah-Geechee, the music of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia.
“It’s very poly-rhythmic and of course all this comes from West African influence,” explains Nick. “When people talk about jazz coming out of New Orleans often they don’t talk about a lot of the slanted history where a lot of Africans and freed slaves alike were creating music in basements and in secrecy and a lot of the richness and culture comes out of the Sapelo Island and the Gullah-Geechee culture.”
You can hear that rhythmic influence in their cover of the folk song One Hundred Miles.
(music – One Hundred Miles)
That percussive beat is actually Nick stomping on the floor.
“The recording engineer put a microphone underneath the floor and he captured it in the studio which was below,” says Nick.
Betina says it’s always an adventure to see how a song develops.
“Whenever I write a song, the song comes out however it comes out,” she said. “And then Nick gets this idea like ‘hey we need a sitar on this or we need a harmonium on this’. I think about the chords and the lyrics and the melody and I’m always really, really pleased at all the textures and the emotional feelings that get layered on top of it when Nick’s thoughts come into it.”
The Red Hot Summer Tour is at the Pocahontas Opera House on Saturday, August 17th at 7:30pm. Tickets are $10.00 and are available at the 4th Avenue Gallery in Marlinton, at the door and online at Pocahontas Opera House dot org.