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Who's Your Favorite Bar Band?

August 2, 2008 - John Whittaker

While the Yankees were wasting a seven-inning gem from Sidney Ponson on Friday night, the News Gal and I were in Potters Terrace, listening to Willow Creek -- an area country band providing entertainment for the Downtown Jamestown Development Corp.'s Taste of Jamestown.

As I ate barbecued ribs -- and the News Gal sampled chocolate-covered strawberries from Elegant Edibles -- the sounds of Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam and Johnny Cash wafted through a comfortable summer night in downtown Jamestown. As an added bonus, we got to see my friend, and Willow Creek bass player, Tim Reed, who I played basketball with in high school and who married a girl in my graduating class.

A few weeks ago, the News Gal and I were in Randolph for that village's annual arts and crafts fair. While we browsed, Bobby and the Sox belted out hours of oldies music that provided a nice background for a couple of hours of shopping, and, of course, a nice cheesesteak lunch.

UMMMM, cheese steak with peppers and onions. 

I digress.

Three More Good Bands, Courtesy Of The News Gal

While I was writing this post, the News Gal chimed in with a few of her favorite cover bands, though she remembers originals from a couple of these bands, too.

Shockingly, the News Gal loved country bands during her formative going out on the town years.

Brett Austin of Coyote Joe did a killer job on a song called the Auctioneer by Leroy VanDyke while also singing a song of its own that struck the News Gal's fancy, Hurricane Amy.

"I already loved that old country song and then he did it and wow," The News Gal said over the phone Saturday night. "He goes from doing new and his own stuff to this old classic country song. It was, like, whoa."

In addition to Coyote Joe, the News Gal has a soft spot in her heart for Gotham Rose and Next of Kin, formerly known in a prior incarnation as Southern Fried. Mike Mannarino, lead singer of Next of Kin, is a former WHUG Talent Search winner, an event the News Gal never missed, who could absolutely drill Travis Tritt's old hit song, T-R-O-U-B-L-E,.

Jeff Lewis, lead singer of Gotham Rose and another WHUG Talent Search competitor, and his band played a mix of covers and originals that got people dancing, including Momma Likes to Shake It and Where There's Smoke, There's Fire.

"The News Gal spent a lot of her life dancing and loving every minute of it. The News Gal loves to dance. The Whitless Wonder, not so much."

Cover bands don't get a lot of love in our county, at least, they don't get a lot of love from arts-type groups or publications. It's hillarious to me that there is even a discussion (and it's happened here, believe me) that you're less of a musician because you play someone else's music.

Watching Tim and his bandmates on Friday, it was pretty obvious to the casual observer that those guys enjoy what they're doing -- that was apparent watching Tim's little boy running around the stage while his daddy was playing. And, the Willow Creek guys work hard at their craft to make the music sound good. When you think about it, the burden on some cover bands is as hard, if not harder, than a band playing original music. If you're playing a Dierks Bentley song that's being played every hour on the radio, everyone knows when you pluck the wrong note, sing the wrong lyric or can't play a certain guitar lick. If that's an original song, you can screw up and nobody notices but you -- not that it makes the mistake any easier, but at least it's not terribly public.

While I'm not out in bars much anymore -- the desire to be good at my job, a desire not to feel like crap every Monday morning and impending marriage have curtailed my desire to be out late drinking beer every Friday and Saturday night -- I still love live music. There's nothing quite like a good bass player whose instrument creates that rumbling in the pit of your stomach, a good drummer who can keep your feet tapping for three hours straight and singers who can harmonize with each other and keep a guy entertained.

What follows is far from a complete list, but here is the Whitless Wonder's favorite cover/bar bands he's run across.

1. The Porcelain Busdrivers. I first started watching the PBD when I worked at Midway Park - the last job I worked before starting at the Journal. My buddy Chris Henderson and I went to a couple of under 21 shows to watch a couple of guys we worked with, Tom Gerringer and Gabe Costanzo, play their horns in the band, and I'm in a fantasy baseball league now with one of the band's former singers, Andy Conti. These guys were always a good time -- energetic, playing songs you know by heart and doing it really well. They're one of the few bands with an active horn section, which really adds to a band's sound, and Marc Scapelette, the drummer, is great. If you're not careful, even the most rabid Neil Diamond haters will be singing the the chorus to Sweet Caroline (guilty as charged). On a sidenote, hearing Conti and Andrew Minton playing acoustically is always great, too, and a nice, low-key good time. You can catch them all over the place.

2. Tim will have to help me with this band's name since they've been broken up for a while, but he was part of a phenomenal group with a lead singer who sounded like a dead ringer (bad pun, I know) for Jim Morrison. Needless to say, they played a lot of Doors music, which I was really into at the time, though they could play just about anything and it would sound good. I spent A LOT of nights at the old Mad Murdock's listening to them. Good times.

3. Willow Creek. I wrote about them above and have actually only heard them three times, but they've been great all three times I've heard them. Props to Timmy, who can sing and really pluck a bass. What really sets these guys apart is their slide guitar player, Joe Miraglia. Prepare yourself for anything from Johnny Cash -- the band's version of Folsom Prison Blues had one older gentleman Friday singing along -- to Alan Jackson, and it's all played well. They're highly recommended even if you're not a country music fan.

4. Another band whose name has long since escaped through my bald spot (DAMN THIS GETTING OLD STUFF!) featured a bunch of my old elementary school friends from Mayville, most notably Nate Curtis and Travis Parkhurst. When we were in school, I had no idea Nate could sing, but he could really belt out heavy metal and hard rock. I heard them play dozens of times at Mad Murdock's (which was a good venue for music but a real dump for fights, underage kids and some other undesireable activities) and they always delivered a great show, including a version of Enter Sandman that I'd love to see used by Mariano Rivera to come into Yankees games.

5. Moonshine. If anybody reading this other than my mom and dad say they know this band, YOU'RE LYING. This Central New York band was popular in the Norwich/Utica/Syracuse area from back when I was a gleam in my daddy's eye until I was 3 or 4. I won't lie to you and tell you I remember much about the band, but have heard stories from my mom (the lead singer) and dad (the drummer) and my stepdad (the sound guy) until I might as well have been sitting in the corner of the Moose Club in Oxford while they were playing. I do have vivid memories, though, of the band playing Rockin' Robin and Crying, an old Roy Orbison hit, which helps explain why my musical tastes are so eclectic -- a house full of oldies music in my very formative years, my mother's switch to country music in my teen years (even though she wasn't performing country music, she was in the WHUG Talent Search for a couple of years, hanging in well with people out playing country music every weekend) and then my natural leanings toward classic rock. My dad still has tapes kicking around somewhere, and I've never heard a bad review (though my sources might be biased on this one).

6. The Earthquakers. My buddy Bryce and I spent a lot of time listening to this band at Mad Murdock's, the Surf Club and the Casino in Bemus Point. They're all dressed like Amish farmers, but spend the night playing -- quite loudly -- classic rock tunes ranging from Journey to AC/DC and Metallica. All four of the guys can legitimately play, dance floors are packed and they bring a ton of energy to the house. For my money, one of the top 10 cover band moments for me is the 'Quakers playing their ZZ Top medley. Good stuff.

7. New Wave Nation. Jay Bussman will vehemently disagree with me on this (which only makes me think I'm right, by the way) since, for about a month and a half, he saw New Wave almost every weekend. For me, though, sometimes it was fun to go out and hear 1980s covers. Now that I've discovered Internet radio, I don't get the urge to hear a lot of that music live. Back in the day, however, there was no substitute for hearing Billy Jean, My Sharona, One Night In Bangkok, I'll Melt With You, Video Killed The Radio Star and Jesse's Girl within two hours of each other, all with old music videos playing on screens on stage. You can still catch New Wave some weekends at Shawbuck's or other area bars, and if you're in the mood for high energy and good '80s tunes, drop on in.

Did I miss anyone? If so, feel free to drop a comment below with your favorite cover band and what makes them rock. Or, e-mail me at




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Blog Photos

Who says this guy can't have fun. Tim Reed, pictured above, has been in two of my favorite cover bands and is pictured above in a photo from his band's Web site,