It’s good to be a Delawarean this weekend, especially if you’re into the music scene. Dewey Beach will once again be hosting its single most celebrated concert, honoring singers, musicians and songwriters across the entire state.
The Delaware Music Festival (DMF), recognizing 45 bands and performers from the First State, will kick off the concert season this Friday and Saturday, April 4 and 5, with free shows across five stages at the Rusty Rudder and The Lighthouse. The DMF highlights some of the most renowned names in Delaware bands today. Favorites, such as Love Seed Mama Jump, Fatdaddyhasbeen and The Autumn Affair will be gracing the stages from 8:30 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday, all into the night.
Vikki Walls, director of entertainment for Dewey Beach Concerts and Festivals, has had her hands full, managing the one of many organized performances to come this summer.
“The Delaware Music Festival has always been a good event,” said Walls. “Delaware bands get to see each other, network and hang out with each other. A lot of times, when they’re out playing, they don’t get to see one another perform. It really gets the vibe going.”
The free show is not a way for venues or the town to make money as much as it is to recognize raw, local talent.
“It’s really not an industry thing,” said Walls. “It celebrates bands in Delaware.”
A part of the proceeds are even donated to Beebe Medical Center.
“We have a lot of talent here in the state, and most of the regular favorites are coming back,” she added. “We have a few new ones, but a lot of the bands who played here before have such a great time, and the audience loves hearing them.”
Before the end of the year, Walls will have worked with hundreds performers. Some will be coming to Dewey for upcoming festivals. Others will have local headlining gigs. Keeping track of everyone is not always easy.
“There’s a lot of great product out there,” said Walls, who has been scouting talent in music for nearly a decade now. “A lot of the bands that come into these Dewey Beach concerts in the summertime are making a buzz. Most have their stuff licensed on MTV.”
How does she manage to stay a cut above the rest to score such great picks? She uses Myspace.com; a site that was initially designed to help network musicians and bands, and still does a successful job at doing so today.
“When I do a search,” she said, “I hardly look at their band’s Web site. As soon as I log on, I hear their music. I don’t have to hunt around on a Web page. It’s all right there, and it’s saving these bands money. From a promoter’s standpoint, you have everything you need right in front of you. For someone who works with 600 or 700 bands a year, it’s golden.”
One of the local favorites jazzing up the stages this weekend is Lowercase Blues, a Rehoboth-based trio that has made their presence felt throughout the state and then some. Band mates B.J. Muntz, Jake Banaszak and Paul Weik are eager to take to the stage this weekend.
“We like being able to see so many other bands all at once,” the band said in an e-mail interview, “which we never get the chance to do. There are many different styles of music and it is a great way to network with other musicians.”
Last year, the festival saw the first annual Delaware music awards, and Lowercase Blues took home the award for best Americana band.
“It was definitely an honor to get the award,” they noted, “and we thank everyone who put on the event, however, [we] don’t think the main point of the festival is to win awards, [we] think it is to get your band in front of the right people.”
Like many bands who get up before their fans, the feedback ignites them.
“When we get on stage,” Lowercase Blues’ bandmates explained, “especially at events like the DMF, it is most satisfying when you get that response back from the audience. Its like fuel for the fire... the more the crowd is into the music, the more we feel the notes and it makes us play better.”
The band traditionally seizes these festivals as a chance to present their fans with original material, and caters to them, rather than seeking out “their big break.”
“Our goal is to play our tunes, sell our CD’s and meet as many people as possible,” they said. “Events like this are great for exposure. In these types of festivals, people tend to appreciate different styles and respond to something they haven’t heard before.”
Performing will always be in the heart of the guys of Lowercase Blues, who released their third studio album, “Days to Come,” last year.
“We are currently working on a new CD... writing new songs and collaborating with other musicians,” they noted. “We are going for that ‘live-in-the-studio’ effect with this next one, and hope to have it this summer. We also will be playing non-stop this summer, to save up for some road trips come fall.”
In addition to the young, ambitious jam style of Lowercase Blues, Delaware natives The Crimestoppers will also be hitting the DMF this weekend. Though they’ve tinkered with original songwriting in the past, these music veterans, nearly three decades in the making, have turned to a plethora of cover songs with their own added twists to keep their fans singing along with them.
“Shows like the DMF are a win-win for everyone involved,” said Crimestoppers drummer Eric Nelson in an e-mail interview. “The venue owners get free talent, the promoters get free talent and free venues, and the bands get exposure over and above what they can achieve on their own.
“For any band out playing live, it’s all about putting butts in the seats,” he continued. “The more diverse and broad an audience you can reach, the better change you have of achieving that goal. We’ll be playing for folks who have never heard of us or seen us. If we can get come of those folks to come out next time we are in the area to see us, then that’s what it’s all about.
“On the flip side,” he added, “some of the folks who are coming out to see us will get a chance to listen to music they would have not normally come across, so we are all helping each other out here.”
These veterans are no strangers to the music scene, playing throughout the mid-Atlantic region and, collectively, since 1981. They’ve even taken the time to analyze a formula for doing what they do.
“Almost everyone in the band used to do this for a living at some point in their lives,” Eric noted. “We’ve all had original songs on the radio, put out records (we’re old, we still call them records), been on videos, all that. So, we have basically achieved what we are going to achieve in the music biz at this point. But I don’t think any of us can imagine not playing music out live; it’s just in our blood.
“But to do that, you can’t ignore the business side of the equation. So, if you want to play, you have to bring folks out to see you,” he added. “To bring folks out to see you, you have to have a product worth paying for. To have a worthwhile product, you have to constantly refine and improve; and you have to try it out live and in person. So, in the business sense, we share all this with bands who are still pursuing the dream and putting out their original stuff out there.
“Plus, there are still places we haven’t played and things we haven’t done that we are still striving for,” he noted. “For example, I grew up seeing shows at the Bottle & Cork, and I’ve always wanted to play there. One of these days, we’ll get Vicki to help us do that. We hope Monty from the Starboard comes out to hear us so we can play there. So, we’re still out here hustling and hunting gigs just like all the other bands, really.”
Many people are familiar with the music cover bands produce, but Eric and his ensemble are determined not to let themselves get lumped into a cliché category.
“We market ourselves as the ‘Best Bottom 40 Band You Will See,’” he explained. “We love to find obscure, yet danceable, tunes to play; stuff that you just don’t ever hear played very much. I mean, where are you going to go and in one night from one band here Exile on Main St. Stones, old school [Stevie Ray Vaughn], Dead jams, Cream covers, blues standards, and then ‘Radio Nowhere’ off the new Bruce Springsteen CD?” he asked rhetorically.
“We all have broad musical tastes, so we play stuff from the musical catalogues we carry around with us. The diversity keeps it fresh and interesting for both the band as well as the folks listening,” he noted.
Despite the musical variation from the bands many are accustomed to going to see, the Crimestoppers also want nothing more than to see their listeners and fans enjoying themselves. After their Dewey performance on Saturday, April 5, the band will be putting on a special showing at the Chalkboard in Bethany Beach.
“The satisfaction [from performing],” Nelson stated, “is from putting smiles on people’s faces as they get up and dance and have a good time and forget whatever is troubling them. We get the privilege to make that happen regardless of how large or small the venue is.
“Sure, we all want to play on a Saturday night at the Bottle & Cork or the Rudder,” he acknowledged, “but it is the clubs like the Chalkboard, Dogfish, et. al., that are the backbone of the beach music scene; you have to get out and support those guys or there just isn’t a music scene to speak of.”
For more information about the Delaware Music Festival in Dewey and other upcoming festivals, including a list of the performing bands, visit the Web site at www.deweybeachfest.com.