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The Music In The Passion

Hagerstown’s vast and varied music scene continues to expand and inspire the next round of musicians.

by Beth Vollmer photos by Turner Photography Studio

The talent and abilities are nearly limitless and these groups of creative, thought-provoking individuals provide freeing, inspirational music to all who listen. Jeff Barnhart, Pete Barnhart, and Butch Barnhart have all been involved in the local music scene since 1987. Though Pete and Butch are brothers, Jeff just happens to share the same last name — but they are not related. This group is self-taught musicians and their dedication to pursue the sonic science began in high school when Butch purchased a guitar, Pete learned the drums, and Jeff picked up his first bass guitar. The love of music inspired Jeff and Butch to start a band, Jester, that plays covers of modern and classic rock.

A Jester show is an event, and Butch says, “Being in front of a crowd entertaining is electrifying. You create the spark and the crowd fills with energy, making them step out of the mundane and into the party.” Jeff and Butch are also part of the ownership team of the family-friendly Thunder Road Bar and Grille, where local bands play weekly. Every Wednesday night is open mic night, which is hosted by the band Ding, and every Friday is karaoke night, with Saturday nights dedicated to hosting live bands, and Sunday afternoons featuring acoustic acts from 2:30–5:30 p.m. The bar’s huge outdoor deck turns into an alfresco dining room/club in the summer months, with live open-air entertainment when weather permits.
In addition to music and restaurant duties, Butch, Pete, and Jeff also host a weekly online streaming podcast called The Scene Podcast on SoundCloud, that consists of candid interviews with local bands, goings-on in the quad-state music scene, and personal experiences from the hosts. For those who prefer terrestrial radio method, the show also airs Friday nights at 7 p.m. on 102.9 WRZO.

The Original MTV Generation

The popularity of 1980s music is still going strong, and the band Made in the 80’s couldn’t be happier about it. With a penchant for classic rock and blues, the band (naturally) plays songs from the ’70s and ’80s, along with a few newer rock tunes and an occasional original that multi instrumentalist and vocalist Keni Melby wrote.

Made in the 80’s has friends who have been coming to their shows for 30 years and have gotten to know a lot of fans on a personal basis, which is one of the best parts of playing locally, Keni shares. He notes that  when performing, the feeling is magical — like a fantasyland is being created to draw people in. “I love the feeling of making music as a band and how my part is just one piece of the puzzle,” Keni says, and adds that the crowds are absolutely incredible and the band has often been told that it’s great to see a crowd like “the old days!” Keni feels that Made in the 80’s has really hit on something that most everyone likes, and draws a parallel to audiences’ enthusiasm in the 1950s. People often lean on music during the good times to help them celebrate achievements in life, and just as often use music to rearrange their focus when times aren’t so good. The general consensus is that Made in the 80’s is trying to help people leave their worries at the door, trans-porting them back to a simpler time in their life and triggering good memories. And while Keni notes that being a musician able to make music is fulfilling in itself, bringing people together from all walks of life to relax and enjoy themselves is a true blessing.

That Ol’ Time Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Cruisers have a reputation for being an oldies band, but they also perform covers of southern rock and old rock and roll from the 1960s and 1970s. Saxophone player Mike Lushbaugh says, “The feeling we get when we play is like any other art that is created in your mind and expressed to people the best way you know how.” The best part of a show is when they can witness the audience feeling the vibe, and Mike notes that it’s an honor to share their music with anyone interested enough to listen…but it’s when the crowd is getting down and really feeling the sound that the payoff is the highest.

A Pure, Natural Sound

Husband and wife duo Todd Haines and Maya Blickenstaff-Haines are the members of the band Dogfoot, and play everything from The Beatles to Sheryl Crow to Neil Young. The couple focus on an organic sound, comprised of two guitars, two voices, and a sound system — meaning if Dogfoot doesn’t create it, then the public won’t hear it. You won’t hear any backing tracks, auto-tune, or harmonizers at a Dogfoot show. While Maya sings most of the lead vocals, Todd handles a share of the vocal duties as well, but mainly concentrates his efforts on guitar when it is just the two of them.

When Dogfoot is more than just the core duo, their talented friends John Turner and Henri Verdel sometimes join them on stage. Regardless of how many people are playing, Maya describes Dogfoot’s organic sound as a universal language that everyone can understand — whether or not they understand the words. “When we’re playing together and everything really clicks and locks in, and we realize we're playing in a zone where we’re so together that we’re playing and singing without actually thinking about what we’re playing and singing is the best feeling,” Maya says. There is also an emphasis to create a relationship with the audience at every show. For Dogfoot, music is happiness, and the band hopes that happiness exudes into the crowd, inspiring fans to forget about their bad day or difficult situation and just be in the moment and enjoy the music.

Working Through The Blind Man’s Holiday

Ed Keller, of the classic rock and electric blues band Blindcide, has had a passion for music his entire life. His other passion is song writing, and he’s been fortunate enough to have several very talented co-writers to work with. There’s an excitement in his voice when he gets to talk about having the opportunity to do what he really loves doing, which is creating music, affectionately referred to as works of the heart. Ed describes watching and hearing people’s reaction to one of his original songs as really overwhelming and heart-warming. Ed’s role in Blindcide is playing drums and singing a few vocals. When playing music, Ed says, “It feels so natural, like what I’m supposed to be doing. It is almost effortless, but I’m constantly challenging myself to be the best I can be.”

During the evenings and on most weekends, Ed is in his recording studio working on new songs, mixing, editing, pounding on the drums, practicing the guitar, or tweaking recent recordings. He is very proud of a particular song he wrote, titled “What is a Holy War?” which relates to current events in the news. One of the collective’s greatest joys while playing music is seeing people’s reactions when a song really falls together — the audience feels it and it’s like magic. Playing for friends and fans is invigorating, and pushes the group to its musical best. The group believes that playing for large crowds brings out the best in the band — the excitement in the air that resonates through the room before a show ignites the passion in the musicians. When the house lights go down, and the stage lighting takes over, the mood changes to excitement and anticipation, with fans waiting to hear the first chord played.

A Firm Grip On Their Sound

The Holders mainly play classic rock, Motown, and R&B, but have also delved into country, disco, contemporary, and ballroom dance music — plus they all sing. Dan Wallace, who plays the drums, takes a business-like approach to a gig by writing up set sheets for each job, based on the type of crowd expected, and with the idea of having some degree of flow and of building of intensity. Often they receive a request to play a song that hasn’t been performed in a while, which requires going off-script — and pulling it off can be both nerve-racking and very gratifying. Dan believes the first few songs are crucial in making sure the band has a good mix, that the vocals are at a good volume, and the overall sound quality is just right. Most importantly, if the crowd is responding enthusiastically and dancing, the group can relax some and enjoy the ride, as long as the band stays tight and together. The Holders often have nights when the songs they have played so many times before are suddenly fresh again — usually because someone in the band has come up with a slightly different approach to the song. Playing a classic song can earn new fans and relight the fire in long-standing fans. But it’s the fact that the band is still playing at a high level and being well received by audiences after all these years that keeps the fire going.

Mouths Of The South

Anthony Cangemi of The South Mountain Breed plays bass and sings harmonies. The band members focus their attention on classic and modern rock covers, but pride themselves on a diverse song list. Anthony started playing the violin, later moved to cello, and then settled on the electric bass, which he has played for almost 30 years. Anthony has always had a passion for music and has played in bands since the age of 14, toured the U.S. and Europe extensively, and also spent 10 years in the New York City music scene. “Music is a passion, a profession, and is the highest form of functioning a human can do. Performing music engages the soul, the mind, the five senses, creativity, emotional interaction, muscle control, listening, and responding,” Anthony says. But at its roots, he feels music is about giving the audience what it wants and entertaining them. The South Mountain Breed collectively believe the need to play music is essential — or a slow death begins from the soul. Music is in the blood of every musician and there develops a need to play.

Sounds Like A Winner

Steve Crumbacker does sound and lighting production for many bands in the area, and takes care of all of the front of house sound system, stage monitors, and lighting, and also provides microphones, stands, and all the power, speaker, and microphone cabling as needed. For any band, good sound design is essential, and getting all the instruments and vocals properly mixed at a volume that everyone in attendance can enjoy is no small feat.

“Get out and support local music. Talent is everywhere, so support your fellow local musicians and music venues,” Steve says. Through his sound and lighting gig, Steve has made countless lifelong friends along the way and has friends he’s been working with dating back to the mid-1970s. With the diverse sounds and offerings in the Hagerstown music scene — not to mention the Blues fest — and the many clubs and venues that offer live music, Steve states emphatically that there really is something for all live music fans. A like on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter is nice, but it’s not the same experience as being there. Hagerstown and the surrounding area is rich in musical talent in nearly all genres. From jazz to funk to rock to blues and R&B, there’s a sound out there for anyone with an interest in live music. The talented and dedicated musicians working diligently and passionately to bring their best to listeners can be found on a nearly nightly basis. The artists spend hours perfecting their sound — hoping it to be well-received by the crowds — but fans are crucial for the talented group of musicians to continue. As the varied Hagerstown music scene continues to expand, and musicians with decades of experience operate as the backdrop for new talent, they are also inspiring fans and other up-and-comers to pursue their dreams.

Looking To Go Live

For the latest and greatest updates on Hagerstown music, “The Scene” is a podcast hosted by Jeff, Butch, and Pete Barnhart. The trio covers the goings-on of local bands, interviews some of the area’s best songsmiths, and can be found with a simple Google search. Additionally, all of the bands mentioned in this article have Facebook pages that let the public know where they’re playing next.