by Jane Roser
It may be small, but the Dewey Beach Music Conference certainly has bite. It has been named as the most musician friendly conference in the country and has received rave reviews by everyone from participating bands to industry giants. This is all due to the consistent quality of talent the conference attracts to the fact that it runs like a well-oiled machine with a top notch staff running everything behind the scenes (shout outs to Jim Thorpe and Michael Baunach for the hard work they do every year to make DBMC a huge success).
Now in it’s 13th year, the conference is three nights of music showcases and two days of mentoring and demo sessions, tradeshow and industry networking events, which help artists further their careers while providing valuable information and feedback. Founder Vikki Walls was a band manager and helped to start the Millennium Music Conference in Harrisburg; since her bands played at Bottle & Cork (one of the fest venues at Dewey Beach), Walls became friends with the owner and took him to SXSW which he fell in love with and eventually suggested that Walls start a music conference at Dewey.
“This conference is unlike others,” says Walls, “whatever we can do to give back to the bands we do it, that’s why there’s always free food and they always get invited to the industry parties. We also have signs on stage with the name of the band playing and the bands love it. They’ll take them home and sometimes to other gigs, even though it has our name on it.”
Several well-known artists got their start at the DBMC, including Halestorm, Leila Brousard, Silvertide and Shinedown. “Halestorm played Millenium and then came here for the first year of Dewey,” recalls Walls, “a friend of mine, the producer David Ivory, loved them and started working with them, then a few years later friends of mine from Columbia Records and Atlantic Records were here and they just blew their socks off. When Halestorm won their Grammy, [lead singer] Lzzy texted me a picture of them holding their Grammy and said ‘this triumph is for you, too Vikki because you believed in us from the beginning.”
The Kin is another band that has played Dewey four or five times; they just finished a tour run with Pink and is now on the road with Coldplay. “A lot of things have happened for bands that play here,” says Walls, “because if this little town.”
Thursday night after the kick-off VIP party, several bands performed at the Rusty Rudder including Face The King (from New York), Winds & Walls (also from New York), The Late Saints (from Philadelphia), Pressing Strings (from Annapolis) and Alright Junior (from Philadelphia). All artists are given a 40 minute time block to showcase their music on four different stages, labeled A through D, which are located throughout the Rudder, two outside and two inside.
The vendor room was filled with every tool of the trade a musician needs to make it through the day. Gigspots will promote your band, write your bio, conduct your social media and assist in guiding you through all aspects of tour life from lodging to sound. Ken-Del Studios in Wilmington has been a fixture in Delaware for over 50 years and is one of the premiere recording studios on the east coast. Spaceboy Clothing and Accessories provides custom printed tees and vintage clothing. BridgeSet Sound sells musical instruments and accessories, as well as providing music lessons. Springwood Productions will create a kick ass, streamlined video for you. Wonderland Records and Studios had an impressive variety of vinyl (including a Boomtown Rats record which I got a bit excited about) and handmade guitar pick jewelry. Cancer Can Rock is an amazing charity that was created to give musicians diagnosed with aggressive forms of cancer an opportunity to record and share their music. Representing radio broadcasting networks was Dustin Dellinger from Gashouse Radio and cool cat Sean Gallagher from Unclaimed Bands who spent most of the festival interviewing the artists and festival organizers.
Friday kicked it up a notch with a plethora of bands arriving and a trickle of acoustic performances during the afternoon. After a swanky VIP party at Northbeach Restaurant, the showcases began at 7pm and continued well into Saturday morning. All showcases were held at different venues located within a short walk from each other, although the Rusty Rudder seemed to have hosted the majority of the shows.
The bands I saw on Friday were truly incredible- Amanda Duncan who, accompanied by an upright bass player, performed a mixture of witty swingtime/country-esque tunes and delighted the audience with her sparkling personality and energetic, engaging performance. The Morrison Brothers Band kicked it into full gear with an electric set that had folks dancing like the floor was on fire. Swampcandy was a crowd favorite and a fun show, especially when they sang a tune about whiskey and downed a few mid-song. Sweet Leada were bad ass and I’ve never seen a bass player sit on a drum set while the lead singer twerked him; it was awesome. Lovebettie really delivered a whopper of a show with a pink piano tagged all over with the word “love” in different fonts. The lead singer’s funky style and the way she could belt out “Jolene” with Aretha Franklin-like vocals definitely made their show one to remember (I was also pretty impressed when she stood on top of her piano without missing a beat).
New York based band Stargroves performed on Stage A, mesmerizing the audience with their haunting melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Consisting of Teddy Watson (lead vocals, guitar, banjo), Charlie Rauth (lead guitar), Bryan Percivall (bass), Brad Whiteley (keys, synthesizer), Max Maples (drums) and frequent guest vocalist, actress Abigail Breslin, the band has gained a legion of fans through their dreamy songs and their creepy-cool music video homage to the cult classic film Harold And Maude.
“If you’re a Harold And Maude fan then it’s a cool video, if not, you’re thinking oh my God,” laughs Watson, “I didn’t have any idea what I wanted to do for this song (“Hats In The Air”) because it’s not topical. We were trying to come up with a concept and I was talking to the producers (Pure Motion Pictures) about the song’s imagery, because while the tempo and melody are happy, the lyrics are actually quite dark, so there’s some dissidence there; it’s a bit sinister. One of our producers, Drue [Pennella] instantly thought of Harold And Maude since it’s a dark comedy and we ran with that.”
Stargroves is a band that evolved gradually over time and Breslin became involved a few years ago. “I met Ted at a premiere party for a movie I’d made in which I had to sing,” recalls Breslin. “I was performing at the after party and a vocal coach we had both been working with came to warm me up before I went onstage. I met Ted backstage and we became friends; he played banjo on a few songs I had written and then he asked me to sing on a song he had written about trolls. I thought, haha, he has such a weird sense of humor, but then I listened to it and it really is about trolls.” Watson adds, “I wrote all of the songs on our first album when I was in Iceland. [That song] is a tongue and cheek story and I planned on eventually replacing the lyrics and just never did.”
Their eponymous album was released in July and Stargroves are currently writing songs for their next album, which they are hoping to release by next summer and will feature Breslin again (who, I must say, has impeccable fashion taste and was the best dressed festival attendee donning a sheer black dress with silver embroidery, which seemed a perfect choice because it really did look like stars in space, illustrating the band’s moniker).
Later, I spoke with Philadelphia based electronic band Minshara who said they’ve played the festival for the past three years now. “We got involved because our old drummer knew Vikki Walls,” says lead singer Aaron Miller, “then we met Mike (Baunach) who’s now our manager and he brought us back again this year.”
Lead guitarist Mike Villegas already knew the other band members (which includes bassist Dan Lucas and drummer Evan Kirkley) from previous projects before running into them at a concert; they were looking for a guitar player and Villegas was looking to play in a band. Talk about a moment of karma.
“I listened to Aaron sing along to some electronic samples he’d written and they sounded so catchy and fun and had a dance feel to them,” says Villegas, “after a month or so we had come up with a bunch of [band] names-one I think was Bad Words and another was Harbinger.” Miller added, “we ended up with Minshara (a Star Trek reference) because we knew that no one else would ever try to use that name, but sure enough, a year later this other band called Minshara shows up on Facebook. We sent them several messages, but they didn’t speak English-they were Italian.” Villegas injects laughing, “and I had studied abroad in Rome, so it was funny to see that we were gaining some Italian fans who were thinking we were this other band. Then years later, we release our album called iO, which means “I” in Italian (although the title was chosen because it’s the name of one of Jupiter’s moons) and if you search the hashtag for it, you’ll find a bunch of Italians taking selfies.”
The track “Into The Night” is the only song on iO that was written in the studio. “When you get to a point that you’ve been playing music for so long, you start to forget what your goal is,” says Miller, “so that song is a definitely a declaration of chasing your dreams; knowing that your goal is there, you just have to work to get it. Not all work is unsung, you know?”
Minshara’s main objective right now is to make sure their record is indicative of their live sound, which may involve a few changes here and there to achieve that progression and to set up a Kickstarter campaign to fund their next tour. When talking about life on the road, Villegas gets really excited about a what they’re currently listening to driving to gigs, “the drummer Evan and myself are former wrestling fans, so our soundtrack for long drives is the Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast and it is excellent. We highly recommend it.”
I was unable to attend Saturday’s performances, which was a bummer because Stolen Rhodes was playing and they are one of my favorite bands to see live, but there’s always next year!
The Dewey Beach Music Conference is growing every year and attracting incredible talent and top industry professionals. New connections are made, the panels offer useful advice, the parties are fun, the music is great and best of all, the concerts are free and it’s on the beach. Now that’s living the dream.