A stage is lit in the back room of Chicago Restaurant, known as Club Gravity. A band of local musicians is just finishing its sound check as patrons slowly roll in. Some in attendance personally know the folks who will soon showcase their musical talents. Others, looking for a road less traveled in the Lehigh Valley’s arts scene, come to learn something new. New songs. New artists. New experiences.
For more than a year, The Originals Music Series has been populating Club Gravity (1179 Airport Road, Allentown) every Thursday night at 7 p.m. with this very idea in mind. The series exposes music fans to something they may not yet know, while giving hard-working and lesser-known – but every bit as talented – artists in the area a place to play.
The Originals Music Series is the brainchild of Tracie Lovett and Amy Danner, known more publicly as Ninja and Pitbull of the Fyre and Ice Show on internet-based Neue Regel Radio. The duo first brought the idea of an original music night to Chicago management, and were met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“I messaged Amy and said we should approach Casey (Chicago’s general manager) about doing an originals night,” Lovett said. “We met with her, and about five minutes into our spiel, she said, ‘Done. It’s golden.’ She said that if we were going to do this, we had to do it every single week to be consistent.”
At first, the pair thought that their pitch may have gone a little too well.
“I think the looks on our faces were like deer in headlights,” Danner said. “(To do a show) every week is insane.”
“We thought we were going to run out of bands,” Lovett confirmed.
Nonetheless, the co-hosts found themselves with no shortage of interested talent. Lovett states that she consistently has new requests rolling in, more than a year later. Acts generally come from the Lehigh Valley and surrounding area, although some have come from as far west as Harrisburg (Six Bar Break) and as far south as Washington, DC (A Sound of Thunder).
There is a vetting process for The Originals Music Series. Performance and music quality standards must be met before a band is booked.
“We’re not going to throw just anybody up there,” Danner said. “It’s not because we’re being judgmental, but why would we put somebody in that position (if they aren’t ready)? The series is about them.”
Always working for the benefit of indie artists, Lovett and Danner support the growth of the original music scene in the Lehigh Valley by not only promoting The Originals Music Series, but by encouraging similar endeavors at other venues in the Lehigh Valley – as long as the focus remains on the well-being of the music scene itself.
“If somebody wants to do this because of their drive and their passion, on behalf of the local music scene here in the Lehigh Valley, we say, ‘Go for it.’ We’ll even help you out,” Lovett said. “If they are doing it to try and one-up something that we’re doing, or to bring stardom to their name, they’re doing it for the wrong reasons and should stay away. This is for the local musicians.”
And, while The Originals Music Series is currently an unpaid performance opportunity, Danner insists that the entire scene has more to gain from performing than dollars and cents.
“This is a showcase to open this venue up to indie bands, in hopes that other venues will do the same, and in hopes that the fans and venue owners in this area and surrounding areas realize that they’re not tapping into what they need to tap into,” Danner said. “It’s for the purpose of doing something greater, and they see that. They see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
The pair thinks that light can shine brighter, if the Valley’s music lovers step out of their comfort zones as listeners and discover something new.
“Go out. Listen to the different internet radio shows that are out there. Listen to some music that you’re not familiar with,” Lovett said. “If you see a band and you like them, go onto their Facebook page, share it and tell your friends. If they have SoundCloud links, ReverbNation profiles, share those. People around here like to talk, but they don’t talk about the right stuff. Talk about the music and support the venues.”
Their expectation is the same for key music stakeholders throughout the region.
“You cannot have a big gala once a year and call that supporting local music. You need to go out and support the music,” Lovett said. “Go out and see the bands that are making the scene. If you have to pay a cover, pay a cover.”
“And if you’re not willing to do that,” Danner added, “then you need to get the hell out of what you’re doing.”
Lovett and Danner continue to look for ways to improve the scene. Preliminary discussions have taken place about bringing in acts from other regions and hosting larger scale events, perhaps including a local original music festival, in the not-too-distant future.
For now, however, The Originals Music Series carries that torch into its second year, delivering a simple message for all who will listen.
“Support local music,” Lovett said. “All local music.”
“In your backyard, and everyone else’s backyard,” Danner concluded.