A double bill at The Shea Theater April 29 2023 Turners Falls, MA by Tony Adams
From the moment it was announced, I knew what this night was going to be. The night did not disappoint.
As soon as you step foot inside the doors of Shea Theater Arts Center, you get a sense of “history”: The history that has been made….and the feeling that history was in the making. Phil Simon was able to bring together two powerhouses – Adam Ezra Group and The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow – for an event that would set the bar high for shows to beat in 2023!
Phil has been in the music industry for over 30 years, and the culmination of all his efforts, experience, and ventures have led him to this moment. He has joined forces with a group of individuals that has worked diligently to bring the Shea Theater to where it is today, and continues to evolve into a spot that he feels makes a strong argument for being the finest sounding room in Western Massachusetts with under 500 person capacity. Phil clearly takes a lot of pride in what has been achieved here, with the focus being on the quality of acoustics, the stage, and the layout to ensure one of the best experiences you will have in a live music venue.
He wants performers to come here, lay their groundwork, and then come back to a welcoming fanbase. In his words, he wants the Shea to nurture that “relationship between the audience and performers in an environment that is conducive to that relationship….that’s what we aim to do here.”
And that notion is proving itself a success already. Not coincidentally, in 2022, Adam Ezra Group was the first band to play the Shea since Phil has taken the reins. Soon after that, The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow rocked the house, as well. Fast forward to 2023: The presale for tickets for this night quadrupled from the previous year. The house was PACKED with old fans and new for both bands. The energy and joy was electric as friends greeted each other before the show, and that feeling of this being something special continued to grow as we neared the time for Adam Ezra and his “Bandies”, (as he refers to them – as a term of endearment), to take the stage. Phil gave the audience a bit of the history of the Shea, as well as his personal and professional history with Adam Ezra Group, as he welcomed them to the stage.
I had a chance to talk with Adam and the band before the show, and I asked how it felt to have just released a long-awaited studio album titled, “The Album Project: Volume 1”, and his response was, “It feels like a beginning! We have so many strong songs that we wanna get out there. Originally, we thought we were going to continue with the theme of Album Project: Volume 2 and so on…but we just want to put a bunch of it out there at once.” But, he admits, there are limits, for many reasons, to how much they can do. He continued to say, “There are so many songs that we play…for instance, we played ‘Small Town City’ the other night and we SMOKED it, and I was like..AGGHHH, we should record this…but we already have so many songs already in the queue.”
When we got on the subject of the different iterations of the group, and the connection of the fans with this band, Adam explained that, “In the past, when the band was larger, the performances were very specific and everybody had to know their roles. And now, we wanted to fill in those ‘negative spaces’ between instruments, and that has allowed this band to step up and have a voice, and they have been able to connect with the audience.” This has become a very big part of the experience of their shows.
And on this night, Adam walked out on the stage with his boyish and humble smile, strapped his worn and weathered acoustic guitar around his neck, followed by Alex Lee Martin on drums, Corinna Smith on violin, and Poche Ponce on bass guitar. The first tune is one that implores the crowd to join in by singing along to “Come On Over”, and the result was a thunderous ovation that any performer would not soon forget. If this was to set the standard for how the night was going to go, then the audience was surely in for an incredible night! Guess what? It only got better!!! With a balance of songs that would make ANY tightrope walker feel familiarly grounded, the special treats that were thrown into their set just added to the fun! The amazing Todd Mihan joined in to throw down some of the hottest licks on guitar that you could ask for on an old-school AEG tune, “14 Days”, and at the end of their set, the boys from Whiskey Treaty filled the stage to help get the crowd to belt out their parts on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’ .”
As they walked off the stage, there may have been a sense of confusion, as many in attendance are not used to another band following Adam Ezra Group, so we may have felt a little out of our element as to what could possibly be in store for the remainder of the night. Rest assured, this evening was FAR from over, and there were still some surprises on deck. In fact, I haven’t seen so many “Wink-winks” since my driving instructor told me I passed my exam with flying colors! But I knew what was comin’….I’ve been to this rodeo a time or two! The Treaty would come out with guns blazin’!
Earlier in the week, Whiskey Treaty Roadshow released the first track off their upcoming live album. The song is called, “Gave Away”, and it is a fine example of what you can expect from the album when it is released on July 22nd. The album was recorded in Spring of 2022 at The Egremont Barn in The Berkshires. A small group of us were fortunate to be able to attend the shows on those 2 nights that they recorded. As Chris Merenda told me, “We had all been talking about writing some songs…I have a good relationship with the folks at The Barn, so before they closed up for the season, I asked them if we could use it.” After barricading themselves in the barn the entire week prior to the shows, they came out and delivered something like 12 new tracks that they had written and arranged in ONE WEEK!
Keep in mind, this is no ordinary structured band – they actually came together about a decade or so ago as a group of five guys with zero kids that had separate projects, to play together as a one-time gig at “The Whiskey Treaty Festival”, put together by Susie Hanna, the wife of one of those original five, Tory Hanna. That one show just wouldn’t stop, hence “Roadshow” was born.
But, as you can imagine, with that much talent having their own separate projects, it can be tough to find dates to which they can make a commitment. However, as David Tanklefsky put it, “It can definitely be a challenge, but once we’ve worked it out…it’s done and dialed in.” Billy Keane furthered it by saying that their new manager, Joe Gallo is “super organized and has just dived into the deep end with us.” (Joe is also managing Billy and David’s other project called “Billy Keane and The Waking Dream”.)
The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow came out onstage and did what they always do: They made new friends by making the audience feel like they were a part of them…like old friends hangin’ out and sharing stories with guitars, banjos, and mandolins…with a side of trumpet for good measure. Joshua Chaplin and Conor Meehan round out the rhythm section with style and grace….I’ll leave it up to you to decide which one is which. The audience quickly becomes dialed in as the band reels us in with their music, and holds us there with their incredible harmonies. Early on, however, there was one element of the band missing. It would appear that Greg Smith would not be able to make it tonight because he was at home with his newborn baby daughter and his wife, Liz’s, birthday celebration. (Did I mention this one is The Treaty’s ELEVENTH child now!!!)
Or so it seemed.
Billy Keane advised the crowd to summon up Greg Smith by cheering loud enough for him…and, as if by some stroke of wizardry…he comes out on stage holding his wireless Gibson Les Paul and throws out a jam on the tune “Rose On The Vine” that clearly made a lot of jaws drop! By this time of night, the audience was in love. With ALL of it. The theater, the music, the energy, the ginger beer and wine…it was a night to be remembered. Many were introduced to the storytelling from Tory Hanna on “Jimmy the Whiskey Boy”, the holler-folk style of vocals from Chris Merenda on “Perfect Day”, the soothing melodies from David Tanklefsky on “The River”, and the always impressive Billy Keane on “Pass The Peace”. It can’t be denied that one of the highlights of the evening was having Adam come out to join Tory in singing a cover of U2’s “One”.
There is some history to be known about these two bands. Adam first met The Treaty at a show at Tanglewood while supporting the Indigo Girls. Soon after that, they were asked to do the afterparty at Uncle Eddie’s on Salisbury Beach for The Ramble, an event that Adam and his non-profit venture, RallySound, puts on every year to raise money to get homeless Veterans off the streets and into dignified housing. (That event will be in Ashburnham, MA this year on Saturday, August 26th….and it’s FREE!!! More info at getrambled.com but I’m getting off track here!!!) Anyway, here we are, 8 years later. Whiskey Treaty and Adam have played together on numerous occasions, and they celebrated this by coming together at the end of the night with all the members of both bands, as well as Todd Mihan, to play ‘The Band’s’ – “Atlantic City”.
You couldn’t have asked for a better Saturday night in Western Massachusetts. The venue, the performers, the audience…this night at the Shea Theater was one for the books. Just as I said it would be. Wink-Wink.
Upcoming shows at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls, MA:
May 5 Dead Man’s Waltz (tribute to the Dead, the Allman Bros, and the Band)
May 6 Echoes of Floyd (Pink Floyd tribute)
May 12 Johnny Folsom 4 a Tribute to Johnny Cash
May 20 Sparkletown: a tribute to the spirit and music of Kate Lorenz
ft. Suitcase Junket, Peter Mulvey, Chris Smither, and more
June 8 Shemekia Copeland
June 9 Start Making Sense – a Tribute to Talking Heads
www.sheatheater.org for more information on all upcoming shows.
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