CONCERT REVIEW: Riley Road at World Café Live

This past Thursday, I journeyed out to the World Café Live in Philadelphia to see Riley Road perform in their first headlining show.  Readers might recall my earlier interview piece about Riley Road, but for those who missed it, I’ll talk briefly about the band. 

Riley Road is made up of three 15-16 year olds from the Philadelphia area:  guitarist/vocalist Nick Cianci (son of Tony Cianci, Swarthmore ’86), drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon, and bassist Brandon Walker.  They’ve been playing music together for about two years and have steadily won local competition after competition.  They play a brand of bluesy rock and have great chemistry and a real sense of camaraderie as well as talent to spare.  Expect big things from this local trio.

I had previously seen Riley Road for the first time at this same venue in August, when they were competing in a Battle of the Bands Competition, which they won handily.  I was blown away by the charm and energy the three boys displayed on stage.  Performing seems to come naturally to them, and they clearly enjoy one another’s presence onstage and off.

The boys played a mix of covers and original material on Thursday night, introduced several new songs, and balanced the blues, blues-rock and rock aspects of their set quite well.  They opened their set with an instrumental groove, a cover of “Cissy Strut” by The Meters that got the crowd energized immediately.  They then segued into their debut of a new song, called “Better Man”.  “Better Man” is already a huge step forward artistically and creatively for this young band; it is an up-tempo number with a heavy drumbeat courtesy of Isaiah, and a catchy, compelling smoky vocal line from Nick complemented by an impressively technical guitar solo, also from Nick, that really showed his guitar chops.  Riley Road then played another cover, this one of “The Letter” (made famous by the Box Tops), which was a bluesy track with soulful vocals, followed by cover of “Worried Down With the Blues” (written by Warren Haynes, who was in both the Allman Brothers and Gov’t Mule, two of Nick’s favorite bands), this one a slow, melting jazzy number.  A highlight of the night soon followed:  Riley Road’s well-executed
cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” done with a more rock edge. The crowd’s enthusiasm grew with each song.

The band then took a short break, and Nick addressed the audience, thanking us for coming to support Riley Road.  He reflected on it being “surreal” hearing Riley Road on the radio.  His sincerity and appreciation of the band’s loyal cadre of fans earned the band another round of applause.

The boys then jumped back into performing, playing “Tied to Me” (which has received lots of play on WXPN), the opening track from their EP.  I’d heard this song so many times before that it even felt like a classic already.  This song in particular demonstrated the band’s perfectly attuned ability to jam with each other and not drown out any of the other members.  This earlier track in the band’s discography focused less on technical prowess and more on the band’s natural ability to gel.  They then played another track from their EP, titled “Easily”, which compared to their other songs had a more bluesy and ballad-y feeling with chugging guitars.  Another highlight of the evening came next, a new track that is still untitled.  This new song was a leap back into the past sonically for the boys.  It was more rock than blues and even seemed to have a 1950’s dance-hall feel, but still was anchored by deep bluesy undertones.  Brandon’s bass in particular shone during this new track. 
The boys then finished out the night with a mix of originals and covers and concluded with an extremely enjoyable number, a cover of “Rocking Horse” by Gov’t Mule with a long instrumental section where the boys really showed off their technical abilities.  Isaiah’s drum solo was absolutely incredible, with changing tempos and time signatures that roused the crowd again and again.   The band thanked the crowd and left, only to return for an excellent encore, joined by another guitarist, named Conor McCarthy, and an organ player named Devin Calderin.  This cover of  “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers had a full, rich sound and a thrilling building intensity.  It made for a splendid encore.

This small, intimate concert displayed a trio of boys with a big sound.  Riley Road is sure to hit it big soon and they will deserve every inch of their success.

Beta Hi-Fi: A judge’s panel view of the World Cafe Live local band competition 

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Last night was my third time sitting on the judging panel of World Cafe Live‘s annual Beta Hi Fi finals, and the competition was impressive as ever. A half-dozen acts from the Philadelphia area took to the stage over the course of the night, all of whom had won their slot from audience votes earlier in the week, and the room was abuzz with fans, friends and family members rooting for their faves.

Along with my fellow judges – Pat Rapa, music editor at City Paper, and Stephanie Seiple, founder of Tri-State Indie – I had the tricky task of helping make sense of the melee, and doing so without being overly influenced by the minor cadre of intense dudes in Riley Road t-shirts who stared us down at constant intervals over the course of the evening.

As it happened, the Phoenixville trio did run away with top honors – not because any of us were worried about mob justice – but because the young band flat-out rocked. Their raw electric blues thing was tightly modeled after the Jimi Hendirx Experience, not only in structure and sound, but also spirit. Riley Road tackled Jimi’s “Red House,” for instance, taking substantial liberties as far as phrasing, pace, instrumental solos and overall duration. This wasn’t a faithful-to-the-original rendition in the least, and some might call that blasphemy. But by embellishing things and putting their own spin on the classic, they were actually more faithful to Jimi than a note-for-note cover might have been. The rest of the set was original material from their self-titled EP – power blues rock that was full of rough, rumbling bravado and intense musicianship. Occasionally a guitar solo wandered too long, or a drum fill got too complex, but as my fellow judges and I agreed, if our biggest concern is that the band is just too talented, that’s not a bad problem for them to have.

South Jersey-bred five-piece The Naked Sun also turned in a great showing to finish as a close second. Their act is a shuffling roots-rock boogie tightly punctuated by hummable saxophone lines, snappy rhythms and an energetic delivery – perfect late-summertime jams, ideal for dancing in the outdoors. Kind of made me wish we were holding this competition just across the way at Penn Park. (An idea for next year, Beta Hi Fi?) Both Riley Road and The Naked Sun won packages that included gear gift cards from Sam Ash, studio time and slots at the Dewey Beach Music Festival in Deleware.

Rounding out the finals were an eclectic assortment of competitors. Jam-rock outfit The McLovins channeled The Band and Phish in their three-song, 20-minute set, while A Cool Stick from Philly played funky instrumental backings to rapper Luke O’Brien, who was a charismatic frontman, albeit goofy-as-all-get-out (sample lyric: “you have the opposite of fish breath”). Meanwhile, acoustic pop groups Runaway Love and Shane Palkow tipped a hat to their favorites, tackling songs popularized by Frightened Rabbit and Jeff Buckley respectively. Beta Hi-Fi continues this week at World Cafe Live at the Queen, and I’ll be back on the judging panel for their finals on Saturday. See you then!

Daily Local News

August 8, 2012

Made up of three local teens, Riley Road’s developed sound belies their youth

Riley Road is a local band in the truest sense of the word! The band is made up of 16-year-old guitarist Nick Ciani who goes to Great Valley High School, 16-year-old bassist Brandon Walker who attends Owen J. Roberts, and 14-year-old drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon from the Renaissance Academy. The three met at Phoenixville’s Rock & Roll After School program and started out playing covers – mostly blues and rock standards which were made famous before they were born.

    In a world filled with social networks and recorded music created by committee, it’s refreshing to find a band that was created by chance and developed a sound that is truly amazing.

    Such is the case with local blues-rock band Riley Road — a local band in the truest sense of the word! The band is made up of 16-year-old guitarist Nick Ciani who goes to Great Valley High School, 16-year-old bassist Brandon Walker who attends Owen J. Roberts, and 14-year-old drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon from the Renaissance Academy. The three met at Phoenixville’s Rock & Roll After School program and started out playing covers — mostly blues and rock standards which were made famous before they were born by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and even the Box Tops.

    Their ep is fully-formed blues-rock and includes five original tunes that stand up well to just about anything else one can find in the genre. It kicks off with “Tied to Me,” a rockin’ bluesy affair that is already garnering steady play at WXPN in Philadelphia. That’s followed by the equally impressive “Leave it Alone” and “Easily.” “Like a Fool” showcases the band’s musicianship that weaves point and counterpoint beats into their tunes. “On Your Own” wraps up this yummy morsel of a record and leaves you hungry for more!

    With a solid, developed sound that belies their youth, Riley Road’s debut ep delivers on all fronts. Here’s hoping that this promising beginning will lead to more success in the months and years to come!


Q&A with ?Local Band Riley Road

By Kevin Haslam,    September 30, 2011

Riley Road, a local band specializing in blues, will be one of the many bands performing at this weekend's Spring City Music & Market Festival. This will be the fifth time the borough holds the festival, which will be on Main Street.

Riley Road is comprised of three area students, from Owen J. Roberts, Great Valley High School and the Renaissance Academy. Below is a Q&A with the band:

Tell us about how you got started and what steps you took along the road to get to where you are today.

Riley Road first started as an experiment by Phoenixville’s Rock and Roll After School Program in September of 2010.  Erin Riley, who owns the program, recruited guitarist Nick Cianci, drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon and bassist Brandon Walker to play together in the school’s program. Nick, a long time student of the Downingtown School of Rock had played previously with Brandon and Brandon had played with Isaiah in the Rock and Roll After School program.  Nick had wanted to develop a small band to write and perform blues rock inspired music. Through the 4 month program, the band grew and continued to play outside of the program.  Local venues like Steel City Music Café and Chaplins supported the band and provided an outlet for this young band (ages 13-15).

In the Spring of 2011, the band continued to write songs and develop their style.  They entered the Episcopal Academy Battle of the Bands and took top honors.  They also took top honors at the Upper Merion Township Battle of the Bands.  By the end of the summer, they were playing regularly and were selected to play the Phoenixville Blues Festival.

What are your feelings about the opportunity to play at the Spring City festival?

Brandon – I really like playing outdoors for large crowds.  Spring City is my hometown and I started taking lessons at Georges Music.  We have played at Chaplins a couple of times and this is a great venue.  I am looking forward to playing for my friends and family in Spring City

Nick and Isaiah – We are really thankful to chosen to play in Spring City's festival.

For each member: What are your future aspirations? Do you want to stick with music or is another career lurking in your mind?

Brandon – My future aspirations are to pursue a career in music, although not necessarily performance, although I think I want to continue to perform on some level.  I would like to go to college for sound recording or possibly have a career in Sound Engineering.

Nick – Right now, I can only see myself doing something with music...either touring or studio sure where.

Isaiah – I think I will be staying in music.  I want to tour and make CDs.  Right now, I think I am interested in the Berklee College of Music in Boston Mass.

For each member: Who is your main inspiration in your life, on a personal level (family members, friends, teachers, coaches, etc)

Brandon –Michael O’Brien is an instructor at Rock and Roll After School.  He used to play bass for a band called Jealousy Curve.  Michael has been a mentor and friend of mine for a few years and is an incredible instructor.  I have learned a great deal from Michael.   My parents have also been a great inspiration as well. Nick –  Besides my Mom and Dad, my guitar teacher at the Downingtown School of Rock has had a big influence on me.  He has been my guitar teacher for 4 years now.

Isaiah – My parent have been a big influence.  They have supported me in playing the drums since a very early age.  They bought me my first drum set and helped me start playing with my church when I was 5 years old.

For each member: Who is your main inspiration in your life as far as idols go (celebrities, historic figures, etc., dead or alive)?

Brandon – There are a few bass players that have excelled and changed the perception of this instrument. People like Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Victor Wooten from Bela Fleck and the Flectones have shown me what a bass can do and how important it is to always be a student of the instrument.  You can always learn from other musicians. I also am inspired by bass players like John Paul Jones, Les Claypool, Noel Redding and Roger Waters.

Nick –  My two biggest influences right now are Davy Knowles and Warren Haynes. I was fortunate enough to share the stage with Davy two years ago on New Year's Eve.  He's a fantastic guitarist/singer from the Isle of Man.  I am also really into the 60's blues rock guys such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck.

Isaiah –  I have so many favorite drum players, there are too many to list.  I have start with Tony Royster.  Tony has played with a number of artist but is also known for winning the Guitar Center National Drum-Off competition in 1995 (at the age of 11).  I also like QuestLove from the Roots.  I met him once back stage at the Jimmy Fallon show.  I wasnt old enough to get into the show, but my friend Erin Riley helped me get backstage to meet him.  He was a really nice guy.

What do you hope to get out of the experience of playing at the Spring City festival?

BrandonRiley Road has been a lot of fun.  Its been fun to meet other musicians and to play at many different venues.  This will be the first time we have played at the Spring City Music Festival and we are looking forward to showing some people who have never heard of us what we can do.

Nick – For each show that we play, we get more experience. The Spring City music and market festival will be a little different than most places we play.  It will be outside on the street.  There will be lots of people there who have never heard us before.  Maybe someone will hear us that will provide more opportunities to play.

Isaiah – I think it will be alot of fun playing in Spring City.  There are a lot of other bands playing that day and playing outside is always fun.  Maybe Riley Road can pick up some more fans and friends.


What's the hardest thing about balancing what you love (music) and life's responsibilities (school)?

Brandon The hardest thing about balancing school and music is finding the time to do anything else.  Between the music programs, Riley Road practice, our shows and all the homework from school, there isn’t much time for anything else. I have to make sure that all of my homework is finished first, often I’m staying up late just to get it all done.

Nick – I find it hard to set priorities to decide which is more important to work on at different times.  I have a lot of school work this year and I also have to put time in to write or learn new songs.  Although school work is the priority, sometimes its tough to choose.

Isaiah – The hardest thing is trying to set priorities between wanting to play music all the time and do homework and study.  I know I should be doing homework, but I always want to practice.


Anything else you guys want to add or promote?

We would like to promote our website:  We have Facebook, Myspace and ReverbNation pages, but they can all be found through our webpage.  The web page always has our current schedule and there are videos and recordings of some of our music, as well as lots of pictures.

We’re looking forward to playing at Steel City CoffeeHouse in Phoenixville, October 7th with the band Blue Bizness.  Steel City has been very supportive of Riley Road and we always have a great show there.

We are entering a number of competitions this fall including the "In the Groove" battle of the bands in Philly on Nov 12 and the NAMM Best Teen Band in America competition also in November.

Daily Local News

Sept 15, 2011


Fifteen-year-old Nick Cianci of Malvern, whose blues-rock band Riley Road was a big hit at the Phoenixville Blues festival, will be performing at Steel City Coffee House this Saturday night, opening for singer-songwriter Jeffrey Gaines. Gaines, who heard about Cianci, invited him to perform at the show.

Cianci is a student at Great Valley High School and studies music at School of Rock in Downingtown. He recently performed with the East Coast School of Rock All-Stars, the touring band comprised of all the schools' elite students.

He has also played twice on stage with national recording stars bluesman Albert Castiglia and blues-rock sensation Davy Knowles. His second gig with Knowles was to a sold-out World Cafée Live on New Year's Eve 2009 where they blistered a 14-minute-long version of "Cortez the Killer."

He also participated in the band program at Rock & Roll After School in Phoenixville, where he met and began performing with his Riley Road bandmates Brandon Walker and Isaiah Weatherspoon. The band is named after the school's director and founder, Erin Riley.



Steel City Coffee House Press Release 

September 27, 2011

For Immediate Release


Riley Road, stars of Phoenixville Blues Fest, return to Steel City, joined by Blue Bizness

Riley Road, who made a major impression upon the audience at the recent Phoenixville Blues Festival, will return to Steel City Coffee House on October 7. They will be joined by Blue Bizness, whose debut at Steel City in February was a sell-out performance.

Riley Road is the dynamic blues-rock trio featuring 15-year-old guitar prodigy Nick Cianci, a student at Great Valley High School, 15-year-old bassist Brandon Walker, a student at Owen J. Roberts High School, and 13-year-old drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon, a student at Renaissance Academy.

The three students met through Phoenixville’s Rock & Roll After School band program and named the band after the school’s director Erin Riley. Their remarkable chemistry and musicianship have since turned many heads. In addition to the recent blues festival the band has performed at Steel City, Chaplin’s the Music Café in Spring City, and at other local events. They have already had the opportunity to jam at Steel City with Philadelphia’s guitar virtuoso Jef Lee Johnson (Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Billy Joel) and members of his band, as well as keyboardist/saxophonist Jay Davidson (Steve Winwood, the Funk Brothers, Whitney Houston).

Riley Road is working on developing more original material and supplements their originals with blues and rock standards, many of which were made famous before they were born. Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and even the Box Tops are among the artists that they cover.

Riley Road will be sharing the spotlight with local blues band Blue Bizness. Blue Bizness has performed at many establishments in the Philadelphia area for over 6 years. They are a blues-rock quartet and describe their sound as “high energy blues rock ‘and beyond,’ flavored with a dash of slide guitar, blues harmonica, and screamin' Fenders, served up on a bed of rock-solid rhythm.”

Phoenixville Patch

Blues Festival Draws Crowds of All Ages to Reeves Park

Riley Road and many other bands entertained hundreds on Saturday.

By Dave Conard September 13, 2011

Hundreds flocked to the main stage at the Phoenixville Blues Festival on Saturday in Reeves Park as Riley Road lit up the stage, much to the deilight of their fans. The band, featured in many of the photos above, consists of drummer Isaiah Weatherspoon, bassist Brandon Walker and Nick Cianci, on guitar and vocals.

Many other bands entertained a large crowd on Saturday, as well. Blues fans took in the music, danced along and snapped photos of the bands. This was the second annual Blues Festival, and it was sponsored by The Steel City Blues Society, a non-profit working to preserve the blues and help children learn about music through The Give the Gift of Music Foundation.



Phoenixville Patch

September 07, 2011

Blues Festival: Riley Road Returns to Churn the Burning Funk

This remarkable young band returns to wow crowds at this weekends Phoenixville Blues Festival.  Anyone who attended last year’s Phoenixville Blues Festival will remember the encore that brought the house down. Three young kids wowed the crowd with their raw talent, leaving behind 3,000 folks who just couldn’t believe that sound came from people that age. Nick Cianci is a sophomore at Great Valley High School. He and Brandon Walker, a sophomore at Owen J. Roberts, met Isaiah Weatherspoon (a freshman at Renaissance Academy) at Erin Riley’s Rock and Roll After School program in 2010

Nick and Isaiah had played the first Phoenixville Blues Festival last year under the name A Churning Urn of Burning Funk. It was their first gig together and it consisted of only a couple of songs early in the afternoon. They made such an impression, they were brought back later in the evening for an encore to a crowd of about 3,000 people. It brought the house down.

Brandon came on board as the bass player shortly thereafter. Since then, the boys, now known as Riley Road, have entered two Battle of the Bands competitions (Episcopal Academy Battle of the Bands in April and a benefit for the Upper Merion Township Skate Park in June). They took top honors in both contests. They’ve played a number of summer festivals, and gigs at Steel City and Chaplin's in Spring City were exciting shows.

In June, the group performed at Steel City with prominent blues guitarist Jef Lee Johnson. The show ended with the two bands sharing the stage together for an exceptional jam session.

Nothing has been anticipated by this band like this year’s Blues Festival in Phoenixville, however. While the trio doesn’t have a favorite song to perform per se, they all share an affinity for an original song they worked on in 2010 at Phoenixville's Rock and Roll After School called "Leave It Alone."

Making their debut during the 40-minute set this Saturday are two cover songs and one new original tune, with lyrics penned by Cianci, called "On Your Own." The two new covers are consistent with their blues-rock inspirations. The first features a guest singer who will sing with the band on Saturday.

Jesse O’Brien, a junior from Perkiomen Valley High School, will sing a song called "I Ain’t Superstitious." The song was first recorded by Howlin' Wolf in 1961, but the song was made famous by Jeff Beck. The other new cover is called "Commotion" which was written by Credence Clearwater Revival.

Don’t miss your chance to catch this group of rising stars as they take the stage at 5 p.m. The blues festival will be happening all day Saturday, Sept. 10.


The Phoenix


Free festival to bring day of blues music in Phoenixville

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

PHOENIXVILLE —You don't have to be blue to enjoy the blues. That's evident with the upcoming festival coming to Phoenixville. Area residents are invited to enjoy a free day of blues music on Sept. 10.
Hosted by the Steel City Blues Society, a nonprofit organization, the Phoenixville Blues Festival will be held from noon to 10 p.m. at Reeves Park.

Last year's event brought out thousands of people, according to the organizers. Proceeds from donations will benefit the Give the Gift of Music Foundation which helps underprivileged children obtain musical instruments and take music lessons, said Steel City Blues Society Founder and President Jim DiGuiseppe. The first event raised $12,000 for the foundation, DiGuiseppe said.

In addition to the festival, proceeds from the pre-party, which will feature Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, will also be donated to the Give the Gift of Music Foundation which is based in Phoenixville. The pre-party will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 9, at Club 212, 212 Bridge St. Tickets can be purchased on

The Phoenixville Blues Festival will be held on Sept. 10 in Reeves Park. Above, a scene from last year’s festival.Photo courtesy of Jim DiGuiseppe. This year's festival will offer a mix of the bands from last year and some new bands. DiGuiseppe said the bands represent different styles of blues music. In example, the festival's website says Paul Michael has a sound that is "a kinder, gentler blues." Johnny Never and the Solar Pimps have a more 1920s or 1930s blues style from the deep south.

A new item on the schedule for this year is a blues sing along for children. Mark Ross, who works at the children's development center at Penn State, will lead the sing along from 12:30 to 12:55 p.m. "We didn't want to have just band after band," DiGuiseppe said. To commemorate 9/11, Jesse O'Brien will sing a rendition of "God Bless America."

Two of the returning acts are Riley Road and HotLanta, The Allman Brothers Tribute Band. Nick Cianci of Great Valley High School is the guitarist and vocalist for Riley Road. Isaiah Weatherspoon, a Renaissance Academy student plays the drums and Brandon Walker, an Owen J. Roberts student, plays bass for the band. Cianci and Walker are 15 and Weatherspoon is 13.

Not only are the band members local to the area, but they have also played locally at Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville and Chaplin's, The Music Cafée, in Spring City. The band played at the restaurant festival in Phoenixville held this past spring.

Cianci said Erin Riley, the founder of Phoenixville's Rock n' Roll After School, helped the band get together by letting them practice together in its location at Franklin Commons. He said Riley also helped the band get the gig at last year's blues festival. "We're really excited," Cianci said about performing at this year's festival. "Last year was the best time ever. We never played in front of that amount of people before. It was an adrenaline rush." He said some of the songs they will play are original and others are covers.

The same artist that created last year's poster has designed this year's, DiGuiseppe said. He said the organizers are hoping to make the posters collectible items.

How the blues festival was started. DiGuiseppe is the person that came up with the idea for the festival. "We had lived here in Phoenixville for 11 or 12 years," he said. "I looked at the bandshell in Reeves Park and thought it would be a great place for an event. I said, 'Why don't we rent the bandshell, invite some people to play some music and hang out?'" DiGuiseppe, his wife, Linda and a committee worked together to coordinate the event. They wanted the money to go to a music charity and the group researched how to start a nonprofit organization. DiGuiseppe said the organizers were only expecting a couple hundred people to show up at the first event, but to their surprise, 3,000 people attended.

"This year, we've doubled the vendors and will have twice as much food," he said. One of the many complaints received from last year was not enough portapotties so there will be more of those also, DiGuiseppe said. He said the weather was beautiful last year and he's hoping for the same kind of weather this year.

DiGuiseppe said he has always been a fan of blues music. He said he used to attend Queen Bee and the Blue Hornet Band concerts and has stayed in touch with one of the former members who now performs for Miss Melanie. The festival is being sponsored by Bistro on Bridge, Club 212, Valley Forge Benefits Consulting, Dotman, Design + Development, Med Spend, Dr. Daniel H. Green, D.M.D. family dentistry, Londino Ross Associates, Premier Planning Group Inc., Phoenixville Hospital, Reliance Standard, Laura Keen Photography, Paoli Hospital Main Line Health, ExecuPharm. Riverside Consulting Group Inc., Phoenixville Federal Bank & Trust, Tague Lumber, Medco, Snyder Family Chiropractic, Molly Maguire's, Black Walnut Winery, Bala Financial Group Inc., The Keith Family, F.X. Duffy and Co. Inc., Phoenixville Community Education Foundation, Mr. and Mrs, Charles Adams, PJ Ryan's Pub, OmniCel, EnergyOne Electronics Inc., The American Pub Centre Square and Mike's Custom Car Care Products.

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Phoenixville cranks up the blues

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

By Walter Ault

One nice way to spend a summer day is listening to blues music outdoors. And if you really enjoy that particularly American music genre, here’s some good news. There will be 10 hours of blues music at Reeves’ Park in Phoenixville on Saturday, Sept. 10. The occasion is the second annual Phoenixville Blues Festival, which will feature nine different acts from the Greater Philadelphia area.

According to the festival’s founder, Jim DiGuiseppe, last year’s inaugural event surpassed all expectations. So hopes are naturally high for this year.

“Since it was the first festival, we were expecting 500, maybe 1,000 people,” DiGuiseppe said in a recent interview. “We wound up getting over 3,000. It was a real surprise. It was great to get so many people, but we ran out of food. This year,” he continued, “we have more food and twice as many vendors.”

DiGuiseppe, a Phoenixville resident, explained how the festival got started.

“My wife and I rode past Reeves Park many times and always thought it would be a good place for an outdoor party. So in 2009, that’s what we did. We had a small party.

“We also wanted to do something for the community,” DiGuiseppe said, “so we talked to some people and made some calls and came up with the idea of making the party a blues festival in 2010, with the funds raised used to benefit a charity.” That charity ultimately became the Gift of Music Foundation, which pays for music lessons and instruments for underprivileged Phoenixville-area children.

It has also become a big thrill for three local teenagers, 15-year-olds Nick Cianci and Brandon Walker and 14-year-old Isiah Weatherspoon. These three talented youngsters make up the blues/rock band known as Riley Road, which made a big splash at the festival last year in what was the band’s very first gig.

Riley Road’s appearance in the early part of last year’s festival was so well-received, in fact, that the boys were invited back to do another show later in the day.

Cianci, a sophomore at Great Valley High School, said in a recent interview that Riley Road’s music is basically blues, but with a touch of rock ’n roll that makes the band’s music “more high energy.”

Though only 15, Cianci talks like a seasoned professional when he discusses music.

“I always liked pure blues,” he said. “People like B.B. King, Peter Green, John Mayall and Derek Trucks were all big influences on me. I loved the music they played,” said Cianci, who sings and plays guitar in the band.

“But I also was always into blues/rock groups like Free, Cream and the original Fleetwood Mac. They were great groups that put out a great sound. They had a big impact on me.”

Walker (bass), a sophomore at Owen J. Roberts High, and Weatherspoon (drums), a freshman at Renaissance Academy, are of like mind with Cianci. Both love the blues. Walker also likes classic rock ’n’ roll, while Weatherspoon is fond of gospel music.

Besides playing together, the young musicians collaborate on writing songs. They have written five songs so far. So naturally the band includes some original material in its shows, along with covers of such musical artists as Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and the Allman Brothers.

Last year’s debut at the festival turned out to be a monumental moment for the brand-new band — it launched them on a busy year playing music festivals and coffee houses — so they are looking forward to appearing again.

“Last year’s festival was a huge thrill and a great experience,” said Cianci. “There was a huge crowd and we truly enjoyed ourselves. Furthermore, it got us recognized and we have been able to get some work because of our appearance there. We’re looking forward to doing the festival again.”

Other groups appearing at the festival, which raised $12,000 last year, include the Porkroll Project, Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats, Johnny Never & the Solar Pimps, Flamin’ Harry, Sister Blue and Georgie Bonds. The main attraction will be Hotlanta, an Allman Brothers tribute band.

Phoenixville Blues Festival will take place at Reeves Park, Main Street & 3rd Avenue, Phoenixville, PA 19460, Saturday, Sept. 10, noon – 10 p.m.



Phoenixville Patch

Steel City Blues Society to Host Blues Jam, Membership Drive


By Lily Williams

June 3, 2011

Saturday's party kicks off countdown to Phoenixville Blues Festival.

Maybe you’ve heard of the Memphis Blues, the Dallas Blues or the St. Louis Blues. But the Phoenixville Blues? If the Steel City Blues Society (SCBS) has anything to do with it, Phoenixville and the Blues will be as inseparable as rock and roll. In fact, they’re getting things started this Saturday night with a Blues Jam and Membership Party at PJ Ryan’s Pub. The party—a sort of kick-off leading up to the main event, the second annual Phoenixville Blues Festival on Sept. 10—will feature music by the Blind Chitlin Kahunas.

Members of the band, which is based in central Pennsylvania, have shared the stage with music luminaries including Bo Diddley, Tina Turner and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. SCBS was founded about a year ago by Jim DiGuiseppe and his wife, Linda, to host the Phoenixville Blues Festival and to benefit the Give the Gift of Music Foundation, which helps provide needy children with musical instruments and music scholarships. Last year, SCBS was able to present the foundation with a check for $12,000 and hopes to increase that gift this year.

Longtime fans of the Blues, the DiGuiseppes cite the bandshell in Reeves Park as the inspiration for establishing the Phoenixville Blues Festival. "That’s what gave us the idea," said Jim DiGuiseppe. "We’d been living in Phoenixville for about 10 years and driving by the park everyday and noticed the old bandshell. We thought ‘That would be a really neat backdrop for a blues festival.’

"Initially, we were just going to rent the bandshell and invite 100 friends and a few bands," he continued. "But people kept expressing interest and we decided, ‘OK, let’s just do it,’" and a blues festival was born.

Phoenixville and the Blues, it turns out, are a match made in music heaven. For the first festival, the organizers expected perhaps 500 attendees. Instead 3,000 turned out. "This year," noted Jim DiGuiseppe, "we expect it will be even bigger and better." The festival will run from noon until 10 p.m., with nine mostly local bands currently scheduled to perform.

One of the most anticipated performances, however, won’t be a professional band at all, but a group of youngsters with a big talent. "Last year," Jim DiGuiseppe said, "Erin Riley, who heads Rock & Roll After School at The Franklin Commons and who started the Give the Gift of Music Foundation, contacted us and wanted some of her students to perform at the festival. We told her we didn’t want it to be a variety show, but she sent me a YouTube link to them performing and it blew me away."

The group, then called A Churning Urn of Burning Funk, performed early in the day last year, when only few hundred people had arrived. "But at the end of the day," Jim DiGuiseppe said, "we had some time left and they played an encore to around 3,000 people. It brought the house down."

This year, renamed Riley Road, they’re getting an entire set at 5 p.m.

While SCBS currently exists primarily to host the Phoenixville Blues Festival, it has big plans for the future including organizing used instrument drives and promoting a "Blues in the Schools" program.

This Saturday’s event, which will run from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., is both a festival preview (this year’s poster will be unveiled by artist Sean Halloran) and a membership drive.

SCBS currently has about 25 members, but is hoping that the Blues Jam will inspire more people to sign up. Tickets to the party cost $10 per person, but are free for members. With a membership to SCBS running a mere $25, organizers are hoping Saturday’s guests won’t think twice about joining.