Fans of the Americana Showcase concert series will notice something different about the fall season’s lineup of musical artists and bands.
Every one of the artists, outside of Brandon Sampson, lead singer of the band Six Mile Grove and the series’ principal mover and shaker, will be new to the showcase this fall.
The lineup, Sampson said, reflects a re-dedication and re-commitment to the original idea behind the showcase, which was to make Rochester a stop on the Americana touring highway for soul, soul and rock musicians who had never performed in front of a Rochester audience before.
“We set out to introduce relatively unknown but really good, relevant artists to the community,” Sampson said. “The original intent was to introduce new music that people have no idea about.”
But somewhere along the way, Sampson acknowledges, “we strayed” from the mission, as artists who performed at previous showcase events were booked for return engagements.
“Every once in a while, you should probably read your mission statement and hold true to it,” Sampson said. “That’s what we decided to do, and that’s what we’re focused on.”
That re-commitment began last spring as Sampson and Six Mile Grove guitarist John Wheeler were driving home from a concert, musing about the upcoming fall season. Sampson got his cellphone out and began a search for bands that he knew or knew somebody that knew them but that had never performed in Rochester before.
And Wheeler, a self-admitted nerd, put together an Excel spreadsheet of all the bands Sampson mentioned. The list ran to between 30 and 40 artists. And then they began contacting the artists, seeing if they could bend their touring schedules in Rochester’s direction.
And that’s how they ended up with this season’s featured musicians.
“It’s the best one yet,” Sampson said. “It’s the most diverse one yet as well.”
Aside from unique collection brought to Rochester, what has separated the showcase from any other concert series is the setting. Because the concerts take place in the Rochester Civic Theatre, the musicians often perform on a stage that has been set-designed for that weekend’s play or performance (which explains why the concerts always take place on Wednesday).
The set may be a living room with couches, bookshelves and chairs. One time, when “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was being performed at the theater, the musicians played on a stage designed as an insane asylum (“We were playing some pretty interesting versions of our songs that night,” Sampson said).
But whatever the backdrop and however unconnected to the concert, the setting often lends an accidental but complementary accent to the music.
But what distinguishes it is the quality and purity of sound created.
“It’s a listening room,” Sampson said. “People come there to hear the music. You can hear a pin drop. And people are instantaneously drawn into the personality of each artist. It’s like I always say, ‘it’s creating once in a lifetime moments month after month.'”
The first concert on Wednesday, Sept. 23 will feature Sampson, Derek Luttrell and Edward David Anderson in a “Songwriters in the Round” format, where musicians take turns swapping stories, singing each others’ songs and “singing harmonies on stuff we’ve never heard before,” Sampson said.
The performance will offer a mix of artists at different points in their musical careers. At one end is the veteran Anderson, a member of the Illinois-based Backyard Tire Fire with a new solo record coming out. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to write a song,” Sampson said. At the other end is Luttrell, an up-and-comer and “beautiful songwriter who is wise beyond his years.”
“We’ll have both ends of the spectrum, and me kind of in the middle somewhere,” Sampson said.