From Hair of the Dog’s “sweaty rock n’ roll” to Thomas and the Rain’s fiddle-fueled Americana, Rochester’s house bands cover a wide array of musical styles and include instruments ranging from reedy accordions to boxy upright basses. Forager Brewery, The Half Barrel, and The Tap House have all hosted house bands over the summer, from duos like The Afterwhile featuring Floridian Anthony Cuchetti to solo acts like Fernando Ufret and Rochesterite Joel Ward.
Chris Fierst, owner-operator at The Half Barrel, has house bands play on “Whiskey Wednesdays.” On the first Wednesday of every month, Fierst features vintage rock from Hair of the Dog, a collective including singing and guitar-slinging front men Jeremy Jewell and Tracy Sonnier accompanied by Mike Nesbit on bass and joined at times by Erik Henriksson or Whitney Gunhus on drums and Kirstin Kooda on accordion.
Jewell thinks the street-level window location for live music at The Half Barrel “provides a cool atmosphere for downtown Rochester,” and he also notes that on a good night you might catch Fierst belting out “Tennessee Whiskey” with the band.
The chameleon-voiced Ufret is also a regular at The Half Barrel. He plays on the second Wednesday and amazes audiences with the breadth of his repertoire. “I want to listen to what people want me to play for them, to interact as much as possible. The Half Barrel is perfect for this,” says Ufret.
“We didn’t set out to have a ‘house’ band…we hire bands that our customers respond to,” says Christine Stahl, owner of the Tap House. If you’ve passed the Tap House on any given Tuesday night in the past three summers, you’ve likely heard The Afterwhile’s music wafting down from the roof-top patio. “Not only were we at capacity inside, but people were setting up lawn chairs across the street just to listen,” Stahl says.
Thomas and the Rain and Joel Ward have respectively held down Tuesday and “Therapeutic” Thursday night music at Forager Brewery this past spring and summer. “At Forager, we really want to promote everything local,” says manager Chris Pickett. “Ellen Thomes, half of Thomas and the Rain, is also an employee of Forager. She has worked as a barista, server and bartender. Doesn’t get much more local than hiring one of your own.”
“We try to keep a fresh face. Starting in September, we won’t be having house bands through December. We will be doing rotating acoustic acts Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with open mic on Mondays,” shares Pickett.
“It’s been a great experience overall…it’s pushed us to learn more new music than ever,” says Thomes, who sings and switches between fiddle and guitar while her duo partner Andy Rein sings and plays guitar or bass.
Ward, whose music has soothed Forager’s thirsty Thursday audiences, might describe what’s at the throbbing musical heart of Rochester’s house band phenomenon: “Finding people that connect to your lyrics, seeing them each week, getting to know them a little better and having that as a foundation for a friendship is a special thing.”