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Kevin Hambrick: Full time musician/part time promoter
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Kevin Hambrick, singer/songwriter for The Orange Opera and a solo artist, has had one busy, yet successful, year so far.
It started off with a bang when he met his modern day music heroes, Dr. Dog. This was akin to a first grader meeting Santa Claus and the gift that they later gave Hambrick (more on that later) was better than any bicycle.
Then there was the small scale tour that he and his band, The Orange Opera, embarked on, which provided them the extra confidence that surely helped them secure the crown in this year's Battle of the Bands.
Now, after having already played host to The Teeth, who, along with Dr. Dog, call Philadelphia their geographical home and Park the Van Records their musical home, Hambrick has decided to virtually do away with any free time and devote it to promoting shows. He's already secured three shows in the next month and has plenty more up his sleeve.
First up is a band from Louisiana, The Peekers, who are also on Park the Van and play what Hambrick calls “mountain country, happy, little 60s music.” Their performance will take place at The Brass Rail on October 14 th. Next up is a show at Mid City on the 26th. The line-up consists of Fat City Reprise, who Hambrick describes as “funk from Philly” and have a song that sounds like Blind Melon playing Urban Dance Squad,; and Quiet Life, a band that should appeal to anyone who's enjoyed any band that ever recorded for Saddle Creek. Finally, there is a show scheduled the very next day at Side Pocket Pub for Willy Wisely. Wisely doesn't have a MySpace page (which makes him the closest thing to Jandek to ever play here), but he does have a video that features Jenna Fischer a.k.a. Pam Beesly on NBC's The Office (which makes him the envy of any guy who's ever watched that show).
"He's been around for awhile," points out Hambrick, "That one came about from Jason Davis asking if I could get him a show here. I think Jason played a show with him years ago. He's a really smart songwriter and, to me, he's got a sort of Michael Penn voice. His stuff reminds me of songs on the Garden State soundtrack."
So why do it? Why spend the time and trouble it takes to line this all up, when there are already plenty of establishments in town that have hired people to do this very thing? Especially when you are already a full time musician trying to get your band off the ground. The answer, as it turns out, partly deals with that very matter.
"I just think the whole thing is you get a person a gig and then if they dig you, then there's a good chance they'll have you open for their town," reveals Hambrick, "Which could be in Louisiana or Philly. I love the music of these people that we're playing with and it's a good 'swap gig' thing. It's a good thing on your bio. I was talking to Van Campbell, the drummer for Ghostfinger, and he was telling me that you don't even need a label these days. He mentioned they have their little advantages, but all you really need is merchandise and contacts. He thought I was a promoter. In a way, I am, but he thought that was my job."
The other reason Hambrick is investing his time into setting up shows is to offer an alternative to the status quo. "To keep from getting a Queensryche cover band," he laughs, "Booking agents have their advantages, too. But, they don't really know the underground scene."
Hambrick says he has had his fair share of opposition so far, but he considers it par for the course. "I think there's definitely a 'behind the times' thing here. I'm going to keep trying what I do. There's no sense why we can't bring people here other than Rush cover bands or Too Short or Henry Lee Summer. Who gives a rat's ass? Bring something different. I think that the general public, sad as it is, a lot of them around here really like that," suggests Hambrick, "They want to hear covers and songs that they know."
There have been more than a few bars and clubs that have turned down Hambrick's requests to organize shows, mostly based on not wanting to change their nightly schedule of karaoke and such. "Some places want to still do their thing they've been doing for years. One place said I had to drop off a CD there. I'm not going to drop a CD off," he states, "C'mon! I can tell you everywhere I've played, I just won Battle of the Bands, and I'm playing with a national act."
So, again, why do it in the first place? Well, the reason has everything to do with the very first show he booked, in fact. Hambrick fell in love with Dr. Dog and then fell in love with many of the other bands on the Park the Van record label and … Well, better off letting him tell the story. "I think a lot of it stems from the whole Dr. Dog thing and meeting them and then hearing back from them that they liked the copy of Football Weather (Hambrick’s solo CD) that I gave them. Then, the second time I met them, The Teeth were opening for them and they told me I had to check them out because they were awesome. And they were. So, I called their manager and asked how much it would be to bring The Teeth here and he said they were planning a fall tour. We worked out a date and they asked for a guarantee, which wasn't that much. Gave them the guarantee, got over the guarantee, sold fifteen of their CDs and they had a great show. It was a big turnout. They said they had played in Canada the night before to 30 people and sold four CDs. I'd say Mid City was probably 150 people, at least. They had a ball. It was a good example, because a lot of people had never heard of them and afterward a lot of people were like 'Wow! Who were those guys? Thanks for bringing them!'"
There are definitely others who are helping with the cause and Hambrick is quick to point out two individuals who spring to mind. "The whole thing with Matt Kelley and Greg Locke and whoever else was involved with trying to get Wilco here was huge! I can't go that big because I'm sure I wouldn't be able to get it, so I've got to go smaller. The whole thing of trying to get cooler people like that is awesome. For now, I've got to go the smaller route and bring people that aren't going to cost me billions."
So, who else does Hambrick plan on bringing to town? Well, there are two confirmed shows and one of them will be a repeat performance — The Teeth (along with The High Strung) return in December, and he’s also lined up The Swims for that month.
Now, about that gift that Dr. Dog gave Hambrick. It turns out when he gave them a copy of his latest solo album that they didn't just listen to it, they went ahead and added one of the songs to their pre-show mix that plays overhead in every venue they perform while on tour. Hambrick just happened to be standing around, in the midst of a conversation with the band, when he suddenly recognized the voice coming from the house speakers. How did it make him feel?
"Frickin' ridiculous awesome!" admits Hambrick, "Especially when I'm standing right next to them talking when it came on. They said that 'Life Isn't Fair' should've been song of the year."
Perhaps a more fitting title for Kevin's song of the year would be “Life Is Sweet.”