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Acclaimed rockers Marah hit town

Courtesy of One Lucky Guitar

By Ben Larson

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-06-06


Having the One Lucky Guitar stamp on a concert has long been a mark of quality. The design firm’s owner (and champion of all things Fort Wayne), Matt Kelley, has been responsible over the years for bringing such critically-acclaimed acts as Ike Reilly and Clem Snide, and on June 7th he will continue that streak when OLG hosts a night of alt-country rock, in the form of Pennsylvania’s Marah, at The Brass Rail.

“I’ve admired that band for a very long time,” Kelley told me. “I got their first album soon after it came out, and they’ve been a band who I’ve been able to follow their whole career, which is kind of cool.”

Marah was formed in 1993 by singer, songwriter, and guitarist Dave Bielanko in Conshohoken Pennsylvania. Upon releasing their first album, 1998’s Let’s Cut the Crap and Hook Up Later on Tonight, Marah gained wide acclaim from both critics and fans which has never let up through 8 subsequent albums, even though the band has never had a single release show up on the Billboard 200. Stephen King himself hailed Marah’s If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry as the best album of 2005, saying “If You Didn't Laugh, You'd Cry is an apt enough title, when you consider that this is probably the best rock band in America that nobody knows. Am I being an elitist here, trying to one-up my audience? Nope. Marah is great in the scat, bop, and jive way Springsteen was great on The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle. One listen to songs like ‘The Closer’ and ‘Fat Boy’ on this amazing record and I think you'll agree. These guys are either the American U2 or close enough for government work.”

Through all this praise, Kelley himself said that he’d noticed the band seemed like they had never quite got the audience they deserved. “I saw them down in Indy a couple of times, and I thought ‘you know, I think Fort Wayne could’ve pulled a bigger crowd than this,’ and I saw them in Detroit and I thought the same thing.” One Lucky Guitar had done some design work for the band, and finally Kelley was able to bring them to town last June. “They loved The Brass Rail. They were crazy about it,” Kelley said, adding “you guys don’t realize that not every city has one of these places. This is a unique place even in America, so they were eager to come back.”

“Their live show is just so cathartic. I know it’s a cliché, but they play every show like it could be their last one. Even if they’re playing a sad or angry song, there’s a joy in the way they perform it.” That part about playing every show like it could be their last is truer than you might think. In 2008, Marah was basically Fogerty’d. In a blog on the band’s website, Bielanko explained. “Our beautiful band got hit by a roadside bomb on the eve of its last full-length release, Angels of Destruction! I was told by a certain band member that in order for the subsequent touring for that record to proceed I would need to fire my best friend/piano player Christine Smith, throw her under the bus. I would not do it. My brother Serge would not do it.

“Me, Serge and Christine made “AOD!” (we wrote it, recorded it, mixed it and designed the whole thing to help push our live band to a rare an amazing place). We changed our lives to make it. Christine left another great band to come be a part of ours; she struggled hard with that decision. I got sober after years of being a *!@# up. Serge wrote ‘Wilderness.’
We Wouldn’t Budge.
Things broke down.
The manager vanished with power of attorney.
People told me ‘I’ owed them thousands and thousands of dollars.
There would be no tour.
No band.
Ex-members stole Marah’s recording equipment.
Dark [expletive deleted] days.”

The band persevered, though, rented a farm house out in the middle of Nowhere, Pennsylvania, begged, borrowed, and stole what equipment they could, and set forth writing and recording what came to be 2010’s Life is a Problem, which the band self-released on their new label, Valley Farm Songs.

Taking the bands recent hardships into consideration, it seems as if Kelley’s business model for the shows he and One Lucky Guitar promote is tailor-made for a struggling band. “We just try to break even. Sometimes you introduce profit into something and it can ruin it for you. I’ve got other parts of my life that have to be more business-oriented, and so with rock shows it’s like if we’re going to do it, let’s only book something that we’re dying to see, that’ll save us from having to take a convoy up to Ann Arbor, you know. It’s almost like ‘let’s book our heroes, and if we can’t get them then let’s not book shows.’

Marah will be joined by local openers Thunderhawk, and tickets can be purchased at The Brass Rail. More info. on Marah can be found at www.marah-usa.com.

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