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Coming home

Whiskey Holler’s acoustic rave ups give two veterans a new musical spark

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


“You see a guy with an acoustic guitar and a guy with a jenbe walk up on stage, what’s your thought?” asks Greg Jackson, the percussion half of the duo Whiskey Holler. “You’re thinking, ‘okay, this is going to be some hippy thing.’ No. Definitely not.”

And, truth be told, you indeed might think you’re in for “some hippy thing” when you first encounter Whiskey Holler, a two-man band featuring Jackson on drums and percussion (a jenbe is a kind of African drum, by the way) and Andy Manes on acoustic guitar and vocals.

But instead Whiskey Holler — who perform as part of the Botanical Garden’s Roots concert series on Friday, September 2 — delivers up raw blues and old-time country played fast and danceable, more rave-up than mellow vibe. Listening to the band, it’s hard to tell what exactly is driving the rhythm — Manes’s fast and simple chord work on the acoustic or Jackson’s syncopated beats on his minimalist percussion set-up — but the songs really do want to make you move.

And that’s the whole point. Both Manes and Jackson have been around the music scene for a long time, but both seemed, to hear them tell it, a little burned out on music. It might be melodramatic to say the thrill of playing music was gone, but neither was feeling much of a spark in any of their current projects.

Manes started out years ago in a band called Chronic Phlegm (Pete Thomas of Riverbottom Nitemare Band was the drummer), which played… well, the kind of music you’d expect a band called Chronic Phlegm to play. “It was garage punk, metal… the stuff you do when you first pick up a guitar,” he says.

Manes eventually got more into acoustic guitar, and started listening to older “roots” music when a friend introduced him to bluegrass. He played in a bluegrass band in Lafayette for a while, and when he moved back to Fort Wayne three years ago, returned to playing his own material solo. “Years ago, before Lafayette even, I did shows with Sunny Taylor, all those cats, always at open mic nights.”

Jackson’s been around a bit himself. He started out playing percussion in Phil’s Family Lizard well over a decade ago, and after leaving that group, played with a few other outfits that, as he puts it, had a some gigs here and there but didn’t do much beyond practicing in the basement. And what he learned from that experience: “I learned that I really didn’t want to be in a band,” he says. Jackson knew many, many people in the Fort Wayne music scene, some of which were more than happy to let him sit in for a gig or two on percussion, but family and work meant there wasn’t much time for music, and Jackson eventually sold off most of his instruments. It was only last year that the bug bit him again, and he began taking jenbe lesson from Ketu Oladuwa of the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble.

“Greg has jammed with almost everyone I used to jam with, but somehow, I had never met this guy,” laughs Manes. “It’s like, he knew one half of the Fort Wayne music scene, and I knew the other.” But that changed at a neighborhood St Patty’s Party this year, when Manes, who lives down the street from Jackson, started playing on the back porch and suggested Jackson go get his drum. “It just clicked,” Jackson says. “He played a riff, I fell in, and it just felt like coming home. By the time we got done, the deck was shaking. The whole damn neighborhood was dancing.”

Neither knew what they had, exactly, but they decided it was definitely worth exploring. Manes says he was tired of the singer-songwriter stuff he had been doing. “I’ve always thought ‘I really need to get a drummer,’ because I was sick of the coffee house thing, of the ‘I’m more depressed than you, I’m sadder than you.’ I want to play for the people who want to dance. I want to play to the people who want to have a good time.”

Jackson adds: “I come from playing percussion in a five or six person bands where you heard about ‘this much’ of what I did,” Jackson says. “And I’ve played in five or six person bands where the whole was definitely not greater than the sum of its parts. This is different. There’s only two of us, and the whole is dynamically better than the sum of its parts.”

Whiskey Holler’s originals come from Manes’s songbook. “We changed them up and they sound really good now,” he says. It’s not the coffee house, it’s the coffee house with whiskey. It’s acoustic mosh music.”

“Andy does a great job of putting life stories into songs,” Jackson adds. “That’s what makes this what it is. He tells great stories. Don’t get me wrong, it cooks, but the stories give it some of that depth.”

And apparently, whatever clicked at that St Patty’s Day party wasn’t a fluke. Manes and Jackson began jamming regularly and performing at a few open mic nights. The reaction was more than favorable. A three-song set at an open mic night at Mad Anthony led to a regular gig at the place every other Monday night, and also a spot in the Botanical Gardens Roots concert series.

Manes says he’s never has this kind of reaction before. “People just seem to like it, and it feels great to play this stuff. It feels like something, you know? It’s like being 16 again.”

Whiskey Holler plays at the Botanical Gardens Roots concert on September 2.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.