Scenes From The 42nd Annual Croaker Festival in Oriental, NC
Starting things off in Oriental, NC, last weekend, I made it to day two of the Croaker Festival. Did you know that for more than four decades, the lil harbor town nestled along the Pamlico Sound, “down in the county,” has hosted this event the first weekend in July? That makes it a town tradition.
When I arrived to town, Big Jim Kohler Blues Band was on the Main Stage offering a mid-day music treat for those under the shade of the tent during the second and final day of the 42nd Annual Croaker Festival on Saturday, July 2, 2022.
This annual festival is one of several events that drive people into the harbor town each year. Most of the events held there feature masts and/or music. It’s a fishing town, so boats are a big deal. One of the main features of the Croaker Fest is the music. There is music from late Friday and until the close of Saturday during the festival hours. They make a big deal of local acts and treat them like the true celebrities that they are.
Well-organized town events, that last for generations, are important to the growth of communities throughout the land. Often when I talk to bands and interview musicians, the first big step for many was a local town festival/stage.
One year they are performing on The Croaker Festival stage and then the next one they are on the stage at a regional awards show, gaining more recognition. It happens often, which is why these town functions are important to all things local. As for that lil ol band on the big stage, everyone that’s under the tent now becomes a part of that band’s story. They will be telling tales of the local band that did good, for years, once they hear that the artist on the local radio. Local events and word of mouth are always major stepping stones to growth. That is true in every business model, whether it be managing a band or a town event.
Along with great music, there are fun food selections and craft vendors that set up shops to sell their goods and services. The boost in tourism is also great for the town’s local businesses. For instance, The New Village Brewery celebrated its 5th Year Anniversary on Thursday, June 30; just before the start of the Croaker Festival, and carried that vibe into the festive holiday weekend. They were pouring fresh beer, with a food truck on site and serving up the live music in their beer garden.
When the local businesses take part in these events, it offers more opportunities for the visitors, to sample local music makers and vendors throughout the town. The other place I stopped for music was The Oriental Marina & Inn. That is where the crowd gathers for the fireworks, and before the darkness set in, local rockers, Southern Hellcats were grooving under the tent at the tiki bar.
Shining a Spotlight on Music
Southern Hellcats Rev Up The Crowd For Fireworks
Highlighting the four bands that I saw at the festival on Saturday, I suppose we can walk it backward from here since the last band was the only band I had not seen. I actually caught one song when they played in New Bern after they first got together, but was not blogging at the time and have no evidence, so here it is…
Southern Hellcats have an interesting back story. They came about a couple years ago, I’d say theirs is a story of God’s good timing and as a result of Covid. Guitarist and singer, Chris Daniels, owner of The Silo’s Restaurant on Broad St. in Oriental was the guitarist for Saltwater Gold, for decades before Covid-19 came along. Both he and the drummer of that band and now this one, Mike Ferrara, opted to keep going and about the same time, Ferrara ran into long lost musical brother, Phillip Alcock, a Lenoir County native. It wasn’t long after that the Southern Hellcats formed. That trio of players actually have a history of working together in the past, with a project that, shall we say, did not fly, but cost them all. After hearing the story, I walked away thinking, this is the pay back project for these three. I feel it will be a fun project that will also be lucrative for them all.
Tieing the back beat and strings all together is the incredible Connor Daniels on sax. Basically, the rockabilly quartet consists of three seasoned players and a prodigy on sax who is learning how to season the sounds as they groove.
The younger Daniels is of no relation to the elder Daniels, but the two share a musical kinship. Much thanks for that goes to the weekly open mic nights happening each Wednesday at The Silos Restaurant. Connor told me that those nights are near and dear to his heart because you never know who is going to walk in. He considers it a weekly mini Woodstock. The players have always been super supportive of this young man, who now splits his time playing with the pros, and still placing first with his high school band in competitions and festivals. In fact, when I asked Daniels about his musical highlights, he said, “My musical highlights have definitely been placing first chair in the eastern region on tenor sax, both in classical and jazz bands.”
As for the band, they came together during the mid-Covid era and have really soared in the last year. Keeping busy around the region, they are available to rock your crowd on weekends too. They definitely know how to keep the people moving on the dance floor. They play all the fun songs from rock n roll beginning days to when it got bland, so basically covering classics from the 50s through the 80s. To learn more and inquire about availability click on ktheir website Southern Hellcats.
For friends and fans looking to dance to the music, the band heads to Swansboro, NC tonight to rock socks at The Willy-Nilly Warehouse from 7-10 pm. Next weekend they will be performing at the Fort Macon Summer Concert Series in Atlantic Beach. I caught up with them last night at Tonic Parlor on Middle St. in New Bern. They return there early next month on Thursday, August 4, 2022 for a 7-10 pm show.
Cooper Greer Closed Things Out On The Main Stage Saturday Evening
I love watching young talent grow strong with time and experience. Case in point, Cooper Greer Music. If you haven’t heard his name or music yet, seek him out. This talented young singer was born in the Ozarks, MO, but raised around these parts. He has music running through his viens. When it first caught his attention, he was really into rock, but to catch the band live, you will note his country croonings. This tells me that he is a smart music man. The two leading music trends are hip-hop and counrty music. There is no doubt in my mind that he has the voice and song structures to make a name for himself on the country music map.
Joining Greer on stage last week, on keys, the music mastery of Justin Sokoloski, his main man on guitar, Greg Franklin, on bass was the talented Wes Kyatt and on drums, Milton Long offering backing vocals and the beats. They sounded tight and kept the crowd right in tune with their grooves.
The first time I met Greer was when he graced the stage of Blackbeard’s Triple Play Restaurant on S. Front St in downtown New Bern, NC about two years ago. Since then, all of the covid restrictions have lifted and the band has been keeping busy around the state. Greer manages his own affairs and has released music for fans since we first met. He keeps the band busy around the state. This weekend the boys will be rocking folks on Ocracoke Island tonight and tomorrow at The Breeze.
A Dusty Trio Bring the Grooves to the Garden at The New Village Brewery
The first time I visited the Croacker Festival, was a few months after I started publishing this blog site, seven years ago. Back then, things were contained to the waterways around town. Nothing was happening on the way to the festival. This year, however, there was more to love with the addition of The New Village Brewery & Taproom taking root five years ago. The owners Frank and Lili Bacon hosted live music and food trucks throughout the weekend. Offering the jazzy swing sounds on Saturday afternoon was The Dusty Trio. The Dust Parade project can offer any number of players that the gig affords. I have seen them play as a duo and as a five-piece, complete with keyboards.
After talking about band leader Hank Barbee two weeks ago here and his band, The Dust Parade last week, readers learned of the band’s whereabouts, like my neighbor, John, who reached out, thanked me for the info, and got to work on gathering a group of music lovers to meet at the garden to support the band. This is exactly why I like doing this blog.
If you missed their show, here is “Good Day.” by the Dusty Trio, offered on my YouTube Channel. I am trying to build that site and the subscribers so join the fun while you are there by hitting Subscribe.
This week Barbee is flying solo along the Crystal Coast this weekend. Catch him tonight at Salty Bee in Cedar Point with music starting at 6 pm or tomorrow night the singer will perform in Atlantic Beach at Oceana Pier House and Restaurant from 6-9 pm. Look for the band next weekend on stage at Cru Bar & Wine Store in Beaufort, NC on Saturday, July 16, 2022.
Big Jim Kohler Blues Is A Mid Day Delight
The first band I caught last weekend is no stranger to this blog, and definitely part of the reason I started writing it in fact. Feeling a close affection for the blues, life got better for me in New Bern not long after meeting Big Jim Kohler and his blues band. That takes us all back nearly a decade now. I met the blues maker in March of 2013 in Swansboro where he was playing with bass player Mike Sandvig. Since then I have enjoyed getting to know many players through knowing the Kohlers.
One thing that cannot be denied is the power of a local blues queen. Singer Kathleen Kohler is always a show stopper when she sings with her husband. She not only wowed me but just about took down the tent with her show-stopping, breathtaking blues delivery.
Big Jim keeps busy playing around the region, offering authentic blues music rarely found around these parts. Playing behind him is a drummer familiar to this page, as we met Mike Ferrara above behind the kit keeping time for the Southern Hellcats. On bass, Kohler joins forces with Chris Buttitta who joined the band five years ago. Buttitta also has another band project. He often joins friends in The Hot Buttered Grits to deliver jams to fans.
For friends and fans of the band, you can find them at The Trailer Bar in Surf City tonight. Music is offered 7-10 pm. Tomorrow Big Jim and Kathy will be playing at their neighborhood restaurant, The Saltwater Grill in River Bend from 7-10 pm. On Sunday the duo heads to the Angry Ginger in Jacksonville to share music from 2-5 pm.
Ready Set Sound!
Back Stage and Behind The Scenes With Sound Hut Productions
Sounding good is a key component to one’s success in the music business. Often, that piece of the puzzle is taken out of the band’s hands. Given that component, I decided to take a look at my friends behind the scenes. Sound engineers are not often talked about, but they should not be overlooked or taken for granted.
Having a good production company can make or break an event. Though having the right equipment to pull off a show is important, it is most essential to have the skill and experience behind the board too. Recently, I spent some time talking to the skilled production team at Sound Hut Productions.
They are based right here in New Bern and are happy to work anywhere in the state. They have set up sound for small events and offered production on major events. Below is the father and son team tackle sound at Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern, NC for the Fundraiser, BBQ & Blue, January 2020.
When I sat down with Chris Sandvig, he was at the controls of the board, under the tent at The 42nd Annual Croaker Festival. He grew up around music most of his existence with being reared by a father that has worked in bands for most of his life. Mike Sandvig has played bass for more than a fair share of bands along the way. Currently the bass man is seeking a new band opportunity, but he is keeping busy with his production company.
The younger Sandvig on the other hand said he never had the patience to learn how to play an instrument, but when his father noted his interest in sound, he invested in his son and supported his passion for the sound trade. He started working behind the board when he was 18 years old. Now a decade and a half later, Sandvig says he learns something from every show they do. Even if the show goes sideways, he learns important lessons for future outings.
Helping the Sandvig’s last weekend was the sound engineer for Soul Psychadelic, Kelly Mon. He made the trip from Raliegh to help his long-time friends behind the board. Chris Sandvig said he is always grateful for the input Mon offers and says he saved the day for Sandvig.
There truly is a lot that goes into setting up such events. Generally, they are long work days, often with weather conditions to consider. There is the load in before anyone arrives and the setting of the stage. Then there is the transition between bands that needs to be considered. It is important to call on a company that assists in making these transitions smooth while making the bands sound the best they can. As for the guys at Sound Hut Productions, that is always the goal when they set out with their trailer and gear. Wrapping up makes the days longer, but when the bands are happy it’s worth the effort it takes.
Sound Hut Productions is the company that all local bands should acquaint themselves with. They have affordable studio space for band rehearsal and the equipment you need to make your band sound over the top when in the field. If you are organizing a town event or concert series, consider this duo for your sound needs. Opening a club that will support live music, incorporate sound, by hiring them to hook up the venue right. If you are ready to take your band, venue or town project to the next level contact Mike Sandvig today…
Tomorrow We Travel To Swansboro, NC for a Double Bill at SwanFest
Swansboro, NC is a fun little town that supports the arts in a big way. Tomorrow we go to SwanFest and listen to Captain Dick & The Lost Seamen followed by a rocking close-out with Pegasus Plus Reunion Show.
Until then check out the live music calendar and take a break tonight and support live music in your area!
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