Traditional music with a hard-rock attitude
May 04, 2015 02:34PM
By Steven Hoffman
When the six members of Chapel Street Junction lock together in a foot-stomper like “Rocky Top” in front of an audience, the headlong rush of guitars, banjo, washboard and stand-up bass is irresistible.
It's been that way since 2005, when Paul Sedacca and Scott Perlot decided to form the first incarnation of the band and perform a high-octane brand of traditional bluegrass, Irish music and Americana. With a broad and deep repertoire, the band can adapt to just about every audience, and in a post-Mumford and Sons world, they've found themselves being hip and trendy without altering their set list.
In the Newark area home they use as a rehearsal studio and home base, the basement walls are papered with flyers, photos, album covers, memorabilia and an evolving “Places we've played” list that is hand-written in marker. It's the same kind of low-tech approach that Sedacca and Perlot embrace in their music.
They met at a Chapel Street row home in 1992, when they were students at the University of Delaware, Sedacca said. That illustrious address, “number 189 South Chapel Street, if you want to be exact,” he said, smiling, “has since been torn down.” That meeting was the starting point for a musical collaboration that found the two friends achieving widespread success with a band called Delaware Rag that formed in 2001.
“Scott and I were in Delaware Rag, and we were very, very successful – almost to the point of being too successful,” Sedacca said. “One summer we did a tour down the East Coast, to Florida and back. It was a fun time, but it was enough for Scott and I to realize that this playing music thing is fun, but we wanted to keep our day jobs.”
Sedacca, who teaches fourth grade in the Christina School District, and Perlot, who is a Verizon tech during the day, were finding themselves stretched to the limit.
“The rest of the guys in Delaware Rag wanted to go full-time,” he continued. “At that point, we were playing sometimes 10 shows a month. It was too much, what with working full time. Scott and I decided to leave. It was a big decision to step away.”
Attending a 1999 concert by legendary musician Doc Watson at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington was a turning point, Sedacca said. “What impressed me is that he walked out on stage, and within the first 15 seconds, it was 'Holy cow.' I was impressed by the speed and accuracy of his playing. I wasn't familiar with blugrass at the time, but it had this awesome energy. It was like country music on steroids.” Sedacca bought a banjo as a result, and started the Delaware Rag with Perlot.
For Perlot, seeing Watson was also monumental. “It's the way he was able to channel his playing,” Perlot said. “He was blind since birth, but it seemed like the musical energy just flowed through him.”
“I grew up in New York, listening to the Beatles, Billy Joel, Alice Cooper, Twisted Sister – I was really into hard rock, and so was Scott,” Sedacca said. “But I feel that growing up listening to that music is what gives Chapel Street Junction a very energetic and driving sound. We like to keep it a little aggressive.”
In their live shows, Chapel Street Junction can segue from a bluegrass version of “Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles into a bit of Beethoven's Ninth without missing a step. Over the St. Patrick's Day weekend last spring, there were hours of Irish music played before rowdy crowds – Friday in Dover, Saturday at the Logan House in Wilmington, and Sunday at Mispillion River Brewing in downstate Delaware.
“We've played everything from a liquor store to a Jewish wedding,” Perlot said with a smile. “Including a bluegrass 'Hava Nagila.'”
With a nod toward the popular resurgence of traditional music after the 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Chapel Street Junction includes “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” and “In the Jailhouse Now” in their repertoire, and the latest resurgence of the genre put “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers into the mix.
The stylistic similarities of bluegrass and Irish standards is often a matter of adjusting the inflection or adding another instrument. “It's about half a beat,” Sedacca said. “It's very close.” The European roots of Americana are never buried very deeply, so they fit together seamlessly during a concert.
“We'll do some classic rock in a bluegrass style,” Sedacca said. “We do some Stones, some Steve Miller Band, Billy Joel, Dropkick Murphys, and we have two or three originals we can do on any given night.”
“We stick to upbeat, high-energy stuff,” said Perlot, who plays guitar and sings in Chapel Street Junction. “We put a lot of energy in our shows, and people really enjoy it. And we love it. There's a few people who are in roots and bluegrass music who do well. Everybody else, it's more for the love of the music than it is for the money. But how many musicians have said that?”
Chapel Street Junction books one or two shows a month, and gets together to practice once or twice a month. They find audiences in places people go to party – breweries, a bourbon festival – as well as shows in state parks. They will be at White Clay Creek in Newark on July 22.
A recent show at the Kennett Flash was recorded and is being mixed for release as a CD this summer, and it captures the band at their best – in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd. “Our jobs and families may come before the music, but we're still in this for the long term,” Perlot said.
Chapel Street Junction will be performing on June 3 at Bourbon and Branch in Philadelphia, on June 13 at the Great Bourbon Showcase in Dover, on June 14 at the Brewgrass Festival in Milford, and on July 22 at White Clay Creek State Park. For updates and more information, visit www.facebook.com/chapelstreetjunction, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.