STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Never mind Philadelphia. Live music, with music industry-seasoned talent, is thriving right here in the suburbs in Conshohocken.
That includes the likes of John McNutt, who played with the British band Spear of Destiny; Justin Monteleone of the band Pawn Shop Roses, who once appeared on “Good Morning America” and won You Tube’s “Best Live Band” contest; and Nik Everett, a singer/songwriter and film music composer who’s been on stage at World Cafe Live in Philly and the Ardmore Music Hall.
Two particularly active venues are the Southern Cross Kitchen, 8 E. First Ave., Conshohocken and the Gypsy Saloon in West Conshohocken at 128 Ford Street.
“I love live music,” said Kim Strengari, the co-owner of both restaurants.
“The Gypsy’s a funky little neighborhood spot. It’s like the coolest restaurant ever,” she said, noting that you can see somebody performing there most Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as one or two Sundays a month.
At Stella Blu, a third restaurant Strengari runs with long-time business partner Marianne Gere at 101 Ford St. in West Conshohocken, there will be a “Frank Sinatra singer” the first and third Thursdays of the month starting in December, she said.
The Southern Cross, which opened two years ago, has an open mic. night every Wednesday (Thanksgiving Eve, there will be a DJ) and a Jazz Brunch on Sundays. Upcoming entertainment includes Spirit World Trio at 8 p.m. Nov. 21, Acoustic Rewind at 8:30 p.m. Nov. 28, Brick at 8 p.m. Nov. 29 and Panama Jack at 8 p.m. Dec. 26.
One performer in the Conshohocken scene is Jimi Milligan, who competed on NBC’s “The Voice.” “I’ll be 26 in December. I’ve been in The Big House Band since I was 17. I didn’t know I could sing till I was 25,” said Milligan, who was the cover band’s saxophone player until a back injury to the lead singer pressed him into emergency singing duties.
Although he didn’t make the cut the first time he auditioned to be on “The Voice,” it was well worth auditioning again because once he was on the show, the network allowed him to talk about The Big House Band — free promotion on national TV.
“I like Conshohocken a lot,” said Milligan, who appears regularly at the Gypsy as half of the duo Jimi & Jeff.
The rock band Fosterchild — who recorded for Warner Brothers Records and toured for more than a year with bands like Tantric, Shinedown and Candlebox — is officially “taking a break,” but two of their musicians can be found playing in Conshy.
Fosterchild’s Danny Beissel — who has been touring nationally in The American Vinyl All Star Band with Jeffrey Baxter of The Doobie Brothers, Fran Sheehan and Barry Gordreau of Boston, and Mousey Thompson of The Wailers — said that when he’s in the area he’ll have dinner at one of the restaurants, which usually leads to impromptu jams where any of his musician friends could make a surprise appearance.
“I think it’s really coming up. Cool bars, great food,” Beissel said of Conshohocken.
Fosterchild guitarist Brian Quinn, who also gained notoriety playing in the band Octane, said he enjoys going acoustic in Conshy. In that setting, he covers his favorite classic rock songs by Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty, and ‘90s rock by Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots, slipping in originals he recorded with his bands. He’s also been known to play with McNutt at the Southern Cross.
Recently Quinn has done session work with Michael Allman (Greg’s son), toured with Godsmack as part of the opening band Saint Caine, and has a southern rock-flavored trio, The Brian Quinn Band, that features members of Octane and Get The Led Out (The trio will be at the Bridgeport Rib House Thanksgiving Eve, by the way).
Keep an eye on www.southerncrosskitchen.com, www.gypsysaloon.com, www.bighouselive.com, www.facebook.com/bighousephilly and www.brianquinnguitar.com.