STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Philadelphia and country music go together better than one might think, and one group in particular is “putting the South back in South Philly.” The Wallace Brothers Band hosts Country Music Nights at Bob & Barbara’s on South Street. They’re expanding that fun into a daylong event, the inaugural Philadelphia Country Music Festival.
The event, sponsored in part by WXPN-FM, takes place Saturday, Aug. 22, and features two stages with more than 25 bands. Some of the groups slated to preform are The Wallace Brothers Band, John Francis, Jet Weston and The Atomic Ranch Hands, Hannah Taylor, Hurricane Hoss, No Good Sister, John Train, The Punkabillys, Hank’s Cadillac, Hezekiah Jones, Sparkle Pony, and The Dill Pickle Old Time Orchestra.
Zach Wallace, of The Wallace Brothers Band, organized the event. After the Country Music Nights gained popularity, “we figured the time is right for a festival,” he said in a telephone interview. “We decided it’ll be a Country Night, all day long.”
He expects to see western shirts, cowboy hats, and lots of boots, like on the country nights.
“The events have an outrageous factor, which is fun,” he said.
And most of the music harkens back to the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn. Some focus on the more recent past, including The Wallace Brothers Band – they do “neo-traditional stuff, 90s stuff,” he said, harkening back to the likes of Alan Jackson and George Strait. There will be country, but also folk, bluegrass, and rockabilly, with plenty of steel guitars and fiddles.
The Wallace Brothers Band describe themselves in their Twitter bio as “psychedelic Jewish Vietnamese rednecks” – the band includes Zach and his twin brother Colby, and their honorary brother, Khoa “Lucky” Pham. The band also features alternating bassists Mike Hlatkey and Paul Wilkinson.
They play what they call psychedelic country music, but they also appreciate and add influences from folk, rock and roll, bluegrass, jazz, R&B, and soul. During their more than seven-year career, they’ve played or shared the stage with David Bromberg, Rusted Root, Ricky Skaggs, Robert Hunter and Tom Constantine of The Grateful Dead. They’ve performed at the Philadelphia Folk Fest and also at Bethlehem’s MusikFest.
Wallace, who grew up in Lafayette Hill, picked up a guitar when he was about 11, playing the music of bands like Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails before heading down the country lane. Music is his life.
“It’s not a decision,” he said. “It’s the same way you wake up or go to sleep – I play music.”
Wallace is looking forward to this first-of-its-kind festival, as is Roy Matthews, who plays guitar and sings lead vocals for Man About a Horse.
Man About a Horse is Matthews, Matt Thomas on bass, Justin Stevenson on mandolin, and Dan Whitener on the banjo. They play bluegrass “Philly-style,” Matthews said in an email interview.
“Our shows are a mix of our original songs and classic songs done bluegrass style that really get the crowd dancing and singing along,” he said.
Bluegrass is just so much fun.
“Even when the songs are about heartbreak and loss, the music just makes you smile, laugh, and tap your toes,” he said. “Pretty soon you want to get up and dance, and you totally forget what you were ever bummed about in the first place.”
And it showcases musicianship.
“You get to see incredible musicians playing real instruments, often unplugged and acoustic,” he said. “There’s no place to hide behind effects or sampled tracks.”
Wallace said the event, for ages 21 and older, will be exciting – it’s a lot of bands in a small venue.
“It’s going to have some elements of a mob scene,” he said. “There will be a ton of great Philly musicians,” he said. “It’s a party. We’re trying to do a real honky-tonk experience.”
Wallace promises a good time and Matthews knows it will be.
“It’s like going to a party with all your friends,” he said, “and some of the best live music around, for free.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Philadelphia Country Music Festival
When: Noon Saturday, Aug. 22, until 2 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.
Where: Bob & Barbara’s, 1509 South St., Philadelphia, PA 19146
Info.: Call (215) 545-4511 or check www.bobandbarbaras.com; www.wallacebrothersband.com; http://www.manabout.horse