COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
The focus of most craft beer events is, obviously, on the beer, with perhaps some live music in the background to provide ambience. Band of Brewers flips the typical craft beer event on its head, focusing on music performed by bands composed of only brewery employees. The bands play three songs to a panel of local musicians and music writers — and an audience of craft beer fans. It is a fantastic change of pace from the prototypical beer festival for the music-loving craft brew fan.
Band of Brewers began in 2013 as the concept of Mat Falco, editor of Philly Beer Scene Magazine. According to Falco, the idea came from a conversation he had with Sly Fox Headbrewer Bryan O’Reilly who wanted to put together a “brewery band.” In its first year, six breweries performed to an audience of about 400 people, with Yards Brewing Company’s “Yeast Factory” winning for their rock metal performance. Since then, the winners have been: 2014 – Philadelphia Brewing Company with “Brewtallica”; 2015 – Forest & Main’s eclectic “HuemanGroup”; and 2016 – Broken Goblet Brewing Company with their fantastic stage show and amazing rendition of Iron Maiden songs by their band “Stainless Maiden.”
Over the years of the competition, many of the bands have chosen themes for their performances — Neshaminy Creek has performed as Weezer (“Say It Ain’t Foam, 2014), the Beastie Boys (“Yeastie Boys”, 2015), and a 1980’s tribute in 2016. Vault Brewing performed an all 1990s set in 2015, which included a stage performance straight out of Will Farrell’s “A Night at the Roxbury.” Forest & Main has done all original songs that some describe as a mix between Frank Zappa and Phish, and their handmade stage costumes are designed directly from their beer labels! The high level of creativity of the performances really makes this an extremely special event each year.
The number of bands who have become involved in the event has grown so much — from 6 in 2013 to 11 this year — that Falco made the decision to change the format from a single day event to 2 days of opening rounds and a final round. Falco explained in an email interview, “It became 3 events mostly to give all the breweries an opportunity to take part. Each year I had to turn down breweries who wanted to perform because I couldn’t let the show go on for 8 hours. Making it a 2 round competition seemed like the best way to expand it and keep everyone happy.”
The first round of Band of Brewers was held on Feb. 26 at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, and included Forest & Main, River Horse, Philadelphia Brewing Company, Neshaminy Creek, and Victory Brewing Company. Each brewery served some beer to pair with their music. On tap was: Victory’s “21st Birthday” and “Kirsch Gose;” Neshaminy Creek “Dank Hill” and “Tamanend Helles;” Forest & Main “Tape Neck IPA” and “Mchamo;” Philadelphia Brewing “Kenzinger” and “Schwarzinger;” and River Horse “Roly Poly” and “Hippotizing IPA.”
Victory Brewing began the day with funk classics; Neshaminy Creek went with a hard core early 2000s tribute to System of a Down, Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit. Philadelphia Brewing, as expected, rocked the punk anthem “Kick Out the Jam.” River Horse mellowed out with a three man jam session; and last but not at all least, Forest & Main closed in their usual mind bending style — with a psychedelic stage show that included a singing bird, snowcapped mountain peaks and seizure inducing colored lights. After the votes were counted, it was announced that the first 3 bands going to the final round in September are Neshaminy Creek, Philadelphia Brewing Company, and Forest & Main.
The second opening round will be on June 25, again at World Cafe Live, and is expected to include bands from Vault Brewing Company, Broken Goblet Brewing (who announced their band name as “Sixtelback,” which leads us to believe we’re going to hear Nickelback songs), Crime & Punishment, Yards Brewing, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, and Troegs Brewing Company. The top 3 bands from each opening round will move on to perform in the final round on Sept. 24 at the TLA.
Karl Diehl, co-owner of Maple Glen’s Brick and Barrel Taphouse, attended Band of Brewers for the first time this year. “What a great show!,” Diehl said after the show. “It was awesome hanging out with other beer lovers like myself. I can’t wait for the next round in June. Rock on!”
What is truly remarkable about Band of Brewers is that the bands are not professional musicians — they are professional brewers. Yet the music performed is always surprisingly enjoyable. It is said that brewers are artists, and Band of Brewers proves that this statement is true — not only for their beer, but also for their musical talents. Cheers!