BY FRANK BIXLER
SC Contributing Writer
For those of us who did not have enough fun dressing up for Halloween parties the night before, the Quimby Mountain Band put on a stellar costumed performance at the Shawnee Brewery on Friday, November 1, 2013.
Located at the scenic and historic Shawnee Inn in Shawnee Pennsylvania, the brewery is less known for live performances and better known for its wide and colorful variety of superb craft beers that are always on tap.
But under the supervision of former brewery bartender and lead singer for Quimby Mountain Band Jesse Bardwell, the brewery has begun to tap into the vibrant local arts scene, encouraging some local name bands to come in and perform live shows in the brewing room itself.
While most of these shows attract small groups of each band’s most devoted followers, the Quimby Mountain Band show proved to be an exception.
Walking into the narrow confines of the brewery that night, the first thing a regular at this pub would notice is the vast menagerie of people and colorful costumes packed in like sardines between the dark green cinderblock walls of the bar.
The bar was originally a storage room for the Inn, and so it wasn’t constructed with the intention of holding the vast train of Quimby Mountain Band fans that have been devotedly following this group since its early days when the band was staging performances in dingy basements throughout Hackettstown, New Jersey to raise money to feed themselves every night.
The huge crowd is testament to how far this once-unknown band has come both musically, and in terms of exposure.
However, it also made for a suffocating, almost college party-like atmosphere as people tried to elbow their way to the bar through packed groups of superheroes, strippers, and a giant gorilla holding a banana with flashing glasses.
All attendees sipped at the brewery’s signature beer for the month, Pumpkin Spice, and chattered excitedly in anticipation for the upcoming show.
After jostling for a spot at the packed bar for ten minutes or so, you secured your beer and went down the surprisingly empty hallway to the main brewing room.
Huge wooden barrels of Porter and Seyvl Blanc craft beers were stacked up to the ceiling on one side of the hall, as if to encourage you to contemplate the precision-timed fermentation process that resulted in the delicately flavored masterpiece nestled in the plastic cup you held in your hand.
And then you come to the brewing room. To the left stood the towering brewing kettles, shining majestically with a perfectly polished silver sheen. In front of you is the performance stage, narrowly confined between the same green cinder blocks that snake throughout the building, and strategically positioned in front of an emergency exit just in case the show doesn’t go over that well with the fans; the performance area was not exactly designed with acoustics in mind.
This became very clear as the band first took to the stage with Shawnee Pumpkin Spice and Porter Beers in hand, and played one of their signature titles, “C-low.”
A fusion of that classic jam band sound and new-age rock the band is so well-known for, the song’s lyrics and plucky guitar playing were distorted in the echoing nature of the building’s acoustics, and were barely discernible to anyone in the audience, save those who stood directly in front of lead singer Jesse Bardwell.
Since there was no clear definition between the performance area and the audience and there was only one table and no seating in the entire room, many audience members took to going on stage and put their drinks down on the musicians’ instrument cases so that they would be able to dance.
But seeing as this particular crowd was made up mostly of longtime Quimby Mountain Band fans who’ve known the band and its musicians since their formation during high school in Hackettstown,
New Jersey, no one seemed to mind this blurred line between the performers and the audience.
Acoustics aside, it was a performance that will be fondly remembered by the band’s fans for years to come. The small size of the brewery added to the zeitgeist of the evening.
Packed with excited, tipsy fans dancing their hearts out to some of the Quimby’s signature tracks, such as “Move On” and “Bottom of the Bottle”, you could feel the energy of the performers on stage surge through the crowd that’s known the band so long. They could anticipate every chord struck by guitarist, Harry Noble, with the rapid movement of their chaotic dances.
An especial favorite of the evening was Quimby’s cover of the lesser known “Velvet Underground” track, “I’m Waiting for My Man”, in tribute to the recently deceased Lou Reed.
Jesse Bardwell would delightedly stretch out the lyrics, as the words of this favorite track would drip from his tongue, to pour through the microphone and lull the audience into relaxed, swaying, almost trance-like movements.
Like all good bands, they feed off the energy of their audience. And as the night progressed, the initially small group of dancers positioned but inches from the band’s microphones drew the rest of the audience into the spirit of the evening.
Soon the entire room was full of ecstatic bodies decked in elaborate costumes twirling around the dark green hall, as Jesse pelted out lyrics and flowed and back and forth across stage in his 60’s hippie costume.
This was followed by a brief lull in the performance where the audience and band took time to secure more drinks and vote for the best costume of the evening.
To the surprise of none, the audience shouted in ascent as Jesse held his hand over the man in the giant gorilla costume’s head and asked, “Do we have a winner?”
The gorilla then swung his banana with flashing red glasses high into the air and danced along to the next popular track covered by Quimby that evening, “Hits From The Bong” by “Cypress Hill.”
The entire audience sang along as Jesse poured the lyrics into the microphone: “Plug it, unplug it, don’t strain. I love you Mary Jane!”
The audience drowned out his voice as they screamed, “Get my four-footer and bring it on… As I take hits from the bong!”
It was a scene that could only be appreciated by those who have witnessed similar, small, jam band rock shows before.
As midnight approached and quickly past, the band was still pouring its heart out and the audience had reached the peak of its ecstasy.
The room was filled with the scent of fermenting beer and sweating bodies, twirling and dancing with bird-like dexterity across the floor, now slippery with spilled beer.
But no one paused for breath as finally almost the entire audience was engaged in the experience.
A girl dressed in a skimpy Zelda outfit produced an LED hoola hoop from somewhere and danced away in the back, attracting a crowd of fascinated onlookers as her body poured her soul through the precise movements of her legs and hips.
The Gorilla Man’s dancing banana was easily recognizable as its flashing red glasses bobbed through the audience along with a dark blue paddle wielded by a kayaker whose erratic moves sent fellow dancers scattering in all directions as his paddle swayed and twirled drunkenly in his hands.
It was a unique tableau when seen against the backdrop of a working brewery, especially when taken in context with Quimby’s lively performance.
But like all good things, just before two o’clock, the show came to an end.
The audience poured back into the bar to secure their last call, or fled outside to puff away on cigarettes and shiver from the cold in their skimpy costumes as the band packed up their gear after another stellar performance.
As their reputation attests, Quimby Mountain Band has lived up to their name for putting on a phenomenal live performance, despite the less-than-perfect acoustics of the brewery’s tight confines.
In fact, one could say this band was in their element when situated in the unique scene of the Shawnee Brewery’s brewing room, putting on a show that will be long remembered as one of their fans, and perhaps even the band’s favorites
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