By DJ Dave Hoffenberg
Okemo Resort knows how to throw a St. Patrick’s Day Party. I highly recommend you head over to the Jackson Gore Inn courtyard on Saturday, March 17 for the Sugar Daze concert extravaganza. In honor of this major musical event, the courtyard will transform into a concert venue with a beer garden and food offerings. Admission to the concert is free. There are three great bands (Braiden Sunshine and Jake Kulak Duo, Pete Kilpatrick Band and headliner, Blues Traveler) and one great DJ (me: DJ Dave). Everything kicks off at 3:30 p.m. I’ll be in the Shiner beer tent adjacent to the stage running some games, playing some tunes and giving out some great swag.
2018 marks the 31st anniversary of Blues Traveler’s monumental career after emerging in the late 80s. Their breakthrough, multi-platinum selling album, “Four,” features the hit singles “Run-Around” and “Hook,” earning them a Grammy for Best Rock Performance. Throughout its career, the band has released 20 full-length albums, most recently, “Blow Up the Moon,” a collaborative effort featuring a range of artists across the musical spectrum, representing country, pop, reggae and hip-hop. Blues Traveler has earned a massive fan base of dedicated and loyal followers and continue to do so with each performance. They go on at 7 p.m.
The opening act at 3:30 p.m., Braiden Sunshine and Jake Kulak are both young, up-and-coming performers from my home state of Connecticut. I just learned that Kulak is from my hometown, Glastonbury, and Sunshine is from Lyme, where I go every summer. From what I watched online, I’m very excited to see them perform in person. Kulak is an 18-year-old blues prodigy who has played at the Cincinnati Blues Festival, the International Blue Challenge Youth Showcase in Memphis, Tenn., and, at age 13, he won a merit scholarship by the Honeyboy Edwards Fund for the Blues at the National Blues Museum.
Sunshine, who is just 16, was a semi-finalist and fan favorite on “The Voice” in 2015 and is known all over the world. Ironically, he performed Blues Traveler’s “The Mountains Win Again” on “The Voice,” and that got the chairs of Gwen Stefani and Pharrell Williams turned. He chose Stefani to be his coach. He is a singer-songwriter, performing musician, and car enthusiast with a taste for pop, rock, and blues.
Sunshine got his start in music at a very young age. At five years old, he began singing in his church choir before quickly moving on to join forces with other like-minded/talented musicians and releasing a self-titled debut in 2012. Over the next few years he continued his passion for music as he embarked out on his own solo path, playing up and down the East Coast and opening for national artists such as Huey Lewis and Blues Traveler, and capturing the hearts and ears of a much larger audience. After “The Voice,” with an army of young fans behind him, Sunshine began work on a new album. He released his first three songs digitally with enthusiastic reaction from his followers and fans on YouTube and hitting the Top fifty on iTunes with his single “Reality.” Although he is back in school, he is playing shows on weekends and is hard at work in the studio. His new single, “Heartbeat,” is available now, as well as his first self-titled EP.
The other great act is the Pete Kilpatrick Band who performs right before Blues Traveler, at 5 p.m. I worked with them two years ago at the Long Trail Century Ride and what a great band this is. I had the pleasure of speaking with Kilpatrick to learn about how he got his start, what the band is up to now, some good memories about picking Columbia House CDs, and comparing wedding music horror stories.
The band consists of Kilpatrick (guitar), Pete Morse (electric guitar), Tyler Stanley (keyboards), Collin Windsor (bass guitar) and Ed Dickhaut (drums). Kilpatrick described the band’s music as acoustic-based with rock elements. It has a singer-songwriter vibe blended in with a pop-rock band. Some of it is mellow but the music is also upbeat and driving. They do mostly originals and have seven albums to their credit. They do throw in some covers here and there. Their last album was released two years ago and they’re going to be working on a new one this summer and hope to release it in the fall.
Kilpatrick is very familiar with Blues Traveler, having opened for them in the past, plus the band has done about a dozen shows with John Popper, as his back-up band. The two-hour set would be half Pete Kilpatrick Band originals, and the other half Blues Traveler tunes. Most of those shows were out in Park City, Utah, at the Sundance Film Festival and one at the Wobbly Barn here in Killington. That combo also opened for O.A.R. Kilpatrick is also familiar with this Okemo concert series, having opened up for Matisyahu three years ago. He said, “We always have so much fun playing with Popper … He’s a fun guy to hang out with and we have so many crazy stories.”
Kilpatrick has been playing solo for about 12 years. His band for the first few years was a rotating cast of musicians, but the guys now have been with him for seven years. Kilpatrick grew up in Boston, but has been living in Brunswick, Maine since the eighth grade. His band mates are from all over New England, but they all consider Portland to be home base since that’s where most of them met, and where they currently rehearse. Kilpatrick found these guys from other bands they played with in the Portland music scene. He said, “I used to see them play in different clubs and I just picked them out of their other bands and tried to get them to join mine. I would bring them on the road for a little while and eventually they started playing full-time. It’s been good.”
Kilpatrick started playing guitar in his junior year in high school. He always wanted one but his family couldn’t afford it, plus they weren’t sure if it would be a wasted purchase for something he may not stick with. His aunt, who was living with them for a couple of years, surprised him by buying him one. He said, “She knew I wanted a guitar. I came home from school one day and there was a brand new Alvarez acoustic box on my bed. It was such a cool thing for her to do, because she definitely didn’t have the money to do that. That opened the door for me by having my own guitar. I took that with me wherever I went. I always sang in the chorus but never knew how to play an instrument.” He taught himself the basic chords, and he never took a lesson. After about six months of playing, he wrote his first song, but said, laughing, “I probably would never want to hear what it sounds like now even if I could find a recording of it.”
About a year into playing, his friends in high school were signed to a Universal Records deal with their band, Jeremiah Freed. At that time Kilpatrick was just a high school kid playing basketball. The year after high school, Kilpatrick went out on the road with them as their road manager/guitar technician. He said, “When I eventually got comfortable enough and had a few songs written, I opened a few shows for them, solo acoustic. They ended up going on tour with The Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I was doing some pretty big shows in front of 700 or 800 people. That introduced me to playing for audiences. We were all only 18 or 19.”
Over a span of five years, he had established himself as a solo performer. After playing with Jeremiah Freed, moving up to Portland and playing with different musicians, it got to the point where he was able to book enough shows to make a living. He said, “It was nothing crazy, but I had enough to do a little touring schedule and just keep it going. Playing with them opened the door for me and made me realize I can be doing this, making some money and having a good time doing something that I love. I think seeing my friends be so successful with music — it kind of pushed me. Those five guys and me were the closest friends. They would always have band practices and I felt I needed to be on the same page as them. That inspired me to write music and do something creative and be more artistic.”
Kilpatrick’s songs vary in subject, being whatever hits him at that time. He does tend to write about his experiences in New England. Now he has two kids and feels he’s writing from a different perspective than when he was in his 20s. “I try and write a lot of hopeful songs about life in general. There’s also some songs from a perspective about living in the world and being afraid of not knowing what’s going to happen and dealing with everyday situations — writing about life experiences, both good and bad.”
Kilpatrick cites his musical influences growing up as Cat Stevens and James Taylor, the typical singer-songwriters. He graduated high school in 2000 so even Blues Traveler was an influence on him. He said, “I remember receiving the Columbia House mailer and getting to pick 10 CDs for a penny. Blues Traveler’s ‘Four’ was one of them. I also got Green Day and The Wallflowers.” He also likes the Dave Matthews Band for their instrumentation with the violin and saxophone. Other influences are Paul Simon and the Rolling Stones. Speaking of the Stones, check out YouTube for an awesome video of the PKB with Guster’s Adam Gardner and John Popper doing “Miss You.” There’s also a cool video of Popper singing with PKB performing one of their originals “Coming Home.”
In high school, playing to eight hundred people was huge, but his band played to 12,000 people when they opened for the Bare Naked Ladies in Vail, Colo. for its Snow Daze Bash. Another big show they played was out in Utah at the Canyons where they opened for The Wailers. Adding to his favorite shows list are the ones he just did last month, opening for Marc Cohn and playing the Orpheum theatre in Boston. He said that Neil Young played there the night before, and that was really cool for him, that they played the night after.
Kilpatrick really enjoys connecting with the audience. He knows that every time he plays, something cool or unusual can happen. He said, “We’re playing in all these cool new places and there’s always something different whether it’s the set list or the crowd. Trying to make sure that the band brings the perfect amount of energy and hopefully we’ll make some new fans. It’s always something new when we play a show. It’s something to look for, every time we play a show.”
Photo courtesy Dave Hoffenberg
Pete Kilpatrick Band