Frog Holler @ Johnny Brenda’s, Philadelphia

A few words never seem to go together. For instance: Philadelphia, hoedown, Girard Avenue, and bluegrass music. But this past Friday night, Frog Holler managed to make them all come together. and it was nothing short of incredible.

But before the place could get down, they had to get a little warmed up. Help came via the folk/country sounds of Coventryville, Pa’s own Tin Bird Choir. Fronted by husband and wife team Heather & Eric Hurlock, they had a more toned down folksy sound compared to Frog Holler’s edgier dance sound. Sharing vocal duties between each other, the Hurlocks eased us into the night with a good mix of acoustic and electric guitars. Most notable was the drumming skill of Philadelphia’s own multi-instrumentalist Ellen Houle.

After a very brief set change (the guitar/bass amps and drum kits were shared between bands ), the stars of the night, Frog Holler, took the stage. At first, I have to be honest and say I wasn’t expecting the band to pack the house both upstairs and downstairs. Country/bluegrass doesn’t seem like a normal fit for Johnny Brenda’s more indie music loving crowd, but the crowds came and it was apparent this was a band who had a die-hard and passionate fan base.

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Lead vocalist Darren Schlappich makes for an interesting contrast to the band’s powerful and edgy sound. Schlappich is an even spoken, almost unassuming type of person. While strumming along and pulling lead vocal duties, it was often the other members of the band going off on their instruments.

Electric banjo player Mike Lavdanski seemed like a man possessed. Wrangling sounds never heard from a banjo before, you would swear he was rocking a Stratocaster rather than an instrument often associated with the hills and acoustic roots of country/bluegrass music.

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Singing about life in rural Pennsylvania, songs like “Bluebilly Country” have such an in-depth story line and edge to them you have to wonder if Schlappich is talking about somebody he knows in real life.

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The crowd, already warmed up from Tin Bird Choir’s set, was in full swing in no time at all. At times it seemed as if there wasn’t a single body not moving in some form. If they weren’t all out dancing their asses off, they were at least foot tapping and clapping.

The band played for what seemed to be almost 2 hours. With only 1 short break, and a brief encore, they were obviously charged up and feeding off the strong powerful vibe of the crowd.

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By the time of the last three songs or so, it was all I could do to put my camera away, and start boogieing on down myself. Of course, not being much of a dancer, it took a little while for me to become comfortable dancing in front of strangers. But after seeing everybody in attendance not paying any mind and getting into it themselves, I was a man possessed.

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It doesn’t matter if you like bluegrass or country or don’t. This is one band you need to give a chance. If you’re not hopping along with everybody else by the end of the night, you’ll at least be humming along and smiling the whole time.

Frog Holler: website | myspace

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