On Friday night, the Cider House was warped back to a time when music required talent and singers relied on their vocal ability—not an auto tuner. Three bands came out to woo the audience and prove that they were worthy of the stage: Johnny Astro and the Big Bang, Jonathon Sexton and the Big Love Choir, and The Black Cadillacs. Judging by their performances, it appeared that each band was aware that a new era had begun. By the end of the night, it was clear that gone are the times when big record labels suddenly swoop in, throw money at a band, and make them an overnight sensation. Now there is a new standard, and that is the performance.If a band is primed for success, they must enthrall the audience. The rules of a live show are simple for a band—they must leave it all out there on the stage and (most importantly) they need to successfully solidify themselves in the hearts of the audience.
Johnny Astro and the Big Bang took the stage at around 9:45, charged with the difficult task of unifying each group throughout the club, while helping them shed away the burdens of the daily grind.
Johnny Astro began their set with the song “Black Blade” and, immediately, the crowd began to gravitate towards the stage. The band played with full-bravado as if they were playing not to a crowd of roughly 100 people, but to a stadium full of adoring fans. After the first song ended, the crowd barely applauded in manner that is usually reserved for church services. Instead of being discouraged, the band went straight into the second song with even more energy than the first—this got heads bobbing.
Johnny Astro played a set that was both surprising and refreshing. Though the band consisted of four young University of Tennessee students, the complexity of their music and maturity of its lyrics made it crystal clear that these guys mirror old souls. Their songs are reminiscent of a time when music was a poor man’s therapist and an outlet through which one released his demons.
Paul Wakefield, lead vocals and guitar, sang with passion and acted as a conductor between the enthusiastic energy of bassist Mike Carroll and the laid back mellow groove of lead guitarist Jackson Collier. The group's drums are hammered on by Zach Gilleran whose whole body keeps time with the music’s rhythm. Johnny Astro's performance did not leave the crowd wanting and, in the end, caused the apprehensive crowd to warm up.
Up next was Jonathon Sexton and the Big Love Choir—this is a band where shoes are optional but entertainment is not. Prior to going on stage, Jonathon could be found hobbling around on a cane and thanking audience members for attending. Normally this would be a bad omen, but Jonathon Sexton proved otherwise.
Sexton took the stage looking like Willy Wonka’s rock and roll brother. But, unlike Wonka, Sexton took you on a journey into yourself, and depending on who you are, the journey would most likely not end with you being carted away by malicious little orange men.
The band began their set with upbeat songs to lift the spirits of the crowd and the crowd responded with a form of dancing that mirrored a hybrid between Ska dancing and a good old fashion hoedown two-step. Between each song Sexton interacted with the crowd, telling quick stories and drawing into his web. By the fifth song. the journey took a turn toward something a little more serious. The song “Anybody” combated the rather personal subject of the feelings that everyone has that disconnect us from our peers, and leave us feeling alone.
Throughout the show, each song was unexpected. You never knew if it would be upbeat and carefree,or if it would rip away your carefully constructed barricade. In the acoustic song “Take These Days,” emotions were raw as Sexton sang about the inevitable time in everyone’s life where the pains of adulthood collide with the inadequacy of youthful wisdom.
During the set, the band made a smart move by playing two cover songs. This allowed newcomers of the band and old fans to unite. The covers got the audience involved and enhanced the shared experience of all. Finally, the time that the entire crowd had been waiting for when Sexton announced that he would play the crowd favorite “Babylon.”
The entire performance that Sexton and company delivered was energetic and passionate. The music swelled around and surrounded the audience like an embrace from an old friend. The lyrics were poignant and the songs marked a specific time in someone’s life. The music from Jonathon Sexton and the Big Love Choir that mirrors the human existence’s joys and woes. And the fact that, while you never know what tomorrow will bring—the band will entertain you.
The night ended with the Black Cadillacs, who played a two-hour long set. The crowd began at the stage and rocked along with them for the entire set. The band successfully mixed together the sounds of old school rock ’n roll and old-fashioned blues. Providing a perfect end to the night, the crowd danced and enjoyed the band's unique sound. The group featured songs from their first CD, as well as songs like “Run Run,” from their soon to be released second CD.
The entire evening was filled with good tunes and good times. The bands displayed their A games and enticed the crowd.