Summit Street Band

The Pontiac Grille on South Street in Philadelphia has a rich history of receiving celebrated acts onto its modest stage. Green Day, Courtney Love, the Offspring, Good Charlotte, and countless others have made their way up the narrow staircase to the performance space above the Grille’s restaurant. On a particular Friday evening earlier this summer, the Summit Street Band from Lehigh University hoped to catch a little of the magic left behind by these performers.

A super-casual atmosphere welcomes newbies and regulars alike as the friendly, inked-up serving staff of the Pontiac Grille brings an eclectic mix of patrons selections from the equally eclectic menu. The specials board immediately catches the eye, advertising grilled mahi-mahi with a pineapple mango salsa. The soup of the day is mulligatawny. The burger menu is automobile-themed, as each item is named after a Pontiac model, current or classic. After a pint of Stella and a GTO burger (cheddar and bacon), I know I will return to

the Grille for its uber-friendly staff, fair prices, and homemade potato chips. My belly is full and I am happy. We head upstairs to catch the end of a happy-go-lucky sort of band playing a song called "It Must Suck to Be You."

As the bands switch off, the crowd in the small space grows to about 50 people, mostly college students in t-shirts and knit hats, despite the summer heat. The Summit Street Band takes the stage and the atmosphere changes from one of irreverence to one of youthful, laid-back energy. Summit Street is young but despite their informal demeanor it is clear that they are well-rehearsed and serious about their band. Self-described as acoustic, jam-band rock, members Tim White and Peter Lanctot have a classical background that reaches back to their childhood in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Summit Street lists as influences Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and Dispatch, but most apparent is their affinity for Dave Matthews. Perhaps it’s the electric violin, passed effortlessly back and forth between White and Lanctot throughout the entire set. Rob Guzzon underscores Summit Street with interesting bass lines, adding a bit of five-string grunge to the acoustic flavor of the group. Eric Winokur lends to the synergy, tying it all together on a drum set that is firmly rooted in rock and roll.

Each Summit Street song features tight vocal harmonies and shows off the technical prowess of each musician. The tune "Funk Jam" highlights the versatility of each member, as it seems that each instrument is played confidently by every member of the group over the course of the song. "And" is particularly fun, with a singable chorus that fans of DMB would love. Duets between violin and guitar punctuate many of the tunes, and the communication between the players is a certain crowd pleaser.

Founded just recently, in 2003, the Summit Street Band is quickly growing into its sound. The band gained popularity on the Lehigh campus almost immediately, and this early success has surely contributed to the exuberance the group demonstrates in performance. Summit Street is constantly gaining performance experience that will surely improve the flow of their already engaging show. They are currently working on a full-length album with producer Gene Perla that is scheduled for release this fall.

Summit Street Band, www.summitstreetband.com.

Diablo Sandwich Band

A party was in full roll in New Hope – in the heat of late August. Young professionals and empty nesters, seeking refuge from the sweltering summer night, flocked to Havana’s in New Hope to relax and dance. A 1940s style big band was swinging to Frank Sinatra’s "Fly Me to the Moon" as friends cozied up in any of Havana’s many intimate seating areas, cushy nests of couches and chairs that give this hot spot its distinctly lounge-like atmosphere.

A few margaritas later, the crowd is energized when a funk band takes the stage to play a seamless series of favorite tunes like James Brown’s "I Feel Good" and "Brick House" by the Commodores. Soon, dancers welcome the alterna-pop stylings of Blink 182 and the Fountains of Wayne, and even those in the loft overlooking the main floor are moved to bounce up and down like teenagers. Throughout the entire evening, the personnel on stage have not changed.

The Diablo Sandwich Band’s set list is impressive, to say the least. Offering everything from disco to Duke Ellington, it has something for everyone. They even play "Copacabana" because (for better or for worse) there’s always someone in the crowd who likes Barry Manilow. Front man Chris Walinsky describes "the Diablo Sandwich Experience" as a "four-hour happy hour," and from the looks of the crowd he couldn’t be more accurate. The crowd dons shiny plastic Mardi Gras beads as they shake their Groove Things or Jump, Jive and Wail, Long Island Iced Teas in hand.

The music propels the party forward as the musicians smile and laugh with the audience, singing along during a group of songs that includes "Sedated" by the Ramones and "Blister in the Sun" by the Violent Femmes. The atmosphere calms during an impressive version of Etta James’s "At Last My Love Has Come Along." The dance floor is filled with swaying couples made misty by a combination of vodka tonics and the rich, soulful voice coming from a young lady who, up to now, has been playing auxiliary percussion.

Slaves in the corporate office world by day (Diablo’s band members do everything from pharmaceutical sales to accounting,) each one is a versatile musician by evening. The band features two sax players, a trumpet, keys, guitar, bass, drum kit, and auxiliary percussion. Five members sing lead, many double up on instruments, and everyone sings back up. In addition, almost every player has an understudy of sorts.This versatility has undoubtedly contributed to the group’s longevity and success.

The Diablo Sandwich Band has been around for 11 years, having started as an acoustic duo that played covers on the bar scene. Now the band has a loyal following of people from the tri-state area, including New Hope, Philadelphia, and especially the LBI club circuit. They also play a lot of private parties, especially weddings.

The Diablo Sandwich Band is a chameleon of a group who adapts perfectly to the style of whatever genre they are playing in a given moment. Walinsky says: "When people dance and sing, that’s all that matters." The Diablo Sandwich Band came to make a party, and party we did.

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