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This article by Sally Friedman was prepared for the April 30, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Townhall Band of Brothers

They were college buddies who found one another during

freshman year at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Tim Sonnefeld,

George Stanford, and Kevin Pride found that they harmonized not just

socially, but also musically. When Mark Smidt and Nate Skiles arrived

the following year, that social circle and music group expanded.

And in 2000, as the new century began, so too did a music group called

Townhall. The five young men left the University of the Arts without

their degrees — but with a firm commitment to make music together.

They have never looked back.

Initially Townhall, which named itself rather casually "just because

we liked the sound of it," played anywhere its members were invited.

"We sometimes made $20 — to split five ways. But we began

to get a following, and right now, nobody’s got a day job — the

music is it," says Tim Sonnefeld via cell phone, speaking for

the group as the band traveled recently to a gig in Burlington, Vermont.

"We share a house near Philadelphia, and when we’re on the road,

our `home’ is a 15-passenger van with a trailer attached. We’re family

in a weird and wonderful kind of way," said Sonnefeld, who contributes

bass, guitar, vocals, percussion and banjo to the band.

On Tuesday, May 6, that van will head for Conduit in Trenton, where

Townhall takes the stage at 10:30 p.m. But there’s no telling what

this group, which has just released its second CD, will be doing.

"We refuse to be pigeonholed," said Sonnefeld, who spoke for

the group. "We’ve really all very different musically, and we

represent a lot of sound."

They do indeed.

Stanford offers Townhall vocals, trombone, and guitar.

Skiles does vocals, guitar, bass, and trumpet. Smidt handles trumpet,

percussion, flute, and vocals. And Pride is strictly on drums, and,

according to his band-mate Sonnefeld, "when he locks in a sound,

it’s completely original."

The band creates its own music in the most daunting way. Once a composition

is launched, the five "brothers," as they call themselves,

sits down in a small, cramped room in their Schwenksville, PA, home.

"It’s gets pretty crowded in there with our instruments, and it

gets pretty hot. But we all have input, we all argue, and ultimately,

we work it out," said Sonnefeld.

The band’s first CD was put together simply as a four-song demo back

in 2001. The next was far more sophisticated, and came during a concert

at Main Point, a popular watering hole in Bryn Mawr.

But the band’s proudest accomplishment to date is "The New Song,"

a CD released in February. An even dozen numbers recorded at Metropolitan

Studios in Bryn Mawr represent a labor of love — but a labor nonetheless.

One number, the haunting "Master of the Universe," took 40

hours to polish and finalize.

"The New Song" has enclosed within it the sounds of reggae,

jazz and funk, folk, rock and blues, and the subtle influences of

Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

One of the most arresting pieces is "Confusion," the CD’s

opening number with trombones, trumpets, and clarinets juxtaposed

with guitar, bass and drums. "Tomorrow’s Lullaby," the CD’s

closing number, is a mellow and lovely finale, and the title track

is an unlikely but remarkably listenable fusion of bluegrass and Latin.

Somehow, the musical oxymoron works just fine.

Sure, there have been struggles. They sometimes rely on studio back-up

work to survive, and yes, when the situation demands it, they take

odd jobs. But success has been sweet. Townhall’s music has been featured

on MTV, and Bruce Warren of Philadelphia’s popular WXPN notes that

Townhall is "leading the pack" of great musicians coming out

of the city. Jim Sutcliffe, a spokesman for Philadelphia’s Electric

Factory Concerts, suggests that "Townhall is young, and watching

them is to remember being young, loving life and all its possibilities,

and believing that music can change your life."

And for the "boys in the band" called Townhall, that’s what

it’s really all about.

— Sally Friedman

Townhall, Conduit, 439 South Broad Street, Trenton,

609-656-1199. All ages. $10 at the door. Tuesday, May 6, 10:30

p.m.


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