As a single 30-something living in a college town in the Fall, Friday night plans can either entail avoiding the 21-year-old-crowds Downtown before midnight, catching up with some friends while enjoying some wine at home, or maybe catching a local show at one of your favorite breweries. I’m not going to lie, on this particular Friday by 5pm I was ready for a hot date with my couch, a bottle of Pinot and Netflix, however I had agreed to entertain the idea of a couple beers and some live music at Bang the Drum.
I’ve been to Bang the Drum several times over the two years they’ve been in SLO whether for a beer with friends, a pub run or even to watch several of my talented friends perform; I love that spot — great vibes, a cozy patio that feels just hip enough that I don’t need to go to Urban Outfitters to buy a trendy new outfit to fit in, and always full of fun, friendly people. This Friday was no exception. While beer isn’t always my drink of choice, I’m a fan of their King Mate (Yerba Mate inspired) IPA and I know several friends who swear by their bourbon-barreled southern-inspired beer. What initially drew my friend and I to BTD that night was Dan Curcio. Both my friend and I had recently had an amazing time at the G. Love concert where Dan opened. I’ve been a big fan of Dan’s for years. Upon moving to SLO 3 and a half years ago, I was often lectured about the amazingness of Stilltime and quickly became a fan. So when I was at an event later and “discovered” this band that sounded just like Stilltime, I claimed Moonshiner Collective as one of my favorite local bands (obviously, since I could brag that I discovered them!). And of course, living in a small town, I quickly realized how many of my friends not only know but also appreciate Dan’s music (solo or otherwise). So after clicking interested in the Facebook event with The Suitcase Junket and Dan Curcio at work on Friday afternoon, I instantly began to find and listen to as much of this “suitcase” music as I could.
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a music snob, but it is kind of my thing. I went to Coachella before people knew where or what Coachella even was. I toured around the country following a popular jam-band around for years. I often drive 90 minutes south for a legit concert or show whether it’s at the Santa Barbara Bowl or a tiny club on State Street. So after a listening to a few songs from The Suitcase Junket on YouTube, I was hooked and texted my friend, “OK, I’m in, let’s go — this other guy is going to be good!”
Dan set the stage perfectly for what was to follow. Through his set, I watched Matt Lorenz (or, the one man show known as, The Suitcase Junket). His fro of curly hair bopping along to Dan’s rhythm and vibing off the beer, the crowd and the tunes. Every so often, he’d begin scribbling in a notebook. Maybe it was inspiration or notes, words that sounded right together or possibly even a grocery list for his drive up to Hardly Strictly — either way, it was awesome to watch an artist dial into another artist’s music and enjoy the local scene. Dan finished his set and humbly thanked Matt for beginning to help him out with some “foot pedal stuff,” which he promised was sure to blow our mind during his set. At this point, the man sitting next to me began gabbing about the shenanigans I was about to see from this so-called Suitcase Junket. I’m not sure I believed him, but politely smiled and sounded stoked on the idea of it all.
Nope, he wasn’t kidding. The mustached and bearded man adorned in flannel, stripes and polka dots took the stage, played a note and everyone was mesmerized. His powerful sound echoed through the brewery and captivated us all. After a couple songs in, Matt Lorenz introduced his “band” and explained the funkiness of it all. How the front of his right foot plays an instrument he created, while the back plays a different one, same on the left side, and yes, said instruments consist of pieces such as a suitcase as well as a baby shoe hitting a pan, just what you’d expect from a standard 5-piece band right?! And then there was that whistle-sound he made, which he explained took him 5 years to master, but oh did he master it by creatively moving his tongue around in his mouth and coming up with an insane sound all his own. Oh wait, and did I mention his guitar came from a dumpster? Long story short, knowing this man was on his way up to one of the biggest Bluegrass Festivals of the year made it so much more of a treat as everyone was on the same page — this guy was not only insanely talented, but he makes amazing music that gets you tapping your foot, swaying and straight up ready to boogie down.
Once we were hooked and didn’t want his set to end, the man unplugs, stands in front of the crowd and serenades us with his amazing voice, ironic lyrics and squeezes beauty out of the once trashed guitar. I don’t know if it was the combination of it all — seeing a man make beautiful things out of the ordinary (or what some would even consider trash), or maybe his lyrics which literally spoke true to us, or the fact that this guy not only played and sang with passion to draw us in, but had the personality to pull it all off. While no one wanted the music to end, it was clear everyone wanted to grab a beer with this dude and chat his ear off for hours.
We left Bang the Drum stoked on the discovery of new music and we agreed we just witnessed an artist that undoubtedly will ‘make it.’ However in two years from now we probably will have to shell out $65 to sit a mile from the stage and enjoy his music instead of the $12 we spent that night to literally be 10-feet from this talented artist. Between you and me, I was slightly inclined to stay in the car and drive up to the Golden Gate Park, find what time and stage the Suitcase Junket would be playing and enjoy 3 days loaded with tunes at Hardly Strictly.
To wrap things up, if you live in SLO and don’t know Dan Curcio’s music, do yourself a favor and catch him live, I promise you will be hooked! Bang the Drum always provides a perfect backdrop for a low key Friday evening. And if you are a fan of soul, rock, blues, and/or all things creative then you will love The Suitcase Junket…just trust me on this one.