Living just two doors away from the Opera House, I have no excuse for the fact that last week was my first time to attend one of its events under the new management. It helps that I was poked into going by Jesse Shultzaberger, a member of the band Ginada Pinata that was playing.
Ginada Pinata is a well-known Shepherdstown staple, founded in 1998 by Sam Jannotta. The lineup includes Sam on keyboards, Matt Lewis on bass, Jesse Shultzaberger on drums and, new to me, guitarist Ken Bussey. It's a well-balanced group; each member contributing at a high level of musicianship on their respective instruments.
Stylistically, the music is hard to label, as any evolving art escapes easy description. Sam is the visionary behind a lot of it, and anyone who has listened to him over time knows his licks: jazzy, spacey, funky and a bit psychedelic. The guitar is lending a new inflection on these basic grooves, and it's a happy confluence indeed. Sam's licks sometimes get moody and droopy as they drift out into space, so the energy and brightness of the guitar riffs are a welcome contrast to that tendency in Sam. There were moments of real brilliance coming from the guitar at this event.
Ginada Pinata is a well-known Shepherdstown staple, founded in 1998 by Sam Jannotta. (Submitted photo by Seth Freeman/Opera House LIVE)
Matt on bass is solid was a rock, as usual. Jesse's mastery on the drum kit is more impressive every time I hear him. He was showing his snazzy new kit last week - a black and white sparkly number - custom DW drums -that he has been talking to me about for some time. It was a good choice for the group's sound, with a bit of a higher register sound than usual and a cymbal that rang clear as a bell when he hit it high.
Sam has added a keyboard gadget that enables him to play lead riffs over the lower notes on his normal keyboard, and he played some impressive segments with this device.
The crowd tends to be folks in their 20s and 30s, as you might expect, but there was a smattering of all ages. I expect I was the oldest (I just turned 74), however. So don't be shy about your age, come on in and support some of the great local bands that we are lucky to have here in Shepherdstown. The new Opera House is a really cool place, with friendly people and great music. Larry Cumbo deserves credit for putting together this great venue.
The hall's sound balance, I'm delighted to say, was a real treat. The sound equipment in the Opera House is totally professional, if not state-of-the-art. Whoever was on the sound boards did a great job. As a testament to that, I was standing just beside one of the big main speakers and was able to hear the guitarist's instrument through his vintage, wood-cased, monitor that looked like it was from the '40s or early '50s. That was really special. In Argentina they tend to amplify beyond belief, so it was a surprise and a relief to find a more reasonable level here.
I've lived in a number of small arts communities and seen them transform from unknown to overgrown. Shepherdstown is at the beginning of one of these transformations, and it has the potential to become a major center of music and art.
We who are living here now have an unusual opportunity to participate in the celebration when it's still young and vibrant. Don't miss an opportunity to hear these talented artists as they are climbing the ladder of success. Don't wait until you have to pay 50 bucks a ticket to see them in some big venue, and say, "Yeah, these guys started in Shepherdstown."