Great music lives here

It’s a rich banquet of genres, too

From left: Seve Sullivan Doyle, Missy Burgess, Travis Gow, Krista Swaidnor, Hubie Ashcraft, photography by Bambi Guthrie
Hope Arthur, left, and 10 members of her orchestra, photography by Bambi Guthrie
From left: Jared Pagan, Matt Hopkins, Darrell Robinson, photography by Bambi Guthrie
From left: Maurice Turner, Chad Hiatt, Crystal Clouse, Craig Stephan, Beto Magana, photography by Bambi Guthrie
Phenom, photography by Bambi Guthrie
From left: Dan Rohloff, Susan Mae Stephens, Steve Wright, photography by Bambi Guthrie

Fort Wayne’s stable of talent is establishing the city in the minds of people across the country as a place where any genre of talent can be found performing great music well.

More performers are collaborating with other artists in the community to create a tapestry that defies easy categorization. Fort Wayne is a place where live music is alive and well and fans of the music enjoy a rich banquet of genres and performers both on their way up and who have decided to make this place – their home – a wonderful place to enjoy this art form.

Touch of country

Not surprisingly, there are several country music bands and venues throughout Fort Wayne, tapping into a growing popularity for all things country. Once a niche genre, more popular in the South and some Midwestern states, country music has exploded in recent years, becoming far more mainstream. One rising star in country music, Hubie Ashcraft, has been honing his sound for several years, having been part of a popular duo, Allan & Ashcraft, before going his own way and starting a new band, Hubie Ashcraft & the Drive, now the Hubie Ashcraft Band. Ashcraft and drummer Seve Sullivan Doyle had been playing together in various forms for 17 years, having both attended Homestead High School. About two years ago, they decided to make their musical relationship more permanent and were joined by Missy Burgess on bass, Travis Gow on fiddle and Krista Swaidnor on piano and vocals. Their recent CD release party was special for Ashcraft, who in the past year became a first-time father, for a lot of reasons.

“We had the release party on Father’s Day at C2G (Come 2 Go), and my wife and I were married on that stage. And this year, being a father now, having it on Father’s Day made it even more special,” he said.

Ashcraft was drawn to music at an early age since his father is also a musician. That connection likely explains why his influences cover a lot of music ground, both sonically and generationally.

“I think our music is influenced by both contemporary and classic country. You listen to new music by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and you realize they don’t get the credit they deserve. They’re both still out there and giving it 110 percent. I’m also a huge fan of outlaw country artists, but I love newer performers, too, like Zac Brown and Keith Urban. My biggest accomplishment so far was opening for George Jones when he played here at the Embassy, and it was just two or three months before he passed away. To see him on stage and hear his voice … it’s one of the greatest voices country music has ever had.”

Ashcraft isn’t just making waves with country music legends in Fort Wayne – he’s making himself known outside of Indiana as well. With gigs in much of the Northeast, Midwest and South – including country music’s capital, Nashville, Tenn. – Ashcraft’s reputation for crafting a good song and merging old and new country styles is gaining national traction.

A bigger vision

Also looking to tour, perhaps as early as this fall, is the Hope Arthur Orchestra, a group of musicians who can number as high as 15 in some performances. Arthur, a pianist who had been playing solo gigs and who continues to work as an accompanist for Fort Wayne Ballet, knew she wanted a non-traditional band, but even she is surprised at how quickly the group has grown in just two years.

“I didn’t really mean for it to get so big,” she said. “It’s not like I said, ‘I want a group with 30 people!’ But I wanted a band and didn’t want the guitar-bass-drums kind of band. I wanted string players to be part of it. It just turned out that people wanted to help out, which is what it’s like. We look out for each other and help support each other.”

Having worked in collaboration with Fort Wayne Ballet, Too in June 2013, Arthur is looking for more ways to work with others in the local arts community. Having recently completed an artist-in-residency at Wunderkammer Co., she developed a plastic foam prototype of The Core, a sculpture that will ultimately serve as an interactive art piece. Currently seeking funding for the project, she intends for The Core to be a large, steel installation piece designed to hold performers while providing its own artistic expression. The ambitious project is just one recent example of how often the fine arts, dance and music are merging to create one unified vision.

“I want it to be sturdy enough to hold 12 to 14 people. It’s called The Core because I want to represent the inner core of human beings, in Fort Wayne but also everywhere.”

Arthur hopes to record an album soon, too, one which will feature her original vocal music, allowing her orchestra to move from strings to singing. While she does feature her original songs, she’s capable of some pretty compelling covers, as anyone who caught the Orchestra’s performance at Down the Line 8 learned when the group paid homage to David Bowie.

On the edge

This past February, Down the Line 9 continued to prove how wide-ranging music in the Summit City can get. Far away from the orchestral sound of Hope Arthur is the music of Sirface, who took the Embassy stage to cover the music of Billy Idol. The hard, edgy sound of 1980s hair-band rock is the inspiration for Sirface, led by guitarist Jared Pagan. Pagan’s older brother, Dave, has been in local bands for years, including URB, and the brothers shared a passion for music, a flame fanned by their uncle, who provided Jared with his first electric guitar. The kind of music he wanted to produce with that guitar had already been firmly planted.

“I’ve always loved hard rock, the heavy music and the melodic vocals. I love the energy of it, and I loved the edginess of bands like Twisted Sister and Motley Crue,” Pagan said.

Sirface has been around for almost 15 years, though Pagan is the only original member still with the group. Bassist Matt Hopkins has been with Pagan close to 10 years, and drummer Darrell Robinson has been with them for the last three. The group was on hiatus while Hopkins accepted an opportunity to go on the road, but his return allowed for the Down the Line Idol set as well as the possibility of developing a few new songs and a CD in the coming year.

Open mic experimentation

Also taking the stage at last February’s Down the Line, covering the music of the White Stripes, was Sum Morz, whose members bring a variety of influences that merge into a unique sound. Singer Crystal “C-Note” Clouse comes from a musical family, and she and her sisters sang often with their parents’ group Pop n Fresh. Her bandmates – Maurice Turner on bass, Chad Hiatt and Craig Stephan on guitars and Beto Magana on drums – each bring their own musical inspirations to their music.

“I was heavily influenced by the blues,” Clouse said. “Mo was really into alternative ’90s rock, Chad was into jazz, Craig-Man has a heavy rock and classic rock background and Beto is into hard rock and hip-hop.”

Magana is the most recent addition to the group, the second drummer in their seven years together. Clouse said that while each had been busy playing with a variety of bands over the years, when they came together as Sum Morz, everything clicked.

“We had instant chemistry. Our practices were filled with so much energy. We just knew right away and kind of stopped working on other projects as soon as we started playing together. Mo and I would get on stage, and we’d start doing the same dance moves, and it wasn’t planned. We just had such great chemistry. It was immediate.”

Clouse believes that it’s the prevalence of open mic events in town that helps perpetuate the local music scene while opening it up to such variety. While Sum Morz, like many bands, plays in local bars and clubs doing covers of other’s songs, the chance to try out original tunes at open mic nights leads to much of the area’s musical experimentation. While Clouse concedes that Sum Morz doesn’t do as much original material as members would like, the group is working on a few new songs and hopes to release them in the near future.

Redefining, challenging

Releasing a CD of new music as early as next month is local rapper Phenom, whose music videos are already on YouTube. A native of California, Phenom grew up in Michigan City but relocated to Fort Wayne five years ago to pursue his education. Having completed both an undergraduate and graduate degree, Phenom hopes to challenge the music industry’s status quo when it comes to rap, helping to redefine it while moving it forward. His inspiration is to redefine the form and bring something uplifting to his audiences.

“When I recorded my first CD in 2002, there was a lot of music coming out that wasn’t suitable for young people. I wanted to make music that would inspire people to do better things with their life. Rap music has a stigma of being negative, of glorifying negativity. I wanted to make rap music that went against the stereotype and make a change in the market and help serve a purpose,” he said.

New ways to be heard

Getting new music heard has become increasingly possible for local musicians who are no longer at the mercy of major labels to sign them and allow them to record. Fort Wayne has several professional studios and the ability to upload music online for purchase and sharing has changed the face of the business. Similarly, Fort Wayne has a large variety of stages and venues for groups and upcoming artists to play. Aside from the obvious bars and nightclubs, there’s been a growth in places where people don’t have to stay up all night to hear music. Local restaurants and martini lounges provide a whole different spin on live music. Having played in more rock-oriented bands that often didn’t start until late at night, Susan Mae Stephens and fellow musicians Steve Wright and Dan Rohloff were ready for a change.

“Steve and I had both been with (the band) Fawn Liebowitz, and when they weren’t playing much anymore, Dan joined us. We had a few drummers, but when we were looking for a new drummer, we decided to tone it down, not do the rock band thing. So we geared back and just had me singing, Dan on bass, and Steve on guitar. Changing our focus and what we do changed the venues where we played as well. We just don’t want to play those places anymore, and now that we’re playing at Club Soda, Nick’s and the Friendly Fox, we start earlier, end earlier so if we want to go out afterward we can, but more than likely I just want to go home and go to bed,” Stephens said.

With set lists that include songs from Norah Jones, Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Sting, Susan Mae and the New Yesterday, as the trio is now known, provide a sweet counterpoint to music heard at some of the more popular late-night venues in town.

Given how much music fills the Fort Wayne nights and weekends all throughout the year, it’s comforting to know that whatever one’s music itch, there’s a place to scratch it. If you have a craving for a particular kind of music, chances are you can find it somewhere in Fort Wayne.

And it will be great.

First appeared in the September 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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