The Berks County, Pa.-based acoustic trio Ike Wilder showcases the songwriting talents of frontman Ike Sheldon, accompanied by Daniel Bower on guitar and Chuck Brantman on bass, with gorgeous three-part harmonies. Watch them perform “Red Flowers” at 0m11s Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” at 5m02s and “I’m Gonna Find You” at 8m40s in this session recorded live at The Sound Room in the studios of WEEU, 830 AM, in Reading, Pa. A Reading Eagle/WEEU 830 AM production. Read more at readingeagle.com and weeu.com.
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Ike Wilder will headline a Hank Williams tribute
Thursday January 15, 2015 12:01 AM
By Don Botch
What started out as an idea hatched by a couple of musician friends over a couple of beers will become a reality Saturday at 8 p.m. when Boyertown’s Other Farm Brewing Co. hosts a tribute to Hank Williams.
The Country Music Hall-of-Famer died on New Year’s Day 1953 at just 29 years of age, but not before recording 35 Top 10 hits, including 11 that climbed all the way to the top of the Billboard Country & Western charts.
That his unprecedented body of work was amassed in just five years, while he simultaneously fell prey to the demons that would kill him – alcohol and prescription-drug abuse – only adds to the mystique of the man whose lyrical turns of phrase earned him the nickname the Hillbilly Shakespeare.
Call it poetic justice that Chuck Brantman, one of the men who conceived of the idea for the Williams tribute, plays bass in a local band called, not coincidentally, Hillbilly Shakespeare. That trio, which also includes Matt Thren on guitar and Matt Bonnes on drums, will serve as Saturday’s backing band, with a parade of others joining them onstage for an unrehearsed night of foot-stomping honky-tonk fun.
Headlining will be Ike Wilder, a trio for which Brantman also plays bass alongside guitarists Daniel Bower and Ike Sheldon, who has adopted the Ike Wilder moniker since moving to Berks County in 2006 from Kansas City, Mo., where he led a well-traveled alt-country band called the Wilders that was built on a foundation of Williams tunes.
“That was kind of the bread and butter of the Wilders back in the early days when we were playing that old country stuff,” Wilder said during a fireside chat at the Speckled Hen last week after wrapping the first-ever live recording session at The Sound Room, a new studio inside WEEU Broadcasting Co.
It was Brantman and Bower who were bending elbows and twisting tales one October night when the “no-brainer” idea of doing a tribute to one of their heroes crossed their minds. They bounced it off Wilder, who was onboard wholeheartedly.
Brantman first took the stage with Ike Wilder on an illustrious rainy summer night at Mike’s Tavern in 2013, when Wilder and Bower were booked for three hours of music and only had two, so at the set break, they surveyed the crowd, spotted Brantman and asked if he happened to have his bass in the car, which he did. They then plucked drummer Matt Cullen out of the crowd to team with Brantman in the Instant Rhythm Section, as it was dubbed, and asked Ron Nolen to lend another voice. What ensued was a rousing third set of honky-tonk classics built around Hank Williams and Johnny Cash songs.
A week or so later, a motivated Brantman informed Wilder and Bower that he had learned bass parts for all the Ike Wilder originals, and just like that, what started out as a duo became a trio.
Like Ike Wilder, all the bands performing at Saturday’s show pride themselves on originals, but this will be a night devoted to covers.
Among those joining Hillbilly Shakespeare onstage will be the Youngers, Caroline Reese and Jack Murray, who hosts weekly Wednesday-night jams at the Other Farm that have been known to stray Williams’ way.
Rounding out the sound will be Dave Van Allen (formerly of the Youngers) on pedal steel and Ted Fenstermacher (Manatawny Creek Ramblers) on fiddle.
“These are all friends of mine who I don’t see that often,” Bower said, “so I was like, ‘Let’s all book a gig together and not worry too much about the details. We all know how to play Hank Williams songs, so let’s all just show up and do it, and it’ll be fun.’ And everyone that I asked said right away, ‘Of course I’ll do it.’ Everybody replied with enthusiasm.”
Given that most of the Manatawny Creek Ramblers will be in the house, there’s a good chance that bluegrass outfit will hit the stage at some point in the festivities, too.
Bower, who fronts the Ramblers, said he made it his mission at age 17 to always have a bluegrass band after being inspired by a mix tape his uncle, Charlie Vile (father of Philadelphia singer-songwriters Kurt and Sam Vile), gave him that contained tunes by legends such as Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson, with Williams interspersed every third or fourth song.
“Although he’s not bluegrass,” Bower said, “a lot of bluegrass bands do Hank Williams. A lot of every kind of band does Hank. He’s a big part of why I started playing old-time music, so we all just share a love for him, as do most musicians alive.”
Wilder said Williams was one of the first country artists whose songs were covered by singers of other genres, starting with Tony Bennett, whose version of “Cold, Cold Heart” topped the pop charts in 1951, the same year Williams’ original topped the country charts.
“You hear the Norah Jones version of ‘Cold, Cold Heart,’ it’s amazing,” Wilder added, “but it doesn’t sound country when she does it. It’s a great song that can be done in any way and it’s going to be good. I guess that’s kind of like the test of any great song: Can you do this as a samba? Can you do this as jazz? Can you do this whatever? You can do them (Williams’ songs) any way you want, and they’ll still be great.”
Bower pointed out that even the Grateful Dead was known to cover Williams.
“So all you Deadheads, come out and get your minds blown,” he said.
Remarkably, the song lists that each of the night’s performers have submitted for the three-hour show contain little, if any, overlap, a testament to the depth of Williams’ catalog.
“He wrote so many songs that are just absolute classics, so it’s not like everybody’s fighting over two or three songs,” said Wilder, whose contributions will include a medley of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and “I’m a Long Gone Daddy,” plus the lesser-known “Someday You’ll Call My Name.”
Wilder said he has had plenty of experience covering Williams. In fact, he recalled a night a few years back when the Wilders were gigging at the now-defunct Rodeo Bar in New York City.
“After the show, a guy came up and said, ‘I’d like to get one of your CDs; I really love how you played Hank Williams.’ Our fiddler, Betse (Ellis), she was selling CDs that night, and she said, ‘Oh, thanks so much. I’m really glad you liked it. My name’s Betse; it’s nice to meet you.’ And he was like, ‘My name’s Hank. I’m Hank the Third. You really do Hank right, and I really appreciate that.’ ”
Tickets for Saturday’s show will be available at the door for $10, which includes a beer, or $5 for designated drivers.
“It started out as an idea for us to all hang out together and get to see each other,” Brantman said, “but now it’s seeming like it’s taking on a big event-type status.”
Contact Don Botch: 610-371-5055 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Introducing: The Sound Room
Ike Wilder is the featured band in the debut of The Sound Room, a new video and audio project on readingeagle.com that will showcase local original music.
A joint project of the Reading Eagle and WEEU Broadcasting Company, The Sound Room is an intimate new studio space that has been created in the Fourth and Court streets headquarters of WEEU 830 AM, Berks County’s only locally owned radio station.
With outdated audio equipment serving as the backdrop, local artists will perform miniconcerts that will be recorded and archived for posterity on readingeagle.com.
Several songs will be culled from each performance and posted in video format, while audio of the entire sets also will be available.
Ike Wilder is a Berks County-based acoustic trio named for guitarist and singer-songwriter Ike Wilder of Kutztown, with Daniel Bower on guitar and vocals and Chuck Brantman on bass and vocals.