"[Williamsport's] become a place where we love to come," Mark Wenner, founding member of veteran blues band The Nighthawks, said. "We have a long-standing relationship with the family that owns Franco's, the Danieles ... and whenever we go to Rochester [N.Y.], we have to swing by just to get a cannoli and an espresso."
The band has performed at Franco's Lounge, at the Billtown Blues Festival, in the Genetti Hotel Ballroom, at the Community Arts Center, and now will play - for the first time - at the Pajama Factory Center Stage (formerly Site:B), 1307 Park Ave., as a part of the Billtown Blues Association's "Pre New Year's Blues Bash," which will be held at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 30. Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats with Mark Ross and International Blues Challenge contestant Sean Farley also will perform.
The show came about when the band's holiday gig at Franco's didn't work out.
"I told Freddy (Daniele) that we're gonna be in Pittsburgh on the 31st and that we have the 30th available," Wenner said. "He said we'll try this new venue [The Pajama Factory]. It sounds like an exciting place. More and more we end up in these cool, old factories that have been converted into art space. They lend themselves very well."
The band, featuring Wenner on vocals and harmonica, Johnny Castle on vocals and bass, Paul Bell on guitar and Mark Stuso on drums and vocals, will come riding the excitement of its new album, "Damn Good Time," which was released this year on Severn Records.
The recording sessions were completed "with no muss and no fuss" as the band's website said.
"They were pretty incredible," Wenner said. "David Earl [of Severn Records] is an old friend. It was something we should have done 20 years ago but we did not. His studio was brand new - he had all the modern gizmos and all the digital stuff. But he also had a lot of older equipment and an old-time sensibility. So, we were able to get the retro sound we really like, with it being a modern presentation and a modern context."
The album features original songs, along with covers of Elvis' "Too Much," Billy Price's "Who You're Workin' For," Nat King Cole's "Send for Me" and Jimmy McCracklin's "Georgia Slop."
Wenner said when the time comes to record an album, he's always ready with a batch of songs he'd like to perform.
"I've always got lists of songs that I think would be cool to record that are generally not that well-known," he said. "Left to my own devices, I can have three albums worth of songs ready to go in three days."
Generally, the singer is not a fan of recording original material.
"I'm not the biggest stickler for the original stuff," he said. "The original stuff is emphasized by someone else's rule of how my business ought to be done ... it seems the most successful albums we've ever had were the ones when we go in and play straight-up blues. The only one we've ever won an award for was the one where we just went in and recorded acoustic versions of blues classics."
That album, "Last Train to Bluesville," was recorded in 2010 and won Acoustic Album of the Year at the Blues Foundation's "Blues Music Awards" in Memphis in May 2011.
Wenner said that he leaves most of the writing to Mark Stuso and Johnny Castle.
"I haven't written a good song in over 20 years," he said with a laugh.
The Nighthawks formed in 1972 and have played with many blues greats, including Muddy Waters, Carl Perkins and John Hammond, who performed earlier this year at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg (Read the Sun-Gazette interview with Hammond by searching "John Hammond Sun-Gazette blues" on Google).
"[Hammond] was one of my early heroes and I got friendly with him when I was just forming The Nighthawks," Wenner said. "One of my earlier ambitions was to back him up and we would do that occasionally. We would play acoustic and he would play electric and one day he said, 'We got to go into the studio with this stuff.' And I thought, 'I thought you'd never ask.' That album ["Hot Tracks"] was recorded in about eight hours. It was just one of those great inspired moments."
One time, Wenner sat with John Hammond and his father, the famous Columbia Records talent scout who sparked the careers of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and many more, while blues legend Charlie Musselwhite performed.
"Charlie Musselwhite was still drinking really hard in those days," Wenner said. "And he was sitting on the back of the stage hurling. [John Hammond] Senior, who, you know, was a part of the Vanderbilt family, leans over and says, 'I don't think Charlie's feeling well tonight.' I laughed and said, 'I don't think so either."
At the Factory show, The Nighthawks will perform "some old stuff and some brand new stuff," Wenner said. "Some stuff that may be on the next album."
Tickets are $15 and are available at Franco's Lounge, 12 W. Fourth St., which may be reached at 327-1840, and the Pajama Factory, which may be reached at 323-7650.