Birthdays are a big deal. And they are an even bigger deal when you can throw a party for yourself, invite the public and play music all night with your band. So let's just say Doug McMinn knows exactly what he's doing to kick off his sixth decade on the earth. On Jan. 17, beginning at 10 p.m., McMinn and his two bands, Lumpy Gravy and Doug McMinn Blues Band, will play at the Bullfrog Brewery, 229 W. Fourth St.
The Sun-Gazette recently caught up with McMinn via email to chat about his upcoming birthday bash, 2014 projects and his busy schedule, as well as up and coming local musicians.
WIEGAND: With two of your bands, Lumpy Gravy and the Doug McMinn Blues Band playing for your birthday, you're going to be busy! What can the audience at the Bullfrog expect for this performance?
DOUG MCMINN: Lumpy Gravy plays mostly original music at this point. We're jam-oriented with a very hard rhythmic base. I play sax and guitar with Lumpy and handle about half the vocals. The Doug McMinn Blues Band is fairly traditional, although I have a broad idea of "tradition." I'm on sax, clarinet and guitar and do almost all the singing - it's kind of a star vehicle, I guess!
BW: What made you want to throw a public party (other than having an awesome birthday) at the Bullfrog?
DM: I have to admit that I got the idea of celebrating my birthday at the Bullfrog from Charlie Moore, who had both Lumpy Gravy and the Blind Chitlin' Kahunas play for his birthday back in August. I haven't had a big party for my birthday since the 1970s, but turning sixty is something of a milestone, and players like to play, so I'm going to play.
BW: What are some of the current projects you've been involved in this year? What's new and upcoming for 2014?
DM: My duo partner Hannah Bingman recorded "LOAM," a great new CD, in 2013 - I played on a bunch of cuts, and we've been doing release parties with a full band. We have one coming up at the Bullfrog on Feb. 22. Another new thing for me is joining the Lewisburg-based band Royal Benson on sax last fall. Their guy moved away, and I always admired their stuff greatly, so it's been fun. I'll be with them at the Bullfrog on Feb. 7. They also have a new CD out. The other high point was playing a solo blues concert at Bucknell University's Weis Center as part of their black history month celebration. For somebody used to playing bars, the concert experience is very different and exciting.
Hannah has been after me to record a solo album and I'm preparing songs for it. We'll probably co-produce it. I also have been working on a presentation of 20 or so original songs about Pennsylvania life, calling it "Keystone Ballads." It was supposed to debut at the Elk Creek Cafe on Jan. 2, but we had to cancel due to a snow storm.
BW: You perform all over central Pennsylvania, from Williamsport to Danville. Ever wish you could take a break?
DM: I tried to cut back in 2013, but the phone kept ringing and I wound up doing about 138 shows, as many as the year before. I'm trying to avoid multiple shows in one day, as it's very tiring.
BW: Can you remember the first time you decided you wanted to pursue music? Has it been a lifelong endeavor? What keeps you inspired?
DM: My brother and sister were teenagers when I was small, and I remember them working on dance steps in the kitchen by the radio. I started listening to the radio daily when I was 6 or 7. I played clarinet in the school band through junior year of high school, but never could make the jump to performing rock and other music I loved until I was in my 20s.
The music itself is inspiring, as is the good fortune that I can share it with audiences through live performance. When my energy and the crowd's energy build together, it's a powerful feeling, definitely addictive.
BW: Any up and coming artists (local or not) that you're excited about?
DM: I'm a big fan of Key of V and their offshoot, The Alterations. Ten Cent Days were fun when they were around Williamsport, and I really enjoy the Backwoods Experiment. The Kahunas are super, and Miz Ida and the All-Nightas are another blues-based band that I enjoy. On a totally different note, the Jay Vonada Jazz Trio is a fantastic band that is fairly new on the scene. Of course, I try to support all the projects of the folks I play with, like the Lynn Farley 5 or Natascha and the Spyboys.
Stay updated on Doug McMinn's many musical projects by visiting www.dougmcminnmus ic.com.