Local blues band to open show for George Thorogood and the Destroyers

PHOTO PROVIDED The Gabe Stillman Band will be opening for George Thorogood and the Destroyers at Spyglass Ridge Winery on Aug. 11.

SUNBURY — As a kid growing up, George Thorogood was one of the first blues-rock musicians Gabe Stillman ever heard. With Thorogood’s music regularly finding its way into movies, TV shows and commercials throughout Stillman’s formative years, there was no way for him to escape the legend’s slide guitar and snarling vocals — not that he ever wanted to.

The impact of hearing that music at such a young age was immeasurable for Stillman, who says that it played a huge role in steering him towards playing the guitar. Now, the Williamsport native will get the chance to flip the script and play Thorogood some music of his own.

The Gabe Stillman Band will be opening for George Thorogood and the Destroyers in a show slated for 5 p.m. on Aug. 11 at Spyglass Ridge Winery, 105 Carroll Rd.

“I remember being really captivated by (Thorogood’s) voice and his tone on the guitar,” Stillman said. “When I got into playing blues and started heading down that path, I of course looked to George for inspiration. His sound and showmanship are undeniable and there is no doubt he had a lot to do with keeping real-deal blues music alive during those times it wasn’t necessarily on the listening radar of the general public.”

For Stillman, getting the chance to open a show for one of his heroes is the thrill of a lifetime, if not a bit surreal.

“Words can’t describe how thrilled I am (to be opening for him),” he said. “I’ve opened for other national acts before, but I’ve been a fan of George Thorogood for a long time and he was a major influence on me from an early age. Without hearing his music I might not have picked up a guitar in the first place. This is a special show for me and for my bandmates as well.”

Though he started out playing saxophone in elementary school, Stillman said he was always drawn towards the electric guitar. He didn’t get serious about playing music until he became a student at the Uptown Music Collective, which gave him his first opportunities to perform for an audience. Twelve years later, he still gets a huge kick out of playing on stage.

“While I was (with UMC) I did my best to take advantage of every performance opportunity that came along,” Stillman said. “Through doing that, I fell in love with performing and I became confident that I could be a professional musician.”

It was also at the Collective that Stillman truly developed his love for the blues. As a beginner student at UMC, he first wanted to play fast and complex heavy metal music but didn’t have the technical skill to do so, and by his own admission he had “nowhere near the patience that it takes to play that genre well.”

“Around the time I was 13, I got involved with the Collective’s blues workshop and was amazed by how I could play a three-note improvised ‘blues’ solo and it sounded like music right away,” Stillman said. “I thought ‘Wow, that’s all I gotta do?’ My love for the genre really began to snowball after that experience.

“Since then, I’ve come to realize the emotional and musical depth of the blues and the amount of nuance that goes into playing this music faithfully and authentically,” he added.

The Gabe Stillman Band is comprised of four members. Stillman himself takes on lead guitar and voals; Colin Beatty plays bass; Jesse Roedts is on the drums; and Shane “The Hurricane” Sager plays harmonica. Though he has been playing with Beatty for three years and Roedts for almost a year, Stillman has been making music with Sager since their days at Berklee College of Music.

“We share a pretty deep musical bond, especially when it comes to blues,” Stillman said, of Sager. “He was the first cat I met at Berklee who I jammed with and we just clicked. I remember the first time we sat down to play, four hours flew by like it was nothing.

“(Sager) still lives and performs in the Boston area, but he comes to Williamsport often to play bigger production shows with us,” added Stillman. “He adds a dynamic to the band that really brings out the best in us. We definitely play with our highest energy when he is there.”

Over the last few years, Stillman has had the opportunity to play on the stage at Spyglass Winery several times, mostly during the winery’s “March Madness” series of live shows.

“I’ve gotten to know the folks there pretty well and they thought we would be a great fit for the show,” Stillman said.

The best part of playing a bigger venue, according to Stillman, is the energy and focus the crowd brings to the show.

“I’m not saying I don’t enjoy playing in smaller venues, I love the intimacy of those shows,” he said. “But it’s definitely freeing to have more room to jump around and crank up the volume. On top of that, with shows like this, generally the whole audience is paying attention to the music. It’s a great feeling.”

With a 45-minute set to fill, Stillman isn’t sure how many songs his band will get to, as that will be dictated by the arrangements the band goes with for each tune.

“We play some of them the same every time, but most of our songs are different from show to show,” he said.

Along with the show at Spyglass Winery, The Gabe Stillman Band is also set for two shows this Saturday, as it will first playing the La Festa Italian Festival outside of the Sons of Italy in Williamsport, and then at the Pier 87 Bar & Grill later that day. The band will also be making its debut at the annual East Coast Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Little Orleans, Maryland on Aug. 10, one day before it opens for Thorogood. At that show, the group will be sharing the stage with legendary blues band The Nighthawks, who ironically used to open shows for George Thorogood and The Destroyers back in the 1970s.

“It is really neat those shows ended up being back to back,” Stillman said.