It was Saturday night and I was looking for my weekly sonic fix, but when I hit the Facebook I didn’t see anyone I recognized playing out. So I picked up the phone and called Nick Choate. Nick owns Blue Smoke Studios and is one of the most musically connected folks I know. He was emphatic – I needed to head down to the Grotto to hear the Michael Lee band and The Chet Stevens band.
The key to an enjoyable music experience at the grotto is to get there early and stake out your table. They have a great stage and great sound, but a fairly long and narrow space, and it fills up quickly. Get there too late and you’re standing or at the back of the room where you can’t see. I got there late, and all the tables were taken, but I lucked into a great spot at the bar and held on for dear life. It’s just what happens when a first-rate neighborhood bar becomes a first-rate music venue.
The Michael Lee band took the stage first, consisting of Michael Lee (guitar), Aaron Stanfield (drums), and subbing on bass they had Canyon Kafer. Right away I could see why Nick insisted this is where I needed to be – Lee is a talented performer and one of the better blues players I’ve seen anywhere. There is a definite Steve Morse vibe, a more precise and controlled performance than standard bar blues. He borrowed Chet Stevens’ bass player for the evening and it was interesting to hear something that bluesy with a 7-string bass behind it. Vocals were expressive, and the kid has a decent stage presence.
Lee, who is making the move to more original stuff, will be recording soon and if he can avoid the ego pitfalls that come with being this good this young (early 20’s) he’s going to go places. The rhythm section was dead on, and the whole set was first rate.
Next up we had Chet Stevens (vocals, guitar) joining his bass player on stage with drummer Jared Lewis to headline. The Chet Stevens band is a bit more jazzy, a bit less soulful, and at times more sterile, but not in a bad way. Chet is a phenomenal guitar player, but I have to admit it took me a bit longer to get into them. Both Lee and Stevens are polished, but Chet’s stuff had more of a mainstream/pop/rock effect and when the band got into a groove I was hooked. The vocals were well done, and the band as a unit was beyond tight.
Neither one of these bands should be opening for anyone, but how do you divide up a bill with two great bands like this? Toss a coin? If I had to pick a favorite it would be Lee, but you can’t go wrong with either one. Check them out when you get a chance – while you have a chance.