After 40 Years, Stony Creek Band Is Better Than Ever
“Never play better than the room requires,” goes an old adage of veteran bar bands. Apparently, the members of the Stony Creek Band never received that message. They still play up rather than down to the crowd, and take as much pleasure as their fans do in finding something fresh in familiar tunes. That may explain why they’re still here after forty years, and why they were never much of a bar band.
“Even when we cover someone else’s song, the way we attack it is pretty much our own way,” says Hank Soto, who, with John Strong, formed the band in 1973. “Our material doesn’t work really well for people who want to watch themselves dancing in front of mirrors.”
Where the band’s material does work is at venues such as Café Lena, the Stony Creek Inn and Roaring Brook, where the band will play a 40th anniversary concert on September 8.
Outdoor stages and events also suit the band, and on September 27, the Stony Creek Band will open the first annual Festival for the Lake in the Village’s Blais Park with a concert scheduled to start at 4 pm.
It could become one of those nights that fans of the Stony Creek Band exchange memories of years hence.
“When it’s good, all the stars are aligned,” said Soto. “You have an audience that came to be a part of the show, who’s with you even when you’re not at your best, although you always try to be. You rise to the occasion, and it’s like finding money.”
The Stony Creek Band began life as an acoustic trio with Soto, Strong and bassist Michael Roden.
With the encouragement of Stony Creek Inn owner Art Pratt, they moved to Stony Creek, and into the inn itself.
“We were the artists in residence,” quips Strong.
Pratt himself had some local fame as a musician, having sung and played fiddles for bands, his own father’s included, since the 1930s, and the musicians he had known for decades stopped by frequently.
“A lot of musicians came through that place, people playing true country music, blue grass and French Canadian fiddle tunes,” recalls Soto.
“There were square dances every Saturday night, with Art Pratt playing the fiddle and calling the dances,” said Strong. “If we didn’t have a gig, we ended up in the dance band.”
The gigs, though, were plentiful. The trio performed in coffee houses in college towns up and down the east coast, and began to attract attention, especially from other musicians. Among them were the late Chan Goodnow, who taught himself to play the mandolin, and steel guitar player Randy Rollman.
“We added a drummer to keep things together, and suddenly we were a six piece band,” said Strong. “We had a roadie and a sound guy and for a while we were the largest single employer in Stony Creek.”
The band toured in a converted Freihofer bakery truck and in the late 70s, cut its first record, a 45 with Strong’s “Day By Day” on one side and a song by Michael Roden on the other.
“We both claimed the other’s song was the b-side,” said Strong.
B-side or not, Strong’s tune became a local hit.
“For a year, that song got more play in local juke boxes than any other song,” recalls Strong.
Over the years, the band’s personnel has changed, introducing new personalities and new musical influences to the mix.
“Some songs are lost and others are found,” said Soto. “New people come in, with their own influences and orientation. The songwriting gets new input. Everybody brings spice to the pie.”
That’s among the reasons why the band remains as exciting as it is, both for the audience and the band members themselves.
“There’s a lot of juice in this band,” said Strong, “Hank’s guitar and Fred’s mandolin are such different instruments, but they communicate.”
“We communicate all the time, with either a grin or a grimace,” interjects Soto. “Fred and I will be trading stuff, and I hear things coming out of his mandolin that will amaze me.”
“We’re actually a better band than we ever were,” said Strong. “We play better and we’re a tighter band.”
So the band has no intention of retiring any time soon.
“We’re friends, and we enjoy playing music and we enjoy playing it together,” said Strong.
“We never wanted to do anything other than to succeed at making a living banging music. And we wanted to find a musical niche that allowed us to do the stuff we enjoy,” said Soto. “And anyway you look at it, playing music beats pounding nails.”