Bensalem-based Sherwood Brothers bring ‘A Merry Acoustic Christmas’ to Ardmore Sunday
By Andy Vineberg, staff writer
Nov 28, 2016
Darryl Sherwood received the email confirming the biggest gig, by far, of his revamped band’s young career, but whatever initial excitement he felt was quickly overcome by a wave of panic.
He and his five bandmates in the acoustic, multi-genre Sherwood Brothers had spent much of the summer playing free-admission shows in front of enthusiastic crowds at Jersey shore bars, but now, suddenly, the Bensalem-based band was booked to headline one of the better-known venues in the Philadelphia region, the Ardmore Music Hall, tasked with performing a full-fledged Christmas show — something it has never done before, anywhere.
“I called my brother (bandmate Dennis Sherwood) and I said I don’t know what the hell I just got myself into,” Darryl said in a telephone interview from his Bensalem home. “It’s a huge venue, we’ve got a lot of tickets to sell. I don’t know what I just did to us.
“We’ve never sold tickets to a show before. How the hell are we going to fill a place 45 minutes from our audience? This one was all on us — we put our ass on the line with the promoter.”
The show is still almost a week away, but when the Sherwood Brothers present their inaugural “Very Merry Acoustic Christmas” Sunday in Ardmore, the size of the crowd will not be a concern. Darryl Sherwood and bandmate Neal Petti picked up 50 VIP tickets and 50 general-admission tickets after landing the gig on Oct. 20 and sold them out within a day, then got the venue to increase the VIP section to 120 tickets and sold the rest of those in less than a week.
Overall, the band has already sold 220 tickets, well over half of capacity.
“We’re excited. There are nerves, but we’re excited,” said Sherwood, who, along with his year-older brother, was born in Bensalem, moved to Gillet in north-central Pennsylvania as a child and returned to Bensalem in the 1990s as a young adult (Dennis lives in Pennsauken, New Jersey). “We’ve all been working hard and pushing toward this. It’s nice to think you have a good idea and somebody else bites and thinks, ‘That is a good idea, let’s do it.’ It’s definitely a good feeling.”
While there were initial concerns about filling the venue, there were no such worries about filling the setlist — the Sherwood brothers and Moorestown resident Petti have been envisioning a Christmas show for years, dating back to their days as an acoustic country-rock-bluegrass trio.
“Two years ago, we really sat down and hammered out the music and songs we wanted to do,” Sherwood said. “We had most of it laid out.
“For me, this was a seven-year goal. I grew up watching ‘Hee Haw’ and other variety shows and seeing acts put on real performances for the holidays. You don’t really see that happening much in Philly as far as rock music and Christmas. You see televised events, but you don’t really see gigs.”
Christmas has always been a special time for Sherwood, who married his wife, Christine, on Christmas Eve 2013.
The setlist will consist of 19 Christmas covers (only a handful of which the band has ever performed live), four original songs from the band’s forthcoming new album, “Pieces of You and Me” (which will be celebrated with a release show on Jan. 27 at the James A. Michener Museum in Doylestown), and a few classic rock and country covers. The Christmas material will include everything from rockers by the Kinks and Ramones to a holiday nugget from Elvis Presley, the latter a treat for drummer Paul Bagnell’s 90-year-old grandmother.
“People love music, why wouldn’t they want to see an actual Christmas show?” Sherwood said. “We thought it’d be neat with different genres, a little country, a little bit of rock. We thought it’d be neat to do a variety of music for the holidays.”
So how does a band go from playing neighborhood bars (though Sherwood says he doesn’t consider the group a bar band) to a top-notch regional venue, seemingly overnight? And do it without an electric guitar in sight, no less?
Well, start with dispelling the misnomer that acoustic equals boring. There’s nothing dull about these guys (and girl). Whether they’re roaring through creatively arranged rock and country hits or delivering their original material, the Sherwood Brothers treat every song with passion, energy, volume and, most significantly, fun.
“That’s the most challenging part,” Sherwood said of overcoming the acoustic stigma. “When people see the word acoustic, they think of sitting on a stool playing songs stripped down. The biggest struggle is how to tell people we have a kick-ass acoustic show. Do you drop the word acoustic?”
To help combat misconceptions about their sound, the Sherwoods and Petti devoted their money from gigs this summer to hiring a publicist, South Jersey-based Cheryl Squadrito of Media Friendly Public Relations. The group originally tried to book a Christmas show at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, New Jersey, alongside Petti’s children’s act, Ernie & Neal. When that fell through, Squadrito landed Sherwood a lunch meeting with promoter Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment, which books the Ardmore, among other venues.
Sherwood and Lundy already shared a connection — Drexel University, where Sherwood attended and Lundy teaches music industry. After talking about possible live opportunities, Sherwood mentioned the idea of the Christmas show, and after a few days of back-and-forth emails, the Ardmore gig was booked.
Just as important as the behind-the-scenes assistance was the band dramatically expanding its sound by literally doubling its membership from its original three-piece configuration. Darryl Sherwood (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, banjo), Dennis Sherwood (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Petti (lead guitar and mandolin) began using drummer Bagnell of Haddon Township (who’s married to Darryl and Dennis’s sister, Desiree) for select shows a couple of years ago, then added Bensalem resident Ed Paone on acoustic and upright bass, freeing up Petti from some of his many instrument changes during shows.
(Sherwood met Paone, who is about 10 years younger than the rest of the band, after moving back to Bensalem and was immediately struck by his musical abilities. “He was amazing at 15,” Sherwood said. “One of those prodigy kids who grabbed an instrument and within six months is playing sick stuff. The kid’s just pure talent.”)
The addition of Delaware County resident Shelley Beard Santore on violin completed the lineup and added a crowd-pleasing element.
“Having her elevated us to a level I never realized we could hit,” Sherwood said. “This summer, something happened — I swear it was the fiddle player being added to the mix. Things started picking up on the fan side. They’re engaging now, in a way that wasn’t happening with the trio. As we’ve built the band, people are locking in. It’s been pretty wild.”
The brothers can trace their high-energy live performances to their hard rock-loving roots during their days in high school bands. “The first show my brother and I did was 90 percent Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ album,” Sherwood said.
He still owns six electric guitars but says he hasn’t touched any of them in 15 years. “I don’t know what it is with acoustic.”
Whatever it is, it works. The Sherwood Brothers isn’t a full-time job — Darryl has his own lumber company, Sherwood Forest, Dennis is a guidance counselor at a middle school in Pennsauken, Petti teaches music — but the group has advanced to the point where playing its own holiday show at a legitimate music venue is no longer a dream … and maybe the start of a Christmas tradition.
“We’d love to do this five times next year, in each of the counties,” Sherwood said. “Another one in Ardmore, do one in Sellersville, continue to grab different areas in the region. The nice part of the acoustic format, with the fiddle player, is it’s not a pure country show, not a pure rock show. It’s a little bit of everything for everyone.”
The Sherwood Brothers present “A Very Merry Acoustic Christmas” Sunday at the Ardmore Music Hall, 23 E. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore. April Mae & the June Bugs open. Show time: 7 p.m. Tickets: advance, $15; day of show, $20; reserved, $35. Information: 610-649-8389; ardmoremusic.com.
Andy Vineberg: 215-949-4135; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @ADVineberg