Bensalem-based Sherwood Brothers bring ‘A Very Merry Acoustic Christmas’ to Ardmore on Sunday

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: avineberg@calkins.com; Twitter: @ADVineberg

Sherwood Brothers Endorse Myers Pickups

GARDEN GROVE, Ca. — The Sherwood Brothers love Myers Pickups.

First, because they solved a problem that the band had.  As a 5-piece touring band that uses solely acoustic instruments, the Sherwood Brothers found themselves needing pickups that could project warmth and power simultaneously. After searching around, they discovered that Myers manufactures pickups specifically for acoustic instruments. Every pickup is hand-made by a member of the Myers family with the highest quality in mind. They can easily be moved from instrument to instrument, without having to purchase an additional pickup, which is ideal for the Brothers since they switch on and off various instruments so often throughout the night.

The engineering of the Myers’ patent-pending design is impressive too. The quality, sound and ease of use really packs a distinct wallop, delivering the audible presence that the Sherwood Brothers are known to deliver as an acoustic rock band. Especially when compared to pickups they’ve tried in the past, The Grip pickup is so compact that it can be easily position on a multitude of instruments with an unlimited amount of adjustability without modification or damage to the band’s instruments.

The dimensions are compact at 1.97″ x 1.38″ x .79″ and yet it is fully equipped with an internally powered, active preamp to produce the richest sound the guys have ever heard from such a small device. There is a lithium battery power-source that came pre-installed, which was super convenient, and they informed the band when they purchased that each individual pickup would be meticulously tested before it was shipped off. Quality craftsmanship is something you don’t often see anymore these days.

I purchased The Grip from Myers because we had quite a few different instruments that didn’t have pickups,” said lead vocalist and guitarist, Darryl Sherwood. “Whether we were at a live performance or in the studio, I just couldn’t get the isolation I wanted until I used The Grip from Myers.  I absolutely love the tone and its simplicity, and you can’t beat the price.  I use it regularly on my ukulele, mandolin, dulcimer, violin, upright bass and a few other handmade instruments. – Darryl Sherwood, Lead Vocals

Perhaps one of the things that endeared the Sherwood Brothers most to Myers is the fact that they are a small, family-owned and operated business. As a family-run operation themselves, the Sherwood Brothers enjoy supporting fellow brothers and getting the good word out about them. Many followers of the band are, in fact, active musicians themselves, so do what SB did. Check out Myers Pickups at www.myerspickups.com or email Gregg Myers at myersco@me.com. It’s worth it.

Long Road From Metal to Country Pays Off

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) — “So I started this damn country band, cause punk rock was too hard to sing.” – Ryan Adams

That lyric, from Adams’ former band Whiskeytown’s song “Faithless Street,” doesn’t exactly tell the story of the Sherwood Brothers, a locally based acoustic trio that has found its niche as an Americana-folk-country-bluegrass act.

But country and bluegrass were definitely not part of the original plan for Bensalem natives Darryl and Dennis Sherwood, whose musical aspirations began in high school in a glam-metal band playing Metallica, Poison and Ratt covers.

It was the early 1990s. The brothers were living at the time in Gillett, a rural town in Bradford County in north-central Pennsylvania, playing a local establishment called Gino’s Arcade, dances at Athens Area High School … and not many other places.

“It was a very rural area. There was nowhere to play,” says Darryl, who sang and played guitar, joined by year-older brother Dennis on drums and a friend on bass. “We basically played Metallica covers. Honestly, I can’t even remember the band’s name.”

Eventually, after a handful of bands (including one called the Canine Men), Dennis switched from drums to guitar, and Darryl ended up playing a lot of solo acoustic singer-songwriter material while a student at Drexel University.

It was their father, Donald, a huge fan of old-time country music, who inspired them to delve into that genre. Donald had gotten sick, and the brothers wanted to make music for him.

“We started getting back to roots music, digging the more acoustic stuff,” says Darryl, who moved back to Bensalem after graduating from Drexel and still lives there with his wife, Christine. “When my brother switched from drums to guitar, he and I dropped the band altogether and started playing acoustic, and that molded into the folksy, country music my dad liked. We pushed forward with that and ended up putting together our first batch of songs pretty much for him.

“He was always a big supporter. Even when we sounded like (expletive), he would put us in the garage or put us someplace out of the house.”

That first set of country material was self-released on a five-song EP in 2002. Four years after that, Donald Sherwood, who had suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis, died of liver failure – a result of being under heavy medication for two decades.

The Sherwood Brothers’ first full-length album, “This Don’t End With a Smile” (2013), was a tribute to him. The album’s title is a lyric from the heartfelt track “Cold in Rochester,” which recounts the large Sherwood family – mom, sister, four brothers – on a grim two-hour drive from Bradford County to Rochester, New York, around Thanksgiving, 2006, after getting the call it was time to take Donald off life support.

“What do you say, what do you do, how do you pull the plug when he basically told us his whole life, ‘Don’t pull the plug on me?’ ” Darryl recalls.

The Sherwood Brothers band consists of Darryl on lead vocals and guitar, Dennis on guitar and backing vocals and longtime friend Neal Petti on upright bass, mandolin and dobro. Occasionally, the Sherwoods’ brother-in-law will sit in on drums when the venue requires a fuller sound.

Only Moorestown resident Petti is a full-time musician, teaching and performing in the popular South Jersey-based children’s act Ernie & Neal. Darryl has his own lumber company, Sherwood Forest, and Dennis is a guidance counselor at a middle school in Pennsauken.

But the brothers’ day jobs don’t prevent them from performing regularly, whether it’s original gigs during the week or covers shows on the weekends.

“We make our money doing covers,” Sherwood acknowledges. “We’d rather make $1,500 to $2,000 on the weekends than play original songs for a half-hour to 15 people during the week.”

Still, it is the group’s compelling original material that earned it one of five spots in the country/folk music portion of the prestigious PHL Live Center Stage Contest. A music initiative designed to highlight the Philly area’s top music talent in 10 different genres, the contest was to feature 10 live events before the final awards show scheduled for Dec. 5 at the Trocadero Theatre. There will be one winner per genre, plus a grand-prize people’s choice winner among all 50-some acts.

Beyond that, they’re determined to remain a genuine country act. At 39, Darryl Sherwood still dreams of a career in music, and he figures country is the best way to get there – even if he and his band mates still listen to the hard rock they grew up playing.

“I love traditional country,” he says. “I’m not the biggest fan of new country pop music, but I do like the traditional-style of country, and I’m a huge fan of bluegrass.

“We’re going full speed ahead with that. It’s such better songwriting. And after all those years of playing and singing Zeppelin tunes, Metallica, I think my voice lends itself to the unique aspect of country and bluegrass music.”

As featured in the Bucks County Courier Times, by Andy Vineberg – Associated Press – Monday, October 27, 2014

Sherwood Brothers Smash Cover Band Stereotypes

BENSALEM, Pa. — Shattering modern conventions in the land of the cover band, the Sherwood Brothers are taking the music scene by storm with their fresh interpretations of multiple musical genres. Having played various musical instruments since they were teenagers, growing up in the rural countryside of Gillett, PA, brothers Darryl and Dennis Sherwood took to dabbling in various musical styles from classic rock to country, bluegrass to heavy metal, singer-songwriter to alternative and grunge.

“Our parents were huge music fans,” says younger brother Darryl. “Our dad listened to lots of old time country, like Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, George Jones, Elvis Presley and our mom listened to Rod Stewart, The Bee Gees, and The Rolling Stones. There was everything from bluegrass to Top 40 rock on in our house.”

Growing up in such a musically diverse household, one can plainly see how Darryl, and older brother Dennis, became “a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll.” Their exposure to multiple genres served to attune both boys’ interests and aspirations during their most formative and influential years. Soon the eighties followed, bringing new influences such as Motley Crue, Slayer, and Metallica.

In seeking to hone his growing vocal and guitar abilities, Darryl found himself gravitating to the grungy nuance of Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden, and Dennis to the lyrical intensity of U2.

“I am moved by a good melody,” says Darryl. “Someday Never Comes and Long as I Can See the Light by Creedence Clearwater Revival are probably my favorite songs to this day. I remember when I first heard John Fogerty’s voice, I thought to myself, ‘Man I wish I could sing like that.’”

Dennis adds, “I’m a huge U2 fan, particularly of their late 80’s and early 90’s material. I think they’ve always been able to pull off songs that have a ton of emotional weight, while still maintaining pop appeal. That’s a difficult line to tow. I think that they might be the best band at pulling that off.”

After various stints in numerous bands, both cover and original, over the years, the Sherwood Brothers honed their vocal and instrumental prowess, and went on to write and record their own original music, producing their first original album entitled, This Don’t End With a Smile in 2013.

“About nine years ago, our father passed away,” Dennis says. “We took a lot of that loss and grief – which anyone who has been there knows –  and channeled that emotion. “Losing someone that is such a big part of your world really shapes who you are. We took a lot of those raw feelings and put them into lyrics and melodies and original songs.”

With regard to the collaborative process, Darryl credits his brother Dennis with the ability to pick up what he lays down. “I’ll start with a melody idea and some words that make no sense together,” says Darryl, “I’ll either play it for Dennis or send him a rough recorded idea. He usually kicks back some lyrics and we start piecing it together.”

Those original songs are now woven into their acoustic tribute act, which pays homage to the artists of yesteryear – a la MTV’s Unplugged. Often billed as a “cover band” at various venues across New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and New York, the Sherwood Brothers are quickly managing to  shatter that perception. With a full stage production that includes drums, bass, guitars, mandolin and highly stylized vocal harmonies, their tribute act defies the typical conventions surrounding what an acoustic performance even means. Whether delivering a more traditionally tender interpretation of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, or busting out unexpected surprises like Synchronicity II by the Police or Spirit of the Radio by Rush, the Sherwood Brothers manage to blow away any and all preconceived notions of what an acoustic band can do and be.

“Usually, when people hear the word ‘acoustic’ they tend to think of a solo performer or duo sitting on barstools,” says Darryl. “We don’t do Brown Eyed Girl and your typical acoustic standards.”

In 2005, the Sherwood Brothers partnered with friend and like-minded musician, Neal Petti, music instructor, enthusiast and honorary Sherwood brother. An experienced studio and touring musician, Petti brings with him strong backup harmonies as well as a multi-instrument proficiency on upright bass, acoustic guitars, lap steel, dobro, and mandolin.

“The three of us make up the core structure of the Sherwood Brothers,” says Darryl. “We have some outstanding musicians participate in our performances including Ken Harmer, who is an amazing lead guitarist that adds those extra tasty touches you don’t think of and absolutely shreds on acoustic guitar. We are fortunate to have Johnny Dee (Doro and Britny Fox) on drums and percussion. He’s a terrific, experienced player with deep roots in the Philly music community. When Johnny Dee is out on tour, we have two great players, Paul Bagnell and Drew Mitchell, who jump in and do a hell of a job. Plus Ed Paone filling in on bass from time to time when needed.”

The result is an infectious vibe whereby the Sherwood Brothers effectively transfer a kinetic energy likened to a veritable jumper cable at live shows. Their high-energy show is powered by pure adrenaline and technical proficiency, paying respect to those who have gone before them.

As featured in Out on the Town Entertainment Guide, June/July 2015