Whiskey Reverb, a Buffalo band with a diverse sound and Southtowns roots, recently won the Artvoice award for best original music act.
HAMBURG — The neon signs of the Tudor Lounge shone through a smoky haze as cars hummed and buzzed down Franklin Street in the city of Buffalo. Scott Harrington and Tony Balestrieri were formerly residents of Hamburg. Now, they are two members of the seven-piece band Whiskey Reverb, which won this year’s Artvoice award for best original music act.
Harrington, a graduate of Frontier High School, resides in the Allentown district of Buffalo and plays drums for the band. Now a resident of Tonawanda, Balestrieri who uses the stage moniker “Bales”) is the bassist.
The two were neighborhood friends.
“Scott was playing with some kids from the neighborhood, mostly just to help them out because they were just trying to get it figured out and stuff like that. He said he would come down and show them some stuff. And he called me up and said ‘Hey, it's kind of mess down here. Can you come help?’” Balestrieri said. “So I went down there and he was trying to teach the drummer how to play the drums, and I was like, why would you bother to show him how to play drums, why don't you just play the drums and come with me and do something better."
With the addition of Jim Candytree, the core of Whiskey Reverb came to fruition. According to Harrington, “slowly people came together,” and eventually, the group grew and now includes members A.J. Amherst, Megan Brown, Wade Bedford and Mike Cassidy.
After a couple trial names, the band was at a rehearsal, “Having a couple cocktails, you would say,” Harrington said, with a laugh. “Someone had a whiskey drink, and those metal jiggers that you pour shots out of, got spilled into a guitar and the guitar went ‘BONG!’ Whiskey Reverb was born." Since then, the name has stuck.
“We still get asked what reverb is, from time to time,” Balestrieri added.
“Or people will get reverb confused with reefer. And say ‘Oh, Whiskey Reefer, great name!’” Harrington said, to which Balestrieri added, “One of our more popular songs for a while was called ‘Shwag,’ so we used to get Whiskey Reefer a lot.”
The two members said that a friend of the band once described the group’s sound as “schizophrenic rock,” in that even playing six or seven songs in a row, none of them will sound the same. Distinguished in distribution as an alternative genre, Harrington said that he considers Whiskey Reverb’s sound a blend of hip-hop, rock and funk.
Individual music influences merge, creating a wide variety of blends and medleys that form Whiskey Reverb. Balestrieri, a classic rock fan, finds inspiration from Rush’s Geddy Lee and David Gilmour, guitarist and vocalist of Pink Floyd. Harrington delved deeper into grunge and “stuff on the heavier side,” with influences from Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne and Rush.
Recently, the group released the “Nathan Bates Rejects the Illuminati” EP under Projekt Records, a distribution label out of Portland, Ore.
Proceeds from the sales will go toward Hunter’s Hope Foundation, which was established by Jim and Jill Kelly for their son, Hunter, who passed away after being diagnosed with an inherited fatal nervous system disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy.
Although, the group is still unsigned to a record label, that has not hindered the members of the band from breaking out of the Queen City limits. Whiskey Reverb has traveled throughout Western New York, Eastern New York, the Catskills and even Philadelphia.
Within the Southtowns, Whiskey Reverb has played the Dock at the Bay, Woodlawn Beach and still calls Buffalo home, frequenting Allentown standards such as Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar or Nietzsche’s. Whiskey Reverb also holds a weekly residency at the Tudor Lounge, every Thursday.
The band’s ambition, as Harrington, put it, “I think we'd all be really, really, really happy if we had something that our music was distributed and pushed out there so people can hear it, and we were able to travel around and play that music live. And not even saying 'stellar super rock star' ... but to be able to travel and play our music and have people have access to that music and to know it when we get there and sing it back to us. And have that gratification and still be able to live, and come home every once in a while and be with our families but still go travel and do our thing. That’s the actual dream, at least from my point of view.”
“I’m hoping we can play as many shows to as many people as we can,” Balestrieri said.
Whiskey Reverb will do the occasional cover song, however, they are more obscure and uniquely done to the band’s taste. Covers include “Pony” by R&B star Ginuwine, The Marshall Tucker Band, Alice in Chains and sometimes the iconic ‘90s group, The Cranberries.
“We’ll just break something out some night and see how it works,” Harrington said.
He added that the group is trying to break into the Southtowns, but it is difficult, considering the differences between the scenes in the city and suburbs. The two agreed that the saturation of original act-booking venues is what keeps Whiskey Reverb performing mostly in Buffalo.
The Artvoice award was a local success for the band.
“This was one of those contests that was really on the people,” Harrington said, adding that the members of Whiskey Reverb did not push people to vote for them after nominations were announced. The band has participated in Hard Rock Café global music contests, which according to Balestrieri are “so highpressured you had to get people to vote.”
With no pressure or push for the Artvoice awards, “It was pretty nice to be recognized like that with our fans,” Harrington said.
Balestrieri said that he is happy that Buffalo is booking original music acts; “Which I think is the coolest thing, because for a very long time in Buffalo, all you could hear were cover bands, and if I want to hear somebody play somebody else’s stuff all night, can’t I just have a jukebox? … Don’t get me wrong, what those guys do is cool and there’s lots of good bands out there doing that. For me, I’d rather hear [for the majority] their own stuff and see what they’ve got.
“Maybe it’ll change, down the road,” he added, in regard to venues outside of city limits booking more original acts. “But I don’t want to try to tell people what they should like.”
What is that missing explorative link?
“I think it’s opening peoples minds to the fact that they can expand themselves and listen to something they may not know, and actually enjoy it,” Harrington said.
Learn more about Whiskey Reverb at www.whiskeyreverb.com
or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/whiskey.reverb.