Losing Tom Petty this year was a shock for many, to say the least. He penned soundtracks for generations of people, fans and musicians alike. More so, he represents the epitome of American rock ‘n’ roll and will remain influential for generations to come.
“Tom Petty has been one of my biggest influences since I started playing music at 13 years old,” singer-songwriter Sean Thomas Gerard tells. “As a small kid growing up with a high-pitched voice, I gravitated toward his music instantly. His ability to write a catchy song with substance (and make it sound badass) is something that has been disappearing from modern pop music and something I strive for when writing a song.”
Gerard, lead singer of Onward, Soldiers, helps put together the roster for one of downtown’s most intimate music venues, Bourgie Nights. They often host local artist showcases, and book regional, national and even international artists on tour. As part of their annual Christmas show, it seemed fitting to pair it with a musical icon the world lost on October 1, 2017—one whose music remains timeless.
“If a song sounds as new today as it did 30 years ago,” Gerard says, “that’s about all you can ask for. Petty’s music has shown me you can play multiple genres on one album and still have cohesiveness.”
Such distinct sounds will be heard as local musicians take the stage at Bourgie Nights on Friday night for A Very Petty Christmas. Almost a dozen local singer-songwriters agreed to the gig. Each artist, including Gerard, will play one Tom Petty tune, a holiday song and one original.
“I’ve created this format [because] the events are always well-attended, and it’s nice to play something original for an audience of your peers,” Gerard tells. “It’s also a good opportunity to tell if the song is any good or not, based on the audience’s reaction.”
More so, they want to do justice to the sounds from a music maestro who influenced them throughout the ages of rock’s evolution, whether he was playing with his famed rock outfit, the Heartbreakers, solo or in super groups, like Traveling Wilburys. Gerard has chosen to play Petty’s “You Got Lucky” from 1982’s “Long After Dark,” with the Heartbreakers. Yet, a full band won’t be backing Gerard.
“I’m playing it solo on electric guitar and adding some harmonica to replace the synth parts,” he details. “It’ll be a singer-songwriter-Western-folk version and will sound nothing like the original in the key of A-minor.”
Jason Andre (of The Midatlantic) is preparing to play “Runnin Down A Dream.” He remembers rocking out the song with his dad “as an angsty teenager” in their punk-rock band. Yes, Andre’s dad played lead guitar in their band.
“The only way he agreed to play with us is if we did a Petty song and a Beatles song,” Andre tells. “The very first concert I ever went to with my dad was for his birthday to see Tom Petty, along with the Brian Setzer Trio, which was epic! . . . I think, through my parents’ influence of good rock ‘n’ roll (The Beatles, Beach Boys, Stray Cats, etc.), the bar was set high for what I began to hear as ‘good music.’”
Petty was an artist young Andre “discovered” on his own and connected with before punk rock or world music. Andre appreciated Petty’s hard-working ethic, as well as his laid back vibe, which emulated humility. “[He’s] the kind of guy I would have loved to perform with or take on a surf trip,” Andre says.
For the free holiday showcase, Gerard and Andre will be joined by Justin Lacy, Stray Local, Kyle Lindley, Shaun Paul, Dylan Martin, and Travis Shallow. Part of the appeal of doing the local showcases is that it allows local musicians to see each other play. A Very Petty Christmas acts as their own office holiday party, so to speak.
“It is my favorite show of the year,” Gerard tells. “This is the one time of the year most of us can be in the same room and share the same stage, and it really brings the spirit of the holidays into focus. I’m so grateful that each year everyone donates their time for an evening to be part of something so memorable and special to me.”
Though honoring their favorite musician and playing to the Christmas season is a focus, so is highlighting the depth and talent of what Wilmington musicians have to offer on their own accord—which is why Gerard requests they play one of their own songs. As in previous years, Gerard will release a brand new track for the audience—“Walking On Air.”
Andre’s been sitting on several originals written over the years that didn’t quite fit with The Midatlantic. He’ll play one at the show, which he plans to release on his solo project in 2018.
Meanwhile, picking the holiday song for the showcase has been the hardest part. In the past Andre’s done an acoustic version of “Little Drummer Boy,” and last year he joined Rebekah Todd to sing The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.”
“I try to choose something unique and fun to play,” he explains. “I’m pulling my mandolin out this year for an instrumental song that resonates the dark and light sides of the season, but you’ll have to be there to find out which one—and there better be eggnog, Sean!”
Though Gerard didn’t confirm the spiked holiday concoction would be served at Bourgie, he did inform readers of his plans to sing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” He contributed the song to Hourglass Studios’ “Christmas Time” album. In the spirit of giving, proceeds from “Christmas Time” sales go to New Hanover County School music programs, in hopes of getting students much-needed instruments. Folks can purchase the album at Gravity Records, CD Baby, iTunes, or at the holiday showcase.