Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: The Nighthawks

The Nighthawks (Photo: Courtesy of Sam Bolden)
The Nighthawks (Photo: Courtesy of Sam Bolden)

Mark Wenner and his three bandmates in the roots music quartet The Nighthawks are stripping it down, going acoustic for their new album Back Porch Party, which was released in late April, and taking the party on the road.

The Nighthawks’ Back Porch Party comes to Alexandria next Friday, June 12, when the group plays at The Birchmere.

The last time The Nighthawks made an acoustic album it was their first, 2011’s Last Train to Bluesville, for which they won their first Blues Music Award.

“Since then we’ve been doing acoustic shows when it’s appropriate, like smaller clubs or places where it works, where it fits,” Wenner said. “And, enjoying that format, we figured if we had another CD in that format that would give us an excuse to do even more acoustic shows.

“It’s a lot of fun and most certainly a whole lot less physically gruelling for an acoustic show than an electric show with a full set of drums and all the big amplifiers.”

That was the first reason that Wenner gave for why The Nighthawks decided to record an acoustic album. The second reason, which he stated later in his interview with the News-Press, was the initial inspiration for playing, or recording, acoustic at all as a quartet.

Wenner said that The Nighthawks were asked by an old friend of an early version of the band to play for a memorial service.

The memorial service, for a man named Daniel Hope, was scheduled as a thirty year anniversary of his death and called for the band to play graveside, which they ended up having to do acoustically.

“At first, it appeared to be a complicated situation: How to get electricity to the site. However, since the participants were few in number, it was decided to play with a single snare drum, an upright bass, an acoustic guitar and harmonica, and the vocals would be straight into the air,” Wenner said.

“It worked. After watching a video of the service, the band decided to try this format in smaller venues with tiny stages with minimal amplification. It worked. People even danced.”

After that, the group was invited by Bill Wax, former head of the Sirius/XM Bluesville Channel, to play an acoustic set on air, which led to their award-winning, well-received 2011 record. The reception has been much same for the new record, Wenner said.

“The reception has been incredibly positive,” Wenner said. “I feel really strongly about the way it sounds.”

The Nighthawks recorded the album at Montrose Studio in Richmond, with the father-son team of Bruce and Adrian Olsen.

“Bruce is real old school. He’s my age. I know people he played in bands with back in the 70s in Richmond and he just has a real deep understanding of what our sound is, what we’re trying to do, what roots rock and blues sounds like,” Wenner said.

“And then Adrian, who’s also a great musician and has a great feel for music generally speaking, but probably has a more modern sensibility, has been at the school with all the digital stuff and I’m not opposed to taking advantage of technology if it helps me get the sound I’m after.”

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