By 11:30 on Friday night, the crowd at Up or On the Rocks in downtown Hartford has grown restless, anxiously waiting for the evening’s headliners to take the stage downstairs. As the band’s members begin taking their places, excitement grows at the tables on the lounge floor. People who were just ordering drinks at the bar have made their way closer to the stage to get a better view. Those in the crowd who feel like dancing stand in a line on a shrinking “dance floor” that’s actually just a gap between the audience and the stage, while those who prefer to sit commandeer the now-empty stools. Beer bottles and plastic cups in-hands, these people are ready to groove – and so are the guys of Article 19.
Jim Townsend sets the beat on drums; Jeff Kenniston strums his acoustic guitar; Rick Fritsch and Doug Parkinson roll in on lead guitar and bass, respectively; and singer Brett Wilson’s voice falls from the club’s speakers: “I will give my credit where’s it’s due; so I raise my hands, and I grab my hat and I tip it to you. It’s been one hell of a time…” The guys start the night with “Free,” an audience favorite, setting the tone of the night for this “up and coming” Connecticut pop-rock band.
The balance between instruments and vocals is fair, as each part can be heard clearly and levels with the others. In other words, there are no stage hogs, each member working together for every set to create the best-sounding performance they are capable of achieving. Though many of their songs are pretty mellow, “Free” is a tune I can imagine myself listening to after a long shift at work when I want to relax.
All seasoned musicians, it isn’t difficult to tell that each of the guys have something special to bring to the table. Townsend, according to the band’s MySpace, “has been studying, recording and performing throughout CT and NY for years.” A former member of the similarly popular band Tenet, as well as other bands over the years, he was honored with the title of “Best Drummer/Percussionist” by the Hartford Advocate Grand Band Slam in both 2007 and 2008, showing that his talents are recognized by more than just fans and friends. Townsend’s percussion style lays a smooth rhythm for the rest of the music, and his love for banging things certainly doesn’t hurt.
Parkinson provides not only a smooth bass line, but also backup and lead vocals in many of the band’s songs, as well as helping with songwriting. As the third band he’s been a part of, including previously being part of Tenet with Townsend, A19 has gotten the maturity and ingenuity Parkinson has gained through his experience. Though the stage at UP may not have allowed him to be up front for all of their songs, his movements and facial expressions brought more than a few coos and laughs from the audience.
Kenniston, the newest addition to the band, comes in on keyboard, acoustic guitar, alto saxophone and backup vocals, sometimes in tandem, through each song. His input has given the band a fresh perspective on their music with regards to both writing and performing styles, and his familiarity with the music scene, both in other bands and as a music education student at Central Connecticut State University, adds another notch on A19’s figurative belt of musical experience. I’ve come to be familiar with Kenniston’s performances, and his showmanship is not something to miss.
Fritsch’s musical cup overflows similarly to the others’. Also a former member of Tenet, he now brings his talents as lead guitarist and singer to the table for A19, as well as his knowledge of trumpet, harmonica, songwriting and producing. His love for the music is evident in every strum of the guitar, his experience in every key change, and his humor in every smirk.
Wilson, the band’s final member and lead singer, “is the creation of years of vocal training, in addition to even more years of classical and pop piano training,” as described on A19’s MySpace page. Given the title of “Best Male Vocalist” in the 2008 Hartford Advocate Grand Band Slam, Wilson is recognized as a talented young musician and equally entertaining performer. It’s clear that Wilson loves the music scene as much as it loves him, and audience members can watch him sway, two-step and even jump across stages without a blunder.
With such a combination of musicians, it’s no wonder A19 won “Best New Group” and “Best Pop/Rock Group” at the 2008 Hartford Advocate Grand Band Slam. A serious and original band, these guys wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Though they take pride in playing original music, with songs like their newest single, “Opportunity,” and “Bringin’ Down the House” – a hit with its own choreography – they also cover recognizable tunes from a variety of music genres, including “Tempted” by Squeeze, “Every Little Thing She Does” by The Police, and a personal favorite, “Long Train Runnin’” by the Doobie Brothers.
The group gets around 200 hits a day on their MySpace profile – MySpace.com/Article19Music – their manager, Laura Cretella explained. One of their most popular songs, “Save Me,” has a record alone of over 27,000 plays and was also named Song of the Week by Harris Decker – a contributing writer for the online entertainment magazine Buzzine – on his blog “The Truth About Music” last October. “Picture this,” Decker wrote. “The lead singer looks like (and has the abilities of) Maroon 5's Adam Levine; the lead guitarist uses effects such as Peter Frampton’s voice box; the drummer grooves like Carter Beuford of Dave Matthews Band; and the bassist keeps a solid back line, with killer vocals.” An accurate depiction in all respects, save the fact that this was before Kenniston’s arrival.
As you can imagine, this five-man lineup has the talent to attract large audiences and the likeability to keep their fans entertained. It’s clear that there are big things in store down the road, and with two new songs – “Look At Me Now,” and “How It’s Gonna Be” – on their first EP, “Look At Me Now,” currently in the works to be released on April 25, as well as an appearance during the Spring Week Concert at CCSU, they have plenty of ways to keep us coming, as they would say, “Back For More.”