For such a small area, Centre County has a plethora of original music. You can go out most nights of the week and hear something 100 percent homegrown at a lot of different places — from Webster’s Bookstore Cafe to Chumley’s.
One of our great songwriters, Doug Irwin, is a quintessential, Americana, songwritin’ phenom, and he’s playing with his band, Blind Horse Wagon, at the Hublerbsurg Inn at 8 p.m. Saturday. The band consists of Irwin on guitar and vocals, Sam Spurrier on dobro, Denny Hayes on electric bass and Bill Ritzman on accordion and keyboards.
“What we’re currently doin’ is because Denny is so new we’re trying to get up to speed on all of the songs,” Irwin said. “We do have a gig coming up June 9 on Lemont Village Green, so that’s coming up pretty soon. We’re enjoying playing together.”
Irwin said he also has solo shows coming up, including at the Bellefonte Art Museum in July.
Irwin downplays his creative process, indicating he takes a simple approach, using a few chords, writing lyrics about something meaningful to him and just trying his best to put it all together. He has a clear vision, and he knows just enough about playing the guitar to pull it off, while not knowing quite enough to overdo it.
“I got into it about a dozen years ago; I was almost 40 when I picked up the guitar,” Irwin said. “I went and saw a friend of mine play at a coffee shop — Jim Colbert — I went and saw him play his first gig. I started playing guitar a little bit and after about six months I decided I wanted to write, and the first three tunes came pretty easy. I mean, how hard can it be? Then, reality hits you and you realize it’s not quite as easy as I first thought, because you want it to be worthwhile.”
As simple as Irwin’s approach to songwriting is, it’s his voice that provides complexity. Irwin can wrap his voice around a melody like no other, and he can deliver the heart space of a song in a way that can silence a room. He can take those who are listening to some other place, wherever space the music is occupying, and in whatever realm Irwin is dropped into. It’s magic.
A little more than a year ago, Irwin recorded and released an album titled “The Bridges that I Burn” at Bill Filer’s place in Port Matilda. It was produced by Mark Ross, of Alley Cat Music and Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats. Irwin recruited an all-star cast of collaborators to create an album that shines a light on the shadows of our collective humanity.
As for the future, Irwin hopes to continue playing music with his bandmates, and a new album is, conceptually, possible. New album or not, for Irwin making and performing music is all about the heart of it.
“When you’re able to share it with folks, if you’re able to touch somebody then you’re doing your job,” Irwin said. “The live music stuff ... it’s pretty special the stuff that happens up there. Our approach is honest and collaborative. The part I love the most is the creating.”
Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail .com.