Weekender

New Year’s Eve is a big night for musicians; here’s how JT hopes to deliver

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a big night for musicians, particularly in Centre County, with gigs all over the place and happy, enthusiastic crowds.

Happy Valley Brewery has been delivering on solid New Year’s Eve performances for quite some time, and this year is no exception as John “JT” Thompson is booked to swoon the crowd’s all night long along with his band The Denicats, which includes Bill Stetz on bass, and Doug McMinn on saxophone, clarinet, and guitar.

“New Year’s Eve shows are very special for everybody,” Thompson wrote in an email. “It’s that one day of the year when people make a real effort to go out and celebrate with each other, so to be able to perform that night with some of my favorite musicians in one of my favorite venues means a great deal to all of us.”

Another reason it’s such a special gig has to do with family, which is something that is not always workable in a performance setting, but is on New Year’s Eve. “Our wives join us for that night, so we also get our midnight kisses with champagne,” Thompson wrote.

With their wives in tow, Thompson and the Denicats are keeping things uptempo, original, and also familiar, incorporating a wide variety of songs ranging from their own compositions to standards.

“We’re going to kick off the New Year’s Eve show at 10 p.m. with an uptempo swing tune from my album ‘This Way That Way’ called “’Dance Little Sister Dance,’ Thompson wrote, “which always puts people in a good mood. We’ll keep it moving with a mix of covers like ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do’ by Jimmy Reed, ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ by BB King, and more originals such as “Sugar Free” and ‘Wipe Away Your Tears.’”

JT does some singing, but the other members of the Denicats do as well, with both Stetz and McMinn taking the vocal leads on numerous songs. “So you’ll hear ‘T-Bone Shuffle,’ ‘Stuck In The Middle With You,’ and some of Doug’s originals, including ‘Black Ice Blues’ and ‘Don’t Want No Boss,’” Thompson wrote.

“Later on, after ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ some champagne, and the buffet, we’ll close out the evening with ‘Cab Ride Boogie,’ a barn-burner about letting someone else drive you home when necessary.” John “JT”

Thompson is a musical icon in Centre County. While he maintains regular gigs around town with a variety of musicians, the Denicats are the latest reincarnation for his music.

“It’s actually a resurrection,” Thompson wrote. “I originally formed the band shortly after I moved back to the area in 2002 as a vehicle to perform my original music along with the blues, soul, and jazz I really enjoy. The group got sidetracked, however. Then last year I decided to focus on my own music, and started to promote the Denicats again.”

The band has has a few gigs so far and is really starting to catch on at Happy Valley Brewing Company. “We played some dates at the Bullfrog Brewery in Williamsport, at Zola in State College, and I convinced [Happy Valley Brewery] to give us a slot,” Thompson wrote. “When we finished that show, he gave us one of the best compliments I’ve ever received, saying he knew we had many more songs available than what we played that night, but those sets were perfect for Happy Valley Brewery.’”

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of catching one of JTs shows, you know what a special player he is, so seemingly smooth and tasteful. It all comes from a place of solid gold.

“Performing music brings me joy, and my mission is to share that joy with whoever’s listening,” Thompson wrote. “The best moments are when the band seems to be reading each other’s minds, when everyone moves through the music together, and you also feel a connection with the audience, where you are all in the same emotional space. That’s the joy I strive for, the mission I hope to accomplish.”

Kevin Briggs is a musician, writer and teacher who performs at venues throughout central Pennsylvania. Contact him at KevinTBriggs@gmail.com.
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