In Connecticut, rock music fans get to be kids in a veritable candy store. As in, there is a little something for everyone. Find a rich metalcore scene for angsty teens and (often equally angsty) Gen Xers alike, grunge groups who immortalize Kurt Cobain, and ’70s rockers crooning for Boomers and old souls of any age. On any given night, you can see these performers putting on a show under the lights of Mohegan Sun or on a makeshift stage at a UConn house party.
And for the most part, these artists are sharing their sound for the love of music. John Jackson, bass guitarist for ’70s rock group Jam Chowder, says musicians today are getting the same pay for gigs as they did 50 years ago. “Musicians spend a lot of time honing their craft and getting these songs just right,” he says. “But we all love to do it so much that we want to find places to play.”
Thankfully, there are plenty of venues that host shows in Connecticut. This summer, vocalist Mark Gelinas played two shows every weekend with metalcore band Seconds From Disaster. He and then-members Brian Chausse, Essy Banisaied, Ryan Ibarra and Orazio Valletta stopped in such venues as Hartford’s Webster Theater, Cherry Street Station in Wallingford and Toad’s Place in New Haven. “The music scene in Connecticut is getting stronger every day, with genres of music blending more fluidly,” Gelinas says. “I’ve played shows with hip hop and punk groups. Musicians try to help one another as much as possible.” Gelinas is now hard at work putting together a solo album for 2020.
Veteran singer and guitarist John Ingrassia is one such musician paying it forward. Currently in his 25th year performing in the Johnny I. Band (along with his father, also John Ingrassia), Ingrassia has been in Seconds From Disaster’s shoes before. “The cool thing about where we are as a band now is that we went through all of those stages,” he says. “We’d play anywhere just to play. It was up to us to bring people, but along the way we gained a fan base.”
Now, with all of that experience under his belt, Ingrassia is able to work with promoters who do a lot of the legwork, and the Johnny I. Band is able to focus on recording music. They’re currently working on a two-volume EP, collaborating with industry titans like Matt Sorum — former drummer for Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and Slash’s Snakepit.
All the while, Ingrassia is putting his talents back into the music community, offering lessons and showcases for young artists. “With the teaching aspect of what I’m doing, I’m trying to create an avenue for students to play in a band,” he says. In August, he hosted a Summer of Rock music festival where up-and-coming Connecticut bands like Dissonant Delusion performed with veterans California Dreamin’. The event benefited Abilities Without Boundaries, an organization providing vocational opportunities for adults living with a disability, where Ingrassia offers music therapy.
For musicians who want to perform in Connecticut, a stage is never far away. Kevin Ryan and Matthew Minutolo of Static Nerves, a newly formed punk/rock group out of Storrs, say that house shows have been a great way to grow their fan base. “They’re so intimate — you’re five feet away from people,” Ryan says. “It’s not the same as playing on a stage with separation between the crowd. There’s an awesome immersion.”
Static Nerves has been successfully striking a balance between these “invite-only” events and gigs in bars and venues. “In Hartford or New Haven, if there’s a hardcore show, there’s an underground crowd of people,” Minutolo says.
Venues like The Cave in West Haven and The Cellar on Treadwell in Hamden have dedicated followings, they say, but these venues offer an array of other genres as well. Living Weary is an alternative band that has been on the scene for years, refusing to be pigeonholed into a specific genre. “We have an alt rock/grunge type of sound with a hint of early 2000s emo,” lead guitarist Brett Walter says. “The music we listen to spans a wide range from Nirvana to post-hardcore Silverstein to old ’60s and ’70s music. We aren’t trying to pander to any one group of people.”
Performing for the most part in southeastern Connecticut, Walter and band members Steven Bossie and Brandon Lanphear have found a receptive audience at an array of venues from Strange Brew Pub in Norwich to Noelke Gallery in Torrington and in battles of the bands at Mohegan Sun (they will perform in Mohegan Sun’s Locals Live competition Nov. 6 in the Wolf Den) and Foxwoods. “The people who come out to the shows are great,” Walter says. “They want to talk to you and find out more about your band; they’re there to support local music.”
It’s part of the larger art community in the state, where groups work with galleries, artists and photographers to cross-promote one another. “That’s what I love about the Connecticut scene,” Gelinas says. “No matter who you play with, there’s a different vibe. It makes you want to give more — not in a competitive way, but to show gratitude. We all want to do it bigger.”