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Music Scene: New rock band cutting its teeth one stage at a time

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Cathy Dobson

The Down River Band is out to make a name for itself.

A year after forming, the local group is playing regular professional gigs and writing their own material.

“Sarnia’s never really had a band like us before,” says lead singer and guitar player Valley Gilhuly. “We’re young guys playing mostly older music.”

DRB members range in age from 19 to 23 and are all interested in a long-term collaboration.

“We just appreciate good music.  We don’t care if it’s old or new,” said Travis Bernard, on bass and vocals.

“What’s important is that people get up to dance,” added Kurt Brown. He plays guitar and the keyboard for the band, which he that he started with Gilhuly when the two worked at Waterville TG in Petrolia.

“It’s a lot easier when people are into it.”

From the start, The Down River Band has won over audiences with classic rock covers from the likes of Pink Floyd, Tragically Hip, BTO and Led Zeppelin.

It’s not easy to get steady bookings in a small community like Sarnia, especially when you’re new, but the guys say regular work came relatively quickly.

“Our first gig was at the Aft Cabin (restaurant) last spring in Sombra. We brought in a big crowd and were asked back several times,” said Brown. “After that, we were booked nearly every weekend in the summer.”

Wedding receptions, stag and does, dance halls, special events and bars in Chatham and Sarnia are keeping The Down River Band busy.

“People come up to us nearly every time we play and ask about booking,” said drummer Connor Elnicki, 20. “We definitely have something going that we don’t want to give up.”

Asked what’s working, the guys don’t talk about talent and how well they play together. They say they’re just having a good time, working or going to school by day and practising and playing by night.

“It’s what I dreamed of since I was 10,” said Bernard.

A lot of doors have been opened because of the people they know and their friendship with local radio host and promotor Aaron Sisson, he added.

Sisson is a 20-year-old from Sarnia and self-proclaimed “builder” of the area music scene.

Every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. he hosts a show on the locally-produced Playfair online audio stream (www.playfairmusic.biz) featuring rock bands and their music.

In December, Sisson got The Down River Band involved in one of his “Rock It Up” events at Rustic, a popular night spot for live entertainment in Sarnia.

The DRB opened for Toronto-based Stone River and Time Giant.

“Aaron is a big help to us,” said Bernard. “Getting known in Sarnia is all about connections.”

On Feb. 28, Sisson is holding the “First Annual Rock It Up Sarnia Rockiversary Live” show, again at Rustic on Campbell Street.

Once again The Down River Band is in the lineup; this time with Little Foot Long Foot from Toronto with Trews keyboardist Jeff Heisholt, and local performers Know Vacancy and Matt Weed.

Prior to that, local rock lovers will have a chance to see The DRB perform in downtown Sarnia during the Chili Willy Cook Off on Feb. 6. That’s being hosted at Memorable Moments at 148 Front St. North and is a charitable event to raise money for the Inn of the Good Shepherd.

The Stewart Sisters and The Down River Band will play while local restaurants vie for the distinction of making the best chili in town.

The Arts Journal wants to hear from you.  What’s important to you when it comes to the local cultural scene? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985.

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