I think it would be most accurate to say I became a fan of Joe Fletcher before I'd even really heard his music. There was a summer where I saw his name, and then him, in person, everywhere, although I couldn't seem to catch an opportunity to see him perform. He and his band, The Wrong Reasons, played at the Newport Folk Festival in 2012, but we were late that morning and missed their set. I also missed them when they played one of the Deer Tick-hosted after parties at the Newport Blues Cafe that weekend; we had tickets, but I didn't make it there that night. I was bummed, because they were one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing.
We somehow ended up following each other through various social media channels (Twitter and Instagram, mostly), and then he came to York to play a solo show at Sign of the Wagon at the beginning of October. I had the privilege of booking the opening act for that night, and called Leo DiSanto, frontman of Vinegar Creek Constituency. It was a perfect fit and the two found an immediate and apparent mutual respect for each other.
The highlight of the night for me came when they played a song together near the end of Joe's set. I'm slightly fuzzy on the details, owing to the bottle of bourbon we were passing around, but I think Joe saw "Bottom of the World" on Leo's setlist during soundcheck, and asked if it was his song or the Tom Waits song. It was in fact the cover, which Joe had also played before, so they decided on the spot that they'd play it together. When the time came, Leo grabbed his harmonica and they simply took turns singing the verses and harmonized on the chorus. You know me well enough by now to be unfazed when I tell you that I cried a bit. It was one of those magical, spontaneous musical moments I'm always chasing, where talented people who are reverent about music come together and do something beautiful for music's sake.
I kept in touch with Joe, and even got to have an impromptu lunch date with him and his girlfriend when their travels brought them through York en route to Nashville. I sent him a copy of Vinegar Creek Constituency's new album when it came out, and he seems to love it as much as I do. He and Leo have kept in touch, too, and may meet up in Rhode Island later this year.
Joe's a prolific Instagrammer, and I enjoy seeing where the road takes him, what other musicians he's playing with, and what venues he's performing in. Since I couldn't make it to South by Southwest, I lived vicariously through Joe's posts, and felt delighted when he went to see other friends of mine perform. When he left Austin at the end of the week, he said that his favorite discovery of SXSW this year - "by far" - was Toy Soldiers. They're a Philadelphia band that I've had the pleasure of watching grow and amass a devoted following over the years. My friend Dominic Billet is their drummer, and told Joe he was coming to see him play in York a few weeks later and asked if he'd like him to sit in on some songs with him.
So when Joe played at York's Holy Hound Taproom last week, he played a few songs on his own, and then Dom joined him for the rest of the set. They hadn't rehearsed the songs together; it was Dom's first time playing them. And it was perfect. Joe would lean over between songs and give Dom some quick notes on the vibe he wanted him to shoot for, and then they'd just play. They sounded great together, and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it sounded in the room overall. Kudos to Holy Hound for going out on a bit of a limb and adding a national touring act into their schedule. It was a great evening, and I was especially pleased with how many friends from Lancaster showed up - including Leo DiSanto.
Near the end of the evening, Joe asked Leo if he might like to try doing the Tom Waits song together again. He joined him onstage and with the addition of Dom on drums, it was even a little more heartbreaking than their first performance back in October. I only cried a little this time.
All photos by The Susquehanna Photographic.
It bears mentioning that GQ included a photo of Joe in their SXSW style watch photos. He's a stylish guy, in a cool, timeless, and effortless kind of way. I was sitting in front of the stage thinking that my friend Philip, of The Susquehanna Photographic (who was shooting for this post), was really going to appreciate Joe's sense of style. While I was consciously thinking about this, I looked over at Philip, just as he crouched down to photograph Joe's shoes.