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"Watershed comes to Toledo to promote new album, book"

In his book Hitless Wonder A Life In Minor League Rock and Roll Joe Oestreich pulls back the curtain and shines a bright light on what it's like to slug it out in a band that never quite made it to mass commercial success.
Here's what we see: a battered van loaded with middle-aged dudes with day jobs like English professor, country club cook, and barista, criss-crossing the country to places like Toledo and Youngstown and Milwaukee. They could all use a shave and shower and maybe they drank one too many beers the night before after playing a dive bar.
Electronic gear is scattered around, iPods, DVD players, cell phones, various jacks and plug-ins to make it all work. They're packed in among their instruments and amps, and they probably smell a little gamey. There's one other thing:
They couldn't be happier.
"It's fun, of course. Hanging out with your buddies on a Friday night at a bar and getting up on stage to play songs that you really like for people is fun," Oestreich said in a phone interview from his home in Conway, S.C., near Myrtle Beach.
Thirty or so years ago, Oestreich and his Worthington, Ohio, buddy Colin Gawel vowed to rock out and follow in the footsteps of their heroes Cheap Trick, forming a band that would become Watershed. More importantly, though, they began a relationship that transcends rock.
"Colin and I are really good friends, and so we're not going to break up as friends. Every time I go back to Columbus we're just going to hang out anyway, so we might as well hang out writing songs, recording songs, hanging out in the band.
"And once you decide you're going to do any kind of art you can't not do it. I don't think I could not write songs. I don't think I could not play shows. It's just so much of who I am at this point that we're doomed. We can't quit now."
Oestreich and Watershed will hit Frankie's Inner City Friday night, performing songs from their new album, "Brick and Mortar" along with tunes from their '90s near-major label run.
It's all detailed in Hitless Wonder (Lyons Press, 292 pages $16.95), an excellent memoir that's funny, painfully honest, and fascinating to anyone who's seen a really good veteran band plugging away in a bar for just a couple of dozen people watching disinterestedly.
Watershed achieved a high level of popularity in Columbus in the 1990s and recorded one album, "Twister" in 1995 for the Epic record label before being dropped quickly, the result of corporate politics and bad luck. The band plays an aggressive form of anthemic power pop -- "three minute pop songs that rock," as Oestreich said -- that never quite caught on with a wide audience.
They played Toledo regularly during their first run and it's a town that Oestreich views fondly because, "Toledoans are scrappy, and they've got civic pride."
He tackles all the existential questions that go with playing in a rock band in a conversational and intelligent manner, addressing what it takes to follow your passion all over the country for what looks like a lost cause.
He's lucky to have that first love from a career perspective: rock and roll. But it comes at a steep cost.
"In my case that meant missing out on a lot of other parts of life. It meant missing out on money to some degree. It meant missing out on big events in my wife's life. Like, I can remember missing her sister's wedding for a gig that didn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things. And I think lots of people risk losing relationships, loved ones, all to follow that one thing," he said.
Eventually Oestreich, 42, gravitated toward writing and received a masters degree in English from Ohio State University. Hitless Wonder resulted from his masters thesis, and he now teaches at Coastal Carolina University where he lives with his wife and two young children.
The band is on a two-week jaunt, pushing both the new album and the book, and Oestreich said they're just as fired up as they were in their 20s.
- Toledo Blade

"'Hitless Wonder': On Tour With A Band Of Also-Rans"

Barring a massive shake-up of the Billboard charts — and American tastes — "Little Mistakes" will not be the song of the summer. But that's not for lack of trying.

The song is the lead single off Brick and Mortar, the latest album by Watershed — a band from Columbus, Ohio, that most people have never heard of. But they have been playing dingy bars, tiny clubs and even the occasional arena for 27 years.

That career has inspired a new memoir called Hitless Wonder: A Life in Minor League Rock and Roll, written by one of the band's founders, Joe Oestreich.

When Watershed headlined a concert at DC9 — a bar and club in Washington, D.C. — this June, the band's six members and road team pulled up in one white Ford van.

Since Watershed operates on a shoestring, its members handle everything on their own. But after years on the road and a couple of major surgeries, not everyone can lift the heavy drums and amps.

"At this point in our band, Dave, our drummer, has [had] major back surgery. [Guitarist and keyboardist Joe] Peppercorn's had major back surgery. So it kind of limits who can carry," says Colin Gawel, the lead guitarist and other founder of the band.

"And out of a six-member band, two of us are rocking canes on the tour, just in case," adds Ricki Cacchione, one of the band's roadies who's turning 60 years old on the monthlong tour.

No one in the band is under 30; its two founding members are in their 40s. Most have kids and day jobs back home.

Prepping For The Show

Oestreich, the book's author, plays bass and sings. He also parks the van.

"Parking on the streets of D.C., we're hoping to get a meter because we would only have to pay for the meter for the next 10 minutes," Oestreich says. "If that doesn't work, we're going to have to pay $20 to park in a lot. Some of our gigs on this tour, we haven't even made $20."

Because the band runs on such tight margins, its members have to be extra careful about their equipment.

"These are the chains that we're going to use to chain all the doors together in the front seat, with the steering wheel, so that if somebody gets in, hopefully — unless they brought bolt cutters — they won't be able to get the steering wheel to move or the two front doors to open," Oestreich says.

The band got together when Gawel and Oestreich were teenagers in Columbus. Their take on power-pop had a brief run at success in the early '90s. At one point, they had a record deal with Epic, but that fell apart when their album tanked.

The band kept going, though. It kept touring and releasing albums long after it stopped being profitable.

Silver Linings

Watershed's dedication has not rewarded its members with paychecks and fame, but they do have their superfans.

"The Reverend" Todd Baker drove 2 1/2 hours from Harrisburg, Pa., to see the show — and, no, he's not really a reverend.

"Well, it's not really official," Baker says about his title. "It's for comedy purposes, you know."

Baker is an aspiring comedian. He's unemployed. But this superfan was willing to put on a Watershed concert T-shirt from 1994 and spend the gas money to see the band at least one more time.

"I've probably seen Watershed 100 times in the last 20-some years," Baker says. "They're my best friends, the greatest rock-and-roll band in all of America. And I wouldn't miss this for the world."

By 10 p.m., the show is about to start. A few fans and old high school acquaintances stand close to the bar, but the room is mostly empty. It's not silent, though. Baker calls out the band's name in hopes of bringing them to the stage a bit earlier.

Measuring Success

After the show, Gawel and Oestreich share their take on the evening. They're happy — though realistic.

"It was a success by every measure except the one that is most commonly used to measure success," Oestreich says. "I mean, there were probably 25 people there, and they really seemed to like our songs, and there were superfans singing along with every word, and the band played great, and the soundman had us sounding good and it was really fun — and we made $37."

Despite the low pay and the time spent far from his family, Oestreich says touring with Watershed is hard to give up.

"I've got a 2 1/2-year-old son and a 3-month-old daughter, and my wife is at home with both of them, single parenting, right now," he says. "On the one hand, everyone says, 'Follow your dream,' and we're doing that, but is that in fact admirable? Some days it seems kind of pathetic. Maybe we should just pack it in and go home, but, at this point, I think it's just too late. This is what we do."

Besides, Gawel adds, "If you love what you're doing, and you still feel passionate about it, why would you stop?"

After D.C., the band heads to Pittsburgh, Ohio and then, finally, Chicago — that's where Watershed will play the final show of the tour Sunday night.

Then they'll leave the van, get back to their families and dream of their next tour.


Three Chords and a Cloud of Dust 2 (IDOL, 2007)
The Fifth of July (IDOL, 2005)
The More it Hurts the More it Works (IDOL, 2002)
Star Vehicle '98 (Thundercreek, 1998)
Star Vehicle (Thundercreek, 1997)
Twister (Epic, 1995)
Twister & Other Low Budget Storms (B Minus, 1993)
The Carpet Cliff (Palas, 1992)
Watershed (Bravo, 1991)



Since touring this summer behind Brick & Mortar and bassist Joe Oestreich's memoir, Hitless Wonder, Watershed has been the subject of a ten-minute story on NPR and featured in major newspapers including The Washington Post and The Raleigh News and Observer. This flood of press coverage has made Brick & Mortar Watershed's best-selling album on iTunes, and it propelled Hitless Wonder to the #2 position on Amazon's list of Top Music Books.

In their long career Watershed have done damn near everything there is to do in rock and roll. After dropping out of college, they signed with Epic Records and sipped champagne in long, white limousines. Then they stuffed themselves into a Ford Econoline, and they’ve been living off beer and beef jerky ever since. They humped their amps through the doors at CBGB ten times. They’ve played the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. The Metro in Chicago. The Rat in Boston. They’ve shared the stage with Wilco, Ben Folds, Tommy Stinson, The Damnwells, Cheap Trick, The Smithereens, Insane Clown Posse (no shit), and long list of has-beens and wannabes. Their catchy, three-minute rock gems have been featured on Gene Simmons Family Jewels and on MTV’s Laguna Beach, Date My Mom, and Made, and they’ve been in rotation on radio stations from South Carolina to Seattle.

It’s been half a decade since we’ve heard new music from Watershed, but in that time the band members have kept awfully busy:

Guitarist Colin Gawel has been releasing songs with his solo band, The Lonely Bones, and has been writing a blog that chronicles his life as a musician, sportsfan, father, and coffee shop owner at colingawel.com.

In addition to his memoir, Hitless Wonder, bass player Joe Oestreich has published work in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and many other magazines and journals. His writing has been shortlisted in the Houghton Mifflin’s Best American series several times. More information about Joe can be found at

Joe Peppercorn (guitar, keys, and vocals) fronts the critically acclaimed, Columbus, Ohio-based band, The Whiles. Find them on Facebook. Once a year he gets a burr up his ass and performs an eight-hour solo set of every Beatles song ever released (all 256 of them).

Drummer Dave Masica has spent the last six years wandering the Sonora Desert in search of peyote buttons. His dream is to quit Watershed and launch a successful solo career like his idol, Peter Criss. Visit him at some random bar.