Whirled Blue
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Whirled Blue

Band Blues Jam


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The best kept secret in music


"News Journal 55 Hours Cover Story"

The News Journal

After hearing Nate Farrar sing for the first time with his band, Whirled Blue, you just might think he was born in the swamps of the Mississippi Delta.

His gravelly voice comes out as a growl; made up of equal parts Howlin' Wolf, Tom Waits and Charley Patton. It's a sound he says he's spent a lot of time crafting.

But Farrar, 22, is actually from Wilmington. And he's probably never even been to the Delta.

Even so, his original songs paired with his vocals have helped make Wilmington's Whirled Blue and its blues/jam band hybrid sound stand out in the local music scene.

Farrar, the band's lead singer, songwriter and bassist, joined forces with Whirled Blue this spring when he got to know the band's founder and harp player, Sean Kelly.

The two have forged a deep musical relationship, even referring to themselves as an "old married couple."

Both seem deliriously happy with the arrangement: Kelly's idea of a blues band for hippies fits perfectly with Farrar's voice and material.

Hearing his songs for the first time just might make you run off to Google his lyrics to see which old blues song he sang that you had never heard before. When you do this, you'll find that those songs aren't ageless tunes passed down from generation to generation; they're actually Farrar's original compositions.

And you might be surprised at where they come from.

Lyrics paint dark pictures

Farrar's lyrics lean toward the abstract and paint a picture of a world where the devil is just around the corner.

He calls it "dark mysticism."

Listening to lyrics like, "Meat's raw and red/I'm railroaded in my bed" and "The skin's all tearin' pickin' grapes in the fog/Screamin' bloody murder on the timbered log," you quickly realize these are not songs you normally hear from a Wilmington bar band.

Musically, Farrar has examined the past for his future.

"I think a lot about the roots of music, where it comes from and where certain sounds people like, where they come from," says Farrar, who's recently grown a thick beard just like Kelly. "I change the songwriting to fit the mood of what I like and also what's important at the time."

The lyrics, however, come from his mind, which has been troubled in the past, something he reveals over beer at a Union Street bar in Wilmington, sitting alongside Kelly.

"A lot of the songs have to do with people's memories. A lot of it has to do with madness," he says.

When asked about what kind of madness, he opens up.

"I've had bouts with schizophrenia and stuff like that, so a lot of it has to do with the madness when you can't tell what's real and what's not," he says. "A lot of it has to do with dementia and my perspective. ... Most of the songs are me thinking back to when I was 18 and 19. I was driving around all over the place, freaking out."

His battle has produced some strikingly original songs based around traditional sounds and concepts.

And even though many of his lyrics are deep and paint some dark, vivid images, Whirled Blue shows are surprisingly upbeat.

The music accompanying the songs is almost always up-tempo -- and Farrar also has plenty of lighter songs to throw into the mix.

"I don't want to get up there and have it be like kill yourself in the bathtub," Farrar says of this songs. "It's dance music, but at the same time it's serious."

Vision includes original songs

Kelly, 30, of West Chester, Pa., originally founded the band early last year as an outlet from the music of the Grateful Dead he had been covering for years. His astonishing renditions of the vocal and harmonica work of the late great Ron "Pigpen" McKernan had been turning heads and gaining attention in the national jamband scene. He used this to thrust Whirled Blue directly into the regional music scene. Through his uncanny networking skills and ability to draw only the most talented musicians around, he has created an all original act that rivals any to have come out of the area in years.

Farrar, Kelly and drummer Matt Scarano, 20, of Wilmington, after parting ways with their original guitar player Pat Kane and Keyboaard player Mark Bader, filled those holes a few months ago with the addition of two familiar faces to the Wilmington music scene: Kurt Houff, the 42-year-old lead guitarist for jam band Montana Wildaxe and former Wildaxe keyboardist, Chris Glover, 35, of Middletown.

Kelly's original vision for the group was for a blues/jam band playing "interesting hip original songs with improvisational jams combining the elements of the soulfully inspired lyrics of the old-time Delta with the freeform jamof
the Grateful Dead."

A big fan of the Grateful Dead and member of national jam band Living Earth, Kelly had the jam part down pat. And now with Farrar's songs -- and his trademark voice -- they've grown into an original band using concepts from both genres.

A big fan of the Grateful Dead and former member of local jam band Living Earth, Kelly had the jam part down pat. And now with Farrar's songs -- and his trademark voice -- they've grown into an original band using concepts from both genres.

When Farrar and Kelly first met, Farrar was going to college and doing solo shows in Philadelphia. He's since quit the University of the Arts and now is focusing solely on his music, which he's been doing for about three years. He's still attached to the Philadelphia music scene, serving as host for a weekly open-mike night at The Fire on Girard Avenue.

On stage, Farrar sometimes looks like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on the line of scrimmage, making hand signals and calling out solos on the fly to his new band mates. And even though there is that improvisational element to their shows, Farrar and Kelly say they appreciate -- and joke -- about the deliberateness Houff and Glover bring to the band ... on stage and off.

"They take us seriously," Farrar says. "They call me and I'm on a date and they're like, 'I was thinking the minor sixth on that song. I think we should do this' and I'm there trying to eat some noodles."

Covers fade into the past

Whirled Blue shows have gone from 50 percent covers to none in recent months. Instead, it has turned to Farrar's surprisingly rich songbook.

"I would give them hell for it," Farrar says of when his band mates would want to play covers. "I would be so mad because I would have all these original songs. It's like making a bread that nobody wants to eat. They would call off a cover song and I'd be like, 'C'mon guys. I just spent two hours on this new song.' "

Even with the decision to drop cover songs, Farrar is pretty sure he'll still be able to make enough money to eat something other than noodles.

The band is planning on a minitour down the East Coast in March when Scarano, its drummer, is on spring break from Temple University, where he's studying music.

Also this spring, the band plans on releasing its debut album, possibly culled from the stacks of recordings it has already done, including ones with its original lineup, sessions with local band lower case blues and newer recordings with its current lineup.

And just like the band's shows, there probably won't be a cover song in there.

"We recently had one club owner who only wanted covers," Kelly says as Farrar nods his head in agreement. "We've gotten away with people thinking that they are almost covers."

It's true, many of its songs sound like they must have come out of the Delta in the 1940s. And as the interview winds down, Kelly and Farrar jokingly agree to a strategy for when people yell out for a cover song:

Farrar: "We can actually say, 'Hey man, we've been doing covers.' "

Kelly: "Yeah man, haven't you heard that one? It was on Y-100 yesterday."

Farrar: "Yeah. C'mon, get out of your caves, people."

Contact Ryan Cormier at 324-2863 or rcormier@delawareonline.com. Read his blog at www.delawareonline.com/blogs.

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- News Journal (Wilmington Delaware)


One Live release and One studio EP in the Works


Feeling a bit camera shy


A relative newcomer to the jamband scene, Whirled Blue has already made an indelible impression. They have shared the stage with such Legends as Derek Trucks and Johnny Neel and have played countless venues throughout the region. Blending the blues sounds of the Soul with the improvisational freeform of the jamband, they have managed to create their own niche in the music world.

Founder of the band and on Harmonica and Vocals, Sean Kelly, has played an active role in the jamband scene for years. Most recently as a member of Living Earth, whose reputation for astonishing reproductions of the music of the Grateful Dead is nationally renowned, he has performed alongside some of the best on the scene. His sound on harp can only be compared to "the Chops of John Popper with the tone of Little Walter." Picking from the some of the best musicians around, he has pulled together an all-star lineup to complete the band.

Slappin' on the Bass and on lead Vocals, Nate Farrar is the one of the area's premier singer/songwriter! He is behind all of Whirled Blue's original compositions. His bellowing vocals and powerful lyrics are are truely awe-inspiring.

Brad Newsom on guitar has been touring with national musicians since his teenage years, his well rounded style of guitar playing always pleases the masses.

Rounding out the rhythm section, on percussion, is one of Delaware's most sought after drummers. Keeping everything in time, all the time, the Human Metronome, Matt Scarano, adds some of the most amazing beats imaginable! Formally trained as a jazz drummer, his impeccable timing along with incredibly fierce solos, Matt simply commands the attention of any spectator.

With their ability to appeal to a variety of audiences, Whirled Blue has found themselves gaining critical acclaim throughout the region.