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Memories of moe.: "I Wanne Be In moe." Winners Reflect on Their Experiences
December 29 winner- Joe Bellanti
Before you entered the contest, how long had you been listening to moe.?
Since 1992. moe. comes from the Buffalo, NY jamband scene and I played in several bands during the same time period that moe. was forming and starting to play shows in the Buffalo area.
How would you characterize the state of your moe. fandom?
I have been a fan for a long time but I have not been in a position to be able to get to any shows for what feels like forever. I am probably in a different situation than a lot of folks that entered the contest – I am married (to a very understanding wife!) with 2 little girls and a very demanding day job. The kids are a little older now and getting into music themselves so it is a little easier but when they were little our lives were just complete family chaos. That has been about 10 years but it has gone by in a finger snap. Totally worth it in every way but it really left no time for getting to shows. So – my moe.fandom has involved listening on my iPod and staying in touch with friends that do get to the shows.
A nice side effect of being in the contest is that a lot of my friends and family are now checking out the band having heard the 2 songs that I played on. moe. is not the kind of band you can describe in words, you really have to take the time to listen to the music and this got them to listen.
What was your thought process in terms of your contest entry video?
That whole 2 week period was a riot. I saw the announcement of the contest on Facebook and I thought “... that would be a blast to do – I should make a video …” and then immediately got sidetracked doing laundry or taking out trash or something. I kind of thought about it for a couple more days and poked around with a couple tunes and then I happened to talk to my friend Corey Kertzie who is a very successful drummer and percussionist in Buffalo – he plays with Big Leg Emma out of Jamestown, NY right now. I asked him if he had seen the notice of the contest and we got talking about it and he got me all fired up about it.
So… I let another couple days go by being busy with life.
With about a week to go, Corey called me and said “... Ok, I uploaded my video, let me know when yours is done so I can check it out …”.
I hung up the phone and figured I couldn’t NOT do it now – Dang!
I got serious about it that night – I think that was Saturday night with a week to go in the contest. I thought about a bunch of different approaches. I knew I wanted to play piano as that is my main instrument but I had watched about a dozen of the videos that had already been posted and they were mostly some pretty awesome, inshredible guitar playing. In fact, Taylor Frederick and Matt Mahoney (the other 2 winners) were 2 of the videos that I watched and I figured “...no way … I can’t compete with that… “. And not just them – There were really a lot of great entries.
So I stopped watching the other videos and went back to the basics. One of the lessons I have learned trying to be a piano player in a rock setting is that the only way to compete with rock guitars is to not compete with rock guitars. In other words, a piano can’t do what an electric guitar can do so don’t try to make it. Instead, focus on the music and try to make the music better – be a lead instrument when it’s appropriate and be a support instrument when it’s appropriate. Chuck said it best when we were rehearsing “Nebraska” during the sound check – we were working out (in a 30 second conversation) how to arrange his talk box solo and he said “...If I go high, you go low – If I go low, you go high …”. I just smiled because I knew I could do that without trying to make the piano something that it isn’t.
For the format of my video, I worked out this elaborate scheme where I would showcase all the styles I can allegedly play. That plan failed. Badly.
I decided to cut it back and just focus on a moe. song. I picked “New York City” because that is literally my favorite moe. song and it also lends itself really well to being played on a piano – It has a great melody that falls in a good spot on the keyboard and the chord progression gives you a lot of freedom.
I borrowed the intro from The Band off their Jericho CD – For years I have thought that Garth Hudson played that intro but since so many people have asked me about it over the last month I have been going back to my old notes and I think it was actually Richard Bell, who had previously played with Janis Joplin and played with the band many times in the years after Richard Manuel’s death. The ending section I tried to play in the style of Stan Szelest – a Buffalo based piano player that was one of my true music heroes.
In a further bit of both Buffalo and “The Band” related trivia, Richard Bell joined The Band in 1991 following the death of Stan Szelest who had joined The Band after the death of Richard Manuel. Stan was the leader of Stan and the Ravens, based in Buffalo – I probably saw him play about 200 times. Stan had played with Ronnie Hawkins and was an original member of The Hawks – the group that eventually became The Band. Stan had left The Hawks and was replaced by Richard Manuel in 1961. My audition video, though I did not intend it that way, was really a tribute to those piano players and the influence they have had on me.
This story is getting really long. Even I’m losing interest.
Trying to record the video and get it uploaded was hilarious as both of my daughters were sick that last week and the only time I really had to work on it was really late at night. At one point, after about 4 nights in a row being up until 2 or 3 in the morning working on it in my basement, my wife said “... Joe, what are you doing down there?...”.
My response was classic husband speak: “...Uhhhh … nothing? ...”.
I think I finally got it uploaded with about 3 hours to spare before the deadline. I was really surprised, first by the very positive response I received, and second – I was just blown away to get picked to play – that was a great feeling.
Can you describe your initial meeting and soundcheck with the band?
I got to the Palladium at about 3:30, soundcheck was at 4 – I was not sure where to park or anything and I ran into Vinnie outside. After a couple dozen high 5’s and “I can’t believe I get to this’s”, he showed me where to head into the theater. moe. had played the night before so the whole stage was already set up – I walked up the ramp to the stage and looked out and it was a lot bigger than I had mentally prepared for!
Steve Young helped me get my piano set up and I had some fun playing it through the PA and right before 4 PM Al, Jim, Rob and Chuck got there. They are just a great bunch of guys and we got to tell some stories about the Buffalo scene from back in the day and they all remembered some dumb stuff I had done back then, which was tragic, but we had some pretty good laughs. I can’t say enough about the moe. crew too – I don’t want to start naming names because I will leave people out, but everyone really went out of their way to make me feel welcome.
The guys in the band had some great feedback for me on my audition video too. I still think one of my favorite moments of the whole experience was when we were getting ready to play NYC at the sound check and they looked at me and Al said “.. we were thinking you would do the intro and we’ll just blend in after a while … “. I was pretty amazed by that and that was how we did the song during the set. That definitely got my pulse racing – the response from the audience while I was playing that intro was one of those moments I just wish I could put in a box and take out when I’m having a bad day – just perfect.
What was the experience like taking the stage with moe?
Too much fun – I played the last 2 songs of the first set and the first part of that set was just awesome. I was waiting at the side of the stage and looking out at how many people were there and pretty much freaking out on the inside and trying to be cool on the outside. As I was walking out to the piano when it was time to play, I actually thought this thought:
“... Joe… this is a sponsored contest… video will be placed on Youtube when it’s over … you will not be able to delete the video because you did not put it there … so whatever you do … don’t suck.”
The next thing I remember hearing was Vinnie clicking off “Nebraska” and we were off and running.
What if anything surprised you?
How much my face hurt from smiling when I walked off the stage – From the support that the band and the crew showed, to the great feedback I got from the fans that night, it was just a priceless experience. That has really continued too – My daughters loved watching the video and my older daughter (9 years old) signed up to sing in the school talent show at her elementary school – she has talked to me a lot about how she thought it was great that I was nervous but I went out and did it anyway and (in her words) “did OK!”, so it is great to think that my being able to participate in the contest has maybe inspired her to go out and do something that she might not have otherwise done. Plus … my daughters have determined that I am the coolest dad at their elementary school – so I’ve got that going for me.
Any final thoughts?
I would like to say congratulations also to Taylor Frederick and Matt Mahoney for doing a great job on their nights to play – I got to hang out with Taylor on the night I was there and have talked with Matt through email – great guys and fantastic guitar players.
The contest has also inspired me to follow through with some projects I have been poking at. If anyone wants to check them out they can follow along at www.joebellanti.com or they can find me on Facebook
Finally, I would just to take one more opportunity to say “Thank you” to Jim, Vinnie, Chuck, Rob, Al and the whole moe. crew for really making me feel like part of the fam.moe.ly for a day. And thank you to Relix and Jambands.com for sponsoring the contest along with moe. – the whole experience, from deciding to do it all the way through to being able to share it with my daughters was something I will never forget.