Plan B: Hit the big time!

Recent Penn State grad Eric Lawry of Ohio Township kind of figured he’d have moved back in with his parents by now, but his career path took an unexpected turn into the entertainment industry. Photo by Tom Steiner vfor The Citizen

Eric Lawry relaxes in a coffee shop and flips through a magazine of lists.

A list of the world's best beaches. A list of the world's tallest buildings

Not included in this magazine are two categories that he'd like to add: The most popular blues and rock music festivals of the past year, and the most popular bands appearing at them.

Because if such lists were compiled, Eric would be associated with both.

For starters, he appeared Aug. 14-15 at Denver's Mile High Festival featuring 35 pop bands on five stages with performers ranging from Dave Matthews to Cyprus Hill, a two-day extravaganza listed in the top 10 music attractions of 2010.

And fans at Mile High ranked Bobby Long, the blues singer who sounds more Biloxi than his native Britain "…number six, ahead of Jack Johnson and just behind Cyprus Hill. How do you beat that!" said Eric, drummer in Long's back-up band, smiling at the memory.

Or maybe the smile is one of amazement at how this 2010 Penn State grad leap-frogged from his plan of "…doing what every college kid does these days. Move back home!" to signing on to a tour schedule that will run through early 2012, probably longer.
Call it right-place-at-right time, call it talent, call it luck. More likely a combination of all three.
Eric provides a short explanation of how that combination came to be.
A self-taught drummer -- he got his first drum set when he was a freshman at Avonworth High School -- Eric and two buddies had formed a band, North of Nitney, playing together throughout their four years at Penn State. In May, he was in a crowd attending a large concert on Allen Street in State College where Bobby Long, composer and singer, was appearing. "Long's career took off after Rob Pattinson had asked him to compose some music for a film in which he [Pattinson] had been cast, a film he didn't think would be anything big."

That not-so-big film turned out to be "Twilight," and the soundtrack won an American Music Award."

Also on stage that night was the Kalob Griffin Band, another State College group. Eric cuts through the details of what happened next.

"After the show, my roommate, who played bass in KGB, asked Bobby to autograph a CD. Bobby said to him, 'I was meaning to talk to you guys. I need a band.' Long had been playing acoustic guitar and he had studio musicians backing him up, but his manager had told him to find a band. KGB had the same type sound and set-up as the studio musicians he had used on his album. The only problem was that Long wanted a different drummer. KGB asked me to replace their drummer, which meant I had to drop out of my band -- which was tough -- and I had to replace the KGB drummer, which was also tough. I felt bad, but…"

And that is the story of how Eric, 22, is the drummer and back-up vocalist for the Kalob Griffin Band backing singer Bobby Long rather than bunking at home with parents Patty and Rick of Ohio Township.

And instead of launching a job search that might have matched his English/theater major, Eric and the band took off to New Jersey, practiced for two days, had their first show at the Highline Ballroom, regarded by one music critic as being "…one of the hottest, hippest places to see a show in New York City" and where another performer who has achieved some share of fame, Lady GaGa, performed in 2008.

"It's a large venue. The show went amazingly well," Eric said.

The band played six more shows, ending at the XPN Festival in Philadelphia, and then it was on to the West Coast for shows at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas and the Troubadour in Los Angeles, the legendary California club which, since 1954, has hosted such performers as The Doors, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Joni Mitchell among its legendary performers.

"I mean, think of this. He [Bobby] sold out the Troubadour. He's the first person to play there without an album. The only album he has is something he recorded in his bedroom," Eric said. "Bobby's CD release in January will be big, but he made it before he had us as his back-up band. We'll be on all of his CDs after that."

While life on the road can be fun, it also can provide some off-guard moments.

"When I was waiting to go on at the Troubadour, I was so nervous. I got a pizza and was sitting there, backstage, eating as fast as possible, sort of like a slob -- and Kristen Stewart [also of "Twilight," as well as other films] was sitting just a few feet away. That's how I presented myself to meet one of the biggest stars in the world."

Next up, the Mile High Festival, 90,000 fans in the Colorado sun.

"We lived in a village of trailers housing all kinds of stars, and I got to meet so many of them. There I was, walking down the road and saying, 'hello' to Darien Marley."

Eric explained that Long, who is more popular in the U.S. than in Europe, had been an acoustic guitar player for years, and so his fans were wary of accepting the addition of a full back-up band. "But they have. In the shows, we mix it up. It's full band and Bobby, then just Bobby and his guitar, and then back to the band with him."

"The band is now set for the next 18 months, at least. That's how long we're booked."

One of those bookings is an Oct. 23 appearance at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead, a 1,000-seat auditorium which, by the time this article is published, has probably sold out.

"It's been eye-opening. Our booking agent is the same guy who books Kings of Leon, and our manager is also the manager of Taj Mahal."

As for the years ahead?

"We all get along so well, the band, Bobby, the manager. As long as Bobby's willing to have me, I'm willing to play for him. It's been an amazing experience."

Two sites to sample the music of the band and of Bobby Long: Myspace.comKalobGriffinBand or http://www.bobby-long.co.uk/


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