On Stage: Local musicians taking it outside for shows

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Nicole Zell and Chris Spousta

The era of live music in indoor venues has been paused indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fortunately, there are several restaurants and taverns around Chester County and its surrounding area that have been hosting live performances by musicians — in relatively safe outdoor settings.

Musicians are loving it because it gives them an outlet to perform their songs. Fans are loving it because it provides them with the opportunity to once again hear music performed live.

One of the musicians who has been taking advantage of these venues is Chester County’s Nicole Zell.

Actually, Zell hasn’t been going it alone.

She is half of a one-of-a-kind duo act with Chris Spousta. Featuring Zell on vocals and guitar accompanied by Spousta on his handmade vintage suitcase drum kit, these two artists have developed a unique, timeless sound that is entirely their own.

Zell and Spousta have played shows this summer at a variety of venues, including Brickside Grille in Lionville, Amis Trattoria in Devon, The Bordley House in West Chester and Steppy’s in East Norriton.

On August 30, the duo will make a return appearance at the Inn at St. Peter’s Village (3471 Saint Peters Road, Saint Peters, theinnatsaintpeters.com). Zell and Spousta recently played a gig there on July 26.

The shutdown was bad for the entire music world, but the timing actually could have been much worse for Zell and her band THRILLCHASER (which also features Spousta).

“We finished making our sophomore album late last year and were looking at a release early this year,” said Zell, during a phone interview from her home in Bala Cynwyd.

The usual pattern for bands is to release an album and then follow with months and months of touring – playing live shows to support the album and introduce the songs.

Had THRILLCHASER’s album dropped just before the bottom dropped out it would have been a worst-case scenario.

“We’re in a holding pattern now,” said Zell. “If the shutdown didn’t happen, we would have had shows booked and been touring the album.

“But, if we had released the album and then been unable to tour, it would have been a disaster. Having a new record to promote and being unable to present it to the fans live would have been a really bad situation.”

Zell’s songwriting achievements are equally as impressive as her extensive track record as a live performer. She has honed her craft by writing hundreds of songs, co-writing and collaborating globally, and working in numerous genres spanning from pop, indie, alt rock, country, folk, soul, funk, spoken word, to rap. She continues to make music in a band format, as a duo and as a solo artist.

In 2014, Zell released the EP, “Take Heart,” followed by 2016 single, “Heart Open Wide,” which premiered on Fuse TV.  Zell also has experience as a radio host personality. She has been the host of local music radio show, SoundStage, on WCHE 1520 since 2013.

“For my original music, I’ve been recording in my home studio with Rod Pires,” said Zell. “I haven’t released any solo stuff in years. ‘Heart Open Wide’ was my last single and that was a while ago.

“I just released a single I did with Rod. It’s called ‘This Time’ and is a song about COVID-19. It dropped at the end of April. We recorded it together remotely – each of us in our own studio.”

On April 24, Zell posted the following on her Facebook page – “Rod Pires and I wrote this song about and amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Our hearts go out to everyone being affected by this. From our hearts, to yours – here is “This Time”. Available on all music platforms — https://open.spotify.com/album/5vZgMnNErTeJQphYxYWlfH and https://music.apple.com/us/album/this-time-single/1510385378.

Spousta arrived in the Delaware Valley via an indirect route.

Born partially deaf, Spousta never allowed that adversity to thwart his aspiration to pursue a musical career. He grew up in school playing all 13 orchestral instruments and their scales. He played in a Florida state superior ranked jazz band at East Ridge High School in Clermont, a suburb of Orlando.

Spousta was the drummer for several bands including the hardcore metal band Far From Truth, which toured three years in a row on Warped Tour from 2008-2010. He also studied conducting and composing at Berklee College of Music prior to joining THRILLCHASER.

Even with most of the music world in limbo, Zell and Spousta have persevered and found a way to keep their music alive.

Video link for Nicole Zell and Chris Spousta — https://www.facebook.com/NicoleZellOfficial/videos/4132549936786977/.

Michael Kropp

Another Chester County musician who has been staying busy with local gigs – including the Brickside Grille – in Michael Kropp.

Kropp, a singer/guitarist who is a Downingtown High alum, cites his influences as Ben Vaughn, The Beatles, Nick Lowe, The Kinks, Elvis Costello, and Tom Petty.

He will definitely be busy this weekend with two shows – August 28 at Creekside Sports Bar & Grille (765 N Lewis Road, Royersford, http://www.creeksidesportsbar.com/) at 5 p.m. and August 29 at A’Dello Winery (21 Simmons Road, Perkiomenville) at 2 p.m. – followed by the “Happy 2 Be Home Guest Beertenders” fundraiser at Stable 12 (368 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, www.stable12.com) on August 31 at 6 p.m.

Kropp also has a lot of shows scheduled for September – 2, Epicurean Garage (570 Simpson Drive, Chester Springs, www.epicureangarage.com); 4, Frecon Farms Orchard (Boyertown, www.freconfarms.com); 5, Tuned Up Brewing Co. (135 North Main Street, Spring City, www.tunedupbrew.com); 6 and 13, Creekside Sports Bar & Grille; 17, Brickside Grille (540 Wellington Square, Exton, bricksidegrille.com); 18, Epicurean Garage; 20, Creekside Sports Bar & Grille; 25, Epicurean Garage; 26, A’Dello Winery; and 27, Creekside Sports Bar & Grille.

Video link for Michael Kropp — https://www.facebook.com/michael.kropp.54/videos/10224200715702524/.

This weekend’s schedule for the Creekside Sports Bar & Grille includes John Valerio on August 29 and Side Hustle on August 30.

Tuned Up Brewing Co. will host Mr Mody on August 28 and September 25 and Bill Ferreri on September 11.

A’Dello Vineyard & Winery’s list of upcoming shows includes Michael Santiago on August 30 and Joe Miralles & Gary Houk on September 19.

Epicurean Garage’s roster of live entertainment features Almost Minnesota on August 27, Keith Sullivan on August 28, Dan Frantz on August 29, Tom Guest on August 29, Rob Perna on August 30 and J.D. Malone on September 12.

Malone, a singer/songwriter who has been an area favorite for years, also has shows scheduled for August 29 at 8 p.m. at Steppys in East Norriton, September 2 at noon at Lansdale Lunchtime Concert Series at Railroad Plaza (201 West Main Street, Lansdale)

Hake and Jarema

Local favorites Hake and Jarema will be performing on August 28 at Duffer’s Tavern (192 Middleton Road, Glen Mills); August 29 at the Bordley House; August 30 (Hake solo) at Penns Woods Winery (124 Beaver Valley Road, Chadds Ford, www.pennswoodswinery.com); and September 11 at Stable 12 Brewing Company (368 Bridge St, Phoenixville, stable12.com).

Hake will also do a solo show on August 29 at The Bordley House Grille (1520 Tattersal Way, West Chester, www.bordleyhousegrille.com).

The Bordley House will host Adam McCue on September 5, Chris Lebresco on September 12, Bryan McDermott on September 19 and Ziggy Isaacs on September 26.

Lebresco, an Exton resident and West Chester East grad, will also be doing a Sunday Brunch show on August 30 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at Suburban Restaurant (570 Wellington Square, Exton,http://www.suburbanbg.com/).

Chris Lebresco and his daughter Brooke

Video link for Chris Lebresco — https://www.facebook.com/chrislebrescomusic/videos/3266044606818971/.

Stable 12 Brewing Company hosts Kendal Conrad on August 28, Savants Duo on August 29, Rick McSteve on September 19 and Kendal Conrad again on September 25.

Penns Woods Winery will present Tim Williams on August 29. The venue has a fairly full schedule for September with Matt Spitko on September 5, Joe Grasso on September 6, Adam McCue on September 12, Jason Ager on September 19, Greg Jones on September 20, Pete Marziano on September 26 and Hanna Paige on September 27.

Another local concert this weekend will feature Larry Roney on August 28 at Downingtown Country Club and Seven Tap-Tavern (93 Country Club Drive, Downingtown,www.golfdowningtown.com)

On September 4, Whiskey Logic will play a show at the Chadds Ford Tavern (1400 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford,

Other area venues that have been presenting live shows are The Stone Barn (100 Stone Barn Drive, Kennett Square, www.thestonebarn.com), Cedar Hollow Inn Restaurant and Bar (2455 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, www.cedarhollowinn.com) and John Henry’s Pub (98 Cricket Avenue, Ardmore, www.johnhenryspubofardmore.com). Check their websites for updated information.

Additionally, the area calendar for live music has included several drive-in concerts.

The most ambitious drive-in concert series has been taking place in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Phillies stadium (Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia).

Live Nation Philadelphia, in partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies, is presenting a four-week local drive-in concert series in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. The “Live-In / Drive-In Concert Series” got underway on August 16.

Live Nation Philadelphia is creating a unique live music experience by allowing fans to enjoy concerts from the comfort of their car in a drive-in setting with the audio simulcast on an FM frequency. All artists will be performing full live sets on stages set up in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park. The events will also feature large-scale video LED screens so fans can enjoy a true live concert experience.

Fans can expect contactless ticket scanning through their vehicle window and then will be shown to their designated parking space where they will enjoy the show from inside their own vehicle. Guests can leave their cars, wearing a mask, to use one of the portable bathroom locations which will be continuously sanitized throughout each event.

There will be dedicated buffer space around each vehicle to ensure social distancing.

Tickets will be sold in the form of a group car pass. Each car will purchase just one ticket, good for a maximum of four (4) people per car. Car pass tickets are on sale athttp://www.phillies.com/drivein.

The schedule is: September 3 – Smith & Meyers; September 4 – Lotus; September 5 and 6 – Dark Star Orchestra; and September 7 – Michael Blackson & Friends with special guest DJ Jazzy Jeff.

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