Mike Powell is a singer-songwriter from Central New York. In addition to his work as a solo artist, he also leads the soulful rock band The Black River. Powell and fellow CNY singer-songwriter Chris Merkley have embarked on a four-show mini-tour of microbreweries across the state searching for the connection between songwriting and brewing.
Powell will be returning to the studio soon to record another solo album and his band The Black River is releasing its second full-length album ‘Gypsy Winnebago’ on Nov. 1.
Merkley is the owner of Old Boy Records and curator of the Seedstock Festival in Cortland each summer. He also performs with The Crooners and Digger Jones and has composed original music for television and film, including the acclaimed HBO series Generation Kill.
This is the final installment of a four-part NYS Music series documenting the Original Gravity Tour and contributed by Powell. The first installment of Powell’s tour diary can be found here. Day two can be found here. Day three can be found here.
This past Sunday was the final show of the Original Gravity MicroTour and before I share my final recap I would like to first say thank you to Mike Kohli and NYS Music for allowing me the opportunity to be a guest contributor over the course of the past week. I highly value, respect and appreciate the energy that your team puts into keeping music fans like me up to date on the happenings around this state and beyond. I don’t get to exercise my journalistic side of the brain very often so, needless to say, this experience truly scratched a long burning creative itch.
I brewed my first batch of beer roughly ten years ago and have been homebrewing sporadically ever since. As I told Mike Kohli on the phone last night when he was asking about the timing of this final piece, I’ve always lived my life like a starved trout swimming against the stream ready to chase anything shiny that catches my eye. I guess you could say that I’m very curious by nature and I seemingly find a strong sense of comfort when I’m traveling down an unfamiliar road. I’ve learned over the years why I choose to live this way. When I learn a new skill it gives me a deeper understanding and a newfound appreciation for those that do it and those that do it well.
I knew that after I went through the process and experienced each step of brewing I would never taste a beer in the same way. After I wrote my very first song as a teenager I started to listen to music differently and on a deeper level. I started making furniture after college and since then I’ve never again sat in a chair without recognizing the craftsmanship and design. So I guess what I’m getting at is, diving headfirst into new things and venturing into new territory gives me a look under the hood on what makes it go. This approach has added color to my life’s wheel and simply fills me with deep admiration.
Coming from a former professional athlete this may sound a bit odd but I’m not a very competitive person. Well, not in the expected sense anyway. I never set out to become better than anyone else, that’s not what drives me. My drive lives on the inside, its a challenge within myself. For example, I know I will never write songs better than Bob Dylan and I’m one hundred percent aware of that fact, but I know that there’s a song in me somewhere that’s better than my last one. That is what keeps me moving. After exploring and talking with brewmasters over the past several years I think we share a similar mentality.
Our last performance saw our biggest crowd of the tour at Local 315 Brewing Company in Warners. I’ve played at this establishment quite a few times and what strikes me most is the cult-like following this brewery has created over its short time in existence. Surrounded by nothing but hop poles, goats and donkeys, this farmstead brewery has put out top quality brews and supported live original music since its inception. The weather on Sunday was absolutely perfect with the sun shining over the cornfields and illuminating the laid back outdoor area that has become this joint’s centerpiece.
With dogs chasing frisbees and kids running after one another, this atmosphere feels like you’re at a family reunion in a relative’s back yard. So Chris and I approached it that way and treated the afternoon as loose as we possibly could. Having fun with the crowd and realizing that although everyone was listening to us, we weren’t the center of attention, we were simply just playing our part and fitting into where we should. I’m happy to report that we were able to continue our live poetry on-demand experiment throughout the duration of the tour and people really seemed to get a kick out of it, everyone except Chris and myself. We closed out the Original Gravity MicroTour with our twist on “Got My Mojo Working,” finished our final beers and headed our separate ways.
This run has been a short but adventurous ride and as the sun sets on the horizon I would like to reflect back on some memorable moments.
- Chris Merkley is awesome. His performances are so dialed in and tight. What I find amazing is how his musical style seems to fit in just about any scenario. Mine isn’t like that so it really stood out to me. He could play the same set at a festival, a club, a theater or a house concert and it would work and work well.
- Chris Merkley almost killed a kitten with his Prius. While we were loading out our gear at Abandon Brewing we heard some purring coming from the engine. Which is normal but not when the car is off. Chris popped the hood and found a kitten sitting between the fuse box and the windshield washer fluid. Luckily he coerced it out without some old sheet pizza and carried it to safety.
- We saw photographer and good friend Brian Cornish at two of the stops and he told us two separate jokes. Both of which made us laugh and neither of which would be appropriate to publish here.
- I didn’t even take my camera out of my truck at Local 315, so the visual content of this post is brought to you courtesy of your very own Mike Kohli. Thank you, dude.
- Although there were many highlights and funny moments when it came to the live poetry challenge we were having, my favorite moment was Chris’ lovely work of art titled “Bloody Mary” when the audience gave him the words “Worcestershire” and “butt” to work with.
- Seeing familiar faces. We had several people come to every show and have fun touring with us. I think they were more into the beer component.
- And finally tasting the amazing beer. Worth noting that if either of my grandfathers were alive and walked into a bar to find me smelling and swirling a flight of beer they would both kick my ass. But times have changed. I loved the Woods Valley Witte and Pocket Change IPA from Copper City, the Session and Dunkel at Abandon, 20 East NEIPA at Heritage Hill and Soul Kissed IPA from Local 315.
You haven’t see the last of Original Gravity MicroTour.
Over and Out,