Spafford and Mike Gantzer Find Their Way Home in Woodstock

It was a hometown throwdown with an added twist for Spafford Saturday night. Playing the third show of their summer tour at The Colony in Woodstock on June 15, it notably featured Mike Gantzer of Aqueous filling in for Spafford guitarist Brian Moss as he continues dealing with the effects of a brutal crash the band was involved in earlier this spring. More than the sum of its parts, the show must go on and it did, yielding a most memorable and unique night of improvisational jams.

Spafford Woodstock
Mike Gantzer of Aqueous filled in for Spafford guitarist Brian Moss during the Woodstock performance on 6/15/24.

The quaint counterculture community of Woodstock was bustling with activity in the hours leading up to the show. Colorful, vibrant and welcoming, the main drag was covered in pride flags and business was booming at the numerous mom-and-pop gift shops, galleries, and gastropubs around town. The energy in the air felt like a throwback in time, reminding me of the neighborhood block parties when I was young and everything felt safe. Prior to showtime, early attendees at The Colony were treated to the delightful Americana sounds of The Jack Grace Band on the back patio stage.  It was inside on the Ballroom stage, however, where the real magic was about to take place.

Spafford Woodstock
Spafford performing at The Colony in Woodstock, NY 6/15/24.

Fresh off their first gigs together in Rochester and the Northlands Music Festival, this incarnation of Spafford hit the ground running hard.  With a schedule that includes 10 shows in 11 days, don’t let anyone tell you touring life is easy. Consisting of bassist Jordan Fairless, drummer Nick Tkachyk and keyboardist Cory Schechtman, the Spafford members humbly welcomed and thanked guitarist Mike Gantzer for joining them on this run of shows.  Easing into things with an opening improvisational groove, it was around 17 minutes in when the band landed on the first actual Spafford song of the night, the explosive fan favorite “It’s a Bunch.”

Performing with man down, Spafford looked to Mike Ganzter to man up on 6/15/24.

Playing with a man down, it was here when Gantzer really stepped up and cut loose first the time, announcing his presence with swagger and authority, showcasing his undeniable ability as a player. Emoting with passion and simultaneously shredding his sparkling blue Gibson axe with the best of them, let’s be clear, no one can “replace” Brian Moss, but it was around this part of the show when you realized this was an unprecedented kind of Spafford experience. That we were witnessing something special and not only were things going to be just fine, they were going to be absolute fire.  

Leaning heavily on bassist Jordan Fairless to handle the majority of vocal duties on this run, Saturday night at The Colony took on extra special significance for him.  After celebrating his wedding anniversary two days prior, it was not only a homecoming for Jordan, but a full-on family reunion as well.  With his beautiful wife and daughter in attendance, every time the local Woodstock resident stepped up to the mic you could see the sparkle in his eyes as he sang out to them. Touching and beautiful, the first time we’d hear it was on “Lonely,” a song written years ago and has emerged as one of the bands biggest jam vehicles.

Spafford Woodstock
It was a hometown throwdown for Spafford’s bassist Jordan Fairless who lives in Woodstock.

Clocking in just shy of the 20-minute mark, it was the clear standout of the first set and just seemed to hit a little harder given the circumstances of this particular night.  Jordan’s soothing vocals carried over into the bluesy come down of “Shake You Loose” from 2022’s Simple Mysteries and would send the audience burning straight through intermission.    

Met a man in New York and he had no time for me.

His New York minutes, they were ticking away.

But I’m not gonna give up, no I’ll just keep on standing here.

Waiting for that day…when we all say.

You don’t have to be lonely. Look no further, you can hold me.

And I will hold you till you’re not lonely.

We’ve got each other, and I’ll be on your side till the morning comes.

-Lyrics from “Lonely”

Prior to the start of the second set, the unofficial fifth member and band namesake, Chuck “Spafford” Johnson who would treat the audience to a reading of his poem “Would Etal.” A privilege to hear one of “Chuck’s Dreams” in person, his purpose with the band cannot be overstated.  Aside from being a published poet, Johnson has also penned the lyrics for several of the bands most beloved songs, including “My Road, My Road,” “The Postman,” and “Slip and Squander.” He’s also the man primarily responsible for running the free Spafford live streams on YouTube and doing what some might call “God’s work.” Fans can’t thank him enough.

Chuck’s Dream: Lyricist Chuck “Spafford” Johnson read his poem “Would Etal” during set break on 6/15/2024.

Returning to the stage for round two, Spafford wasted no time putting the pedal to the metal by opening with “Diesel Driver,” a song that many fans have now come to associate with the aforementioned crash in March that still lingers over the band. It’s exploratory jam would segue nicely into the new and highly danceable Corey Schectman space-funk instrumental “Machine Elves” that had the entire room moving and grooving.  Another sentimental moment came next as Fairless sang the blues based “Home (One Place I’ll Never Be). Dedicating the song to his wife two days prior, here he was able to sing it to her in person and just down the street from where they now live.

Spafford Woodstock
Spafford performing at The Colony in Woodstock, NY 6/15/24.

Playing up the novelty of Jordan’s homecoming, the undisputed jam of the night evolved next in the form of a near 30 minute version of “Leave the Light On,” a song first played by the band in 2012. This time, however, it seemed to take on a whole new level of maturity. Listening intently to each other and exchanging glances, the creativity flowed between the four musicians on stage. Largely anchored by the handiwork of drummer Nick Tkachyk, you would never know this lineup has only played a few shows together. 

Mike Gantzer performing with Spafford at The Colony on 6/15/24.

Finding some limits and pushing through them, the playing was relentless and the improv was intense.  With Gantzer pouring every ounce his of passion and spirit into the performance, you know somewhere out there Brian Moss is smiling knowing he made the right call. Feeling more comfortable with each passing show, you can see the healthy respect these guys have for each other and the budding friendship that’s blooming.

It’s so cold at night, and I pretend that it’s all right.

But I keep your candle burning in the window.

Leave the light on for me lady.

So in the darkness I can find my way home.

Leave the light on for me lady.

Let me know that I’m not alone

-Lyrics from “Leave the Light On”

Holding court near the merch stand with a small group of people listening intently, Gantzer opened up about the challenges of learning such intricate material in such a short time. While comparisons to Moss are inevitable and both players are among the scene’s elite, it’s not quite as turn-key when it comes to the type of improvisation Spafford is known for.  Making it clear that he was honored to get the call and that he’s feeling a bit of pressure to deliver the goods, he humbly noted he “can’t play the songs like Brian does, that he can only play like himself.”  Feeding off the crowd’s energy and hoping to send it all the way back to his friend, it’s fair to say Uncle Mike met all expectations and exceeded them in Woodstock.

Spafford Woodstock
Mike Gantzer performing with Spafford at The Colony on 6/15/24.

Returning to the stage for a brief encore, Jordan would address the crowd once again, thanking them for coming out to the show and thanking Gantzer for his incredible job filling in. After planting the homecoming seeds all night long, Spafford would finally spit them out with the lone cover and final song of the evening, a tasty take on Herbe Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Mike Gantzer will remain with the Spafford through the remainder of the month before the band reevaluates. Following a scheduled run through Colorado and an appearance at the 4848 Festival in July, East Coast fans won’t need to wait long to see Spafford again.  They’ve just announced a number of new tour dates in August that includes a stop at Lincoln Hill Farms in Canandaigua, linking up with red-hot New York jammers Annie in the Water. As for the future of guitarist Brian Moss, no one seems quite sure when he’ll return to the fold.  Requesting privacy at this time, we here at NYS Music wish him all the best and hope the healing power of music starts working its magic soon. 

Spafford | June 15, 2024 | The Colony | Woodstock, NY

Set1: Jam > It’s a Bunch > Lonely, Shake You Loose.

Set 2: Diesel Driver > Machine Elves, Home (One Place I’ll Never Be) < Leave the Light On.

Encore: Watermelon Man (Herbie Hancock).

Spafford Woodstock
Spafford Woodstock
Spafford Woodstock

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