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Publication: Syracuse New Times
Author: Mumau, Matt
Date published: August 18, 2010

Josh Collins, keyboardist and former Syracuse scene regular, tells the story of his previous night's gig in his current city of residence, Louisville, Ky. during an Aug. 13 phone conversation. Collins had performed with his newest band of musical brothers, the Dirty Church Revival, at a venue down south known as the Bluegrass Brewing Company.

"The gig went great! This 3-year-old kid came up to me and tells me that he's my biggest fan. He was putting tips in the tip jar! It was good. I was like 'Hey, man, you just made my month!'" Collins recounts.

Such a moment, which easily lends itself to reminiscing about what it means to grow up as a musician, brings Collins, 36, back to memories of trying to make it in the 1990s Syracuse music scene, during which the downtown club circuit comprised now legendary venues for jam bands, such as Happy Endings Cake and Coffeehouse and Styleen's Rhythm Palace. Collins' band at the time, Faedrus, was one of the more popular jammers in the mid-1990s circle of Salt City soundsmiths. It garnered multiple Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Music Award (Sammys) nominations during that time, and Collins kept the psychedelic grooves going with the group all the way through 2006.

After experiencing the theft of about $10,000 worth of gear during a gig in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, the band lost some of its energy, and ultimately turned to the busy processes of getting married and raising families.

At the same time, Collins got involved in the local art scene, helping to found ThINC (The Institution of New Culture), an arts non-profit that set the framework and ideology for similar groups to start up in its wake. While ThINC has since dovetailed into other arts and cultural advocacy groups such as 40 Below, Collins is proud of the work local visual artists and musicians did in the 1990s toward paving the way for current arts projects in Syracuse, such as the Lipe Art Park on West Fayette Street.

Recalling one of the gallery events the group hosted, Collins says, "I was on such a creative high from the experience. It was an amazing event to be a part of, the putting it on and making this cool thing happen. That's what it is with Syracuse. You have to make it happen. If you want the gig, you have to pound on the door and have the gumption."

But Collins realized, as many local musicians do, that if you want to keep it real in terms of a career in the music biz, pioneers {O Pioneers!) must go West, or in Collins' case, South. Landing in 2006 in the state known for bourbon and competitive horse riding, Collins discovered that the Kentucky scene was rife with musicians hungry to play.

"It took a while to get used to these moonshine liquor guys!" Collins says. "They do like their bourbon. But the opportunities that presented themselves since I've been down here are incredible. I don't have to work so hard. Nashville is only about 3 hours away. I jammed with {keyboardist} Johnny Neil, who played in the Allman Brothers Band. He came to a club I was playing at, and we became friends. Then he asked me to come down to his studio to record with him. It's just incredible."

Experiencing a far greater number of requests for his ivory-tickling services down in the Bluegrass State, Collins eventually came to know drummer Chet Surgener, whose band, Surgener said, Collins had to see. Although they were then known as Black Cat Bone, they later dubbed themselves the Dirty Church Revival.

"They had a {Hammond} B3 set up in the basement," Collins notes about his first encounter with Surgener's hard, Southern buddies. "I was about ready to take notes, but it was just straight-ahead rock'n'roll. The energy: it was visceral. There was a definite, electric energy inside of it."

Collins has spent the years since he met Dirty Church Revival behind the group's keyboards, and he's delighted with the knowledge and experience he's gained through traveling outside of the city to recharge his musical batteries.

The group perhaps describes itself best on their Myspace.com page: "Dirty blues, greasy funk and full-on rock'n'roll." Add to that the Southern soulfulness that makes bands like the Allmans legendary, the rusted sound of slide guitar, as well as a healthy dose of modern rock chutzpah, and you'll have a pretty clear idea of the rock show these guys can put on. The band's other members include lead vocalist Danny Miller, guitarist Tim Ragan and Jeremy Thompson on bass.

Ready to let loose his new, country- and blues-influenced sound in the Salt City, Collins will bring his buddies to town this week during a series of gigs, during which he hopes to show Syracuse the positive aspects of his culture swapping. Check them out at Awful Al's, 321 S. Clinton St., on Thursday, Aug. 19, 10 p.m.; the Great Chicken Wing Festival at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater, 374 W. Kirkpatrick St., on Saturday, Aug. 21, 3:30 to 4:45 p.m. (the festival itself runs on Friday, Aug. 20, with Under the Gun as music headliners, and Saturday with the Marshall Tucker Band); and at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 236 W. Genesee St., on Saturday at 10 p.m. Admission to all of the events is free.

While Collins explains that he is happy about the fact that he moved down south, he is still fond of his hometown, and he's especially happy to be a part of the 1990s art scene, during which so many talented musicians were bonding and figuring out how the game works.

"{The Syracuse music scene at the time} was supportive," he explains. "There was a lot of energy that was kind of bubbling around. I think that bands like Dracula Jones and Bone China were just kind of bubbling up in the grunge scene. They were poised to go to the next level, but there was a disconnect there that I never understood."

Collins expects that Dirty Church Revival will release an EP in the fall, composed of at least six songs pulled from various marathon recording sessions completed in the past year. As for what fans could expect: "Stevie Wonder on crack cocaine! It's just crazy: quite a departure from the last album {Live at Longshot}," Collins says.

In the meantime, Collins simply hopes to do what he has always done, including during his runs with Syracuse musicians as well as with ThINC: "I'm looking forward to bringing {Dirty Church Revival} up to New York. There are a lot of bands upstate that would fit in really well down here, too. I would definitely like to see some cross-pollination down here."

For more information about the Awful Al's gig, call 703-4773; about the Chicken Wing Festival, call 472-9111; about the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que gig, call 476-1662. Also check out Dirty Church Revival's grooves on the web: www.myspace.com/dirtychurchrevival.

-MATT MUMAU

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