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Chris Castle

Chris Castle (vocals/guitar) with Bradley Mayer (mandolin) and The Womack Family Band, Haley Heyman (guitar/percussion/vocals), Noah Heyman (bass/vocals), Tony Schaffer (guitar/vocals), Cory Webb (drums)

Based In:
Norwalk, OH


Americana, roots rock, country, bluegrass, blues


Honky Tonk House Concerts, Streetsboro, OH

Concert Date:
January 14, 2012

Opening Acts:


Related Articles:

Chris Castle performs at Honky Tonk House Concerts

Rating: 9 out of 10



January 20, 2012


Chris Castle: Honky Tonk House Concerts, 1/14/12

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


Chris Castle performs at Honky Tonk House Concerts

Chris Castle debuts his new album Last Bird Home at a Honky Tonk House Concert featuring members of the Womack Family Band (l-r) Tony Schaffer, Chris Castle, Haley Heyman, Noah Heyman. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


Lake Superior State University, the world’s center for literary scholarship, recently added the term “man cave” to their List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness. Never mind that it’s a phrase, not a word, but someone should probably mention to the esteemed academics that in the U.S. we don’t actually speak the Queen’s English, but a national dialect known as American English, and also that we kicked ol’ Libby and her whole family out of our business almost two hundred and thirty-six years ago. Apparently they don’t update their textbooks very often up in the U.P.

Regardless, “man cave” is the only appropriate way to describe the venue for Americana singer/songwriter Chris Castle’s release party for his new album Last Bird Home. The show was part of the Honky Tonk House Concert series, held in the private Streetsboro, Ohio residence of Jay Johnson. Jay has turned his family’s basement and garage into a shrine to all things testosterone-based, especially country music, baseball and boxing (and perhaps a small amount of alcohol. He has been hosting the series for over half a decade, with performers including Wayne “The Train” Hancock, Billy Joe Shaver, Amanda Shires, G.S. Harper, Phil Lee, and a host of others. The best part: it’s a five-minute walk from my house.

Castle may be a little camera shy, but he's not afraid to put all of himself into his music, which is even better in live performance than in recorded form. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

It’s not too much more of a commute for Castle, a resident of Norwalk, Ohio who has spent more than his share of time at the Honky Tonk House, on one side of the microphone or the other. It seemed like a natural place for him to celebrate the new album.

“This is actually more of a party than a show,” he said. “Jay was kept in the loop from the beginning of the whole idea of this record, so it only made sense to play his house as far as an official release party. It’s more a gathering of family and friends.”

That’s exactly what makes house concerts great, and why so many musicians I know love doing them, whether it’s a continuing series like this one or a one-off affair. The vibe is so completely different from a club show. It’s relaxed. It’s informal. As a fan, you don’t just get the opportunity to go up to the merch table after the show to get a signature and maybe say hi. You can hang out with the artists all night and swap stories over a beer. Or multiple beers, as the case may be. And as an artist, you can play for people you know will be truly interested in your music, because even if they don’t know you, their interest has been piqued by their friends’ endorsements.

In fact, both Chris and I were extra relaxed for this performance. We were scheduled to do an interview well before the gathering’s official kick off, and I put on my combat boots, braved the snow, and wondered over to Jay’s place early to get set up. Chris, on the other hand, wasn’t so timely. This isn’t unexpected with a musician (I’m on Artists’ Standard Time myself, so I understand), but at a venue with hard and fast set times, this usually means a cancelled interview. Not this time. After he showed up and loaded in, we just chilled in the garage for a while before grabbing some food from the ample potluck buffet and sitting down for a Fireside Chat.

One of the reasons Chris had this flexibility was because he was accompanied by the Womack Family Band, who participated in recording his new album.

“I've known the Womacks since they were young teenagers,” says Castle. “They shopped in my brother's music store and cut their first metal cd with me engineering at my brother's studio. ADAT's and shitty condenser mics. They job-shadowed me when they were in high school. Tony started touring with me in 2007 and they joined me on the road in 2010. I'm their creepy uncle/mentor.”

Castle's opening, closing, and backing groups all came in the form of The Womack Family Band, along with mandolin player Bradley Mayer (left). Here you can see the entire ensemble, including drummer Cory Webb, tucked awy in the corner at right. As you can see, the audience had a closeup view. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

The Womacks have since forsaken metal in favor of Americana (thankfully). Their particular brand is broad-based and draws on a number of influences including country, blues, rock, folk, gospel and even jazz. Although they were there to back Castle up, the Womacks were eager to get going (ah, youth), and so had no problem serving as an opening act as well. While Chris and I chatted upstairs, they rocked the basement with selections from both their 2010 eponymous debut and their 2011 EP From Chestnut.

Even from the other side of the wall, they sounded awesome, going through a set list that included numbers such as “Sara,” an airy love song with an opening evocative of the Beatles’ “I’m Looking Through You,” and “Down the Line,” a fast-paced piece with a swinging beat that nonetheless has a 60’s rock vibe. Jazzy pieces such as “Sugar Honey” would fit into any Western swing band’s repertoire, while songs such as “Sysiphus’ Stone” [sic] and “Bloodline Blues” would elicit rousing cheers in any seedy blues bar.

In fact, they were doing such a good job keeping the crowd entertained that it was hard to convince Chris to wrap up the interview so that he could get up on stage, but that was fine by me because his stories were gold. When the Womacks eventually did finish, there was an appropriate period for mourning (observed by smoking a cigarette in the fire-heated garage) and then Castle took the stage.

Most of the performance consisted of playing the new record from start to finish. We’ve already covered the tunes themselves extensively in the No Surf Review of Last Bird Home, so I won’t rehash their descriptions. I will say that they sound terrific live, even better than their studio incarnations. Granted, the setting—with the entirety of the audience within twenty feet—lent itself to an intimate show, but the music itself only added to the effect. Not only are the songs all deeply personal and worthy of reflection, but the interludes in between each one were golden, often recounting scenes from the studio, the story behind the songs, or insights into Castle’s personal philosophy (sometimes all three). In singing, his voice had the kind of truthy resonance that just never comes through on recordings.

The Womacks transitioned into the role of backup band nicely, playing the parts they had supplied in the recording studio or subbing for the luminaries who had helped Chris to fashion the album. The only parts that were really missed were Garth Hudson’s organs, but no one on Earth can play like he can (and trying to fit an organ into Jay’s basement would have been catastrophic, anyway), so it was probably better to leave that up to the audience’s imagination.

Castle & Co. jammed all night and when they were done with that they jammed some more. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Castle’s friend Bradley Mayer took over on mandolin. There’s really only two ways to respond when your buddy says, “Hey, man, you’ve been playing mandolin for a while, do you want to sit in and play Tommy Ramone’s parts?” You either shit yourself, scream, and get the hell out of there or you throw yourself into it and kick some ass. Mayer took the latter option and did a great job of providing some extra twang to the show.

After running through the tracks from Last Bird Home, Castle finished up with a few old standbys, including “Oh, Palestine” and “Of God and Man (Beneath the Sun).” But that wasn’t the end of the night. It was a house concert, after all, and these things don’t end until someone from the band collapses, and depending on how much his bandmates like him, it might even go on past that. So after another respectable smoke break, the Womacks returned to the stage to jam on some covers. Hank was well represented, as were plenty of other old-time country heroes, and Mayer took the lead on a particularly mellow version of “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin’. Finally, as the last of the guests faded away, everyone said their goodbyes and that was that.

Without a doubt, it was a hell of a way to spend a night.

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For a taste of Chris Castle, buy Last Bird Home on Amazon!
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