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The Lowdown:

The Womack Family Band

Haley Heyman (guitar/piano/percussion/vocals), Noah Heyman (bass/guitar/piano/cello/percussion/vocals), Tony Shaffer (guitar/bass/piano/organ/mandolin/banjo/trumpet/bass clarinet/cello/pedal steel/vocals), Cory Webb (drums/percussion/ukulele/vocals)

Based In:
Norwalk, Ohio


Americana, folk, folk rock, blues, blues rock, jazz, country


Mahall's 20 Lanes, Lakewood, Ohio

Concert Date:
July 27, 2013

Opening Acts:


Related Articles:

The Womack Family Band performs at Mahall's 20 Lanes



August 15, 2013


The Womack Family Band: Mahall's 20 Lanes, July 27, 2013

by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad


The Womack Family Band performs at Mahall's 20 Lanes in Lakewood, Ohio on July 27, 2013. (l-r) Noah Heyman, Haley Heyman, Cory Webb, Tony Shaffer. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


When I reviewed the Womack Family Band album The Blue Room in January, 2012, I wrote that their “live performances have the potential to become the stuff of legend.” That is no longer true. Somewhere in the brief period between then and now the band has upped their already impressive game to a point that puts them well above the level of any other local musicians. Potential has been met. Fuck ‘em all, The Womack Family Band is the best live band in the country, and I'll stand on Tommy Womack's coffee table in my combat boots and say that. At this point in their career, legends are being made almost nightly and anyone lucky enough to see them perform now may well find themselves in years to come with stories akin to those who saw the Beatles at The Cavern or Springsteen at The Stone Pony.

No matter the instruments played or the singer taking the lead, every song from the Womack Family Band is a gem. Their live performances have quickly become the highlights of the North Coast music scene. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

If proof of the Womacks’ rarified onstage faculties need be supplied, I submit the band’s performance at Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood, Ohio on July 27, 2013. This was the first in a series of charity performances the band has organized through October. Called The Womack Give Back, these shows benefit various groups close to the band members’ hearts, including the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, The Volunteer Center of Erie County and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The band is not only donating a large portion of the shows’ proceeds to these causes, but has printed limited edition shirts for each event, available in exchange for a donation.

Band member Haley Heyman selected the first beneficiary and explains, “I chose Stein Hospice because when my grandmother fell sick with cancer a couple of years ago, the services that were provided to our family gave us the tools to take care of her in the comfort of my grandparents home as well some consolation and closure. I am truly thankful for their assistance and because it is a nonprofit institution, my wish is to pass on this gift to another family who may be facing a difficult time regarding the loss of a loved one.”

The night’s setting, Mahall’s 20 Lanes, is exactly as one would expect a slightly hipsterish bowling alley venue to be—dark and dilapidated in a wrapped-in-plastic low-rent chic kind of way, and definitely a no-frills experience. It’s a spacious venue with a mix of standing room and almost comically undersized tables where particleboard is the dominant texture, stage included. Facing the street and hinting at the room’s previous incarnation, large glass garage doors stand curtain-draped as if in mourning, the occasional passerby trying to peek through the heavy opaqueness at the music makers just out of sight. Also on the main floor across the foyer from the stage area sits a decent-sized dining room with a central bar surrounded by tables. A locker room bar occupies the basement while a mezzanine houses some rather cramped bowling lanes. This being the Midwest, it appeared that many of the bowlers were actually engaged in their games because they enjoyed playing, rather than in the East Coast ironic fashion.

Demos Papadimas opened the night with his unique blend of Greek and American folk influences. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Turning to the music, the night opened with a set from Demos Papadimas, Northeast Ohio’s Greco-Americana pioneer. Demos takes the rembetiko folk tradition of his Hellenic roots and blends it with the down home sound of the New World, producing an eclectic mix perfect as an appetizer for the polychromatic sound of the Womacks.

I’d seen Papadimas and his group before, at the Kent Stage, and I’d liked their performance, but after seeing him at Mahall’s I understand much better what he’s about. Even the front row at a venue like the Stage is far too distant to appreciate the more nuanced aspects of his sound. The ideal viewing radius for a Demos Papadimas show is approximately 10 to 20 feet away, and so from my table at the front of the stage I had the perfect vantage. In a small hall setting, Papadimas’ music feels much more lively, the multifaceted intricacies of his compositions become much more apparent, and the whole performance is simply much more enjoyable. The intimacy of the room was even more appropriate as this was a three-piece sans drummer line-up.

The set was mostly comprised of original selections from his recently released album Wandering Through the Wilderness but also included traditionals like “Cocaine Blues” and “Little Sadie.” The latter was memorably performed with the kind of old-school authenticity that would have made a young hillbilly Bob Dylan smile, a stripped-down solo first verse mushrooming into the full resonant power of Demos’ guitar, the deep-voiced beat of the stand-up bass, and the shrieking glory of the fiddle. The set varied between high-energy barnburners like “How Long?” and “Double Knots”—ironically breathless despite their harmonica-fueled rocketing pace—and more mellow numbers like “Wasted Days,” “Wanderin’ Through the Wilderness,” and “If I Had Religion”—their sedateness a perfect constitutional match for the low-light atmosphere of the room. Papadimas perfectly compliments the Womacks’ sound with his own distinctive blending of disparate traditions and they couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate introduction.

The Nate Jones band was making its third appearance of the day, but still brought a lot of buoyant energy to their set. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Sandwiched between the two was Nate Jones Band, a locally originated group of ironmen performing their third set of the day. They opened with the 90’s alternative part-acoustic vibe of “Another Night, Another Town” before transitioning into a breezy, sunny take on bayou rock courtesy “Music of the Mardi Gras.” In a rather ambitious move for a trio, they took on The Band’s “Ophelia” with a lively, well-executed cover. Whereas Levon always sung even his more spritely songs like he was a hard-luck character played by Harry Dean Stanton, Nate’s full-of-life vocals were a hallmark of this version. That breeziness was the band’s key feature, evident even in their heavier songs like the dark and light mix of “Wandering Love” or the Portland pussy rock feel of “What Goes Up.” They even managed to close with a rather bright version of “After Midnight” in tribute to JJ Cale, who had died the day before.

Haley Heyman's voice is one of the band's key assets, soaring above the instrumentation like it’s fitted with gilded wings. Photo by Jason D. ‘Diesel’ Hamad, No Surf Music.

Then came the main event. Now, before I detail individual songs, it might behove me to note just what makes the Womack Family Band so engaging. First are the member’s individual talents. Haley Heyman is one of the most talented singers you’ll see, her strong voice confidently expressing the whole range of human emotion. While her instrumental abilities are essentially limited to rhythm guitar and odd percussion, she does an admirable job of serving as a kinetic focal point for the group, always moving in rhythm with the music. Her financé Tony Schaffer is a multi-instrumental master. Athough outside of the studio his talents are chiefly displayed via blazing guitar solos, those alone are enough to mark him as an exceptionally talented player. Haley’s brother Noah Heyman likewise does an impressive job on guitar, but his bass solos always make the list of show highlights. And drummer Cory Webb somehow keeps perfect beat through the many changes of mood and style encompassed in any given song, can more than hold his own in a solo, and does it all with a look of pure mystification always locked on his face, as if he’s just woken up and found himself onstage banging away. While lyric writing by comparison is not necessarily the group’s forte, they show potential in that department and all four contribute some portion of what is really a thematic backdrop for their music, rather than the other way around. The songs they craft are complex, multifaceted, and perfectly suited to expression through the band’s collective musical talents.

Key to that expression is the group’s signature harmonies, led by Haley, Tony or Noah in turn, but relying on all three to create the perfect blend of interlocking voices that makes so many of their vocal lines enthralling. Whatever instrument (or instruments) any individual may play on a given song, they know each other’s abilities so well that every song seems primed to showcase the right person at the right time, with everyone working in concert to provide the best possible musical environment for that individual to shine. Their compositions not only draw from genres as disparate as folk, rock, country, blues and jazz, but often embody several of these all at once or in turn throughout a song. Their music is like a sonic representation of chaos theory, and it is this sense of the unexpected—almost of wonder—that drives their performances into such exalted altitudes. Even having seen them as many times as I have and knowing exactly what’s coming, the changes in tone that occur with amazing alacrity from one beat to the next never cease to be impressive in the extreme.

The band opened their set with the powerful electric guitar of “Down the Line,” a high-energy cut drawn from their EP From Chestnut that features a driving beat and 60’s mod-style vocals from Haley (with ooh-oohing harmonies from the boys) that calls to mind a picture of her strutting down some fashionable Kensington high street, turning heads from sidewalk cafes as her pillbox hat bounces by overtop a glowing smile.

From there it was just pure musical greatness broken only by short breaks to let the audience catch their breathes. Whether the slow, resonant gospel blues of “Sisyphus’ Stone,” the gently sloping lullaby-like melody of “Nothing” or the pure old-school rock goodness of “Sara,” the word “awesome” truly expresses the feeling of anyone witnessing the performance. The first portion of the concert built until it reached an apex with the mellow tones of “Goodbye Birdie,” which—in a perfect example of the band’s ability to switch gears without notice—was paired in medley with a rousing rendition of the gospel number “I’ll Fly Away,” completing a heavenly airborne theme.

In fact, the Womacks’ performances are so filled with highlights that they actually have to manufacture a climax, lest the whole thing remain at one constant level of adrenaline-pumping magnificence. This is accomplished again through a medley, twelve straight minutes of none-stop breathtaking musical splendor that can’t help but stick in the memory of anyone who witnesses it. The collection starts with the Caribbean-tinged original “A Silver Line of Peace” helmed by the golden-voiced Haley, which in its studio version is likely the best song the Womacks have produced to date. In its live incarnation, the band breaks without warning mid-tune, turns, and dives straight into a four-person whistle-blowing, bongo-bashing drum solo before again facing front and jumping right back into the song like the preceding insanity had never happened. With bedlam of an R.P. McMurphy level already ensuing, they then moved—with maybe one or two beats coda—into a rousing rendition of Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” With a punch-in-the-face guitar solo by Tony, the whole thing was made even more impressive by the fact that Simon had an entire African choir backing him on one of the most lush albums ever made, while the Womack quartet match the energy level all on their own. At the conclusion of that piece—and this time without even blinking—they spun into James Taylor’s beat-heavy “Traffic Jam.” Honestly, there’s no way to really describe just how great it is, and even the video doesn’t do it justice. It’s one of those things that just has to be experienced in person to be truly appreciated.

While that may have been the night’s climax, it’s not like the band slowed down after that. They did give the audience a few minutes to recover via the slow, jazzy dreamscape of “Blue” and the relatively light “Rhythm of Love” and “Far More,” but then kicked right back into gear with the perfectly transcendent three-part harmonies of “Oh, My Savior!” The heavy shuffle of “Bloodline Blues” exploded into a bass-heavy Pink Floyd-tinged jam that again displayed the group’s ability to master the unexpected. Likewise, the mellow “Sunshine Down My Way” devolved into a flurry featuring a riff on “You Are My Sunshine” by Haley, some blazing guitar work by Tony and raging beats from Noah and Cory that should have no earthly part of a song such as this, but which in the hands of the Womacks fit in just fine.

Even the Womacks themselves have a hard time not just stopping to gawk when one of their bandmates breaks into solo mode. Anyone witnessing one of their shows is sure to find a look of disbelief taking hold of their own visage. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

Put simply, there is no possible way to recommend the Womack Family Band highly enough. I’ve heard many refer to them as the best band in Northeast Ohio, a title they richly deserve, but their live performances have pushed their greatness well beyond those boundaries. Those living on the North Coast have the great fortune to be able to witness their ascension on a regular basis, but anyone having any opportunity to catch them at any point in their travels can consider themselves part of a lucky few. Remember these guys now, because when you do see them you’ll understand why they’re truly unforgettable.

Additional Womack Give Back shows are planned for August 17th at the Woodstock Cafe in Vermillion, Ohio to benefit VH1 Save the Music Foundation, September 21st as part of the Rhythm of Life Festival in New London, Ohio to benefit The Volunteer Center of Erie County, and October 26th at the Main Street Tavern in Huron, Ohio to benefit Susan G. Komen For the Cure.





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For a taste of The Womack Family Band, buy The Blue Room on Amazon!


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