The trio of singer-songwriters known as Hotels & Highways hadn’t performed in front of an audience anywhere together – other than a house party in Brooklyn – before they took the stage at the Saratoga City Tavern last Wednesday night.
Combining a CD release party with the launch of their national tour, the roots-Americana group played an intimate, yet well-attended concert on the third floor of tavern. Unlike the acoustic performer on the first floor of the popular Saratoga Springs watering hole, Hotels & Highways didn’t have to compete with the noise of a bar crowd more interested in drinking and having fun than listening to the music.
Tucked away in one corner of the room, Erin “Syd” Sidney sat behind his drum kit singing and playing the acoustic guitar that was resting on his lap. Next to him, Skidmore graduate and former Saratoga area schoolteacher Lisa Piccirillo harmonized with him, tickling the ivories on her electric keyboard. To her left, Patrick Thomas Cupples stood behind the mic, singing and playing a combination of electric rhythm and lead guitar lines. The group’s beautifully rich three-part harmonies flowed into instrumental lines would have made Crosby, Stills and Nash proud.
With the Saratoga City Tavern venue as the launch site for their national tour, you might be inclined to think of them as another run-of-the-mill band touring the country’s bars and coffeehouses. But for the next six weeks, Hotels & Highways will be criss-crossing the continent performing in showcase music clubs, concert halls and the prestigious SXSW music festival.
So then why launch a headlining tour from the third floor of a bar in Saratoga?
“It’s all because of Amanda Albright,” says guitarist Cupples. “She made all the arrangements and is paying for us to perform here.”
An attractive and business-savvy young woman, Albright has known the individual band members for over a decade – back to when they were all pursuing individual solo careers. “This concert is part of the Kickstarter fundraising program,” says Albright of the band’s fan-funded drive which raised more than $13,000 for H&H to record their album and hit the road. “I’m a friend and a fan, and this is my way of helping out.”
Cupples is based out of Brooklyn; Sidney lives with his wife in Ventura, California; and Piccirillo resides in Vermont. They’ve been friends for years and have even occasionally performed with each other, but last September the three holed up in a cabin in Upstate New York for 10 days just to write songs together.
“It’s that magical and mystical thing to do that a lot of musicians dream about,” says Sidney. Cupples adds, “So we all decided to get together in a remote spot, and do it just to see what happens.”
“We’re very comfortable with each other as musicians and friends, so we can do or try anything musically that we want with each other and not feel shy or afraid,” says Piccirillo. “We all know each other and support each other’s ideas.”
As a result, Hotels & Highways’ debut album “Lost River” – which is officially being released today – has an original freshness that’s delivered through tight instrumental playing, good storytelling and solid vocal harmonies. No new musical ground is broken here, but the band’s cross-pollination of musical styles with everything from early ’60s pop tunes to acoustic back-porch blues make the 11-song CD both undeniably catchy and alluring. “Lost River” is a little gem that offers way more than many an indie band’s diamond-in-the-rough feel, yet it’s not so polished and overdone to be mistaken for some major label’s product.
Playing their spotlight song “Train Whistle” for the second time as an encore, both the crowd and the performers were without a doubt having a good time. Bands with this kind of magic and the ability to connect with an audience are becoming a rarity, but Hotels & Highways are definitely on their way to making a mark on the music world.
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk