-by Garry Lee
If ever there was a place that justified the use of that old cliché, “if these walls could only talk”, it is the Grape Room in Manayunk, PA. Formerly known as The Grape Street Pub, it was in the mid 90’s the center of a very special musical community. It was one of those rare moments in life where the right time, the right place and the right people all converged to create something that now looking back on it was more unique and “larger than life”, than I think any of us realized while living through it. It wasn’t big or “classy”, just a small room with a stage, great sound and a group of people that cared about the music and each other.
I spent countless nights there with characters like Tommy D., soundman Mike and Joey “Beaver” drinking way too much Southern Comfort and running the soundboard for the now legendary Monday Open Mic. I remember hanging and performing with the likes of then up and coming songwriters like Jim Boggia, Ben Arnold and Joseph Parsons. I have fond memories of seeing great performances by bands like Isle of Q, Buzz Zeemer and even Medeski, Martin and Wood. It seemed like anything was possible then and it was. After all, we were all in this together.
So, these are the circumstances that surrounded my fateful meeting one night with two songwriters just back from Crested Butte, CO named Vanida Gail and Jackie Murphy. After being introduced to each other by mutual friend Derek Dorsey, we joined forces and started this little band called June Rich. It came together rather quickly. After all, the Grape Street was home-base to the other musicians we needed, namely, guitarist Allen James and drummer Ronny Crawford both long time friends. There was such a strong sense of community at the club and a group of regular patrons that made “building a following” not very problematic. The stage was set. Our long standing Wednesday night residency not only filled the room week after week but gave June Rich a unique opportunity to develop as a band in a setting that not only sounded great but in a club that was supportive of us and that literally became our home. We not only played there, we hung out there, went to see other bands that played there, and yes, partied there!
It was the place where we met our first producer, Steve Wellner, and where several record company execs came to check us out. There are so many significant nights spent there…our record release party, we played there the night that Jerry died, and we did our final show there…New Years Eve 1998. And so now, things have come full circle. My friend Scooter Best now owns The Grape and is trying to keep up the tradition of original music and quality sound…and I know it isn’t always easy. For June Rich, this return to the Grape is a return to our roots where we all took a leap of faith and where we all believed.
After the success of our show at The Ardmore Music Hall, it may seem strange to play a show at small venue like the Grape (club capacity of 120). But, I believe that there is something special in that little room, a vibe, an energy that still exists and certainly a lot of June Rich history and Philadelphia musical history within those walls. Even though 17 years have passed, sometimes you can still go home again. As Vanda Gail puts it, “Coming back to the Grape Street is like coming home. It represents a time of taking a journey, of creating special friendships and a musical bond that can not be explained”. We hope to see you there, ’cause we never know when we might get the chance again. Maybe we will even drink some Southern Comfort together! Peace…Garry Lee