HOTBOX turns up the heat on Wednesdays
By Jen Ackerly
A typical Wednesday night for the modern couch potato might be a greasy cheeseburger, a Corona, and a date with your favorite television show Deal or No Deal. While that might be a dream night for the mundane sloth indulgers, there is a way out from cabin fever for the spontaneous and active. Every Wednesday night the Acoustic Café on Fairfield Ave. in Bridgeport, CT features the “hottest” music and atmosphere to satisfy any event addict’s appetite.
For the past several months, the Acoustic Café’s stage has been dominated by the musical phenomenon, the HOTBOX, hosted and lead by Roger Edel, Harlem, NY resident and guitarist. “HotBox” is an electric rock and blues jam open to the public every Wednesday night. The name “Hotbox” could have been inspired by the intense lights heating the small box shaped stage from above. The group contains vocals and guitar work from both Roger Edel and Darian Cunning. Cunning is a singer/songwriter from Bridgeport who frequently performs at the Café. The rest of the group includes Steve Detroy on keyboard, Mike Tepper on Bass, and the dual drumming skills of Kenny Owens and Conor Andrews. HotBox combines a mix of the artist’s original material and an assortment of covers. Like a tornado, Hotbox stirs up its musical whirlwind, blasting over the crowd, and feeding off of the audience’s energy to create their tunnel of beautiful debauchery.
I attended the HotBox recently upon being invited by friend Roger Edel. Good rumors and curiosity lead me to Bridgeport. Sitting on a comfortable leopard printed couch, I admired the avant-garde artwork for sale on the walls, as I awaited the Box to enter the stage. The red and purple Bohemian décor, mystical paintings, and hanging Asian lanterns give the café a modern Metro-European tone. Cocktail chairs and tables are accurately placed for the focus to be on the musicians. The café offers a selection of exotic teas, luncheon foods, and a small bar. Whichever your poison, one could chose from Makers Mark to Sam Buca, or decide between an imported beer or a good wine. I chose a smooth glass of the house Cabernet. A good glass of wine is a rare find at any bar rather music club.
Finally, the HotBox roars their introductory improvisational tune commanding everyone’s attention. Edel’s voice is so powerful he backs away from the microphone and turns a light shade of red. Edel wails his blues cries to the crowd, “baby you make me wanna holler let me hold your hand.” The vocal and guitar line matchup is mystifying alone. Edel’s solo work is detailed and passionate. Edel’s climaxes are so strong you wonder if he’d break a string from playing so hard.
Alongside of Edel echoes the sweet soulful sounds of Darian’s guitar. Darian Cunning, adds to the dimension of the project by aiding their call and response technique. Edel and Cunnings two distinctive styles set them apart, that when combined together make the experience miraculous to witness. Edel revives an old blues sound while Cunning adds modern textures blending rock with rhythm & blues. Edel remains classic while Cunning varies from sexy wah petals to the “ballsy” distortion. The vocals of Edel are reminiscent of Buddy Guy and B.B. King, strong and powerful. Cunning’s vocals are sensual and feminine at times when reaching those high notes.
Nearby, tickling his red & black Nard Electro 2 keyboard plays Steve Detroy. Detroy’s touch is light and insightful, filling in the gaps, if any, between Edel and Cunning’s guitar work. The keyboard’s chords nicely lift the heaviness of the guitars.
Holding down the low end is Mike Tepper on bass, thickening the blare with his rich raunchy bass lines. Seated anywhere in the café one might just feel their cushion move beneath them or see their drink ripple from the heavy throbbing of Tepper’s every stroke. Whether Tepper is taking “a walk,” giving a Latin groove, or playing a funky phrase, clearly the bass enriches the sound.
Contrary to the Acoustic Café’s name, the dual drum sets controlled by Kenny Owens and Conor Andrews refreshingly does not overwhelm the music. So fear not noise patrol because the joint drummer demolition of Kenny Owens, drummer 1, and Conor Andrews, drummer 2, is the perfect pairing of percussionists. Similar to that of the guitarists, the two drummers also have very different styles. Owens hits hard, precise, and very clean holding down the main tempos. Andrews’ style is animalistic and wild. He endures loud crashes and crazy drum patterns giving a jungle-like adventurous vitality. Each artist’s individual ingredient is essential for the groups dynamic. Each artist wanders off in their own metrical pattern waiting on Edel to communicate them back together.
As advertised, the HotBox, is an open jam allowing the public to join in. Edel shouts from above, “bring your guitar, voice, and harmonica and join us.” The HotBox boys never play a cover the same way giving regular viewers’ incentive for return and allowing both admirers and newcomers the element of surprise. HotBox’s covers range from Creedance Clearwater’s “Proud Mary,” James Taylor’s “Shower the People,” to their rendition of Bill Wither’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” There isn’t another group that could portray harmoniously the sex appeal and soul the song emanates. Soon onlookers sway and dance to the expressive melody. Only pleasant thoughts of that “certain someone” are conjured upon closing my eyes with the HotBox as my internal soundtrack.
Edel’s demanding presence awakens the mob grabbing their involvement. He requests responses while shouting, “Everyday! Every day I sing the blues!” Quickly the bunch stops their conversations and sings along.
HotBox revives that raw sound of the past when musicians would rent music halls by railroad tracks, packing houses and echoing the blues. The guitars preach while Detroy adds that organ gospel sound. Edels fingers act as extensions of his soul. Both Cunning and Edel weep an underlining sadness yearning for completion. Fans of the HotBox appear often and cheer on the musical sermon. People all around me place down their drinks and gaze in awe of these talented musicians. Even the beer-pong players are distracted by HotBox’s fierce musical force penetrating their ear drums. When last call is declared the mob cries out for more. HotBox descends their scales to their Big Finish and reassures the crowd that they will be back next Wednesday night.
Since Edel’s recent move to Harlem, the HotBox only has a short while until it relocates to its next destination of Brooklyn, NY. This means get there soon before you miss out. The Acoustic Café and the HotBox band is the perfect marriage for a Wednesday night. Whether you are a musician itching to play, a group of friends having a night on the town, or a romantic attempting to impress their date, Hot Box is the ultimate adrenaline rush to break free from the restraints of the usual week night. Before the Box heads out to Brooklyn, put down the remote, fill the gas tank and hurry over to The Acoustic Café and allow the music to heat up your Wednesday night; you’ll thank me later.
The Acoustic Café is located on 2926 Fairfield Ave. in Bridgeport, CT. For more information on the HotBox go to www.acousticafe.com.