Singer-songwriters bring folk style to Mt. Lebanon Public Library
Several years ago, a youngster with a guitar and attitude made quite the impression on fellow musician Ben Sweet.
“He somehow sneaked into open mic nights over at Hambone’s,” Sweet said about the Lawrenceville venue, “and I was just blown away by how confident this kid was who would get up there. He’s almost challenge the audience, yelling at everybody. And I remember walking over to him and I said, ‘Don’t change anything you’re doing.’”
The next time he saw Zack Keim was fronting his band, the Nox Boys, at the Three rivers Arts Festival.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Sweet recalled. “I was like, ‘Holy cow! I knew that kid.’”
Keim, now all of 21, and Sweet, 42, are the featured performers for “Music in the Stacks: A Back-to-School Folk-Rock Party for All Ages,” scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 15 at Mt. Lebanon Public Library. Get Hip Recordings, a Pittsburgh label and distributor led by the husband-and-wife team of Mt. Lebanon residents Gregg Kostelich and Barbara Garcia-Bernardo, are partnering with the library to present the show.
This has been a year of firsts, to say the least, for Keim: He released his first solo album, “First Step,” in May as the first recording in the Get Hip Folk Series.
“Doing the solo stuff is kind of like Ground Zero for me, because the Nox Boys kind of have a name for themselves, and my solo record’s just a little bit different,” he said about the acoustic approach compared with the band’s garage-rock style. “People have been receptive to it. I just want to get out and tour more with this record and play out at places.”
He looks forward to performing in Mt. Lebanon and catching up with Sweet.
“I’ve never played a show with Ben,” he said, “so that’s going to be kind of cool.”
Sweet, a 1993 Mt. Lebanon High School graduate, got started in music much later in life than Keim.
“When I was 25, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes,” he said. “It was a traumatic event, and I think one that impacted me, hopefully, in some positive way. Certainly, it’s a negative thing, but I think there was a sense of urgency that I didn’t have before that maybe came from that.”
So with the help of some friends, he embarked on a new path.
“There was one particular friend who got me a very basic music theory textbook, which I read, and pretty soon after that started to write songs,” Sweet recalled. “I sent one of the songs to a friend who was involved with Wednesday Records, and he ended up doing a mobile recording of that one track. He brought it back, and they asked for more songs.”
The result was the album “In Our Keystone State,” released on the Wednesday label in 2013 by his band Southside American.
“I also have another project, which is a little more rock and electric, I guess you could call it,” he said about his collaboration with Dean P. Henry, from Pittsburgh via Belfast, Northern Ireland. Calling themselves the Local and drawing influence from bands like the Jam, the Replacements and Pixies, they have wrapped up recording an album.
Meanwhile, Southside American is in the process of recording a Get Hip release, something that Keim and the Nox Boys are planning to start shortly.
“We’re heading back into the studio in November, and we’re working on songs, practicing here about three times a week at Get Hip,” Keim said. The band will record with Ohio musician Peter Drivere, who produced and engineered “First Step.”
Keim actually works for Get Hip, while Sweet’s profession is not exactly music-related: The Mt. Lebanon resident is a partner in the North Side law firm Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter LLC.
“I think that playing music and writing music is very consistent with being a lawyer, because there’s a lot of creativity involved with being a good lawyer, and we’ve had quite a bit of success at our firm in the past three or four years being creative,” he said. “One of the specialties that we’ve been involved in that kind of put us on the national map has been disability rights litigation. We represent disabled folks all over the country.”
In between all of that, he plans to continue writing songs and performing them:
“Hey, as long as I’m having fun and people seem to enjoy it, then I’m going to keep on doing it.”