Philly's Wallace Brothers Band really knows how to transform a room. Every second and fourth Wednesday evening at Bob and Barbara's — an old school South Street tap room renowned for weekly parties with drag queens and lounge jazz combos — the Wallace quintet turns the B and B into the Grand Ole Opry with Country Night, and also hosted last year's Country Music Fest. Along with acting as house band, the Wallaces host and curate a list of Philadelphia acts dedicated to the sound and feel of Nashville. "There are places in town that emphasize folk, bluegrass," says Zach Wallace. "Yet, there wasn't really a place that focused on country music on a regular basis, so we thought it was a void that could be filled."
Now, the Wallaces bring the hootenanny down to the Italian Market on Aug. 27 for the free, all-day, all-night, indoor-outdoor second annual Philadelphia Country Music Festival at Connie's Ric Rac. "The Wallace Brothers Band loves going to Nashville and drinking and dancing to honkytonk music, so it's our attempt at bringing that feeling here to South Philly," says Zach Wallace. Joining the hosts is John Train, Minka, Hannah Taylor and the Rekardo Lee Trio, Grady Hoss and the Sidewinders, Mason Porter, two of songbird Sarah Larsen's bands (Hurricane Hoss, Ladybird) and many more.
"More than both bands; many local bands that I play with will be represented at Country Fest this year," exclaims Larsen, who plays fiddle on Mason Porter's new album "Heart of the Mountains" as well as gigging with Sparkle Pony, Hoss and Ladybird. "I met Zach and Colby [Wallace] through music and we've been good companions though the Country Nights," says Larsen. "Those two make me sing better."
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When he isn't singing and playing for the Donuts, Jon Houlon is the dark lyrical presence behind John Train, a large, hillbillyish band that presently features only Philly pedal steel guitar great Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner and Houlon.
"The big country sound of John Train is well-honed, but we started John Train back in 1995 as a duo," claims Houlon. "Our earliest repertoire included songs by George Jones, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, whose songs we play to this day. I hold myself to the standard of those honky-tonkers when I write my own stuff. Can’t say I’ve written one even close to “Your Cheatin’ Heart” though. I'm still trying." Along with celebrating the recently deceased Haggard, John Train's set will also find "the country heart" in cover songs by Prince and David Bowie.
"Country Fest is our way of polishing up our modest, divey, little country night for a full-on concert," says Zach Wallace. "Last year at Bob and Barbara's was bigger than we ever anticipated. We're proud it has expanded to the point where we need a larger venue, and we've moved to another beautiful and authentic venue. Connie's Ric Rac represents much of what Bob and Barbara's represents … authenticity, anarchy, rock 'n' roll and open-mindedness."
Along with country sounds, the Wallaces' fest will have hippie vendors, food trucks and, most importantly, boozing legally in the street. "It is country music, but we have a healthy mix of hippies, hipsters, punks, freaks, rednecks, etc. — a lil' something for everyone," says Zach Wallace.