The Chestnuts to Play at SFMS Cabaret, Sunday Evening, June 16th

By Chris Moulton

The Chestnuts will play at the Susquehanna Folk Cabaret, a fundraiser to be held on Sunday, June 16th at 7 PM at the Appalachain Brewery in Harrisburg. Information at www.sfmsfolk.org. Tickets (also available on the website) will be available until 5 PM, June 12th. After that call Jess at 717-319-8409 to make reservation. T_TheChestnuts

If you want hear a band that really connects with their audience, then you are in for a real treat when you hear the Chestnuts.

“Usually the crowd has as much to do with what we are playing as we do,” said Steve Haldeman, one of the founders of the group.

Steve explained when the band is performing, they will play a tune and gauge the crowd reaction. Then they tailor the songs they play to that reaction. The band gets heavily into requests as well.

“What usually happens is we play some songs. Someone says do you know this other song and we play something close to it,” Steve said.

Their approach as well as their sound has garnered them a loyal following ever since they got started back in 1968. Originally Steve was a bass player in a high school rock band and needed a singer. He knew Tom Chestnut and recruited him to be the band’s singer. Tom felt a little awkward just singing, so he learned how to play the guitar as well. In 2000 Jack Brunner joined the band and Alyssa Martin was added to the group about a year ago.

They band plays a mix of classic rock, country, folk, and blues. Some of the songs they play are drawn from the works of Johnny Cash, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Dylan and even Tennessee Earnie Ford, to name a few.

The story of how some of the band members met is an interesting one. For example, Tom drives a delivery truck for Snavely’s in Lancaster County. Snavely’s sells building materials and custom woodworking products.  Jack is a carpenter for a company that specializes in custom woodwork. Tom was delivering finished material to Jack one day when they struck up a conversation about music. They hit it off so Tom invited Jack to one of the band’s coffee shop appearances.

“Next chance I got, I grabbed my guitar and started playing with them. Brought some of the folk and ballad work into it,” Jack said.

Jack, who plays acoustic guitar as compared to Tom who plays electric, broadened the band’s sound.

“Jack is one of the greatest rhythm guitar players,” said Tom. “He is a great harmony singer and has a very expressive finger picking style.”

Alyssa, who plays violin also added a different sound to the group.

“Alyssa hasn’t influenced our song selection but has made the songs we do more interesting. Instead of a guitar section, we would have her play the fiddle,” said Steve.

Tom met Alyssa at an open night at the Farmer’s Hope Inn in Manheim. Tom would host the open mics there once a month. Alyssa would show up to play. Tom liked how she sounded and told the other group members about it.

“I went to hear her play,” said Steve. “We asked her if she wanted to play. I think we auditioned her on the porch. I had my base and Jack had his guitar. We sad let’s play this and she jumped right in.”

Together the band has played a broad variety of venues.

“We play everything from bars to churches, parks, community festivals, fundraisers, retirement communities. Jack does a lot of solo work and folk performances.” Said Tom.

They also make some of their own instruments. Since Jack is also a carpenter, he builds guitars. Jack’s first guitar took nearly three years to build because he first had to make templates, jigs and bending equipment. Jack’s first guitar was a conventional 6 string from which the top and back were made of porch treads from an old farm house his employer was repairing. The wood was going to be discarded, but Jack selected it for its age and very tight wood grain. Jack will be playing this guitar at the Cabaret. He has also built an 8 string model.  Only one commercial guitar builder, Taylor, makes an 8 string.

“It’s a lovely sounding instrument.” said Steve.

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