Words by Ted Lehr
Old Time Ways
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen Patrick Sweany perform. It’s definitely more than 50, but probably less than 100.
I first discovered the Massillon native through his weekly residency in the mid-2000s at the old Lime Spider on Main Street. Owned by Danny Basone, the Spider was the home to countless established live bands that were making their way through Akron while trekking across the country. It was also a space for young local musicians who were carving their sound and identity from scratch.
Sweany was one such musician. His Monday nights at the Spider were the stuff of legends. Ranging from melancholic and introspective to raucous and chaotic, each show was unquestionably unique. Sweany took attendees on a de facto history course of Americana music, with a syllabus covering everyone from Lead Belly to Buddy Holly. The middle territory was peppered with a cavalcade of powerful songs by musicians generally unknown to the casual music fan. These classics formed the framework of his setlists; his original material was peppered throughout each performance.
But make no mistake, Sweany’s shows were — and are — blues-soaked parties.
Eventually Sweany made the decision that many creative types of note must make: It was time for him to get on up outta this here town. In 2009, he moved to East Nashville to chase his dream of becoming a touring musician.
Fast-forward to November, 2019.
I’d been trading messages with Patrick Sweany via social media on and off for a week, trying to carve out some time to talk about his upcoming appearance in Akron.
I finally caught up with him on the telephone as he was preparing for sound check prior to a performance at The Lariat, a venue in Buena Vista, Colo.
I asked the bluesman about the first time he picked up a guitar. He said that he didn’t remember the moment. But his earliest memories of the instrument involve his father, who played in a folk group at their church. He would hang out with his dad and the other players as they’d practice. There was something about the guitar that spoke to him. He asked his father if he could learn to play.
His father was an industrial arts teacher who was feeling the crunch of the 1980s economy. Despite that, Sweany’s parents bought him an Alvarez Rosewood acoustic guitar.
“It was a good quality guitar,” Sweany says. “Probably more than he could afford.”
Sweany was 12 at the time.
“I was laser-beam-focused on it from that point on,” Sweany says.
At this time, the preteen bluesman was obsessed with Fats Domino, Ray Charles and Conway Twitty. This was during the glory days of hair metal and the like. Sweany has always walked to his own beat.
When Sweany mentioned B.B. King, his voice and demeanor noticeably changed.
“I always loved his music, his singing,” he says. “He was so absolutely emotionally connected… and tasteful. [He had] a great tone.”
He is passionate and respectful of Mr. King in a way familiar to me. King’s work MEANS something to him.
“It always seemed like he was his own thing,” Sweany says. “He came from absolutely nothing to be the greatest American success story.”
The discussion then turned to his time settling into East Nashville, after leaving Akron.
“It was the loneliest goddamn time of my life,” Sweany says. “I was completely restarting in the whole business. It was demoralizing.”
He found getting bookings difficult because all the best singers and players from around the country were concentrated in one place and he was the “new guy.”It took him 10 years to build his reputation and earn the current residency he has.
However, Sweany had moved to Nashville to jumpstart his career as a touring musician. For that, it was a honeyhole.
“[In Nashville] I could find better side-men,” he says, “which led to better shows and performances. I could make better records. Nashville was good for that, but it was hard. It was very hard.”
Everyday is Saturday Night
Patrick Sweany spent the next decade writing, recording and building his name in the industry. He signed with Fender Guitars. He also created some terrific art. In 2012, he released the classic Every Hour is a Dollar Earned. In 2015, he released the poignant video for the “First of the Week” single off of the Daytime Turned to Nighttime LP. 2018 saw the release of Ancient Noise, which is bluesy, compelling and authentic.
Sweany is headed back to Akron for a headlining performance at Musica on Dec. 28. With Columbus’ Angela Perley in tow, Sweany is looking to melt the collective brains of Akron’s music fans one last time before the close of the decade.
If you have seen Sweany before, the show is a no-brainer. If you haven’t, his performance will undoubtedly be an unruly party that will set an impossibly high bar for anything you see in 2020.
More information about Patrick Sweany is available at PatrickSweany.com. Visit AkronMusica.com for ticket availability.
Ted Lehr has been a contributor to The Devil Strip since 2016. Reach him at Ted.Lehr@gmail.com.
Photos via Patrick Sweany’s electronic press kit.