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Lodi’s music of the night

It may not be Las Vegas or San Francisco, but Lodi has created its own live music scene, with tasting rooms and restaurants offering weekly sessions, from pop and classic rock to jazz and the blues

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Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 7:12 am

There is a 16-year-old who jams at a bluegrass night in Woodbridge. There is a pianist who plays 300 piano gigs a year. There’s a local band that gets people on the dance floors in tasting rooms and bands that get people jumping up and down and singing along until the early hours of the next morning.

This is Lodi’s live music scene. It exists in its own unique form, sometimes hopping, sometimes not — but many agree it’s stronger and more alive than it has ever been.    

These are regular — usually every week — shows in Lodi. Some allow you to listen to soothing sounds as you dine. Others are the main reason to visit a venue: For the purpose of having a good time and dancing at the stage.

There are dozens of local bands that have sprouted in Lodi, Woodbridge, Acampo and Lockeford. Some are solo acts, like those by pianist Gene Hanten, who plays classic American standards. Others offer a classic rock edge, like Crystal Image or Vine Dawgz. Others share a mix, offering Americana and blues, like Lodi band Vogel & Spencer.

Most evenings start out similarly, the crowd enjoying a drink or two as the band gets into their groove.

Bart Vogel, of Spencer & Vogel, says sometimes it happens in the first set. A song will inspire someone in the audience to get up and start dancing. Usually, it just depends who shows up, but by 8 or 9 p.m., they have a packed house.

Like most local groups, Spencer & Vogel warm up as they get started. It’s not all glamour, but everyone has fun.

“We don’t have the luxury of most successful musicians, where they have a dressing room,” he said. “We have to warm up on the fly.”

They start with more tender ballads and let it build from there.

At an open mic showcase held at the Woodbridge Grange, organizer D.B. Pacini says there are usually 20 to 30 musicians and vocalists who perform solo or may invite others up to join in.

There is no alcohol allowed at the Grange, but the seats fill up with audience members of all ages, she said.

“You might be sitting next to a great-grandmother in her eighties, who is next to her granddaughter who is 12,” Pacini said.

The Woodbridge Grange puts on monthly events that pack the building, including an acoustic bluegrass music jam and an an open mic showcase.

Michael Wilcox, born and raised in Lodi, has been a musician in the area for years. He says that years ago, Lodi didn’t have a strong live music presence because it was seen as something that encouraged young people to get in trouble.

“It was deemed more of a nuisance than art,” Wilcox said.

In recent years, he credits Lodi for gaining some ground in its live performance scene with Hutchins Street Square’s effort to bring national acts to Lodi several times a year. What he says, though, is that Lodi is missing something like a Harlows, a venue that caters to music.

Steve Ding, who has owned Woodbridge Crossing for two years, says his restaurant is just that: A music venue for local people.

“We’re consistent,” he said. “We do live music every Friday and Saturday night.”

His crowds tend to be couples or groups of friends in their 30s and 40s enjoying classic rock or country music. He brings in lively acts like Knottywood, Temphard Steel and Groove Deluxe. Some come for dinner; others show up strictly for the entertainment.

For Lodi musicians, playing at these regular venues gives them a place to practice their hobbies, especially since most work day jobs.

Vogel says that he gets to see his music take on a life of its own, and it’s always interesting to see when his music affects someone specifically.

“I’m a songwriter, so I love the opportunity to share the musical thought,” he said.

On a typical night at Lodi Wine Cellars, where Spencer & Vogel have been playing every weekend, they start playing their songs. Small venues and casual locations make it easy for them to get into a groove of the band. Most night, they won’t even use a set list. They will just flow with the music.

“We just kind of read the audience,” Vogel said.

Contact Lodi Living Editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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