Fort Mill Times

Get your blues on

The Highway 61 Blues band comprises (from left) lead guitar, Jake Haldenwang; lead singer, John Haldenwang; rhythm guitar, Jamie Stewart; drums, Drew Hassenzahl; and bass, Wendy Haldenwang.
The Highway 61 Blues band comprises (from left) lead guitar, Jake Haldenwang; lead singer, John Haldenwang; rhythm guitar, Jamie Stewart; drums, Drew Hassenzahl; and bass, Wendy Haldenwang.

Thursday evening's rain provided a blue, gloomy vibe, but inside of McHale's on Gold Hill Road, the blues music was a lot more bright and upbeat.

This was a night when everyone from amateurs to skilled professionals can come together to play blues and rock 'n' roll.

John Haldenwang, 51, brought his family to Fort Mill from Southern California about two-and-a-half years ago. He sets up the PA and handles the sound to allow fellow musicians to play, supplies them with a drum kit and plays some songs with his own band. John (vocals), his wife Wendy (bass), son Jake (lead guitar), Jamie Stewart (rhythm guitar) and Drew Hassanzahl (drums) star in his Highway 61 Blues Band.

Every other Thursday, beginning at 7 p.m,. McHale's hosts Haldenwang's Fort Mill Blues Club open jam.

"Having this night is important because it is good for my son to get the experience playing. There is free entertainment and a good environment for families," said Haldenwang, by day a project manager for Ferguson Waterworks in Pineville, N.C.

Haldenwang's son definitely has plenty of experience. Jake is a 12-year -old guitar prodigy who has the chops needed to fuel Highway 61's tight sets.

"Playing music is definitely the best feeling I have," said Jake, who goes to Gold Hill Middle School.

Some of the musicians lack the time to jam because they have other responsibilities. John Haldenwang said some are in school or have a career and their music often has to take a back seat.

"This is my playground and my passion," John Dattilio said. He is in sales, so having a chance to jam is very important to him. Dattilio, a Philadelphia native who now lives in Rock Hill, plays bass and said his influences are Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.

Ken Smart said he enjoys playing because when "you hit a good lick and people get into it, you feel good." Smart, from York, plays the guitar and said his influence is the Allman Brothers.

Haldenwang has been setting these nights up since December. Things start rolling around 8 p.m. Some of the musicians who play on stage together don't know each other, and that's OK. This is about those who love the music. The musicians get to play at least three songs before passing the stage to the next set of eager, inspiring performers.

The mood of the blues music was very mellow, as were the spirits of the audience. Whether the listeners were having drinks at the bar, playing pool or right up front, they seemed relaxed. Some of them were wearing T-shirts and jeans and some were in dress shirts.

"I feel successful having these nights because a lot of people come up to me and say 'thank you,'" John Haldenwang said with obvious pride.

Those stepping out of McHale's Thursday night probably felt a lot better about the rainy night because of the live entertainment they just enjoyed.

Anyone who missed it, or aren't blue enough, can return for an outdoor blues event at McHale's from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday, April 19. The fest has a $5 cover for anyone over age 10. At least a dozen bands from the Fort Mill area and as far away as Atlanta are scheduled to perform.

The open jams are held the first and third Thursday of every month.

For details, call McHale's at 548-2151.

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