TRAVERSE CITY — Members of Grand Rapids’ Sweet J Band consider Kilkenny’s Irish Public House in Traverse City their home away from home.
“There’s just something about that place where people come to have a good time and are really receptive to live music,” said guitarist Matt Young. “We’ve created a little bit of a following up there, where we’ve really started to see some regular faces that come out to see us at the shows.”
That sort of devotion isn’t surprising for this bunch of talented musicians and music instructors who “just have a lot of fun” doing what they do.
The group which formed in 2003 as uber-popular Grand Rapids rockers Sweet Japonic and later served as “American Idol” singer Matt Giraud’s backing band, boast a huge catalog of crowd-pleasing tunes covering everything from Johnny Cash to AC/DC.
Young, guitarist Sam Parks, drummer Roy Wallace, and bassist Mike Phillips (with occasional keyboardist Davy Tyson) deliver harmony-laden renditions of songs with a bluesy and soulful touch.
That bluesy background stems, in part, from Young’s upbringing in a music-loving family, reared on Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. As a teen, “I was bitten by the music bug real bad,” he said.
That bug led him to a bevy of interesting collaborations starting at a young age, even performing several years ago with San Francisco- and South Haven-based guitarist Jimmy Dillon and the Werewolves, an assemblage which saw Young performing on stage with legendary keyboard player Chuck Leavell of the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers.
Parks, raised in Rockford, had a similar experience in growing up as a music hound. It’s no surprise the musicians hit it off initially in the roots-rocking Sweet Japonic, which developed an intensely devoted following in the Grand Rapids area, winning Jammie Awards for albums of the year from Grand Rapids community radio station WYCE-FM (88.1).