Three members of the band Six Pack of Gentlemen are discussing the number of instruments they need to pull off a show when the phone rings.
They are sitting on the “recording studio” side of their new Morehead City business venture, Downeast Bound, where a drawing of Tom Waits hangs on the wall and books about jazz theory and instrument construction sit on a coffee table. A $100 Kay banjo, decades old, leans up against the wall of a corridor that branches off into various rooms used for student lessons, recording, and fixing instruments and amps.
But the ringtone chiming through the corridor is not a ditty by Bill Monroe. It isn’t something by Earl Scruggs, the Foggy Mountain Boys, or any other bluegrass act. The phone is playing Vivaldi’s “Spring.”
And this is a pretty good indication that Six Pack of Gentlemen is not your standard bluegrass band.
“We originally played only bluegrass,” explains Evan Faulkner-Hayes, a lanky 29-year-old with a beard and spectacles. “What happened was, we started to get very, very good at that and wanted to do something else.”
Want more confirmation? I met the band – Evan, Peter Pegues, Delancy Loftus, Mike Heeter, and Ryan Kelly – at Downeast Bound during a warm March evening to hear a rehearsal. The store is on 8th Street in downtown Morehead City, between a lawyer’s office and an art studio, and just a couple blocks down the road is Bogue Sound. At first the bandmates toiled around the entrance, apparently in an effort to delay the “La’s” – the vocal warm-ups. While Evan and Delancy are the lead singers, everyone has to harmonize. Eventually they went inside, picked up their brass instruments, and began playing.
Yes. Brass instruments. In fact, there wasn’t one blue-grassy element to this music: no boom-chucka-boom guitar rhythm, no clucking banjo, no sweat-dripping fiddle, no nasally singers somberly huddled around a microphone. Instead, I’m listening to a trumpet, a baritone sax, a trombone and drums. Bearded cheeks are straining and eyes are bulging. The song morphs into an original they call “Oopa Loopa,” in which Delancy trades the trumpet for an electric guitar. It is riveting stuff, with slurring brass lines and slicing guitar chords that climax in an up-tempo frenzy, but the music has more in common with polka than anything Americana. If one were to choke on some knackwurst during Oktoberfest, “Oopa Loopa” is a song that could be played at the resulting funeral.
Six Pack of Gentlemen has steadily built up a following since its inception in 2012, when the band played bar gigs for free beer. Since then it has performed at the Beaufort Music Fest, opened for national acts like the Quebe Sisters and the Grammy-award winning Steep Canyon Rangers, recorded an album, and scored a sponsorship from the “folkternative” instrument manufacturing company Gold Tone. The biggest gig is yet to come, however. From Sept. 27 through Oct. 1, the band will be attending the World of Bluegrass, the signature event put on annually by the International Bluegrass Music Association that is now held in Raleigh. The band is there to both represent Gold Tone and to promote the music scene coming out of the Beaufort-Morehead City area.
All of this is a long way from where they started. In fact, Six Pack formed mostly by accident. The initial seed was probably planted around the turn of the century, when Evan and Peter (also lanky, also bearded) were 14 and living in the Washington, D.C. area. Peter had been playing that Kay banjo mentioned earlier for about a year. He had paid for it by selling old, broken computer parts, but he was ready to try something different.
“You were getting into synths and stuff,” says Evan, sitting with Peter and Delancy – bearded but not so lanky – at Downeast Bound, where the smell of coffee hangs in the air on a Saturday afternoon.
“Yeah, synths and drum machines and keyboards,” Peter responds. “The banjo was hanging on the wall and Evan asked if he could play it.” Peter gave him the banjo.
About 10 years later, in 2012, Evan took up residence on Peter’s chair in Beaufort. Evan had just moved to the area, but there had been a delay with his intended home. One day, Peter and Evan, along with their friend and guitarist Mike Heeter, went out on the porch and started playing music.
Suddenly, they heard the screech of Volkswagen tires. They watched the car come to a stop, then reverse. The driver leaned through the window and asked them, “You guys playing tunes?”
They had never met this person before. They looked around, confirmed the obvious – yes, they were playing tunes – and the driver disappeared, returning a moment later with his fiddle.
The driver’s name was Jerry Moxley. He introduced the guys to guitarist Jordan Sutherland, who introduced them to bassist Ryan Kelly. Somehow, without really trying, Six Pack of Gentlemen had formed.
The guys would play at a couple of local bars in the area for free, but finally on Dec. 12, 2012, Liz Kopf, owner of the Backstreet Pub in Beaufort, gave them their first paying gig. The first album, named “Downeast Bound” just like the store, came out in 2014; it showcases the bluegrass savviness of the band, but also the willingness to create something of its own.
“We started off high energy, [but] it actually wasn’t very traditional in a sense,” says Evan. “We played a ton of traditional music untraditionally. We kinda played it more like rock and roll. Very high energy. Not as stoic. Actually moving around and dancing with the crowd, which is very atypical for your traditional bluegrass band.”
However, things soon had to change. Jerry left to pursue a PhD and Jordan moved out of the area. Six Pack was down to four, but in 2014 Delancy came on board, adding yet another dimension to the band. Sporting tattoos on his forearms and wide-gauge earrings, Delancy is more punk than his bandmates. He grew up around Harrisburg listening to bands like Rancid, Operation Ivy and the Misfits. He immersed himself in the local punk scene, but he also attended an art school to study music theory and performance.
Delancy ran an open mic night in Beaufort, and Evan would often run into him. “I just thought he was a great musician, so I kept trying to kind of troll him, asking him if he wanted to do something together,” Evan said. “Eventually he caved.” They would play together on porches, but soon Evan realized just how good Delancy was and brought him into the band.
“All the best music happens on porches,” says Peter.
Through all of this Evan and Peter were co-owners of Pete’s Diner on Arendell Street, but they were building a collection of music students. In 2015 they, along with Delancy, decided to rent space on 8th Street to use for lessons, and also stocked up on strings and other paraphernalia that musicians need. Word started spreading, and more people came to the store, expecting the typical retail experience, but the foot traffic started to interfere with the music lessons. Just three months in, Peter, Delancy and Evan decided to rent a second unit on 8th Street, allowing the students to be in one section and the shoppers in another.
Unable to meet the high turnover demands of companies like Fender and Gibson, Evan contacted Gold Tone, based in Florida, in hopes of stocking the company’s instruments. Gold Tone had heard of Six Pack, and decided not only to work with the store, but also got behind the band. In fact, it was Gold Tone that told Evan they should add some brass to their sound.
“I tell these guys this,” Evan says. “I got the initial impression they were not pumped.”
But they did it. Evan took saxophone, Delancy took trumpet, and Peter took trombone.
“And now we’re playing all sorts of ska and blues and even big band ’30s music, all mixed together with bluegrass too,” Evan says. “We’re playing Irish traditional and penny whistle and tenor Irish banjo, all in one set list.”
“I think we travel with 17 instruments now,” adds Delancy. However, he considers the ability to spread out, as well as the diversity of music that the band members like, to be an important aspect. “We all come from a lot of different places,” he says. “That’s what I think it takes to be a good musician. Give yourself a good spectrum, take elements from everything you learn.”
That philosophy is reflected in Downeast Bound. Need guitar strings? No problem. How about a new 8-string slide lap steel? Sure thing. Fancy taking a lesson on guitar, banjo, bass, mandolin, violin, trumpet – pretty much any instrument other than French horn, bassoon or oboe? Or maybe you want to sell your old guitar? Get your amp fixed? Lay down some sweet tracks for that concept jazz/surf album you’ve been thinking about making for years? Maybe you just need a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal?
Downeast Bound has you covered.
The store’s south entrance leads to the retail area, where electric guitars and basses dangle above amps bearing the names Kustom, Laney, Crate, Peavey, and Bandit. In the middle of the room is a stand-up bass, while a separate room off to the side holds many of the newer instruments, from high-end acoustic guitars to more uncommon instruments like banjitars and Weissenborn slides.
The north entrance leads to the student lesson rooms, Peter’s repair workshop, and the recording studio. The studio is still in its infancy, but the owners hope to build it up in the future. The goal is to put together a simple local recording label and have a place where area bands can record affordably. They will be using this space to record their next album, expected to come out later this year.
When they think about it, the members are still somewhat surprised by how Six Pack came together. “The number of times I tried to make a band and failed is amazing compared to the one time I didn’t try at all,” says Peter. “And it just congealed. I think the big difference is that once we saw it congeal, we started putting a lot of really serious hard work into the band and we didn’t let it dissolve. There were a lot of times when the band almost completely fell apart. We just put our heads down, powered through, didn’t even think about dispelling the band as an option.”
And you can expect more from Six Pack of Gentlemen in the future. While the band’s formation was somewhat of a happy accident, the members are clearly pursuing their future with intent. They see themselves playing in the theaters of North Carolina, hitting the festival circuit, and playing at more events like the IBMA’s World of Bluegrass. Just as important, however, is garnering some attention for the music scene here.
“I’ll be shooting to get us selected for more events,” says Evan. “Just to say, ‘We’re from Morehead City, North Carolina. Look at what we can do. Because the music scene is awesome here, and nobody knows.”