The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


July 5, 2012

Singer to open for idol, John Hammond

DANVILLE — Van Wagner knows exactly when he first heard music by legendary bluesman John Hammond. It was the incidental music in the movie “Little Big Man.” What’s a bit strange is that the movie, released in 1970 and based on a book written even earlier, is several years older than Wagner.

“My dad had an eye for classic movies,” Wagner said. “I watched them all when I was a kid, movies like ‘Davy Crockett,’ ‘Cool Hand Luke’ and ‘Jeremiah Johnson.’ When I saw ‘Little Big Man,’ I thought the music was phenomenal.”

After years of idolizing Hammond, on Friday, Wagner will open for the bluesman in a free concert at 7 p.m. in the Campus Theatre, Market Street, Lewisburg. There are no tickets for the show. It’s first come, first served. Doors will open at 6.

After becoming acquainted with Hammond’s music, Wagner made his way to Mugsy’s, a now-defunct record store in Bloomsburg, and bought an album of Hammond’s recordings of old-time acoustic blues music.

“That was in early high school,” he recalled in a telephone interview from his home on a farm near Danville. “His ability to make an acoustic guitar and his voice carry the song really hooked me. He knit together all the emotion of the song in a way that’s timeless.” Wagner’s musical style is more folk and country than blues, but he follows Hammond’s lead. It’s just him and his voice, along with a guitar, banjo or mandolin and sometimes a harmonica. No bass, no rhythm guitar, no drums.

Of his chance to open for Hammond, Wagner said: “I’m thrilled and surprised. It’s so special that one of my idols is coming to my backyard, and I get to open for him.”

Wagner, an environmental science teacher at Lewisburg Area High School, confessed that he contacted the Weis Center for the Performing Arts, sponsor of the show, and asked to open for Hammond.

“It never hurts to ask,” he said. “I’m thrilled on a personal level. I never dreamed I’d have this chance.”

He’s a bit nervous about Friday, though.

“I’m not nervous about playing,” he said. “I’ll only have three or four songs, and I’m concerned about picking the right ones.” A prolific songwriter and performer, Wagner has recorded 15 albums of original songs, most of which deal with themes of historic and environmental issues. His most recent effort, “Flood Sessions, Four Days of Rain,” will be available at the show, and a CD release party is scheduled for July 12 in the Old Forge Brewing Co. in Danville.

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