Get a bunch of sci-fi fans together or on the phone and the question is bound to come up: Who shot first, Han or Greedo?
Laughter erupts on the other end of the phone line.
“That was the quickest answer,” said Joey Katz, of Hanzolo. The seven-piece band with a veiled homage to George Lucas’ swashbuckling space rogue from Star Wars has a vested interest in the topic.
Hanzolo, is a funk and groove band out of Cooperstown. It emerged on top of a four-band field that competed in the finals of WEQX’s Battle of the Bands at Skyloft last month and has garnered the right to open this year’s Pearlpalooza festival on Saturday, Sept. 14.
The 90-minute road trip between Cooperstown and Albany makes for a good metaphor for the band. Something about a long road traveled.
“I was looking at pictures from when we first started,” said Carl Loewenguth, the band’s vocalist and guitar player. “We had crappy equipment. We had microphones duct-taped to PA stands. Now, we have nice equipment. So, it’s cool to see how far we’ve come.
This is a huge step for us to be able to open for these big bands. So, it’s really cool.”
The ambitious outfit is a seven-piece band that sounds like table butter. That’s how one fan described it one day, and the band stole it for the name of its latest EP. Fitted with a horn section, percussion, keys and the usual suspects, they walked up and looked like they felt at home on top of Skyloft’s expansive stage.
The final round pit Hanzolo against a tough field. Witch Culture, a four-piece alternative band from Queensbury, brought fans to the Skyloft. And, Daniel McGarr and his crew got the crowd to dance.
Bad Mothers also brought people to the show. The local alternative rock band had bowed out of a previous Battle of the Bands. The four-piece group had previously opened Alive at Five this summer, and was a favorite with the crowd. And, Belle-Skinner, a solo alternative folk artist from Troy, was named by Saratoga Living as one of eight local female artists who stand out in our crowded music scene.
Hanzolo is no stranger to the local scene. It dipped its toe into the local waters last year with shows at the Lost and Found in Albany. They’ve since returned several times on the prospect of crowds who get up and dance to the beat.
Outside of Albany, the band hardly sits still. It averages up to three gigs a weekend in and around Cooperstown. The week before winning Battle of the Bands, Jack Loewenguth, Carl’s brother and band’s bassist, said they all had a “crazy weekend” with shows in Boston, Oneonta, Cooperstown, Kortright and Jordanville.
“After we won that, it was great,” he said. “We got back super late, and then we headed right off to Michigan the next day. It was a 12-hour drive to go play a gig. It was the farthest we’d ever been, but it was really fun to be on the road with everybody.”
Each member of the band has roots established in the same high school’s jazz program. It’s where Carl said they all learned the seven major chords and the art of soloing.
“Growing up, we were always listening to funk music,” said Carl. Their mother fed them on Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon (think “Late in the Evening). Jack and Carl started playing instruments when they were 12. Their mother’s taste in music seeped into their play. “I remember teaching Jack how to play a bass line. I can’t remember what it was called, but I was teaching Jack these funk riffs from a very young age. Funk music just hits you right in the soul. It makes you dance. There’s something really nice and positive about it. It always really spoke to me and everyone else.”
When the band first started, it was just Carl, Jack and keyboardist Nick Summers. Summers also plays the trumpet. Pieces of the band started coming together five years ago as they all returned home. Katz, on the other hand, still lives in Boston. He plays the saxophone. Sebastian Green, one of the band’s two drummers, lives in Brooklyn.
“I feel like it’s a testament to how much fun it is to be playing with these guys,” said Katz, “and how good the music is — that Sebastian and I try as often as we can to come back and play with these guys. It’s worth the six-hour bus ride.”
Hanzolo opens Pearlpalooza 2019 on Saturday, Sept. 14 with a set that starts at 1 p.m. on North Pearl Street in Albany.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.