Farmington Civic Theater’s musical guests will receive an early check-in at the “Buffalo Motel” Friday.
The Ann Arbor quintet of Judy Banker (vocals, guitar), David Roof (drums), Tony Pace (guitar), John Sperendi (bass) and Alan Pagliere (pedal steel guitar) will headline “Friday Night Live” at the historic theater and preview new material from Banker’s forthcoming “Buffalo Motel” album.
“It’s our last band show before the end of the year, so we want to introduce people to the new album,” said Banker, who will release “Buffalo Motel” in January. “We’ll also be playing some cuts from other albums, and Tony and John are going to take the lead on a song. Playing in a band with five of us can be really intimate, and we just have this creative energy all around us.”
Banker will share that creative energy with the Farmington Civic Theater audience and include flavors of Americana, roots, country and rock music throughout the band’s eclectic set. For “Buffalo Motel,” Banker has evolved into a country rock sound with heavier electric guitars and driving drum beats compared to her acoustic-oriented predecessors, “Devils Never Cry” (2016) and “Without You” (2014).
“The sound we’ve created for ‘Buffalo Motel’ is more layered and complex, and it’s a bigger sound with a higher volume that has more percussion and is bass-driven,” said Banker, who teamed up with son Ben Sayler to produce the album. “It’s nice to play the new album in segments, and a theater feels perfect for that.”
Banker is putting the finishing touches on “Buffalo Motel” with Roof, who will master the album at his Rooftop Recording studio in Grand Blanc. Along with Roof Sayler and her band, Banker has created a strong sonic signature for each track on “Buffalo Motel” and taken creative inspiration from established indie rock acts like Beck and The National.
“You have the same instruments and the same band playing on the songs, but each song has such a clear identity – more confidence, more integration,” she said. “I like my old songs and albums, but there’s a more confident and sophisticated approach with this one.”
Banker started shaping her sound while growing up in Manitowoc, Wis., and listening to polka music with her grandparents during long car rides in the country. She later became immersed in ‘60s folk, vintage country, pop, rock, blues and jazz and learned how to play piano and guitar after developing a deep appreciation for Joan Baez.
By the early ‘80s, she relocated to Ann Arbor and met her late husband John Sayler, a renowned guitarist, pianist and dobroist. Together, Banker and John Sayler formed the Jay Stielstra Trio with the legendary folk singer-songwriter and performed together until Sayler’s passing in 2012.
After that, Banker started writing her own music and adopted a traditional roots sound after listening to country music icons Loretta Lynn, June Carter Cash and Emmylou Harris.
She channeled her new sound and grief into her debut album, “Without You,” in 2014 and shared sonic tales about relationships, loss and love. By 2016, her second album, “Devils Never Cry,” followed a country-rich sound with warm love songs, lamentations and narratives that uncovered her own life experiences.
With her third album on the way, Banker relishes the opportunity to share her growing catalog of old and new favorites with live metro Detroit audiences before wrapping up 2019. Most of her shows in early 2020 will support and promote the release of “Buffalo Motel.”
“We’ll be pulling out a few songs from each of my earlier CDs as we may not have a chance to play them much for the next while,” Banker said. “We’ll also be playing a little John Prine, Dolly Parton and Gillian Welch along with a cool vibey Latin Playboys tune with John Sperendi taking the lead. A little bit of everything we love to play.”
The Dexter folk rock singer-songwriter and guitarist will bring sonic tales filled with nature, growth and personal reflection throughout his opening set. He’ll be joined by cellist Sara Gibson to add a new orchestral dimension to his three decades of rock and folk material.
“As an opening act, I like to try to establish and set an atmosphere that prepares you for the main act. I’m trying to gear the set to be like that so it’s more on the emotional side. Sometimes the song goes somewhere a little bit differently, and Sara finds a way to bring out the emotional part,” Gentry said.
“Have you ever had Constant Comment tea? It says on the box that the sugar brings out the flavor of the oranges. In a similar way, Sara brings out the emotion of the song more than what is already there.”
Gentry also pairs his laid-back, emotional songs with lighthearted humor and friendly audience banter. He’s quite easy to get to know through his latest self-titled, stripped-down folk rock gem of an album, which he released last summer. The album takes listeners down a nostalgic journey filled with dandelions, small towns, dirt roads, candles and full moons.
“It’s almost wintertime, and you need to get out and get your blood moving to feel that energy of an audience and a performance,” Gentry said. “There’s something really good about having an important show that makes you rise up and brings out the real performer and professional musician in you.”
Gentry started honing his musical chops while growing up in Dexter and listening to Elvis Presley. He quickly learned how to play guitar and later fronted local bands Max and True Story before moving to Hollywood in the ‘80s.
His first Hollywood jaunt included attending the Guitar Institute of Technology/Musicians Institute and studying with guitar virtuosos Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert and Eddie Van Halen. By 1989, he landed a position at A&M Records and ran into several famous musicians, including Gene Simmons.
In 1994, Gentry moved back to Michigan after experiencing the Northridge earthquake and studied music education at Washtenaw Community College and Eastern Michigan University.
By 2003, he formed Shining Farmer with Amy Willacker (piano), Gil Clark (bass) and Ted Ribbons (drums) and released the band’s melodic self-titled album, which included a mix of up-tempo rockers and introspective ballads.
Currently, Gentry is producing a new album called “Scarecrow” for Brighton folk singer-songwriter Linden Thoburn at Rooftop Recording. He’s also working on his next solo album as a follow-up to last year’s self-titled release.
In the meantime, he’s gearing up for Friday Night Live with Gibson and the Judy Banker Band. “There’s something really nice about playing in a place that’s special and a place where people go to listen,” Gentry said. “I want to bring the absolute best that I possibly can. I’m looking forward to hearing Judy Banker’s band.”
Friday | Doors 7:30 p.m. | Show 8 p.m.
Farmington Civic Theater, 33332 Grand River Ave. in Farmington