Monday, September 16, 2013
I’ve heard Shane Pruitt jam at festivals, play gritty guitar blues in listening rooms, and get down and dirty at bars. He’s a native son of Spartanburg, a city ConventionSouth magazine recently ranked among the South’s top cities for music and meetings, alongside Nashville and New Orleans, Austin and Memphis.
Shane’s the reigning heir to a Spartanburg tradition stretching back to master guitarists Hank Garland, Pink Anderson, and Toy Caldwell of the Marshall Tucker Band. Whether playing the Hub City’s Music on Main, Jazz on the Square, or somewhere abroad, Shane stands out as the Hub City’s six-string ambassador.
Uptown or down, Pruitt always sounds good. But there’s nothing quite like catching him at Delaney’s, where he’s got a semi-regular gig when he’s not on the road.
Tucked into the heart of downtown in Morgan Square, Delaney’s has a “Cheers” atmosphere that’s neither retro nor out of date. It’s as timeless as an Irish pub with that public drinking house air of “eat, drink, and be merry while the band plays on.”
On a recent evening, a half-hour before the show, I ran into Pruitt while he and the band were loading in. We chatted in the street while he strained under the weight of an electric guitar case and an amp. We agreed to meet up later and have a drink. He’s easy-going with red hair pulled back in a pony-tail and a smooth Piedmont drawl.
Inside Delaney’s, I took a booth with a good view of the stage, but not too close, because the band can get pretty wound up.
The pub runs deep into the building, all lacquered hardwood, dark green felt, Christmas lights strung overhead, sparkling glass, brick walls, and beer signs. Flat screen televisions alternate between tennis and baseball.
An upbeat waitress who was both busy and genuinely friendly brought me a menu that offered Irish fare—appetizers, sandwiches, steaks, seafood, pasta and salads. Fish and chips, of course, and shepherd’s pie, neither of which I’d had in a long while. Fried Pickles! The waitress assured me that people—a lot of perfectly normal people—order and actually eat the fried pickles. And Delaney’s is, indeed, open 365 days a year from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., and those pickles are right there waiting.
I’d already eaten dinner, though, so I went for the fried mozzarella. The food was good—maybe even better than I thought it would be—crisp batter, lightly peppered, not too oily, but not too dry, and the marinara had not been sweetened into some sort of pasty catsup. Perfect.
All tuned up and sound-checked, the band launched into a bluesy jam, with Pruitt sitting out front, his electric guitar growling and ragged around the edges. Jim Peterman, tickling away on his Fender Rhodes electric piano, gave me chills, and I became suddenly aware of the thick groove underneath. That was Dave Cannon on the bass, keeping it all together.
Pruitt was really on that night. Everyone knew it. The air crackled.
“If I’m not inspired, the crowd won’t catch fire,” Pruitt told me later after performing a mix of originals and blues covers, including “Ain’t Got Nobody” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” “You’ve got to keep yourself inspired. Inspiration’s the sparkplug: you gotta have that to ignite the engine or it won’t turn over.”
And turn over it did. The beer signs on the wall vibrated, rippling silver: Newcastle, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams.
More and more people pushed in and the crowd thickened.
“Going to be a good night,” said Peterman, in between songs. “We’re glad you’re here.”
Pruitt smiled, adjusted a tuning peg, called to Peterman who smiled back, nodded, and lead the band into the next tune.
I’m not much of a drinker and it was a good thing because Delaney’s has nearly three dozen beers on draft, more than a 100 different bottled beers, and 120-plus varieties of liquor. Don’t worry. I didn’t count. The proprietor told me. He also said that Guinness flowed like the Pacolet River after a rainstorm and that they didn’t have to push the craft beers from R. J. Rockers and Highland Brewery. That stuff sold itself.
Midway through the first set, I was swaying and grinning. The drummer, Bill Fletcher, had a late 60s, early 70s Santana percussionist thing going on and Pruitt played straight from the heart. He might’ve been sitting on a chair, but the rest of us were on our feet by the time he closed out the set with “Dear Prudence.”
“I’m a heart player,” Pruitt said later. “I can’t get up there and just call it in. I’m not good at shucking and jiving. I turn it on and go to my happy place and the music plays me.” The second set got friendlier, rowdier, looser. As I said, this was one of—if not the—best place around to see the Shane Pruitt Band. It had a casual, good times atmosphere with enough international flavor to add spice and enough hominess to be comfortable—the menu, the beer, the friendly staff, the music, the fried mozzarella, and, of course, the music.
“The music just makes everything better,” said Pruitt. “I could be in the worst mood and then I play and everything is all better. Music is good medicine. Good for the body. Good for the soul. It brings people together.”
Jeremy L. C. Jones, HubCity Writers Project
Jeremy is a freelance writer, editor, and lecturer living in Spartanburg County with his wife, daughter, and two miniature poodles. He teaches English part-time at Wofford College, volunteers at the Carolina Poodle Rescue’s dog sanctuary, and plays folk ukulele … but not very well.