JP Sketchy Behavior: Ed Varner 1/15/21

(For those who do not know, I do ballpoint pen sketch art, and frequently sketch area musicians and bands as they perform on stage. It’s another way that I tell the story as I cover this area’s live music scene! This will be the first of many such pen sketch installments.)

Wind, rain and a little bit of snow didn’t thwart me from hitting the road to enjoy live music on Friday evening (Jan. 15), as I did the trip southward on I-99 to Bedford to finally catch my first in-person look at area s0lo performer Ed Varner as he performed at the Bella Terra Vineyards (formerly Briar Valley Winery).

Needing some dinner to enjoy while I watched Ed, I decided to grab some takeout from the Smoky Pig near East Freedom, who was offering a BBQ chicken dinner special – a barbecued chicken quarter, two sides and cornbread – for $8. Imagine the gleeful look on my face when I opened my container at the venue and discovered I was given two chicken quarters! Delicious!

Fresh off appearing on the cover of the December issue of Pennsylvania Musician Magazine, Ed was into his first set when I arrived and procured my table. Singing, strumming acoustic guitar and buzzing the kazoo, Ed set out to get the small audience of onlookers into a festive mood, and did so with his blend of rock and pop favorites from the 1960s through 1990s. Ed wasted no time pulling the stops to get folks into the music, moving his mic stand out toward the tables and coaxing a sing-along on Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309/Jenny.” He then demonstrated his kazoo and ooga-chaka-ing skills on B.J. Thomas/Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” and followed with a version of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Ed also did tunes from the Eagles, Dion, The Cars, Queen, Ben E. King and Fleetwood Mac during this initial set.

Ed showed more of his musical versatility and crowd-working skills on his nightcap set, opening with Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” After tunes from Tears for Fears and Green Day, Ed started to rally the audience once again, firing into Chuck Berry’s “My Ding-a-Ling” and Jimmy Buffett’s ever-popular “Margaritaville.” Ed challenged the crowd to reach the high notes on Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” and prompted more sing-alongs on versions of “Wagon Wheel,” Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” the Turtles’ “Happy Together” and Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Ed also did favorites from Elton John, Oasis, the Eagles, Chris Stapleton and Neil Young. He showed that hard rock and metal are part of his musical vocabulary with versions of Alice In Chains’ “Down in a Hole” and Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” And a pleasant surprise toward the end of the night came together as audience guest Samantha Diehl (wife of Bedford area musician Mark Diehl, also in the house) was coaxed up to the microphone to sing lead on the Everly Brothers/Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved” – her voice shined, and she and Ed combined for some great harmonies toward song’s end!

Of course, it didn’t take long after I finished off my chicken dinner to break out the pens and sketch pad to capture Ed in ballpoint ink glory! I actually was able to complete this one just before the end of the show! Ed Varner showed that he knows how to fire up a crowd on any given night. He’ll be back at Bella Terra Vineyards in March, so keep an eye open and catch his show for a good time!

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