Shawn Mercer can trace back the moment that his life in music changed to one night in Camden nearly four years ago.
“I went to see Greg Brown at the Camden Opera House. I had just gone through a divorce, so I was in a lot of emotional turmoil – the kind of stuff that’s really great for songwriters,” said Mercer, 33. “My current wife introduced me to his music. He just tells stories in his songs, and it seems true and real. It made me feel like I could try to tell what I know from my life in my songs. It was a huge inspiration for me.”
After a decade and a half that included a few long years tormenting college friends with his self-described “painful” guitar playing, a stint in a metal band and a lot of Pink Floyd covers at open mike nights across the state, Mercer finally had a true musical direction. And soon enough, the songs started coming.
Now with his own band – Shawn Mercer and the Boondock Blues Band – Mercer is a long way from his humble origins. He has a full-length, self-titled album of scrappy, warm, bluesy folk-rock under his belt, available at www.cdbaby.com and through his Web site, www.shawnmercer.com.
And he’s playing gigs, though not at many bars; he’s a family man with a wife and kids and a big plot of land in Orland. Case in point: Mercer and company will play a show with alt-folk trio the Toughcats at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Blue Hill Town Hall. At 4 p.m. that day, both bands will perform on WERU 89.9 FM.
“I like to play my own tunes, and it seems like a lot of bars in Maine want covers. Plus, with a family and a full-time job, I can’t really be getting in at 1 a.m. all the time,” said Mercer, who is a teacher at Troy Howard Middle School. “I’ve had a lot of fun playing festivals and coffeehouses and organizing my own shows. It’s fun to work with other cool musicians, and you tend to attract people who really like to hear original music.”
In the style of his heroes Neil Young, Mark Lanegan and, of course, Greg Brown, Mercer writes deceptively simple songs with a rough, unpolished edge. Bass player Brad O’Brien, drummer Eric Sanders and banjo and mandolin player Steve Tanguay add an earthy bar-band feel to straight-up blues rockers like the thoughtful “Back Roads” and the anthemic “Boondock Blues.” The indomitable Merlan the Intrepid Traveler rounds out the lineup with his soulful harmonica licks, and Tree By Leaf singer Sirii Soucy contributes backing vocals.
Though he didn’t consciously choose to play the blues, that style seemed to fit with Mercer’s outlook on life.
“I’ve always loved the blues for a long time, but I was always into the Seattle grunge stuff – stuff that’s sort of down,” said Mercer. “But my personality is more upbeat and about havin’ fun, so that’s the music that I ended up playing.”
To clarify some confusion: Yes, The Blues Cafe on Mill Street in Orono is closed. It will, however, reopen in March – but not as the Blues Cafe. New owner Mike Macioci plans to renovate and reopen on March 1 under the new name The Sports Cafe. Macioci intends to give the place more of a sports bar theme, hence the name, and is installing wide-screen TVs and a game room. But fret not, music fans. Live and local bands will still play there on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.