Lava Cave

In the last 25 years, music names big and small have come though Lancaster. Despite every change Fly has undergone, there’s one thing that we’ve never strayed from: highlighting the best of the local music scene. One such musician is Robin Chambers, who has been playing in bands like Modern Icons, Backdoor Victoria, Lavacave and many more since before the magazine even began. She graciously recounted various memories via e-mail. 

K: What are some venues where you miss playing or hanging out? Specific memories?

R: Lancaster Dispensing Company was the first local venue I had ever performed in, back in 1979. I was in the band Gypsy Bleu, and played there every week for a while, and then again, with nearly every other band I’ve been in, since... Modern Icons, C2H, Backdoor Victoria, Lavacave and Bjorn Jacobsen and the Wayfarer Experiment. It gave me a chance to hang and talk with many other musicians, whereas other clubs were too loud and raucous for such engagement. Back in the early ’80s, they would host concerts of more internationally renowned artists for whom I had the pleasure to open. Among them were John Hammond Jr. and Rory Block, who both invited me to join them on stage and jam. Wonderful experiences! I am glad Dipco is still around, but am saddened that it is no longer a music venue.

Robin with Modern Icons on Fly covers of years past

K: What was your favorite Lancaster concert memory as an audience member?

R: I LOVED Chameleon during the days that Rich Ruoff owned it. So many incredible concerts with very creative bands like The Daves and Brave Combo. One of my favorite events was, in fact, a Brave Combo performance that had everyone in the room, band and audience alike, in a sweaty lather, trance-dancing to psychedelic polka punk. Carl Finch, the lead singer, ended up with a local group’s “FEAR NO ART” bumper sticker glued to his forehead. On another occasion at Chameleon, I was ecstatic to experience an idol of mine, Patti Smith, close enough to feel her heat. To see an artist so seminal to my creative being... so culturally profound... right there before me on the very spot I often graced... well, it was intensely moving.

K: How has the Lancaster nightlife and music scene changed in the past 25 years?

R: Wow. A lot has happened to Lancaster in 25 years. Back then, I don’t think we ever imagined the town could be as culturally vibrant and relevant as it is now. In the early ’80s there were a few places in town to see live music: The Village for dancing to rock bands like The Sharks and West Philly Speedboys, Tom Paine’s back room for jazz, Dispensing Co. for smaller, often acoustic groups. Even though I started out in the business playing three to five nights a week, I needed to do so by traveling outside the city. Many people were afraid to come downtown, fearing for their safety. Also, there were not as many bands vying for those bookings. I believe people were more practical back then, in regards to how they chose to make a living. At that time, not as many folks gave the credence they do now to honoring their creative impulses and following their dreams. 

            But there have been different instances along the way that sparked the exciting environment that has led to a more rich nightlife here in Lancaster. In the early ’80s there were “Gathering of the Artists” events which drew together musicians, actors, dancers, poets and artists, coalescing kindred creative spirits. The opening of Chameleon led to an influx of a lot of world-class talent through the area, putting Lancaster on the map as a destination for the performance and appreciation of high quality music. New Art Voices was one of a number of groups dedicated to edgy artistic endeavors, and Pennsylvania College of Art and Design brought many young, culturally minded people to the city. After Gallery Row was introduced to Lancaster, with its First Friday events, the organization Music For Everyone began supporting a rich musical infusion in town with its Keys to the City and Music Fridays, as well as a wealth of concerts and musical support in the schools. People now have plenty of reason to come into downtown Lancaster, and businesses and musical venues have been cropping up in response to the new demand. The younger generations have grown up in an environment of richer culture than those of the past, and they crave to enjoy and participate in that creative flow. There are so many more musicians out there vying for gigs than there were 25 years ago, and, unfortunately, that has resulted in performers being paid roughly the same or less than they were back then. But there are so many more venues to support us, and recording studios abound. I adore the level and diversity of talent that can now be found in our own backyard, to collaborate with, be inspired by and simply enjoy!

K: Where do you see the music scene going in the future?

R: I hope the scene in Lancaster will continue to flourish and expand as it has in recent years.  As Lancaster continues to earn a reputation as a musical destination, I look forward to performances being featured more throughout the week, and maybe with a wider variety of venues with different settings appropriate for displaying particular moods and types of music. Also, whereas this area once featured more than its share of Americana, I look forward to a creative variety of new and unusual music, and with more culturally diverse influences, reflecting the wide spectrum of nationalities our community now is comprised of. 

K: What keeps you playing out in Lancaster?

R: Lancaster is my home.  I am proud of what we all have accomplished here.  I love the fellow musicians I have found and perform with.  I love the local people who come out to see us play, and move and sing along to our songs.  I love the folks who we work with at our venues in the county.  There is a mutual respect and care.  I've been playing music in Lancaster for a very long while, and I have no plans of stopping any time soon.

See Lavacave at Stoner Grille on Saturday, March 11, and Wednesday, March 29, at Tellus360 with Swampcandy.

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Kevin Stairiker is a features writer for Fly After 5. He is a graduate of Temple University and enjoys writing in third person. When he isn't writing, he's probably playing guitar for a litany of bands, reading comics or providing well-needed muscle at