By Lisa Morgan

This Saturday, March 1st, the Empire Polo Club will be metamorphosed into a swinging, suds and wine sipping, sonic celebration known for its third year as the Annual Rhythm, Wine & Brews Experience. To accompany the more than 30 tastings of specialty wines and brews offered in the beautiful setting of the Empire Polo Grounds, a creative assortment of original music is scheduled for your ears to savor as well. Rain or shine, these artists selected to perform at this event, will awe you with their pure talent and passion for their craft.

As you enter the gates into the transformed Empire Polo Grounds, your ear is sure to immediately bend to a rich, strong, beautiful, voice in total control as it skips along a true yet unpredictable melodic path. This will be the music of Caxton: Christina Reyes – Vocals/Keys, Brett McLaughlin – Bass/Vocals, Adam Surdin – Guitar/Vocals and Brian Pelletier – Drums. You will find their music simultaneously contemporary and vintage, and almost theatrical in expression. Caxton will invite your ears to yearn for the story line as you sense the satire and the earnestness in the delivery atop a very solid but happy rhythmic bed, original guitar leads and tastefully played keys. This four piece alternative indie-pop ensemble has filled LA’s Viper Room, House of Blues, Glasshouse, The Roxy and countless other venues throughout southern California. Oddly at ease and pleasantly cohesive both in spirit and at play, their music and energy reflect a gathering of souls who simply like to be around each other, with or without the music. So when they perform songs like “Plotting a Murder” or “Monster” there is no darkness in it. Instead, you’ll find that it’s absolutely delightful. Caxton has released two full-length albums and a string of EPs that have found their way onto the permanent playlists of those who have had the pleasure of seeing them perform. You can find their music at Plotting to release more music this summer, Caxton is a constant creative work in progress and may be one of the most fun bands to watch as their star climbs. And it will climb, I assure you.

Next on the Beer Stage, the masterful, instrumental jazz sounds of Penny Unniversity will treat you a completely different sound garden. Their music will greet you warmly and wordlessly through the skillful play of musicians, whose years honing their music, when combined, add up to almost 200 years of blood, sweat, tears and pure joy. Penny U brings a “trans-fusion” of jazz, Latin and global rhythms that are created to provide a transportive listening experience. Mostly instrumental, Michael Anthony Gagliardi, the world renown, left handed guitarist, will guide you along the gentle yet passionate journeys to San Gimignano or through an Escape to Capri, maybe even Over a Glass of Wine.


Alongside the poetically articulate Michael Anthony Gagliardi, are Ted Alan Walker on bass and Rene Almodovar on percussion. These three have been creating and performing together for over three years, and have been with the RWB Experience since its inception. Recently, Jack LeCompte joined the Unniversity. An exceptionally versatile drummer, Jack has recorded and performed with artists such as Anita O’Day, Les Brown Big Band, Stevie Wonder, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, and Natalie Cole. Another beautiful addition to the Penny U stage and sound is trumpeter, Steve Madaio, who has also played with Stevie Wonder as well as BB King, Ringo Starr and Melissa Manchester to name a few. These musicians bleed music and in the span of 90 minutes, they will offer up over 40,000 beautifully fluid notes to the delight of their listening audience. By the way, corporate sponsors PrimeVibe, Steve Clayton, Gaskell Guitars, Yamaha, Remo and Paiste think these guys are pretty special too, as all of them endorse these very talented musicians. You can follow Penny Unniversity and purchase their music at

Last to perform on the Beer Stage prior to headliners Buddy Guy, Aaron Neville and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, are Strangers That You Know. When wise old Solomon claimed, “There is nothing new under the sun,” he hadn’t been exposed to the creative force that is Strangers That You Know. This diverse group, who is in a continuous stage of creative challenge and discovery, make you feel all the comfort of the familiar while giving you something completely new and thrilling. In one song such as “Be It” they produce effervescent music reminiscent of 50’s surf music and blend it with a touch of jazzy sophistication, then anchor it with a simple but powerful message, “I don’t want to feel fine, I want to be it.” With another offering they put their hands right through your chest with a simple but compelling and all too relatable waltz-like ballad portraying the honest plea of a weary lover, “Calling a Draw”. The very pure, honest and at times heartrending vocals of Grady Lee clearly communicate the song in a way that truly tells a story that you can believe.

Strangers That You Know is Adam Haagen – Multi-Instrumentalist; Grady Lee – Vocals; Sjors Van Alphen – Bass; and Dakota Dobbin – Drums. This gathering of talented musicians may have come together, as they tell the story, by happy accident, but their song writing is pure craft. Their mix of genre’s and their grasp of that mix creates music that is deliciously fresh and ripe for the picking. Lyrically, their songs can run from simple to esoteric but always engaging. The skilled ear in which they construct and produce their music makes every song a unique sonic treat. Strangers That You Know will never bore you. These are not happy followers down the path paved by their influences. They are in the process of breaking all constraints and creating their own contemporary kind of symphony. Perhaps the only fitting word among all the labels we give music today is “alternative”. Strangers That You Know will always give you an alternative listening experience when you grow weary of hearing Everything You’ve Heard Before.

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