NEPA Scene’s Got Talent spotlight: Guitarist Jason Vo and drummer Bryan Banks
Every week of NEPA Scene’s Got Talent, our free open mic and talent competition at Thirst T’s Bar & Grill in Olyphant, we feature a quick Q&A with the latest audience vote winner, which was guitarist Jason Vo and drummer Bryan Banks on April 21.
The weekly winner receives $50 in cash and the headlining slot for the following Tuesday, and all other performers are encouraged to compete again as often as they’d like or simply show off their talents for fun.
After 12 weeks, the 12 winners will face off against each other in front of a panel of local celebrities who will determine the winner of the grand prize – a vacation package that includes $500 cash, three days and two nights in Cleveland, Ohio to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Brewing Company, tickets to a Cleveland Indians baseball game, and a free recording session at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton when they return home.
We asked 33-year-old Clarks Summit resident Jason Vo and Dunmore native Bryan Banks about winning Week 5 with their mesmerizing instrumental skills.
NEPA SCENE: What brought you here to this event?
BRYAN BANKS: Jason Vo asked me to participate.
JASON VO: I’ve been attending the event for a few weeks. I heard it about it from Vinnie over at V-Spot and another friend of mine, so I thought I’d give it a go. Also, Thirst T’s is awesome!
NS: How long have you been practicing your music?
JV: I’ve been playing guitar and bass guitar since I was about 14 or 15. I spent time on other instruments before that. I also played orchestra bass a while and have been doing percussion seriously for about nine or 10 years.
NS: What interested you in music in the first place? How did you get started?
JV: Well, as I was said earlier, I started around when I got into high school. I used to attend a youth group regularly at the Green Ridge Assembly of God and was always surrounded by people playing the guitar. I really liked how it sounded, but back then, it was more of an electric fascination with me.
I got started when I went to where my dad worked; it was a construction company. I saw a broken guitar, and I mean a completely dismantled one, and said to my dad I really wished I had one. A few days later, I came home and there it was all put back together; my father’s a really great craftsman, albeit not a musician. My grandfather was a musician, though, having played country music growing up. He tuned it up for me, showed me a few chords and all that. I got a chord sheet and would just talk to other people and learned worship and praise music at my church. It was a lot of fun, and I just kept branching out.
I got into percussive fingerstyle around the time the YouTube explosion happened. I liked people like Michael Hedges and Phil Keaggy, but Andy McKee’s “Drifting” video and CandyRat really brought that kind of music to the forefront with modern audiences.
BB: I had a little play set when I was 6 or 7 years old, but never played; I didn’t really start playing until after high school.
NS: Is this something that you’re pursuing as a career or is it just for fun?
BB: A little bit of both.
JV: It’s a little of A and B. I would write my pieces with a certain mood or idea in mind. Sometimes they just come to me or work themselves out initially and I fine-tune them. My primary goal is that when someone listens to the piece, they really feel it. I want them to be moved by it, to go somewhere else in their mind and just connect. I love playing and composing. I am trying to make a career out of this; playing live is a strong suit of mine and I love everything about it. Playing, traveling, meeting people, and touching them with my music is awesome!
NS: What was your immediate reaction or feeling when you won?
JV: Excitement, of course! I’ve been there for a bit now, and competition is pretty rough. I see all sorts of talented players and people just come in and rock it. It’s an honor and a privilege to be voted into a win.
NS: Why do you think you won the audience vote?
JV: I think I’d like to say that people really felt the music. After Bryan and I got synced, especially after the first song, I think the audience really felt it. There came a moment where I literally didn’t hear anything except Bryan and I, and I looked up from the fretboard and saw every eye glued to us. I work hard at composing my pieces, and I think people really just dug it that night. Also, Bryan is freaking ridiculous on the drums!
BB: I believe they appreciated the originality of the compositions.
NS: How will you spend your $50 prize?
JV: Gas and food!
NS: Do you perform live in front of an audience regularly?
BB: Yes. Twice a week on average, sometimes more.
NS: Where can people see one of your performances next?
JV: I perform at a lot of open mics in the area. I frequent Duffy’s Coffee House, Legends Saloon, Waldo’s Tavern, and sometimes stop in at other venues in the area like V-Spot, Andy Gavin’s, Oak Street Express, Stonehouse, Lyrics, O’Malley’s, Suzie’s, Irish Wolf Pub.
I just performed with Jimmy Johnson for a youth rally in Newton for Country Alliance Church with Drew Sr. and Jr., and Sue Yurkanin as well as Brian and Karissa Kellet. Jimmy, Bryan, and I also just did a show over at Duffy’s. We have a show for the Campfire Music Series coming up in June, and a feature spot over at the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock at the end of June as well.
I’m still looking for more venues to book our kind of music. I tend to play out in public a lot as well, at parks, bookstores, and cafés, whatever. I just love to play!
BB: They can check me out online for updates.
NS: Where can people find your music online?
BB: At bryanbanksmusic.com.
Photo by Alex Seeley Photography
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.