Jason E. Hedrington may not be able to immediately rattle off every band he has been involved with over the past 20 years.
But he can tell you how much the Lehigh Valley music scene has changed within those two decades.
"There's definitely been an ebb and flow. For those of us who have persevered, per se, I've seen two or three good music scenes rise and fall," Hedrington said during a lengthy phone interview earlier this month. "There was a moment where every night of the week, the Funhouse (in Bethlehem) was packed. There was a lot of momentum, a lot of fans coming out to support that."
Hedrington currently handles keyboard duties for Easton-based rock band Roi and the Secret People, as well as music trio The Gonzo Project, and is a member of singer-songwriter outfit the Bastard Sons. Additionally, he occasionally performs with the group Phlesh, music ensemble Jakopa's Punch, and teaches at the Easton School of Rock.
On Saturday, the longtime Bethlehem resident will wrap up his career retrospective series at Blend in Bath. (He launched the five-part series in November 2017.) Hedrington has enjoyed the ride of self-discovery -- digging through his personal archives, fleshing out old song ideas and presenting the finished products to audiences for the first time.
"I feel like part of the process looking back is take a look at all of it and go, 'Where is Jason hiding in all of this stuff?'," Hedrington mused. "The retrospective has been educational in documenting the different Jasons along the way, quite literally; watching the different levels of involvement in my music."
Pushing forward back
Hedrington's first public gig -- not counting performing in his sophomore year at a high school dance -- was with the band Legend in his native Wisconsin, circa 1991. "The guitarist also played in his father's Golden Oldies band so we did things like 'Wipe Out,' 'Tutti Frutti, and 'Great Balls of Fire' in a mix of classic rock, and 'modern' rock for the time," he recalled. "Our first show was at a tiny bar in Stanley, Wisconsin -- population (currently) 3,608. I forget the name of the place but I remember I had a wireless mic and guitar and I was dancing on the bar while I played. There was a healthy amount of underage drinking going on as well."
Since moving to the Lehigh Valley in 1997, Hedrington has become known as one of the area's go-to players. His resume resembles a who's-who Rolodex of popular Valley acts, some defunct, others in various stages of dormancy: Emergent Evolution, Wandering Root, The Insidious Rays, Little Green Shack/Small Change, and Kef, among others.
"There was a point where I was at the Funhouse playing three or four nights a week," he said.
Hedrington said the Valley is on the cusp of becoming a nationally-recognized hotbed of live and original music, in the same way Seattle and Austin have -- but is admittedly puzzled as to why the area has not quite reached that level. He pointed to Easton's growth as a driving force behind the Valley's upswing.
"Even though I wish there was more momentum, at the moment in the Valley, for the first time in 20 years, I've seen a scene in Easton, even though Bethlehem always seemed like the center," Hedrington said. "For years, I didn't go to Easton. It was a whole other land... One of the things about Easton is, when you have the pieces, and you have this momentum, there's a little bit of that family, community feel that you can't replicate; it takes so many ingredients. Right now, there are good ingredients in Easton."
While he was quick to praise Easton, Hedrington complimented the Funhouse for continuing to nurture new bands. "The Funhouse alone has allowed Bethlehem to have a scene for 35 years. The Funhouse is kind of a microcosm of everything we're talking about," Hedrington said. "The musicians there are not untouchable; there's a camaraderie there."
Music for 'Dummies'
Adding to an already packed resume, Hedrington recently performed as a member of the house band in the critically-acclaimed Touchstone Theatre production "Dictators for Dummies." Hedrington said the play -- a comical, yet poignantly sharp sendup of some of history's most ruthless and evil leaders -- serves as a sort of sort of cautionary tale for modern audiences, dissected and presented through a farcical lens.
"It was a real learning experience from watching and listening to the crowds, to see where we are at with our tolerances and acceptances," he said. "There were a handful of jokes that seemed universally funny to all of the crowds. But then there were several jokes and events that brought laughter one night and crickets the next.
"You could feel it when the audience was trying to figure out whether or not something was funny or not--whether or not it was acceptable to be funny. And to me that speaks to our societal programming -- we've been told we can't talk about certain things or laugh at certain things whether we find them funny or not. I could hear the audience struggling with those questions."
In August, "Dictators for Dummies" will be brought overseas and staged at various festivals in Poland. The irony is not lost on Hedrington. "So we'll be in Poland, with a character who is Hitler's son, on the day Hitler invaded Poland, talking about dictators. That's heavy mojo," he said.
Hedrington has been especially happy playing and recording with Roi and the Secret People since joining the band in 2015. He recorded keyboard on the songs "Hungry" and "Saturn Girl" for RSP's 2017 EP Truck Stop Sushi, and appears in the music video for the band's single "Phoenix." (Hedrington said the band is currently in the studio and teased new music is on the way.)
He credited his bandmates' work ethic and chemistry, as well as their individual talents. "I went to my first rehearsal to watch (former keyboardist) Dan (DeChellis) play and take notes. The entire band showed up on time, the rehearsal started on time," Hedrington said. "Since then, I've grown to get to know all these guys and they're all genuine great guys... It's a magical group of people I'm very blessed to have fallen in to."
Hedrington is also excited about yet another music project he has in the works: Headeye, which will include bassist Shawn Cav, of Acoustic Bite Trio and Shawn Cav Ensemble. Hedrington said Saturday's show at Blend will mark the end of one phase and start of another.
"It's the first time ever leading band and me saying, 'Here's my music,' and telling people what to do," he said. "It's a springboard into the next era."
Keyboardist Jason E. Hedrington will perform 8 p.m. Saturday at Blend, 108 S. Chestnut St., Bath. There will be a suggested $5 donation at the door.