Sean Bendula plays in The Poe House, with Edgar Allan Poe lurking behind him. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
By Pete Zamplas- Sean Bendula is helping Hendersonville’s downtown club scene revive and evolve, and as Valentine’s Day approaches is proof that singing from the heart resonates deeply with both joy and sorrow.
The young folk singer-songwriter has a James Taylor-like style of tender, resonant, higher-pitched vocals and oft-solemn lyrics with bluesier guitar sound. “I play timeless music” of mostly originals, he said.
Bendula, 28, is among most frequent performers in two establishments on First Avenue in Hendersonville on different sides of Main Street near the Historic Courthouse. He played last week in The Poe House, at 105 First Ave. W. He also often performs in Sanctuary Brewing at 147 First Ave. East. It had its yearly Puppy Bowl adoption event on Super Bowl Sunday. He was among five guest local “celebrity” bartenders there, two weekends ago.
Other Henderson County venues are booking Bendula. He plays this Friday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Flat Rock Cider Works at 305 N. Main St., Sunday at noon in Blue Ghost Brewing at 125 Underwood Rd. in Fletcher, then Feb. 19 at 3:30 p.m. in Black Bear Coffee Co. at 318 N. Main in Downtown Hendersonville.
He also plays in some in Asheville where he is based, and summers in the Outer Banks. The Cleveland, Ohio-area native comes off a momentous 2016. He increased his steady gig load. He ratcheted up his video effort for the Music Video Asheville awards. Bendula has had happy times to write about for a year— with his affable girlfriend Amber Boyd, a model and stylist in the Asheville fashion scene. Many of Bendula’s earlier songs are heartache and longing — though also coping and hope.
And he relished as an avid sports fan. Superstar LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA title. Then the Cleveland Indians — the hapless team in the Major League comic films — reached the World Series and were runners-up to the Chicago Cubs. Bendula can chuckle at how he hails from Painesville, Ohio with “Pain” the operative sub-name. Understanding the overall angst songwriter Bendula draws on is partly realizing what northern Ohio sports fans have gone through for over a half-century.
For instance, when did the Indians last win it all? Try nearly 70 years ago — in 1948, in beating the then Boston Braves behind pitcher “Rapid Robert” Feller. The Indians now have the longest MLB title drought, after letting the goat-cursed Cubbies snap century-plus frustration. The Indians last reached the Series in ’54, getting upset by the New York Giants sparked by Willie Mays’ “The Catch” in center field. Meanwhile, the other MLB team in Ohio — the Cincinnati Reds — dominated the Seventies as the Big Red Machine.
The Cavs’ triumph was the first pro team championship for Cleveland since legendary runner Jim Brown led the Browns to the NFL title in 1964, two years ahead of the Super Bowl modern era. They beat the Colts, who would bolt from Baltimore which in turn swiped the Browns in 1996. The Browns typify Cleveland frustration. The most dominant NFL franchise in the Fifties revived in the Eighties and often reached the AFC title game. But the team was best known for falling a step from the Super Bowl, getting one-upped by the Broncos most notably in letting John Elway engineer last minute, game-winning “The Drive” 30 years ago. First eclipsed by The Catch, then The Drive.
A major 20-year wound is from the original Browns abandoning fans who loyally filled the large stadium. To get big-revenue luxury suites, a new stadium was sought with public funding that city voters and officials rejected. So owner Art Modell got his sweet deal in Baltimore, home to morbid mid-19th Century poet Edgar Allan Poe. Poe inspired the teams’s nickname Ravens with his famed poem, and lately The Poe House.
Modell, who died five years ago, was despised by Browns fans. He fired head coach Bill Belichick, who with New England has won a record five Super Bowl wins including in overtime Sunday after a ferocious fourth-quarter comeback by Tom Brady. Cleveland’s cross-state rival Cincy Bengals reached the Super Bowl twice in the Eighties.
Meanwhile, the Browns and their Fifties arch-rival Detroit Lions are the only pre-expansion era NFL franchises to never even make it to a Super Bowl. It gets worse. An expansion team took on the Browns name, but has disgraced it for two decades with inept play and mismanagement such as with draft bust quarterbacks Tim Couch and recently “Johnny Football” Manziel. Ohio fans are spoiled by The Ohio State Buckeyes. But otherwise, they have suffered much emotional pain.
Bendula also writes of the North Carolina coast. He laments how “I miss the ocean” and “it feels like I’m where i need to be,” in “The Light.” He lived briefly in Hatteras Island on the Outer Banks where some from his large family still resides. He studied at Chowan University. He worked in a health institute.
He reflects creative drive and restlessness with willingness to veer into new directions in his ballad “The Light,” with lyrics about leaving and the line “Not scared to lose, and shuffle my feet.” The light shines hope on the “darkness of my days.” He sings of “pain” and hoping to see someone special again soon, in his 2013 song “Carolina Sky.”
Bendula sings of “heart aching,” “trying to find her again” and “I’m wide awake, wishing she was here” all in “A Girl and Her Wolf” published last May. As he notes, prior heartache makes eventual happiness extra rewarding.
A revealing aspect of Bendula is how he entered the most basic video of all in the video awards two years ago, for “The Light.” The audience applauded louder than for most videos, when it was shown along with all other entries. It was filmed in a sparse home studio. The video simply showed scruffy-faced Bendula sitting, playing guitar and singing his heart out. He said at the time this “showcases me as a live musician.”
Then in 2016, again with a video by Chris Zaluski, the imagery stepped up significantly for “A Girl and Her Wolf.” Bendula is gain shown casually dressed, this time in dark lighting to fit the dreary mood of the bluesy music. Down-home aspects included old family film, a lit match, snowy scenes and his roaming the outdoors in a stark field.
He sings about an isolated lady, how “She’s a wildflower born in the wilderness…She lost her love; not looking for another.” The chorus includes “She lives in a little house in the woods. She keeps her doors open at night. The wolf will protect her.” Sean Bendula hopes to further emerge as among musical guardians of Hendersonville’s music scene. For song samples and a list of his upcoming shows, check reverbnation.com/seanbendula.