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arts music

Bloomington’s Street Pennies celebrate first anniversary at The Bluebird

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‘Twas the night before finals week, when all through The Bluebird, the crowd celebrated the first anniversary of Bloomington blues-funk rock band Street Pennies on Dec. 10. The band’s story began in a basement, and they now regularly headline at the famed Bluebird. 

While the old souls on stage mainly stuck to the classics, they also performed some modern mainstream music. Miraculously paired with bar crawl night and the holiday season, the cold night saw Santa hats and themed t-shirts dispersed throughout the crowd during the band’s 19th Bluebird performance.  

The eight band members played casually on stage underneath a sign reading “Pennies St” as if no one was there. A tub of iced beer was stationed next to drummer and IU junior Collin Waugh, one of the newest members of the band. Saxophonist and IU freshman Nate Cook is also new to the band — and just moved to Bloomington in August — replacing his older brother Ryan Cook. 

“I’m very in awe and grateful for the music scene here,” Nate Cook said. 

The band put a jazz spin on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to start the night. Guitarists Mason Bose, an IU graduate, and John Hasey, an IU senior, plus bassist and IU junior Jack Wanninger donned Santa hats throughout the night. Vocalist and IU sophomore Lucas Hallal also wore a holiday-themed shirt.  

In true holiday spirit, green and red lights shone while the band rocked out to “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand and “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. Wanninger shred on his bass while vocalists Hallal and IU senior Ollie Grcich knelt during instrumental moments while Santa shorts-clad Hasey meticulously shred his guitar.   

Related: [Indiana band Northwest’s new bedroom pop album discusses heaven and life transitions

As a blues band, Grcich said not everyone is familiar with their covers and they mainly play their own favorite songs. Wanninger said his humbling moments come, though, while on his way to Taco Bell after a show, seeing the band’s name on the Bluebird sign as he leaves for the night. 

Throughout the night, Cook was often the star of the show, center stage with the packed crowd leaning toward and reaching for him. Grcich dominated the lyrics in a white dress with her pure voice in “I Like It” by DeBarge. 

The band also played iconic songs including “Dani California” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage The Elephant, “Yellow” by Coldplay and “Black” by Pearl Jam. 

While the band doesn’t stray far from rock, funk and blues, Grcich replicated the voice of indie folk rock artist Florence Welch during the band’s rendition of “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + The Machine.

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Newest member of Bloomington band Street Pennies Nate Cook performs a saxophone solo Dec. 10, 2022, at the Bluebird. The eight band members performed an electric set to an excited crowd. Taylor Satoski

Grcich then introduced their cover of “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes, sharing that they played the song at their first show, exactly one year ago.  

“Everything has changed. I feel like I’ve had a major character development and my confidence has never been higher, but it’s never been lower at the same time,” Grcich said. 

A tried-and-true song for the band, Grcich heartily belted out “Respect” by Aretha Franklin while kneeling to Cook as he performed. Hallal sang “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy as the band performed. 

The crowd erupted during the band’s performance of “Kilby Girl” by The Backseat Lovers, especially during Bose’s guitar riff.  

Some Chuck Berry tunes made it into the evening’s lineup, including his hits “Johnny B. Goode” and “Run Rudolph Run.” 

“This is mainly a guy band, but I’m a girl, and this one is for the boys,” Grcich announced before performing “Drew Barrymore” by SZA. 

During an instrumental performance, the lights paused, and the crowd shone their phone flashlights onto the stage, illuminating the band.  

Related: [Local music scene: Dec. 8-14

Before taking a break, the band performed “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse and began their second set with keyboardist Michael Carter’s impeccable performance of the Charlie Brown theme song “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi. 

Carter, musically known as Just Mike, performed his recently released single, “Pink Butterfly,” with the band. 

During their last Christmas song of the night, “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” the crowd erupted and sang with Grcich. 

While performing “Lady Marmalade” by LaBelle, a smile spread wide along Grcich’s face.  

Headbanging commenced during the band’s performance of “Come a Little Closer” by Cage The Elephant. Hallal ditched vocals and took Bose’s guitar for the slower song, “Fade Into You,” by Mazzy Star. 

The crowd was shouting “encore” before the band was on their last song. After their performance of “My Own Worst Enemy” by Lit, the audience was persistent on prolonging the night’s end. The band came back out for one more song, “Can’t Take My Eyes off You,” by Frankie Valli. 

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