Sound and Place is a recurring series where we take Philly musicians to their favorite places in town. For this installment, we sit down over pints and PBRs at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar with Low Cut Connie.
“I like to play in environments where there’s some people in the room, first of all, who are not on our side that we can win over, and ideally there’d be some people in the room who we can uplift in some way.” Adam Weiner took a bite of his apple. “And in here you can find a lot of people on a downward spiral.”
The singer, pianist and frontman of Low Cut Connie sat in the back of Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar, a South Philly institution known for its personality, down-and-out charm and festive merrymaking. To his left was band mate, drummer and guitarist Dan Finnemore. To his right sat Lou Capozzoli, Ray’s owner and a longtime musician in his own right.
It was a rainy Wednesday night in early December, the bar relatively quiet at first, quickly filling with neighborhood regulars clouding the room with smoke, filtering back to greet Capozzoli, Weiner and Finnemore. The latter two had all but wrapped up a year of touring behind Low Cut Connie’s rambunctious, bombastic, yet refined and smart third album Hi Honey, out last April.
The trio sat at a table, the charming message “Music makes me smile,” painted on the wall behind them, huddled around a few sheets of paper, some of the typed text crossed out and amended in pen.
“You are witnessing right now the birth of the official Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar theme song, which is a collaboration between Low Cut Connie and Lou Cap,” Weiner exclaimed, arms outstretched, apple still in hand.
“We all walked in tonight and Lou was like, ‘Dan, before you go, I’ve got these lyrics I want to show you,’” Finnemore continued. “Lou was like, ‘I want your opinion, should I change it?’ I said, ‘Lou, don’t change a goddamn thing, man. It’s brilliant.’”
Capozzoli bore the smile of a kid who’d just been picked first for schoolyard kickball.
The lyrics were zany, endearing—“But the sexiest girl there was Low Cut Connie,” one line read—much like the bar itself and the band chosen to perform the theme song.
Weiner, who hails from South Jersey and currently resides in South Philly, and Finnemore, an English lad, are the main men behind Low Cut Connie, a band that’s become synonymous with rollicking live performances, crunchy instrumentation and theatric vocals. They’re a bar band who also play venues like Jack White’s Third Man Records and who’ve won the praises of the president.
They’re guys who live for the gritty moments, the wild stories, the knockdowns, the booze-fueled come-ups.
Which says a lot about why they love Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar so much. And why Ray’s loves them back.
It was 2011 and Low Cut Connie were looking for a location for a photo shoot. Weiner already had a soft spot for Ray’s and decided the locale would work. Capozzoli and his wife Rose were in-house the day of the shoot. A fast friendship ensued.
“We stayed in here for like, four hours, and I got fucking drunk,” Finnemore said of his first time at Ray’s. “And I was like ‘We need to do more stuff here.’”
So they did.
They captured their Ray’s hangouts in the video for “Boozophilia,” a drunken sing-along-inducing, Jerry Lee Lewis-reminiscent South Philly anthem off of 2012’s Call Me Sylvia. Capozzoli on saxophone joined Low Cut Connie for a pop-up show shortly thereafter. Rolling Stone caught moments of revelry during another (always) full-throttle performance at Ray’s, fans jostling and cheering as Weiner paraded on the bar. After “Boozophilia” made an appearance on Obama’s summer music Spotify playlist this August, the band returned for another Ray’s Happy Birthday show.
The success of Hi Honey has carried Low Cut Connie nationwide: Grand Rapids, Nashville, San Francisco, Tulsa. But there’s something about Ray’s that keeps bringing them back. It’s the bar environment that poses the perfect challenge for the band.
“I’ll tell you something, you could take a lot of very famous bands and musicians and plop them down in a little dive bar environment and they’d bomb,” Weiner said. “You know where you stand. If you suck, they’ll tell you.”
“I’ve had the fortune at a couple of points in my life, with this band and with other bands, I’ve got to play in front of big crowds,” Finnemore continued. “I loved it and it was amazing, but you don’t see the whites of their eyes. When they are there, I love that even more. So if you can do both, you’ve won.”
Not only did the Capozzoli’s welcoming attitude lay the groundwork for a fruitful partnership and friendship, the bar’s vibe and customers fell in line with Low Cut Connie’s sound and aesthetic. They love the thrill of playing in big venues, overcoming the challenge of making a large room feel small and intimate, but it’s performing at Ray’s, the physical personification of Low Cut Connie and their fans, that makes Weiner and Finnemore feel at home.
‘The people that hang out here, would you not say it’s kind of all walks of life?” Weiner mused. “Old, young, black, white, hip, not hip, whatever; bottom line is booze and fun. And that’s kind of what our band and our fans are, you can’t describe our fans in one word. They’re kind of maniacs of various stripes and they meet for booze and fun.”
It’s the pairing of old school and new school: An old bar and a new band, a retro sound for a new generation, the friendship and reverence the men who’s ages are decades apart have for each other.
“I love these guys,” Capozzoli said. “I love all music, I really do. But these guys, they’re one of the best rock and roll bands around, I don’t care what you say. I’ve been watching bands my whole life and, believe me, they’re one of the best rock and roll bands around.”
Hi Honey is out now via Contender Records.
Low Cut Connie, Sound and Place