Sister Hazel bandmates join JD’s Summer Songfest lineup

JD Eicher’s casual singer-songwriter festival gets a platinum addition in its fourth year.

Ken Block and Drew Copeland from the band Sister Hazel will headline this year’s JD’s Summer Songfest, which will be held on Champion Street in downtown Youngstown. The band sold more than a million copies of its 1997 album “… Somewhere More Familiar,” which spawned the radio hit “All For You.”

The follow-up album, “Fortress,” was certified gold, and it’s radio hits include “Happy,” “Change Your Mind,” “Champagne High” and “Your Mistake.”

“I’ve done a bunch of touring with them over the years, and I’ve done the Rock Boat, the music cruise they do, so I knew them from that circuit,” Eicher said. “They liked the idea of the event and have been super supportive.”

Eicher has seen Block and Copeland perform as an acoustic duo before and said, “It’s a fun set. It’s more of a Storytellers thing. Ken and Drew are hysterical together. They crack all kinds of jokes, and you get the story of the songs.”

Summer Songfest started in 2015 at Quaker Steak & Lube in Austintown, a DIY showcase for the Eicher and some of his musical friends. It has grown each year, featuring a mix of local acts and some of Eicher’s frequent touring partners.

“The idea was to create a singer-songwriter driven music fest in Youngstown that was family friendly and people could just bring lawn chairs, not a sweaty, shoulder-to-shoulder music affair,” Eicher said.

They’ve expanded the food offerings and added some portable toilets to alleviate bathroom lines, but Eicher said he was happy with the move to Champion Street and the SOAP Gallery last year. He believes using the old loading dock outside of the SOAP Gallery building is the perfect stage for a downtown Youngstown event.

“I love the vibe of that spot. “It felt like just the right touch of hipster but still very Youngstown.”

Rounding out the lineup will be past performers the Labra Brothers and Steve Everett along with The Vindys, making its first Songfest appearance.

“Steve played the second year, and I knew I wanted to have him back,” Eicher said. “The Labra Brothers are local mainstays. And The Vindys have always been on my radar. I hit them up about this year and they were able to do it.”

Eicher will play two sets Saturday, a solo performance to start the day and a full band set with Jim Merhaut on bass and Dylan Kollat on drums and percussion.

Just as the Songfest has grown in the last few years, so has Eicher’s profile in the music world. He’s released four full-length albums of original material (a vinyl compilation of songs from those albums came out earlier this year). He’s one of the most played northeast Ohio artists on The Summit public radio station, and he tours nationally and internationally.

His national profile got a boost in 2016 when best-selling author Nicholas Sparks picked Eicher to pen a song for his novel “Two by Two” and Eicher accompanied Sparks on a book tour promoting it.

Eicher’s latest release is “Ain’t My Scene,” which has more of a pop sheen that much of his earlier work. It was produced by Bill Lefler, who has worked with such acts as Ingrid Michaelson, Dashboard Confessional, Gym Class Heroes and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.

“He’s a pop genius in my opinion,” Eicher said. “He pushed me in new directions, which I was excited about … It just happened really organically.”

The song is part of an EP with plans to release a second single in October and the full EP early next year.

“It’s called ‘Compass,’ because each song on the EP goes in a different direction.”