‘Bell Family Jam’ is a musical reunion

July 24, 2014
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T. Mitchell Bell is in the middle of three generations of family members performing tonight at the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh.
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Photo provided by John Harvey
Matt Locy will be one of the performers at tonight’s “Bell Family Jam” at the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh.

Summertime is family reunion season, and there will be one tonight at the Rex Theater on Pittsburgh’s South Side, though it won’t have the potato salad or awkward chit-chat with distant cousins that are typical of such get-togethers.

On the other hand, “Maybe it will be like Thanksgiving where everybody is the drunk uncle,” T. Mitchell Bell, one of the participants, joked earlier this week.

“The Bell Family Jam,” which kicks off at 8 p.m., will boast three generations of one local musical family trading off the mic. Bell, a Peters Township-based folk musician fresh off the release of his second album, “Witness,” will be there, as will his son, Christopher Bell, a Washington resident, and his group, The Weathered Road; the Rusty Haywackers, a Washington-based jam band whose roster includes Matt Locy, another of Bell’s sons; the Steamshovel Blues Band, a longtime Pittsburgh outfit with Bell’s father, Tom Bell, on drums; and the Recipe, a rootsy jam band from West Virginia in the vein of Rusted Root that includes Bell’s niece, Shannon Jones.

“We all get to play music with each other,” said Bell, who also hosts a radio program, “Acoustic Songs,” on WNJR-FM, Washington & Jefferson College’s radio station, “and we’re not sitting and making small talk. We’ve talked about doing (a concert), but we haven’t done it before.”

The plan is for the oldest members of the Bell clan to hit the stage first, though members of the family will be mixing and mingling musically throughout the night. Along with providing an opportunity to shine a spotlight on all the Bells, it will serve as an opportunity for Bell to promote the recently issued “Witness,” his first album since 2008’s “The Ballad of Philo Paul,” and for the Weathered Road to push its new disc, “Willing to Fall.”

“Music is pretty much my full-time gig,” Christopher Bell explained. Along with his duties with the Weathered Road, he also crafts commercial jingles. Given the family’s strong musical lineage, “I think you take it for granted because it’s such a natural thing.”

His dad, who is 53 years old, said his first memories include hearing his father’s band rehearsing in the basement and hearing Beatles records. Unlike many parents who turn up their noses at their kids’ musical obsessions, Bell’s father “turned me on to a lot of good music as I got older,” and bought him a book on playing blues harmonica when he turned 12.

Though the Bell family hails from Pittsburgh, Bell’s life was somewhat nomadic until he returned to this area in 2007 after stints in Seattle and Kansas City, Mo., working primarily with computer systems in the corporate world. Upon his homecoming, he decided to cast aside the trappings of the 9-to-5 and devote more attention to what has become a family trade.

“I hope everybody understands what a special thing it is for us to do this. Three generations is pretty special. It’s about legacy.”

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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