The drive to Wild Bill’s in Duluth takes right around 45 minutes. Just inside the main entrance, the music still seems to be miles away.
Patrons snake their way through hallways and up ramps before they emerge into the main room, which is quite a spectacle itself.
The band onstage is strumming its way through cover songs, and I prop up at the bar near the back of the dance floor. I’m here to see the Conyers-based band, David Gardner and the Heart N’ Soul Band. They are up next.
Just 24 hours earlier, I was crammed into a small studio in Conyers with the seven members of the ensemble as they worked their way through the nine songs they were going to play as part of the Georgia-Country/Average Joe’s Entertainment Showcase the following night at Wild Bill’s. They were to be one part of the program, sharing the stage with three other bands from the Metro Atlanta area.
John Scott, who plays 12-string acoustic guitar, talks about how important the night could be.
"Average Joe’s represents some pretty recognizable names: Colt Ford, Montgomery Gentry, LoCash Cowboys. To play for someone from that label is a huge opportunity."
John, one of the founding members of the band, wants this to be the direction of Heart N’ Soul.
"We want to play the bigger stages," he said. "We want to put Conyers on the map."
Even though Heart N’ Soul has existed in many different incarnations since its inception way back in 2002, John believes the current roster is the strongest. In addition to John Scott, Heart N’ Soul is made up of Cindy Sauer (vocals), Jeff Donninworth (drums), Jim Scarlet (guitar/ piano), Dennis Ellerbe (steel guitar), John Joseph (bass) and David Gardner (guitar and lead vocals).
Gardner, who has been with the band for a little more than a year, is regarded as the missing piece of the puzzle, the "boy with the golden voice." His name has found its way into the band’s name, which is a testament to his talent and his following.
With all the pieces finally in place David Gardner and the Heart N’ Soul Band calmly takes the stage at Wild Bill’s on a muggy Georgia night. In gentle, blue light from overhead stage lights, they set up equipment for what could eventually prove to be one of the band’s more defining sets.
Somewhere in the venue, representatives from Average Joe’s Entertainment and Georgia-Country.com sit back and wait for the music. Fans begin to crowd in around the stage. The soft blue lights above the performance space go dark.
Out of the stage’s darkness comes the steady bass drum beat from Donninworth. As the crowd’s anticipation builds, other members of the band start to fill in the sound with riffs from their instruments. Finally, the lights come up and illuminate the stage as the band crashes into its set with the original party anthem, "Rock N’ Roll Cowboy."
For 45 minutes, David and Cindy croon through eight original songs off of Heart N’ Soul’s self-titled LP. John Scott says that the decision to play mostly original music was easy.
"We wanted to show them what we could do," he said. "We have some really great songs."
Scott is obviously proud of the band’s achievements, but this is not empty self-praise. Check out the music for yourself. It streams for free at www.reverbnation.com/theheartnsoulband.
The band finishes its set to the applause of fans who have pushed up close against the stage. The lights go dark once again, and Heart N’ Soul breaks down its equipment. I stayed awhile and heard the other acts play through their sets, and none of them had the stage presence or high-quality original songs to compete with David Gardner and the Heart N’ Soul Band.
Catch David Gardner and company at a local venue soon. You never know when Nashville is going to come calling.