Best Bets: Hoochi Coochi hyped for Smyrna at Night

The indie blues band Hoochi Coochi is made up of, from left, bassist Mark Reed, drummer Chelsea Grant, lead singer Danielle Johnson and vocalist and guitarist Fatz Hawkins. They play Smyrna at Night on the main stage Saturday at 7 p.m. (Submitted photo/Justice Clarke)

In less than four years, the local indie blues band Hoochi Coochi has stirred up a whole bunch of excitement and garnered fans up and down the East Coast.

Made up of Dover native Fatz Hawkins, Smyrna’s Danielle “Brown Sug” Johnson, Camden’s Mark Reed and Bridgeville’s Chelsea Grant, Hoochi Coochi has been a constant presence on the area music scene and is getting rave reviews for its high-energy shows.

The quartet is one of the headliners at Saturday’s Smyrna at Night free music festival taking place in a four-block area in and around Smyrna’s Market Street Plaza. Hoochi Coochi will play the main stage at 7 p.m. just prior to the appearance of the main act Robert Randolph and the Family Band at 8:30.

As in recent years, 24 artists will play at the event, with six instead of four on the main stage this year and the majority of them playing for a longer time than in years’ past.

Last year’s attendance was estimated to be about 7,500 people. This year, Smyrna at Night should draw about 10,000 given that this year’s event is being held on a Saturday, and for a longer period, from 3 to 10 p.m.

“We think of Smyrna At Night as the unofficial start of Delaware’s summer concert season,” said Smyrna Mayor Robert C. Johnson. “We’ve got musical styles for everyone’s taste, plenty of food and beverage options, great merchants and a Kids Zone too. And with Robert Randolph on the bill this year, we expect people will be visiting Smyrna from across the region. We look forward to welcoming everyone.”

Hoochi Coochi has played Smyrna at Night, which started in 2013, frequently and Ms. Johnson, the lead singer, marvels at its success and what Smyrna has become since she left the area.

“It’s really wild. Smyrna was such a conservative place growing up and it’s great how diverse it’s become,” said the 28-year-old Ms. Johnson.

“To do something like this years ago was unheard of. Every year Smyrna at Night has gotten bigger and bigger and it’s a dream come true to be able to play it in my hometown where I always kind of felt like a black sheep and a bit of an outcast. But it’s wonderful now.”

Ms. Johnson said she didn’t play sports and was a bit of a “theater nerd” growing up.

“My brother was the captain of the football team and he was the cool kid. So I sort of got a pass through him but sports never really appealed to me and I wasn’t too girly either,” said Ms. Johnson who now lives in Wilmington with her partner and the band’s drummer Ms. Grant.

The name Hoochi Coochi is a nod to Muddy Waters’ song “Hoochie Coochie Man.” The band started in October of 2015 when Ms. Johnson and guitarist and vocalist Mr. Hawkins had both left previous groups and were looking for a change of pace.

Hoochi Coochi picked up longtime drummer Ms. Grant in July of 2016 to round out their sound and bassist Mr. Reed in 2017 to add to the rhythm section.

Ms. Johnson said getting the extra two musicians in the group has made all of the difference.

Danielle “Brown Sug” Johnson performs during a past Smyrna at Night. (Delaware State News file photo)

“We wanted to get more people involved to bounce ideas off of one another,” she said.

“But what’s it’s also done is that it’s gotten me out from behind the snare and kick (drums) and put me more with the crowd. We’re not a very boring band to watch on stage. So I can be out running to the crowd, which I love to do. I love to stay connected to everything and get out there and touch and feel the crowd.”

Jeremy Hebbel, co-owner of Gable Music Ventures, organizers of Smyrna at Night, along with NuPoint Marketing, has had a long and fruitful relationship with the band. They have played frequently at their Wilmington all-female Ladybug Festival and will play this summer at the Smyrna Summer Concert Series at George C. Wright Municipal Park on Aug. 9, also produced by Gable.

“Hoochi Coochi is one of our favorite bands to work with. Not only are they dependable, and eager to perform, but they have a very unique sound and Sug (Ms. Johnson) does such an incredible job of connecting with the audience,” Mr. Hebbel said.

“We work with so many bands that are technically proficient, with a very high level of musicianship, but aren’t as good at working a crowd and connecting with our audiences. Plain and simple, we keep working with them because we have tons of fans requesting them on lineups. A lot of bands in our area can learn from their performances.”

Spending most of their lives in Dover and Smyrna, the original pair thought living in a small area would be too limiting for a group, but Ms. Johnson said they have found just the opposite.

“We thought everybody already knew everybody and it would be hard to get support but we’ve had fans follow us up and down the East Coast. It’s been wonderful,” she said.

“Festival crowds, especially, have been great. Hoochi Coochi brings a loving vibe. Friends and fans follow us around wherever we go. They aren’t afraid to get out there and dance along with us. We have a big support system that gets bigger and bigger as we get better and better at our craft.”

Shows have taken them frequently to Philadelphia and New Jersey and they play their first gig in Brooklyn, New York this week.

Their new single “Big Bad Wolf” will be released on July 15. That will be on the band’s upcoming third EP entitled “The Watershed.”

They are sure to do songs off the album during their Smyrna at Night set, which Ms. Johnson said they are really looking forward to.

“I love hanging in cool bars getting to know adults. But these summertime festivals open our audience to whole families. It’s so fun looking out and seeing dads dancing with their daughters and boogeying down in the sunlight.”

Grammy-nominated Robert Randolph and The Family Band perform on the main stage at 8:30 p.m. for Saturday’s Smyrna at Night. (Submitted photo)

Aside from Hoochi Coochi and the Grammy-nominated Robert Randolph and The Family Band, other main stage headliners are Chaplin the Kid, Stacia LaChole, Nalani & Sarina and The Susquehanna Floods.

National Public Radio calls Mr. Randolph’s funk-and-soul style on the pedal steel guitar “irresistible rock ‘n’ roll swagger” and Rolling Stone magazine listed him as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.

Earlier this month, Mr. Randolph performed with Dave Matthews at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He has also toured with Eric Clapton, performed with Carlos Santana, and recorded with Darius Rucker of Hootie and The Blowfish. Robert Randolph & The Family Band will release a new album, “Brighter Days,” on Aug. 24.

Smyrna At Night will also feature 24 food trucks, along with beer and spirits vendors and merchants. In addition to the WSFS Main Stage, performances will take place in venues such as the Smyrna Opera House, the outdoor stage on Main Street, Smyrna Music Garden, Painted Stave Distillery (outdoors and indoors), Citizens’ Hose Co. and the acoustic tent outside Lemon Leaf Cafe.

Designated free remote parking with free shuttle buses will be available; watch for signage.

Aside from the Smyrna at Night acts, Maverick Texas BBQ has booked Matt Sevier to perform during the event, and Blue Earl Brewing will feature Rehoboth Beach-based jam band Native Tongue.

Smyrna at Night Lineup

Main Stage
3-3:45 p.m. – Chaplin the Kid
4-4:45 p.m. – Stacia LaChole
5-5:45 p.m. – Nalani & Sarina
6:6:45 p.m. – The Susquehanna Floods
7-8 p.m. – Hoochi Coochi
8:30-10 p.m. – Robert Randolph & the Family Band

Smyrna Opera House
3:30-4:30 p.m. – Country by Night
5-6 p.m. – Jason Ager & the Golden Eagles
6:30-7:30 p.m. – Bad JuJu

Main Street (Outdoor Stage):
3:15-4 p.m. – Shane Palko
4:45-5:30 p.m. – Edgewater Avenue
6:15-7 p.m. – Captain Blue’s Grass Band

Smyrna Music Garden
4-5:30 p.m. – Tyler Greene
6:30-8 p.m. – Lights of the North

Painted Stave Distilling (Inside)
4-5:15 p.m. – Amanda Nolan
6-7:15 p.m. – Bethlehem & Sad Patrick

Painted Stave Distilling (Outside)
4:30-5:30 p.m. – Evan Fox Band
6:30-7:30 p.m. – David Michael Wilson

Citizens Hose Co. Fire House
3:30-4:30 p.m. – Calla Bere & the Attitude
5:30-6:30 p.m. – Gooch & the Motion
7:30-8:30 p.m. – Party Fowl

Outside of Lemon Leaf Café
4-4:45 p.m. – Chloe Rae
5:30-6:15 p.m. – Julia Johnson
7-8 p.m. – Nic Snow

‘Award Winners’ at Biggs

Starting today, the Biggs Museum of Art will host the Delaware Division of the Arts’ Award Winners XIX Exhibition, saluting Delaware’s best visual, literary and performing artists of 2019.

Each year, the Biggs Museum hosts the winning artists of Delaware’s most prestigious fellowship competition in one group exhibition.

The Delaware State Arts Council, in cooperation with the Delaware Division of the Arts, selects these fellowship winners from a pool of hundreds of literary, visual and performing artists at all professional levels. They are awarded cash grants, exhibition and performance opportunities and yearlong recognition.

The Biggs Museum has partnered with CAMP Rehoboth and Cab Calloway School of the Arts to feature this exhibition in Sussex and New Castle counties as well.

The exhibition, which runs until July 21, will hold its soft opening today during regular museum hours, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In addition, the show will be accompanied by an awards ceremony and concert.

The awards ceremony, which is free and open to the public, will take place Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., as they recognize this year’s talented group of artists. Attendees can experience the work of the 2019 Fellows in the “Award Winners” display throughout the second floor of the museum. Light refreshments will be served.

An “Award Winners” concert is set for July 13 from 2 to 3:30 p.m.

The event will feature performances by guitarist Kevin J. Cope and folk musician Shelley Kelley, with original music by composer D.H. Regnier. Registration is required. To register, call 302-674-2111 or online at

The cost is $10 for adults, $8 seniors; members, students with ID, and active military free.

The Biggs Museum of American Art is at 406 Federal St., Dover.

Meghan Cary at Sunroom

Meghan Cary performs with her trio at the Sunroom Songwriters House Concert Sunday. (Submitted photo)

The Sunroom Songwriters House Concert will welcome Meghan Cary, Petter Farrell and Bob Beach Sunday at 2 p.m.

Doors open at 1:30, light refreshments provided. Suggested donation is $15-20. All money goes directly to the performers.

Ms. Cary, who performed at last year’s Delmarva Folk Festival, didn’t mean to be a musician. But when her fiancé unexpectedly died, she picked up his guitar, figured out how to play it, and wrote her debut, earning her Billboard Magazine’s Critic’s Choice for Best Newcomer.

Ms. Cary’s song “Sing Louder,” a call to raise our voices together to make a difference, has become an anthem for the music-loving community.

To RSVP and for more information, email

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the next “X-Men” installment “Dark Phoenix” and the animated “The Secret Life of Pets 2.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is “Captain Marvel” with Brie Larson.

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