Piper Leigh and The Smoking Section: Smokin' at Snug Harbor
by Erik Mallory August 1, 2013
I pulled into Sung Harbor Saturday Evening after a full day of domestic activity: lawn mowing, laundry, cleaning and cooking. After all that, it's nice to cool your heels and beer at the neighborhood bar. Snug Harbor is a friendly little bar at Edgemoor and Lincoln; it's been a neighborhood bar since 1953 and is a stones throw away from the soon to be defunct Southeast High School. In 1953, this neighborhood was bustling with families. Just after World War II, Wichita had a housing crisis, so these small houses with two bedrooms and a one car attached garage were built. At the time, this was the American Dream: Own your own home, raise a family, have good schools and safe neighborhoods. Times have changed: the neighborhood is now mostly rentals to lower income folks; the school, which could be an anchor for the neighborhood, is being moved out where the money is. This is my neighborhood — Snug Harbor is about a mile from my house. I could run there if I were in shape. Snug Harbor is a well kept time capsule from the early '50s Wichita — it's clean, not flashy. There is enough room to drink and talk. It seems, in the '50s, people just needed less space. On this night, Snug Harbor has Piper Leigh and the Smoking Section. The Smoking Section consists of Jim Sanders on guitar and Ben Russell on bass. They couldn't have named this band more aptly. Jim is a rock-solid guitar player with miles and miles of well placed flash. He is as entertaining to watch as he is to listen to. Ben Russell holds it together with his low-end foundation, driving the band, creating the groove that makes you want to move. The heart of this band is Piper Leigh. She has a easy way with the audience, and is completely at peace with herself on stage, having a conversation with the room as if they are one person. It's as if you are in her living room. She pulls her voice from somewhere deep down inside her, and that raspy whiskey stained, bigger-than-life sound will reach into you and shake you. The band played for an hour then took a break, has a beer and mingled with the audience for a bit, then, back to the stage, twice. Three hours of soulful blues with its roots in the earth of Kansas folk music on a rainy night in a small neighborhood bar with friendly people. A fine way to spend a Saturday Evening.
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Piper Leigh & The Smokin’ Section will take you on a ride. Jumping from Blues to Bluegrass to Country to Motown, this group is tasteful and grounded in the groove. Piper Leigh and Jim Sanders, lead guitarist, have played music together for over 13 years! Winfield, KS native, Ben Russell, playing bass and flute, joined The Smokin’ Section in 2010.
They’ve been Smokin’ up stages all across the mid-west region. They’ve been crowd favorites at El Dorado’s Iron Horse Concert Hall, at Oakley KS’s Annual Annie Oakley Golf Tournament and have drawn appreciative audiences from one listening room to the next. They’ve appeared on the stages of Winfield’s Walnut Valley Festival, Enid’s Fling at the Springs Festival, Garden City’s Tumbleweed Festival and Guthrie’s Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival.
Leigh’s songs are anchored in folk and roots, while her melody and delivery show strong country and blues sensibilities. Her sound has the bluesy, earthy feel of Susan Tedeschi or Janis Joplin while also capturing the emotion and musical adventurism of fellow genre-hopping artist, Eva Cassidy. Piper is at one moment folkie and ethereal, the next moment a smoky chanteuse.
She has independently released two records, ‘A Night at the Cabaret’, a live performance (2006), and ‘Piper Leigh’, an original album, released August 2009.
Piper & The Smokin' Section are currently working on their next project, a cd/dvd combo of their most recent original songs & popular covers. What will this CD be like? Piper says, "This one is sure to out-shine, out-wail and just generally out-do anything I've done up to this point. But I guess that's the nature of the business...you're always striving to do something bigger and better.