Metz staff member moonlights in band

He wanted to be Eddie Van Halen. And even though Mike Isbell never quite made it that far, his love for the musical stage is just as powerful as that of the ‘80s icon.

His devotion to music makes it logical that Isbell has been at it professionally for the last 15 years. He started with lead guitar, then switched to bass and was asked by a friend to join a band while in his sophomore year of high school. He’s been at it ever since.

Even in his uniform, the Gannon Metz employee can’t hide his alter ego with his tattoos, slightly long hair and chunky necklace.

And why should he? Isbell’s resume includes raking the bass in such Erie bands as Backlash and Phoenix Rising. He performed with the former – devoted to radio friendly, dance rock hits – for six years, while the highlight of his experience with the latter was sharing the stage with The Romantic Era.

“We are friends, and it turned out to be a good night of music,” he said. “Lead singer Connor [Kimball] is an amazing talent.”

Isbell’s touring experiences have taken him from clubs in Erie to those in Meadville, McCain and elsewhere in Pennsylvania and New York. With his current band, Switchblade Serenade, he hopes to do a coast to coast tour and possibly take on larger venues.

Members of Switchblade Serenade include Isbell on bass guitar, 2009 Erie Idol Becky Ray on vocals, Ray Shaffer on drums and Levi Firster and Myron Silvis on guitar. Audiences will be serenaded with a variety of rock tunes – everything from the ‘70s to present – and a couple of original songs are in the works.

Those interested can expect to see Switchblade Serenade live in March or early April. Isbell said he looks forward to touring again. “It’s a great way to meet people,” he said. “When you’re on stage, you see people enjoying what you are doing.” 

Isbell said sometimes an audience member will get a little too excited and try to upstage the band, but the band fights back with an excellent stage presence.

Though he said he thinks many Erie bands offer quality entertainment, Switchblade’s worth a listen due to Ray’s talented voice and the band’s excellent showmanship. Deliberate devotion to choreography, lights, effects and production values make for an entertaining evening.

“One minute we could be on the stage, the next we are on the table right in front of you,” he said. “You don’t know what we will say.”

Such devotion to extras doesn’t mean Switchblade neglects keeping the essentials fresh. “You won’t hear the same song twice,” he said. “You can request songs.”

It’s quite a feat for the band’s three-hour sets. Isbell said the sets don’t seem long because the band is like a family. 

It’s likely that their easy relationships come from a shared feeling about the power of a stage. Isbell said this rewarding feeling is hard to describe.

“Playing in front of an audience is more addicting than anything I can’t think of,” he said. “It’s a high I can’t describe.”

TESSY PAWLOWSKI

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