by: Julian Routh | news editor
More than a decade ago, Duquesne graduate Ben Alper was on tour with the Tamburitzans, playing Croatian folk instruments and dancing in front of packed auditoriums across the country.
Now, his instrument of choice is a natural Breedlove acoustic guitar, and he will play it to the tune of Dave Matthews Band on Sept. 12 at Mr. Small’s in Millvale.
One Sweet Burgh, Alper’s band, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of DMB’s debut album, Under the Table and Dreaming, with a night of smooth solos, jazzy saxophone and rock and roll.
“If you’re a Dave Matthews fan. and there’s definitely a lot in Pittsburgh considering how often he comes around, and sells out it’s going to be a great party and celebration of what was arguably their breakthrough album,” Alper said.
One Sweet Burgh formed in 2010 after Alper brought together a group of musicians to play a set of cover songs at the Hard Rock Café. Before then, he was in a band called Second Favorite doing original music.
Alper is the only remaining original member of One Sweet Burgh, which currently sports a lineup of seven multi-talented musicians.
Jake Werkmeister, saxophonist and vocalist for One Sweet Burgh, joined the band in 2010 because he first learned to improvise to DMB’s music.
“As a musician listening to these tunes, you come up with all of these ‘what if’ scenarios in your head in finding ways to expand upon the tunes, and we do like to experiment where we can,” Werkmeister said. “It’s very liberating, and makes you feel like you’re more than just a Monday morning quarterback.”
At Small’s, One Sweet Burgh will play Under the Table and Dreaming in its entirety, plus a few other hits. The album is particularly special to Alper, who often dreamt of rocking out to the songs on stage when he was a kid.
“Twenty years later doing this on this level, it’s really such a great feeling,” Alper said.
Alper sees original songs in the band’s future, but for now, he is satisfied with jamming through Dave Matthews’ catalogue. After all, that’s where the money is, and according to Alper, where the fun is too.
“It’s very fun music to play,” Alper said. “Plus there’s a lot more opportunities to score gigs if you can tell a venue owner you’re playing an artist that already has a great big following.”
Alper graduated from Duquesne in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He returned to the Bluff for law school in 2005.
His time with the Tamburitzans, which he calls “one of the best experiences of my life,” taught him how to be a confident stage performer. With the Tammies, he never sang a song or performed a solo, but he did hone his musical skills and learn a fascinating tidbit about show business.
“It’s not enough to just play your instrument,” Alper said. “You’re a performer. It’s important not just to play the notes as written and sing the lyrics as written. You want to convey to the audience your level of excitement and enjoyment.”
Tickets to the all-ages performance at Mr. Small’s can be purchased through TicketWeb for $10. City Love Story, a five-piece group from Pittsburgh, will open the show.