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Hampton music lovers pay it forward with traveling musicians

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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Tim and Debby Wolfson at The Cheer'ly Men show at Hambones in Lawrenceville on Friday, March 20, 2015.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
Amber Buric performs with The Cheer'ly Men at Hambones in Lawrenceville on Friday, March 20, 2015.
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Guy Wathen | Trib Total Media
The Cheer'ly Men perform at Hambones in Lawrenceville on Friday, March 20, 2015.

Any musician knows life on the road can be tough. Between long drives and late nights, creature comforts can be hard to come by.

For some acts, finding a warm bed and hot meal is as simple as a pit stop at the Hampton home of two music lovers. There, the only fee is friendship.

Tim and Debby Wolfson are the duo behind Music Night on Jupiter, a labor-of-love promotion project that often involves giving acts a place to stay.

“Traveling musicians lead rough lives,” Tim Wolfson says. “If they don’t have somewhere to stay, they sleep in their cars or they shack up six to a room at a Motel 6. If we can give them a good place to sleep and a decent meal, it works out.”

When the couple’s adult children moved out, they found themselves with plenty of extra space in their four-bedroom house on Jupiter Drive. The longtime music fans started offering performer friends a place to stay after gigs. Those evenings inevitably included performances, and the name Music Night on Jupiter stuck.

Word spread, and bands passing through Pittsburgh en route to other cities started staying with the couple. The music nights outgrew the couple’s living room, so they built a small stage in their backyard. When even that became too crowded, they started working with Pittsburgh Winery to book shows at the venue.

“If every city had a Tim and Deb Wolfson, there would be far less ‘starving artists’ out there,” says Tim Gaber of Pittsburgh Winery. “They truly come from a place of love and passion for good music and musicians.

“We share that respect for those willing to put it on the line and go out on the road with nothing but a song. They have opened my ears to some pretty cool music, and we have embraced it here at the winery. They are not afraid to take chances on unknown artists that they believe in, and neither are we.”

Now, the Wolfsons host several bands a month and help them book shows at spots all over the city, including the Thunderbird Cafe, Wigle Whiskey and Cattivo. They get the word out primarily through social media.

“It took us awhile to get credibility,” Tim Wolfson says. “Imagine me saying to you, ‘You don’t know me at all, but I love your songs, so if you come to Pittsburgh, you can stay at my house and I’ll get you a gig.’ How crazy does that sound? But now, we’re getting sometimes five inquiries a day.”

Bands of all genres from Vancouver, Nashville, Knoxville, Brooklyn and beyond have checked into the Wolfsons’ home. The couple makes no money from their efforts. Tim Wolfson, the son of a disc jockey and a professional square-dance caller, is an environmental lawyer and Debby, who previously worked in finance, helps care for her grandchildren.

“We have a philosophy that you pay it forward,” Debby Wolfson says. “We have an appreciation for musicians who are touring. We know they’re not getting paid very much money. Everybody has been kind. It’s created this network among musicians and friends.”

Charlotte, N.C.-based musician David Childers drove to Pittsburgh for a show at the winery on a cold, snowy day in early November, with The Loudermilks, Chad and Alan Edwards.

“We were treated with the kind of respect and generous spirit that has sustained American folk music since its earliest days,” he says. “The whole experience was positive, honest, energizing and inspirational. I slept well that night in a nice, warm bed. I look forward to coming back, for sure.”

Nikki Glaspie of The Nth Power calls the Wolfsons “incredible hosts.”

“For a traveling musician, staying with them is like a breath of fresh air,” she says. “It’s not often that people open their homes to you, feed you and allow you to wash clothes. They really are beautiful people. It gives me hope that the world is not entirely lost.”

The Wolfsons’ love of music has resulted in the creation of a new local band. The Cheer’ly Men is an eclectic group of musicians by night and teachers, choir directors, engineers and more by day that Tim Wolfson hand-picked. The band teaches old sea shanties to the audience so they can sing along. At a recent show at Hambone in Lawrenceville, the packed crowd of regulars plus a few newcomers mirrored the band’s jovial enthusiasm.

“I love to be at a show and look at people’s reactions to music they’ve never heard or an act they’ve never seen,” Debby Wolfson says.

The Wolfsons also work with the Music For MS organization to present the annual Roots Music Festival at Hartwood Acres. This year’s event is set for Aug. 15, and will feature Humming House, The Black Lillies, The Mulligan Brothers, Tiger Maple String Band and Maddie Arnold and Friends.

The couple wants to keep growing their labor of love and is seeking space to develop a venue for bigger shows.

“Music improves the human condition,” Tim Wolfson says. “I can’t imagine going through a day without listening to music. If you’re having a good day, it’s sort of your soundtrack. If you’re having a bad day, it makes it better.”

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or [email protected].

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