Ben Cocchiaro: not just a wedding singer

In Ben Cocchiaro’s senior year of high school, he received a gig from an online ad that read “Wanted: guitarist for a wedding. Must play Bob Dylan.” While the sophomore’s entry into the wedding circuit as a musician at such a young age may be impressive, don’t call him the wedding singer – it is Cocchiaro’s solo work and his recent self-released CD that have landed him an even longer and steadier stream of musical gigs.

Since he came to GW last fall, Ben has played dozens of engagements at local coffee shops, bookstores and venues near GW. His most recent appearance was a performance last Saturday at Revolution Records in Van Ness, where he played his original work from the CD he recorded in January.

Ben’s self-released CD (Waiting to Play for You) consists of 10 original, self-produced tracks that he has compiled over the past two years. The tracks contain elements of traditional blues melodies and folk fingerstyle guitar playing that have been likened to the artists Kelly Joe Phelps, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits.

Those who already know Cocchiaro might know him as “The White Hat.” He described “The White Hat” in an interview with The Hatchet as encompassing everything from traditional blues to contemporary folk, interfused with strong melodies and thoughtful, sometimes playful, lyrics.

When it comes to the creative process for the songs on his CD, he said “the majority of the songs started with a general chord progression or an idea for a melody.” Once Cocchiaro finds a melody that he is pleased with, he said it is important for him to find the best possible lyrics to do justice to the song. He aims to deliver hooks in his music but avoids creating ones that might tread into pop territory.

“My songs are generally written about an aspect of how I feel and my philosophy on life,” he said. He described his first album as the cumulative influence of every book, song, person and event that he has ever experienced.

Cocchiaro takes inspiration from his childhood exposure to folk and blues music in his hometown, outside of Philadelphia. As a child, Cocchiaro received his first guitar lesson from his father, who introduced him to the intricate folk and fingerstyle guitar arrangements that are present in Waiting to Play for You.

While Cocchiaro envisions himself singing, songwriting and performing well into the future (he transported all of his recording equipment with him to GW), he said he doesn’t think it’s his only calling. Don’t be quick to label it a hobby either, though.

“I would not call my music a hobby – I would call it one of two passions in my life right now,” he said.

The other passion he refers to is his affinity for international affairs, his major. Sometimes, though, one passion trumps the other.

“Having my guitar lying by my bed is such a temptation at times. I could be reading something very dry while my guitar is just lying there, giving me those sad puppy eyes,” he said.

Until his next gig this month – April 22 at noon on the Mount Vernon Quad – both Ben and his guitar will be expectantly waiting to play for you.

Those interested in hearing Ben Cocchiaro’s music or obtaining a copy of his CD can visit his Web site www.thewhitehat.com.

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