Colin Gawel side project takes center stage after bandmate's cancer diagnosis

In Watershed, Colin Gawel has long-embraced a certain aspect of Ohio's sonic heritage.

“Ohio is that weird West Virginia-Chicago middle ground,” Gawel said on a recent morning while serving customers at his Upper Arlington shop, Colin's Coffee. “We did a better job of keeping the Watershed albums on the north side. We kept our twang separate.”

But Gawel needed an outlet for his twangier tendencies, which led to the League Bowlers, a side project he birthed more than a decade ago. “I always said we'd be the first Georgia Satellites tribute band. There's only like eight fans in the city, and we're 4 of them,” Gawel said. “The Bowlers' whole mindset was, we never played any legit places. We just played bars. We were a bar band. We'd play weird spots and wear bowling shirts.”

After breaking up the band onstage at the Thirsty Ear Tavern several years ago, Gawel resurrected the Bowlers for a ComFest performance in 2015 with a retooled lineup of drummer Jim Johnson (Willie Phoenix), bassist/Four String Brewery founder Dan Cochran (Big Back 40) and guitarist Mike Parks (Willie Phoenix, the Godz).

“Dan and I are probably 25 years younger than Jim and Mike,” Gawel said. “It's like being in a band with your heroes.”

This past summer, the Bowlers convened to record some new songs for a deluxe edition of Some Balls, the one album the band released in 2004. But in July, after Parks fell ill with what he thought was the flu, the guitarist was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. The band kicked into high gear to finish the new songs, including a cover of Willie Phoenix's “Wish You Were My Girl,” and in mid-December the League Bowlers released Some Balls Deluxe, with a celebratory show scheduled for the Big Room Bar on Saturday, Dec. 23.

“It's day to day, week to week, but as of now [Parks] is going to try to play on the 23rd,” Gawel said. “He's an awesome guitar player. Playing in the Bowlers, it's just a joy having Parks there. You've got a virtuoso over there all the time. It's like having Eddie Van Halen in your band.”

As for the band's aspirations, Gawel remains satisfied playing gleefully frivolous roots-rock in Central Ohio bars. “The Bowlers have been attractive to me recently because, with the political climate the way it is, it's so out of step and refreshing. It's lighthearted,” he said. “Someone said at one point, ‘I don't even know why you do that band. It's just this bar band that sings about how you're in bars.' That's such a compliment. That's exactly what we are.”