By: Jim Price
We’ll shortly find out if that famous rodent in Punxsutawney was correct in forecasting an early spring, as Spring will officially arrive this month. Whether or not warm spring temperatures arrive with it remains to be seen.
The huge news to emerge from last month was Halestorm achieving their first Grammy Award, taking the Best Rock/Metal Performance Grammy for their song “Love Bites (So Do I)” from their latest CD, The Strange Case Of… The award came just days before the annual installment of the event that first introduced Halestorm to the music industry back in 1999. Last month’s 17th annual Millennium Music Conference took place at the Radisson Penn Harris Convention Center in Camp Hill, again providing a weekend of informative panels and seminars, networking opportunities with musicians and music industry professionals, the trade show and showcase performances throughout the Harrisburg area by nearly 300 different bands and artists.
I arrived at the host hotel on Thursday night, and shortly after checking in headed to Pete’s Olde Towne Bar & Grill in New Cumberland to see Shea Quinn’s acoustic performance. This was the first I have seen Shea in action since he and The Sharks played at Cisco’s in Altoona back in the 1980s! Shea displayed a full, rugged voice as he fielded frequent requests from the audience and sang a wide range of favorites, spanning hits from The Vogues, Dobie Gray, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Frank Sinatra, CSNY, Temptations and even a Sharks number. Almost stealing the show, though, was Shea’s accomplice behind the drum kit, young pint-sized hammer Logan Bedard, who did excellent work providing the beats even when he wasn’t familiar with the song. Shea capped the night by throwing the spotlight to Logan for a rendition of the Surfaris’ ever-popular “Wipe Out.”
The business portion of Millennium started on Friday. I spent most of the day at the trade show, helping staff the Pennsylvania Musician table and acoustic stage. Although traffic was on the light side for most of the day, the stage saw some impressive and diverse performances. Cherry Hill, New Jersey-based singer/songwriter Steve Leak started things off with a vibrant set of original songs; his gusto and enthusiasm made each of the three numbers – “American Man,” “Magic of the Rainbow” and “Opposites Attract” – shine and stand out. Wilkes-Barre-based acoustic duo Celtic Dreams then provided a raw, classic folk-rooted sound during the three songs they performed; starting with the political-toned “Star Spangled Slander” and continuing with their own distinctive slants on Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” and Social Distortion’s “King of Fools.” Members of Philadelphia’s Parsnip Revolt and Baltimore’s Roll It Over, Terry Gayhart of Shift Seven, Cleveland’s Scott David and Harumi D, Donovan Rice of Philadelphia’s Standing Cinema, and two members of Baltimore’s Apollo Sun all took their turns on the acoustic stage, before one of the artists I most anticipated seeing at this year’s conference, Williamsport’s Michi, arrived and performed two of her original songs, assisted on hand percussion by her father, Todd Egger. Michi demonstrated a delicate, lighthearted voice and playful cadence as she sang and strummed her songs, the new single “Standstill” and “Glide Through the Flames.” Acoustic guitar specialist Suzi Brown then dazzled onlookers with her timing and intricacy, working all parts of the guitar on two instrumental compositions and making it all look and sound smooth and seamless. Philadelphia-based solo performer Twin Ghost then introduced his soulful and heartfelt style of acoustic folk-rock on two originals. Two members of Virginia-based rockabilly combo The Deathbillies followed with a rousing country-flavored read to Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night.” Weaving folk, rock and reggae together, Brandon Hardesty of Annapolis-based Bumpin’ Uglies gave a spirited performance on his two-song set; before hometown Harrisburg rockers Small Town Titans closed the acoustic stage and trade show with several strong original songs and a version of Tool’s “Sober.” Business panels this day discussed such topics as jumpstarting music careers, recording, legal representation in the music industry, the current state of the record deal, publishing, music industry myths, copyrights, using Kickstarter to raise money for recording projects, survival in the current-day music industry and more.
The Millennium showcases began in earnest on Friday night, and I saw performances at three different venues. First was the acoustic showcase at the Playhouse Café across the road from the Radisson. Shepherdstown, West Virginia-based singer/songwriter Betty Jo Rockwell kicked off the evening. Assisted on acoustic guitar by husband Scott, Betty Jo displayed a clear, hearty, almost operatic voice on her selection of original folk and acoustic rock numbers, including an uplifting rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.” Next was Celtic Dreams, elaborating on the teaser they presented earlier in the day on the trade show acoustic stage. This time, singer Edward Sott and guitarist Frank Shannon did a more in-depth selection of original numbers that delved deeper inside their musical persona with themes of introspection and concern over the troubled state of the world. They also performed a version of “House of the Rising Sun.” The following performer, Harrisburg’s Dave Carr, offered something completely different, as he welcomed audience members into his soulful, digital world. Dave gave an introduction to his project, before sharing instrumental compositions from his laptop computer showing a variety of soul and light funk-driven flavors.
My next destination was Coakley’s Irish Pub in New Cumberland, which featured music on several stages. On Coakley’s basement rock stage, I caught most of the set by New York-based trio Fans Of The Future, introducing hard-driving indie-flavored rock originals that incorporated elements of punk, funk and disco. I then headed upstairs to the acoustic stage for perennial favorite Mycenea Worley, who used this Millennium showcase opportunity to preview numerous songs from her forthcoming new Siren CD. Mycenea again displayed a clear, passionate voice and delivery, and a strong knack for melodic detail on new numbers such as “Locks,” “Home” and “The Leaf Song,” as well as established favorites from her 2009 Love EP such as “100 Days” and “Low.”
My Friday sojourn concluded at the Drinkin’ Bone in Wormleysburg, where female-fronted rock bands took the spotlight. Taking the stage as I arrived was Brooklyn-based rock/punk trio J & the 9s. This group blended high-powered rock with a touch of Lady GaGa-styled theatrics courtesy of frontlady J9, who worked every corner of the stage and dance floor to get the crowd fired up. She sang, gyrated, danced, crawled and generated constant movement as she led the group through their original set; and she even broke out the flute on one number. Pittsburgh’s Lovebettie then took over the Drinkin’ Bone with their electrifying performance. Fronted by feisty and pompadoured singer and keyboardist Alexandra Naples, Lovebettie blended catchy melodies, rock, pop and soul. Alexandra’s voice rang strong throughout the set, culminating in the group’s rousing and thunderous “Are You Out There?” Making their fourth Millennium appearance, North Carolina-based foursome Dreamkiller capped the night with their powerful rock and metal-edged set. Triumphing over bronchitis issues, singer Christy Johnson delivered a potent voice and commanding stage presence, flanked by guitarist Jim O’Gara, bassist Erny Galvan and new drummer Scott Crawford.
Saturday’s portion of the conference saw brisker attendance, and another busy day on the trade show acoustic stage. As I arrived, York-based singer/songwriter Dani Hoy was sharing numbers from her CD TropiGal, including the title song and “Meet Me on the Boardwalk.” Informed by the vacation-themed folk/rock of Jimmy Buffett, Dani’s songs were upbeat and bright, embracing themes of happiness and good times. Chris Whitmer then demonstrated a dark-toned style of acoustic folk through such original songs as “My Birthday Too” and “Mighty Thin Line.” With a brief lull in showcasing performers stepping up to perform on the acoustic stage, Pennsylvania Musician founder Whitey Noll – recently recovered following a battle with cancer – stepped to the stage armed with his ululele to play several selections, including the title track from his 2000 CD Between the Curtains and the Clouds. As he performed, percussion vendor Fredrico – himself a recent cancer survivor – joined in on hand percussion from across the room, and the two musicians soon jammed alongside one another to provide a sentimental highlight to the day. Chris Whitmer then returned to the stage with accomplice Tom Wentz to introduce their new duet collaboration, Lincoln Screws. After Mario Tombasco of the Tombasco Band did a couple of numbers live, Nate Myers and Pete Netznik of Nate Myers & the Aces brought the trade show floor to full attention with their captivating performance of two soulful blues-based numbers, “It’s My Music” and “Chuck Taylor World.” Accompanied by Troy Walls, New Jersey’s Kelly Carvin then did two songs, followed by performances by two members of Williamsport’s Treehouse and Maryland’s Phairen. Delaware-based singer and keyboardist Noelle Picara then dazzled onlookers with her clever song hooks and edgy lyrics.
After Noelle’s performance, I attended one of the business panel discussions, “Future of the Music Industry for Independent Artists.” Staffing this panel were Dr. E. Michael Harrington of Berklee School of Music and Lebanon Valley Community College, Tony Robinson of Holland Entertainment, ReverbNation cofounder Lou Plaia, and Lawrence Gelburd of the Wharton University Small Business Development Center. Through this discussion, the panelists gave musicians advice on how to target potential audiences, market and brand their music to get it heard, recognized and sold. The panelists acknowledged that the music industry has drastically changed with the digital age and consolidation of the industry. Achieving the major label record deal is no longer the be-all-end-all for music industry success, and doesn’t guarantee that performers will achieve superstardom or album sales. The concept of the album or full-length CD as the best format for selling music is being relegated into the rear view mirror by digital downloads, music streaming and “the cloud.” Some advice offered to musicians included finding their own niche or angle to promote and market their music from – a niche that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. Gelburd related a story of a jazz musician who marketed his creations as “music for dentist’s offices,” and ended up selling a lot of music – to dentists. Musicians were also advised to study and determine what customers want from music, and how to satisfy that need; and to envision where and in what situations they can envision their music being heard, and position their music so it can be accessed and available for those situations.
The business portion of the conference closed with a different twist on “Smash or Trash,” with the emphasis on live performance instead of recorded product. “Smash or Trash Live” critiqued a live performance instead. A randomly selected band – Harrisburg modern rockers Observe the 93rd – was selected to perform a 15-20 minute live set, which would then be critiqued by three music industry judges. The group – guitarist/vocalist Derek Henry, keyboard/vocalist Elliott Hertzler, bass player Tyler Davis, and drummer Dylan Zepp – did a high-powered set of melodic hard modern rock originals; with a crowd of fans, friends, family and conference attendees cheering them on. Following their performance, conference director John Harris introduced each of the panelists: Jason Rubal of Seventh Wave Studio, Tony Robinson of Holland Entertainment and music attorney Marc T. Levin. All three panelists gave Observe the 93rd glowing reviews for their constant stage energy and intensity.
One more night of showcases remained. I first headed to Gullifty’s Underground in Camp Hill, arriving as Harrisburg’s Gypsy Caravan was under way. Gypsy Caravan again demonstrated their unique style and sound, melodic rock informed by elements of blues and jazz. Singer Jen Brickner showed a distinctive voice that at times suggested both Grace Slick and Chryssie Hynde; bold with touches of soul and intensity. She, guitarists Dave Nott and Ed Nesbit, bassist Ed Ulerick and drummer Alex Lazarus spotlighted their original song arsenal; including several new numbers and established originals like “Wish You Well.” Anticipation was high for the next band, Greek rockers My Excuse. Appearing at Millennium as part of their American spring tour, My Excuse quickly captured the attention of the audience with a clear, concise and polished melodic modern rock sound and bright presentation. Singer Steven Triant was friendly and cordial with the audience, even joking about the venue’s name, Gullifty’s (“I thought they were saying ‘Ulysses!’”). My Excuse dazzled with various numbers off their new Ron St. Germain-produced CD All I’ve Become; such as “In Disguise,” the robust “Smoke a Cigarette,” “Silent Revolution,” “Always Hurts the Most” and more. For many observers including this one, My Excuse was the biggest discovery from this year’s conference. York/Baltimore-based modern rockers Coal kept the party rolling with a strong, melody-geared rock sound. Lead singer/guitarist Dal Dawn, guitarist Jay Cotter, bassist Alan Adams and drummer Doug Wolfe delivered a classic-rooted rock sound with catchy melodies and relatable, reality-themed lyrics about life and the changing world. Some of their song selections included “Shrink the World,” “The Edge,” “Better Man” and “Cry Wolf.”
I then traveled north on Routes 11 and 15 to catch the remainder of the showcase at Tubby’s Nightclub in Duncannon; arriving in time to see Pottsville-based party-rock juggernaut Gas Station Disco. Recently issuing their first EP, Dance Floored, Gas Station Disco spotlighted songs from that disc along with select cover material. Featuring founding Breaking Benjamin bassist Jonathan Price, former Poptart Monkeys drummer Rob Hampton, Mia Mania alumnus Jason Dumm on lead vocals and new lead guitarist Mike Reed; Gas Station Disco’s original sound blended modern rock and pop, infusing elements of electronica, hip-hop and funk into a driving sound that kept Tubby’s dance floor occupied with original songs from the CD such as “Dancefloor” and “The Right Time,” plus hit covers such as Fun’s “We Are Young” and more. Closing out this showcase was Badd Seed. Singer Dusty Witherspoon, guitarist Troy Wheland, bassist Brad Combs and drummer Ron Mantinchek generated a hard, no-nonsense modern rock sound, introducing several original compositions and select covers. Dusty worked the stage and room, confidently stepping out to the audience and drawing their attention to the onstage action. Badd Seed rocked with original songs such as “Wide Open” and “Let Me Run,” along with modern rock covers from Redlight King, A Perfect Circle, Seether and Rage Against the Machine.
Closer to home, when Chris Brida at Zeno’s in State College learned that one of his former staffers, Dave Burkett, lost nearly everything last October from flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy’s wrath along the New Jersey coast, he wanted to do something to help. He put together the Benefit for a Friend in late January to raise funds to help Dave. This night featured performances from six different State College-based bands and artists, kicking off with Erin Condo & the Hoofties. Namesake Erin sang and played acoustic guitar, flanked by lead guitarist Bill “Wiggus” Wilgus, bassist John “JK” Kennedy and drummer Kevin Lowe. Their sound was country-flavored rock, as they performed original songs such as “Odessa,” “Baby I Love You,” “I’ve Been Waiting Too Long” and more. Next was Harold Taddy, collaborating with several musical associates to help bring his distinctive song creations to life. Assisted by Eli Byrne on baritone saxophone and flute, Jon Spearly on ukulele and “JK” on bass, Harold strummed and sang an ambient, atmospheric brand of acoustic folk, with compositions that stretched, explored and intensified as they progressed. Biscuit Jam then took the night in a rootsy, Americana direction. Multi-instrumentalists Nathan Cutshall and Marc Hill, singer/guitarist Denny Hayes, singer Kelly Countermine, drummer John Cunningham and banjo picker Logan Kistler gave folksy reads to numbers by the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, R.E.M., Four Non Blondes and more. The Nightcrawlers followed with their mix of colorful original songs and eclectic cover selection; displaying lavish instrumental chops on original song favorites like “African Echo” and “Blue Silver,” plus numbers from Dire Straits, Beatles, Tom Petty and more. Pure Cane Sugar then let their bright harmonies do the talking during their rousing set. Singer/guitarist Kate Twoey, singers Natalie Berrena and Molly Countermine blended their voices into some incredible two- and three-part harmonies as they sang original songs plus numbers by Dolly Parton, Buffalo Springfield and more; backed by Daniel Collins on fiddle, Junior Tutwiler on guitar and Daryl Branford on drums. I had to depart Zeno’s before the Chinese auction giveaways and the night’s final band, Ted McCloskey & the Hi Fis, took the stage. The benefit raised more than $1,700; and in the true spirit of community, Dave Burkett donated part of the proceeds to a relief fund in his hometown to help his neighbors stricken by Hurricane Sandy.
Aldo’s ushered in the Chinese New Year, the year of the snake, last month with their annual Chinese New Year Party. Besides Chinese beer sampling and a complimentary buffet of Chinese vittles, this year’s bash also featured live music courtesy of Pistol Peg & the Beer Kegs. A capacity crowd was already in place by the time the music began, and Pistol Peg & the Beer Kegs kept that crowd festive and happy with a wide variety of modern country favorites. Sibling lead singers Jill and Mark Simanski, guitarists Joe Scott and Brandon Kane, bassist Justin Brown and drummer Steve Holtz kept the country hopping with favorites from Zac Brown Band, Toby Keith, Shania Twain, Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Montgomery Gentry, Little Big Town, Dierks Bentley and many more. Jill’s and Mark’s voices were in excellent form, and the group kept the tempo upbeat and never gave the dance floor crowd any excuse to want to sit down. Pistol Peg & the Beer Kegs opened for national country artist Natalie Stovall late last month at Penn State Altoona; they return to Aldo’s May 11.
While snowy conditions outside early last month made it look like a total whiteout at times, inside Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge it was a Total Whiteout onstage as well. The State College quintet brought the total modern pop/dance/hip-hop party with their charged, action-packed show. Eric Henkels and Chris Mower both staffed keyboards and shared lead vocal duties with bassist Kevin Franklin, with Pete Macartney playing guitar and Simon Wernovsky providing the drumbeats. Total Whiteout provided nonstop musical action with constant movement, an agitated light show, choreographed footwork and continuous hits from Ke$ha, Blink 182, Bloodhound Gang, Rihanna, old-school hip-hop and techno medleys and more. Total Whiteout takes their dance party southward later this month to entertain the spring breakers at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Florida; they return to the 4D’s Lounge April 6.
Snowy roads also didn’t hamper the festivities when A.X.E. brought their rocking show to Pellegrine’s in late January. Singer/bassist Denny Frank, singer/guitarist John McKelvey and drummer Clint Carothers heated up the night with their crisp mixture of rocking classics and hits. Highlights this night were numerous, from John knocking the rust off one of his old ‘80s Housepets numbers, “Hot Lover,” his bow-on-guitar-strings display during the Led Zeppelin medley of “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused,” guest Bob Gates wailing harmonica on U2’s “Desire” and more. A.X.E. kept the audience festive and glad they shook their cabin fever this night; watch for them on various Blair and Cambria County stages.
Members of Mysterytrain introduced a new side project recently. Singer/guitarist Dan Klock, bassist Scott Myer and drummer Chuck Bailey have joined with singer/guitarist Dave Snitkin to form Moonshine Love, who made their first appearance at Pellegrine’s last month. Moonshine Love performs a variety of folk-rock and roots country, ranging from traditional numbers like “Freight Train” and “Shady Grove” to songs by the Grateful Dead, Johnny Cash, Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show, George Jones and more. The presentation is laid-back and cordial, and the group maintains a leisurely pace and has fun with their song selection. Watch for Moonshine Love on area stages, including some joint appearances with Mysterytrain as their outdoor festival season heats up.
The Good Seeds are working up new song material toward their sophomore CD, expected out later this year. The group introduced many of their new songs during their late January visit to Altoona’s Belmar Hotel. Singer/guitarist Paul Patterson, singer/bassist Brooks Williams, guitarist/singer Mike Wertz, keyboardist Beau Shirk and drummer John Schwittek blended new and old original song material with a fresh array of classic and ‘80s favorites from names such as Depeche Mode, Elvis Costello, Beatles, Prince, U2, Ramones, Doors and more. The Good Seeds return to the Belmar March 2.
From the shadow of White Shadow, the Beatlemaniacs brought their edition of Beatlemania to Pellegrine’s in late January. The fab three roster of singer/drummer Jerry Carnicella, bassist/singer Bob Helbig and keyboardist/singer Harry Young sweat the details in creating the authentic Beatles sound, as they perform hits from throughout the Fab Four’s career. The Beatlemaniacs do the famous hits like “Hey Jude,” “Please Please Me,” “Yellow Submarine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and more; but they also like to break out the occasional deep cut or B-side like “It Won’t Be Long,” “In My Life” and others. The Beatlemaniacs appear frequently throughout the region; and along with White Shadow will donate their talents toward the Arthritis Foundation Walk at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown on May 11.
Other bands and artists I saw recently included Ty Ayers during one of his weekly Tuesday acoustic performances at the upstairs 4D’s Lounge, and Felix & the Hurricanes’ Sundays at Shaw’s Bar; during which the group welcomed such guests as Tony Mollick, Lauren and Talia Johnson, Flight 19’s Brian Thomas and Phil Steele, a Backyard Rockers percussionist (thanks!) and more.
If you frequented 30 Something in Altoona to see a band in recent years, more often than not the person checking your ID at the door was Cory Slick, a.k.a. “Big Cory.” Cory was firm but friendly, often helped bands load gear and frequently smiled and joked with patrons as he did his duties. Sadly, we lost Cory last month, after he died in a vehicle crash near State College on Feb. 10. He was 45. He left behind a daughter. We at Pennsylvania Musician send our heartfelt sympathies out to Cory’s surviving family and friends.
News and notes…Ninetail is currently auditioning new lead vocalist prospects to replace longtime frontman J. William Heitmann, who is moving on to other career endeavors after an eight-year run…Singer/guitarist James Millikan has left State College acoustic duo Brawny Cash to further pursue his music career in Austin, TX; percussionist/singer Curtis Ishler has teamed up with a new guitar player, Matt Greer, and a name change for the duo is likely…Northern Cambria’s City Hotel stages their fourth annual “Battle of the Acoustics” competition over six Wednesdays starting Mar. 6…Happy Birthdays to Kent Tonkin (Lies, Inc./Drum the Ecstatic), Jeremy Nelson (Mama Corn), Kirk Tonkin (Cottonmouth), Kevin Siegel (Half Tempted), Joe Konior, Bob Muhlbauer (Ozone Rangers), John “JK” Kennedy (Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats/Tyne & the Fastlyne), Dave Nichols (Red Alert/The Boomers), Jim Donovan (St. Francis World Drumming Ensemble/Sun King Warriors), Ken Pompa (Night Train/Jerry’s Fault), Pam Hiles (Zombie Butterflies), Chris Lawson (Stereo Frenzy/Nobody’s Heroes), Kate Twoey (Pure Cane Sugar), Rick Ramsey (Disorganized Crime), Allen Jones (One Brick Shy/Gigbox Music), Brian Nicarry (Green Eggs), Jim Bagrosky (Brand New Wings), Mycenea Worley, Jimmy Adler, Rene Witzke (Maxwell Strait/Ted McCloskey & the Hi Fis), Mandy Passmore (Full Kilt), Dan Myers II (Locked and Loaded), Trey Carruthers (The Hope Fallacy), Darren Buchko (Yum), Jen Bertiaux, Alicia Hritsko and John McKnight…And lastly, a public service reminder that readers in the Altoona region can come see and meet Pennsylvania Musician photography goddess and self-published book author Meredith Kaminek later this month, when she gives a presentation about her photography and publishing career at Penn State Altoona on March 21; the presentation starts at 7 p.m. in Room 101 of the Misciagna Family Arts Center – admission and hugs are free!
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at either firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For my weekly updates on area music scene happenings, check out JP’s Corner on the Rockpage forums area at www.rockpage.net, and my “Backyard Beats” blog on the Altoona Mirror’s website, www.altoonamirror.com. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!