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The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – September 2015

By Jim Price

    Summer was fun, but it’s almost done. Area live music begins to transition from the outdoor scene back to the indoor scene within the next few weeks. Enjoy the remaining outdoor events while they last! As I have been doing…

    Altoona’s Railroaders Museum entered the homestretch of their outdoor “Alive at Five” summer concert series last month by presenting renowned Led Zeppelin tribute Kashmir. Opening the night was The Sitch, who warmed up the crowd with their upbeat mixture of mostly classic rock hits from Aerosmith, AC/DC, Black Crowes, Billy Idol, Sublime, Ramones, Poison, Volbeat and more. The group welcomed several guests on stage during their performance, including tambourine lady Priscilla Gati, “Harmonica Dave” Baird of the Backyard Rockers, singer Dana Martino of D.D. & the Pub Crawlers, and Sitch alumnus Nate Beatty to play trumpet on the set-closing edition of Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music.” Kashmir then lived up to the hype, giving the huge Railroaders Museum crowd the total Led Zeppelin experience over two charged sets. Singer Jean Violet delivered his Robert Plant-like vocal acrobatics with heart and soul, Andy Urban provided the Jimmy Page-like guitar fireworks, complete with double-neck guitar, bow on guitar string displays, theramin and more! Paul Cooper provided the John Bonham drum thunder, even doing the bare-hand drum solo display during “Moby Dick.” And Felix Hanemann – also the bass player for 1980s-era national recording group Zebra – provided the sturdy John Paul Jones bass foundation that tied it all together. Kashmir focused on Led Zeppelin’s early output through the ‘Physical Graffiti’ album, opening with “Rock and Roll” and “Black Dog,” and doing such Led classics as “Heartbreaker/Living Loving Maid,” “Custard Pie,” “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” “Ramble On,” “Dazed and Confused,” “The Ocean,” “Immigrant Song,” an extended version of “Whole Lotta Love” with “Communication Breakdown” sandwiched in the middle, “What Is and What Should Never Be,” the aforementioned “Moby Dick,” “Going to California,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Stairway to Heaven,” their title song and second set closer “Kashmir” and more. When the crowd demanded the encore, Kashmir responded with “How Many More Times.”

I heard a lot of happy comments during and after this show, including one happy area musician/parent who brought his teenaged kids to enjoy their first rock “festival”-like experience, and numerous others who said this summer’s lineup has been one of the best the Railroaders Museum has presented so far. Yet others appreciated this show because – pending whatever tour plans the surviving three members of Led Zeppelin might eventually do – the original Led Zeppelin foursome will never tour again (and ticket prices will likely be mostly unaffordable if the remaining three do tour) – so outside of recorded concert footage, well-done tributes like this are the closest thing to experiencing the atmosphere of a live Zeppelin concert, crowd interaction and all. The Railroaders Museum closed out the “Alive at Five” series two weeks later with Aerosmith tribute Draw the Line.

   Annual fairs usually provide live musical highlights during this time of year. I was able to check out the Rock of the 70’s tour as it visited the 155th annual Clearfield County Fair early last month. The tour featured four hit-making acts of the ‘70s; Al Stewart, Orleans, Firefall and the Guess Who. Kicking off the concert, Al Stewart performed four songs; two with Orleans as his backing band, and two solo and acoustic. Orleans backed him on his opening hit “Time Passages,” and then left the stage while Al  performed “House of Clocks” and his unexpected hit song about Basque separatists and gun smuggling, “On the Border.” Orleans then returned to back Al on his biggest hit, “Year of the Cat,” before Al left the stage and the group continued on with their set. Featuring founding members John Hall on guitar and vocals and Lance Hoppen on bass and vocals, plus keyboardist Lane Hoppen, guitarist/singer Dennis “Fly” Amero and drummer Charlie Morgan; Orleans opened with their Top Ten hit “Dance With Me,” and continued with a mixture of hits and deeper album cuts. The group displayed great vocal harmonies as they performed such numbers as their first single, “Let There Be Music,” “Love Takes Time,” “Dancing in the Moonlight” (which Orleans’ founding drummer Wells Kelly introduced to King Harvest, who scored a 1973 hit with it), “Juliet,” during which they were joined by Firefall’s David Muse on sax, one new song written just last year, and their other Top Ten hit, “Still the One.” Firefall then took the stage to perform their hits and other best-known numbers. Featuring three members from their ‘70s hit-making roster – singer/guitarist Jock Bartley, bassist Mark Andes (also of Spirit and Jo Jo Gunne fame) and multi-instrumentalist David Muse, plus singer/guitarist Gary Jones and drummer Sandy Ficca – Firefall opened with their very first single from 1976, “Livin’ Ain’t Livin,” and proceeded with hit songs such as “Just Remember I Love You,” “Cinderella,” “Goodbye I Love You,” “So Long,” their Top Ten hit “You Are the Woman,” and more. My favorite highlight was an extended edition of their 1978 hit “Strange Way,” with David putting on an incredible clinic on flute and Sandy unleashing a drum solo! The Guess Who then closed out the concert. This was the latest edition of the ‘street-legal’ Guess Who, featuring founding drummer Garry Peterson and bassist Jim Kale, along with keyboardist/flute player Leonard Shaw (who joined the group in 1991), singer/guitarist Derek Sharp and guitarist Will Evankovich. Opening with “Bus Rider,” the Guess Who performed numbers from their vast collection of hits, including “Clap for the Wolfman,” “Undun,” “No Sugar Tonight,” “Hand Me Down World,” “Share the Land,” “American Woman” and more. The infusion of their newest blood – Derek and Will – especially gave this edition of the Guess Who a kick; Derek was a charged frontman with voice, personality and presence who continuously rallied the crowd and helped drive the action. The two guitar players turned The Guess Who’s mid-1960s hit “Shakin’ All Over” into an incredible guitar duel shred-fest! When the crowd feverishly demanded an encore, The Guess Who quickly responded with renditions of “These Eyes” and “No Time” to end the night.

    Also at the Clearfield County Fair, I caught Dan & Galla’s performance earlier in the afternoon. Dan on keys and vocals and Galla on vocals, guitar and flute turned their show into an audience-friendly party, especially for the youngsters. The pair’s master of ceremonies, Galla instructed kids on proper spoon-playing techniques as they did a medley of “Pennsylvania Polka,” “Alabama Jubilee” and “Rocky Top.” And after Galla handed out bubble-making apparatus to the crowd, the pair’s versions of “Under the Sea” (from Disney’s The Little Mermaid) and the medley of Bob Marley’s “Kingston Town” into The Drifters’ “Save the Last Dance for Me” became a bubble-bath party. Galla also handed tambourines to the crowd before performing “Those Were the Days,” explaining beforehand that Mary Hopkin’s 1968 hit was actually based on a Russian folk song. Dan & Galla also staged a limbo contest for the children for their version of “Limbo Rock,” and handed out American flags and led a parade through the seated audience for the patriotic finale of “This Is My Country” and “This Land Is Your Land.” 

   Another highlight from early last month was my first experience at the fourth annual Wills Mountain Festival, held on the grounds of the Port Royale Farm in southern Bedford County. I was able to take in the Saturday night portion of the festival, and it was excellent! Taking the main stage shortly after my arrival was Boston’s Liz Frame & the Kickers, who performed spirited original country and Americana-based rock. Namesake, singer and acoustic guitarist Liz Frame gave a hearty performance, flanked by bassist/backing singer Lynne Taylor, guitarist Patrick Chamberlain, drummer Pete Walsh and harmonica player Jason Novak. Liz explained the inspirations behind many of her songs; including “Purple Hat Blues” which was inspired by her mother, the bar-hopping mom ode “I Know That Sound,” and the song “Justine,” inspired by a troubled teen. Next on an acoustic side stage was the Nick Miller Project with singer Gabe Green. Looping specialist Nick again demonstrated his knack for generating looping instrumental backdrops, setting the foundations for Gabe’s melodies and lyrics on several original numbers. As night arrived and a blazing full “blue” moon illuminated the festival grounds, Megan Jean & the KFB (Klay Family Band) energized the crowd with their rousing set. Namesake Megan Jean sang and played percussion and washboard, while husband Byrne Klay – the “Klay Family Band” – played banjo and stompbox percussion. I was amazed at the full band-like sound these two musicians generated, as well as their imaginative arrangements as they performed an Americana-based sound that included elements of ragtime, gypsy and other ethnic flavors, blues and more. Megan Jean’s witty and sassy persona drew frequent chuckles as she explained the inspirations behind the songs, band capers and more. The pair performed numerous original songs, along with their own unique takes on the Shathouse Rats’ “Production Freeze” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Back on the acoustic stage, Rich Edmundson did a set of his groove-based acoustic original music, demonstrating his improvisational, free-form approach on several songs. This escalated into a feisty acoustic jam session as Rich was joined by special guests Nick Miller and Jason Novak (from the aforementioned Kickers), plus an air-jamming toddler with a toy guitar. This set the tone for the night’s finale, as Mixing Numbers With Sounds – joined by several guests on percussion, saxophone and vocals – generated an all-out funk and groove-fest under the full moon! Singer/guitarist Tanner Means, keyboardist/singer Evan Neva, bassist Emmanuel Wright and drummer Anthony Diflavis mixed up original funk jams plus their own improvisational funky takes on tunes from Santana, Steve Miller Band, Kool & the Gang, Sublime, Steppenwolf, Johnny Cash and more. Among the guests joining Mixing Numbers with Sounds were members of Drumplay on percussion, teenaged guest Adrian on sax, Rich Edmundson and Gabe Green. The musicianship was off the chart, and the whole vibe of grooving band and happy, dancing crowd under the moonlit sky escalated into an ecstatic, joyous climax to a great night of live music! This was my first Wills Mountain Festival; it will not be my last!

   I took a week-long break from the action last month with my annual vacation journey to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Ultimately I couldn’t stay away from live music, though, as I revisited Scarborough Faire Shopping Village in Duck, NC for their Wednesday “Faire Days” festival, and saw a local-based acoustic duo called Birddog. Although they are based in Southern Shores (near Duck), both members originally hail from out of state; drummer/singer Dan Martier is a Pittsburgh native, while his wife, singer/guitarist Laura Martier, is originally from  rural Wisconsin. As Birddog, Laura and Dan did a nice mixture of original songs and select folk/pop rock classics. They introduced several songs from their latest CD, ‘Open Air’, such as “Little Girl Cheers,” “Katie,” “Grocery Carts,” “Bad Beat” and “Caña de Azucar.” They also did a variety of acoustic folk, rock and pop classics from Neil Young, the Everly Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, Fleetwood Mac, Pretenders, R.E.M. and more. Their harmonies were great, and their arrangements on the cover material were fresh and unique. As vacation season winds down, Birddog will travel with their music this fall, with show dates in Florida, Costa Rica, and possibly western PA as well.

   Indoors, White Witch presented their anniversary WitchFest celebration in late July at the Mill Tavern in Montoursville, and they invited some musical friends to share in the festivities. Opening up the evening was Williamsport-based foursome The Hidden Agendas, offering an almost theatrical, operatic brand of original hard-hitting modern rock. Frontman/guitarist Ron Fleeger displayed a killer voice with a style hinting Freddie Mercury and Geoff Tate; flanked by bassist/singer Matt Zarzycnsy, keyboardist Sarah Gibbs and drummer Scott Gibbs. The Hidden Agendas performed a number of original songs with intriguing arrangements and melodies, plus unpredictable twists and turns. They also showed their eclectic variety on their cover song selection, doing versions of  Queen’s “Under Pressure” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.”  A last-minute medical issue sidelined the next scheduled performer, Mallory Scoppa, so Milton-based rockers Ascension stepped in early to fire up the crowd with their pedal-to-the-metal set of classic rock favorites from AC/DC, Doors, Alice In Chains, Beatles, Godsmack, Marshall Tucker Band and more. Guitarist Scott Clark again dazzled with his excellent solo work, especially on the group’s version of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs!” And Mike Byers brandished a bass with a surgically-implanted tachometer and shift lever; you’ve got to see it to believe it!

   With Jimmy Lovcik handling bass duties this night, host band White Witch continued the momentum and generated more excitement with their powerful set of hard-rocking originals and covers. Jimmy, singer Jeff Pittinger, guitarist Doug Lehman and drummer Carl Berry seized the moment and went for broke, immediately launching their set with a rendition of Michael Schenker Group’s “Armed and Ready.” The Witch also introduced versions of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Believer” and Judas Priest’s “The Ripper,” and blew the dust off original numbers such as “The Crutch,” “The Seed” and others. This band was clearly fired up; Jeff’s voice was in fine form and showed impressive power and range, Doug’s guitar work was clean and precise, and (with two of his sons in the house and performing in the next band this night) Carl proudly slammed away on his drum kit, on the verge of reducing it to kindling. Presenting the warning “We’re gonna rough you up a little bit.”

   Beyond the Broken Sky then slammed the lid on the night, delivering heavy modern rock and metal from Volbeat, Tool, Bullet for My Valentine, System Of A Down, Judas Priest and more. Singer/bassist Jeff Bower, lead guitarist Carl Berry II, rhythm guitarist Cale Berry and drummer Mike Eisenhower provided fast and furious metal-edged excitement, and had the remaining Mill Tavern crowd roaring approval until show’s end. Again, WitchFest was well worth my two-hour roadtrip to witness; thanks to Jeff Pittinger for inviting me!

   Felix and the Hurricanes recently ushered in a new era by introducing their new bass player, longtime Pittsburgh area performer Tony Mollick. I caught one of Tony’s first appearances as a Hurricane during one of the group’s weekly Sunday night performances at Altoona’s Black and Gold Tavern (formerly Peter C’s) in late July. This was a fun night, as singer/guitar man Felix Kos, drummer/singer Bob Watters and Tony took this new Hurricanes machine out for a Sunday night leisure run; shifting gears, flooring the accelerator now and then, jamming on the brakes, doing tire burnouts and having a jovial musical time on whatever jams they fancied at the moment. Along the way, the Hurricanes broke out renditions of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Ballad of Curtis Loew,” Marshall Tucker Band’s “Heard It in a Love Song,” Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” the encore finisher edition of ZZ Top’s “Heard It on the X” and more. (Thanks to the Hurricanes for inviting me and my djembe up to be a part of that vigorous workout, that was fun!) This night helped serve notice that central PA has entered into a new Hurricane(s) season, and this musical storm shows no signs of weakening!

    Sadly, the area music scene lost a member last month with the unexpected passing of John Van Horn, the lead singer and bassist for Centre County punk rock group Subject to Change. John died from a head trauma injury sustained in an accident on August 3rd; he was 23. I had only seen and met John for the first time just days prior, when he and Subject to Change performed at McGarvey’s in Altoona. John, his brother Ethan on lead guitar, rhythm guitarist Nick Pelick and drummer Brad Parker had fun and threw caution to the wind as they performed punk rock originals and select covers from the Ramones, Misfits, the Suicide Machines, and even a punked-up take on the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel.” Besides his involvement in Subject to Change, John had played piano since age 5 and was a multi-instrumentalist, and attended Lock Haven University where he was a member of the jazz ensemble. As John did not have a life insurance policy, his surviving family needs some help with final expenses; those wishing to help out may donate through page set up for John on www.gofundme.com.

   Area weekly jam nights and open mic events have been exciting lately. When Altoona native Craig Albright visited the area from his current southern California home base in late July, he met up with musical friends at the weekly Tuesday Open Mic Night at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg and the weekly Wednesday Jam Night at Pellegrine’s in Altoona. The Pellegrine’s visit was especially exciting, as Craig, Don Osborn and Ric Criste merged into a triple-guitar army that dazzled the house on renditions of “Stormy Monday,” “Before You Accuse Me,” “Crossroads” and “Call Me the Breeze.” Numerous other musicians participated in this fun night of music, including drummers Bill Hocherl, Jamie Shumac, Todd Chwatek, Kevin Siegel and a Backyard Rocking djembe player; bassists Scott Imler and Bill Hunter; keyboard players Adam D and Nathan Beatty; guitarists Rich Dasch, Rich Piccerillo, Mo Yon, Joe Novak, Vince Gambardella (who sang this night); “Harmonica Dave” Baird, Priscilla “The Tambourine Lady” Gati and more.

   Musicians I witnessed during the aforementioned weekly Gran Sasso Tuesday Open Mic Night in recent weeks included Phil Baskin, Project Io, Asbury Lane (the new name of the duo of Tami Hinish and Jeremy Schimansky), Kris Reiter, Rich Edmundson, Chelsea Moses, Dave Moses and John “Paul” Peacefire.

   One last highlight I enjoyed last month was the annual PA Musician Magazine staff picnic at Millerstown Park long the Juniata River. My bandmates in the Backyard Rockers had an excellent time performing and jamming with several musicians, including the legendary Whitey Noll on electric ukulele, Dave Russell (who ran sound) and other musicians in attendance. Thanks Robin for putting this together, and we look forward to doing it again next year!

   News and notes…Hate Grenade is seeking a new bass player, as Rich Johnson plays his final show with the group on Sept. 4. Huntingdon native Curtis Wright, who used to front country group Shenandoah, was a member of Pure Prairie League and wrote hits for Ronnie Milsap, Clay Walker and others, will perform at Concert at the Cave at Lincoln Caverns near Huntingdon on Sept. 13; also appearing will be Riley Roth, Chris Woodward & ShinDiggin,’ Adam Ernst, the Harley Rae Band, Strait & Miller and the Nick Miller Project with Gabe Green. Elaini Arthur, Kira Burley, Donnie McCusker and The Backyard Rockers will perform during the Music Talent Showcase at Lion’s Club Park in Mill Creek on Sept. 19; proceeds benefit Our Community Cares. Smithsonian Gold Medalist Dr. William Hullfish and the Golden Eagle String Band, Pittsburgh-based recording artists Up in the Batten House, and local scholar-artists Jerry Zolten and Richard Sleigh will perform during the Canal-Era Music Entertainment and Summit on Sept. 26 at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site near Cresson; this all-day gathering will showcase professional and amateur musicians, performers, and storytellers interested in 19th Century American folk music and other forms of entertainment performed in the “port towns” along the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh from 1834-1889. John Peacefire has released his new album, “Foregone Prophecy”

   Happy Birthdays to: John McKelvey (Flight 19/MFG/Dreadnot), Todd McKeone (Black Sun), Ted McCloskey (Ted & the Hi-Fi’s/Maxwell Strait), Randy Servello (Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band/7th Gear), Rogan Allen (Flight 19), Jeff Reid (The Overtones), Wade Flick, Dan McConnell II (Locked and Loaded), Melanie Morrison (Miss Melanie and the Valley Rats), John Buterbaugh (Ambush), Dan McCorkle (Backlash), Rug (SamarA), Elizabeth Findley (The Syncopated Keys), Adam Wolf (Iron Wolf), Natascha Hoffmeyer (Natascha & the Spy Boys), Troy Wheland (Badd Seed), Sheldon Port, Adam Ernst, Nate Myers, J.K. Black, Jack Wilkinson, Colin Lennox, Scott Barkhimer (Bazooka Joe), Clint Carothers, Mark Triforo, Harry Pellegrine Jr., Scott “Zilly” Zillinger, and my Pennsylvania Musician cohorts RachelRocks, Eric Hoffman and Meredith Kaminek.

   Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at jptheprofessor@gmail.com. If you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!  

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