By: Jim Price
Being at the right place at the right time can often determine the difference between success and failure. And sometimes, pure luck plays into the equation. Every so often, we hear stories in the music business about the roles of timing and luck in determining careers and fates.
One of those stories was told during this year’s Millennium Music Conference (MMC) in late February at the Best Western Premier: the Central Hotel in Harrisburg. During Friday’s keynote presentation, Reverbnation Co-Founder and Vice President of Artist Development Lou Plaia interviewed Crobot’s lead singer, Brandon Yeagley. Five years ago, during the 2012 MMC, timing and luck led to Crobot’s big break in the music business. Lou and Brandon both shared the story; from Pottsville, Crobot was originally slated to showcase at Gullifty’s in Camp Hill that year, but when discovered that the venue was double-booked, their showcase bill was moved to the conference’s host Radisson hotel, in a smaller room down the hall from the primary showcase room. While walking to that larger room, Lou heard something reminiscent of a Led Zeppelin riff as he passed the smaller room, and entered to investigate. It was Crobot – playing before an estimated three people – and Lou was so moved by their performance that by set’s end he had messaged TKO Booking Agency, setting the wheels in motion for the group’s big break. They have since played festival events like SXSW and Rock on the Range, and toured with such names as Motorhead, Volbeat, Chevelle and more, and became another PA music success story.
For Brandon, returning to this year’s MMC provided a “full circle moment.” He added, “I’m certainly a testament to the fact that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can come from small beginnings…and if you’re willing to get out of bed and put the work in, you can make it happen…and with a little luck.”
Live’s guitarist, Chad Taylor, was the focus of Saturday’s MMC keynote interview, conducted by area musician John Micek. Chad explained the circumstances that led to Live’s split in 2009, and what brought them back together. Growing distant from one another – amplified by the red tape and legal-ese of the major music business – was what drove them apart. Tragedy – the 2015 passing of their friend, Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland – was what prompted Chad to call bandmate Ed Kowalczyk to patch up the feud and begin anew. The band members came back together older, more experienced and wiser, and Chad explained that he learned to reshuffle his priorities. “In the priority scale, it was probably always that my band was number one…Number two was probably my family (he has a wife and three daughters), and number three were my businesses,” said Chad. “I have managed to get the priority scale changed, that my family would be my first priority, my businesses would be my second priority, and my band would be my third priority, even now as it has reformed. And it has been very healthy…” Chad recommended to the audience of musicians to put their families and friends in that first position, and figure out where band and career should be positioned relative to that.
Besides the keynotes, the business conference portion of this year’s Millennium provided lots of activity, from music business panels and sessions to mentoring to the trade show and the acoustic stage. I took in two of the sessions, including Joe Trojcak’s “Strategies for the Freelancing Musician or Audio Professional.” Here, Joe – the owner of Progressive Enterprises Sound Studios in Elizabethtown – advised attendees on the principles of getting ahead in business and life, from planning to networking to focusing and hard work; principles outlined in his book, Focus on Your Light. And as a college educator myself, I attended and participated in “Creating a Central PA Association for Music Entertainment Industry Academic Programs.” Here, faculty and student representatives from area colleges with music industry programs networked and took initial steps toward establishing a music industry network among colleges. Attendees discussed ideas and initiatives for this network to explore; including establishing databases for educators, music industry lecturers, internship programs and more, plus coordinating college tours by musicians, and a possible one-day music conference to rotate between different campuses annually.
The PA Musician-sponsored Day Stage was busy during the Millennium trade show. I saw numerous acts perform during both days, along with a few surprise highlights. Among the performers I witnessed were The Foxfires, Audrey Morgan, Mike Lawson, Six Bar Break, Mayfest, Chelsea Locklear, Julia McDonald, Sofeya and the Puffins, Nightmares Of Eve, the Vine Brothers, Jack Pyers, the Eugene Tyler Band, Nick Ryan Band, Jake Tavill, Joe Trocjak (who can play a mean piano!), Byron Linder, Alex Fry, Melody Stolpp, New York-based father and son duo Generations, Ashley Heath, 3 AM (the duo of Chris Whitmer and Eli the Hawk), Feyer, Andy Dimacale, Pistol Shot Gypsy, Matt Pless, Ten Cent Days, Spencer & Sequoia and Suzi Brown. My favorite Friday highlight was when Mycenea Worley joined Sterling Koch and Jack Kulp – the Crossroads Duo – onstage for an impromptu acoustic blues jam, before performing her own set with young guest singer Cami Emerick. My favorite Saturday highlight was a similar jam situation, when harmonica ace Nate Myers and bassist Pete Netznik (of Nate’s band) joined Roger Hammer onstage for another sudden acoustic blues jam! And at the close of the business conference, Mike Lawson’s CD was the one randomly selected from my radio dropbox, and Mike won a guest appearance on the March 12 edition of Qwik-Rock’s “Homegrown Rocker” program!
Speaking of jam sessions, late night, after-hours jam sessions again took place in the hotel conference rooms, with a multitude of Millennium musicians participating both nights. A variety of instruments showed up at these jams, too; including guitars, basses, mandolins, horns, assorted percussion instruments, and even an accordion!
And of course, there were the MMC showcases…My first was the Thursday conference kickoff party at O’Reilly’s Taproom at the host hotel. I caught the latter half of this showcase, witnessing Saskatchewan, Canada’s Autopilot as they performed melody-geared original alternative/indie rock, followed by inventive solo electronica rock/pop/dance music artist Melt Like Clouds (the stage alias of Big Apple-based musician Ryan Cantz).
Joined by sweet PA Musician cohort Meredith Kaminek, my Friday night MMC showcase tour started at Bridges Social Club in downtown Harrisburg, to catch a few songs from Mycenea Worley (because I can’t get enough of her voice!); joining her this night was Tony Pichler on percussion. We then headed to the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, where Washington, D.C.-based cellist Wytold was finishing his set. Although I did not get to hear much, what I did hear from Wytold was impressive and innovative; definitely a performer who thinks outside the box! Next was Johnstown’s Striped Maple Hollow, who shared their brand of folksy, acoustic Americana sounds. Immediately taking the spotlight were the sweet vocal harmonies of singers Jayna Mood and Sonya Giuffre, backed by guitarist/singer Micah Mood, banjo/mandolin player Adam Milkovich and bassist Leo Drager. Following them was one of my favorite new discoveries at this year’s MMC, Harrisburg’s Sofeya and the Puffins. This group’s sound can’t be pigeonholed; they blend elements of 1960s psychedelia (with a steampunk look), acoustic folk, gypsy, blues and more into an eclectic and captivating mixture. Each song was unique, as was the group’s blend of instruments, including guitar, ukulele, cajon and assorted percussion. We then headed to the night’s final destination, The Fieldhouse in Etters; arriving in time to see Harrisburg’s Six Bar Break. This group – lead singer/guitarist Ben Bollinger, bassist Robert Trowbridge and drummer David Long – performed a strong mix of hard, roots-driven rock original songs, along with a furious cover of CCR’s “Fortunate Son.” Next was Philadelphia’s Palaceburn, who delivered an enthusiastic, high-powered brand of rock. They had to get past an unexpected issue early in their set, though, when their initial volume was too loud and a venue staffer hastily ordered the soundman to shut them down. But the group showed professionalism and poise, playing on as they corrected the volume, and singer Meredith Bell then apologized and made peace with the staffer before they continued. Meredith showed an excellent voice and stage presence, and won the audience’s approval in spite of the earlier issue. Pittsburgh foursome NeverWake followed with full-force, metal-driven original rock that blended melody with aggression in a style comparable to Bullet for My Valentine. And York quartet GMO closed the night with their straight-up-the-gut, classic-driven hard rock, tapping an AC/DC/Buckcherry raunch rock vein.
I split my Saturday night MMC showcase tour between two venues, starting at Momo’s BBQ in downtown Harrisburg. Blues was the prominent flavor here, and Philadelphia’s Bosom Band was in the homestretch of their set of sultry electric blues and funk. Lead singer Monica Lynne Chase can belt, and guitarist Shawn Touhill dealt some stinging lead solo work. One of my favorite discoveries from last year’s MMC, New York City’s Jake Tavill and his Indigo Child Blues Band, was next. They mixed up a tasty blend of horn-edged blues, funk and pop sounds. The group did feisty, melody-geared original tunes, and stunned the house with a killer version of Sly & the Family Stone’s hit “If You Want Me to Stay!” Philadelphia’s JJGunn Band then closed this showcase with their brand of traditional-flavored electric blues and southern-edged rock. This group’s singer and guitarist, JohnyB, previously fronted nationally-signed and MTV-played late ‘80s metal band Seduce. JJGunn mixed original songs, including one recently written about the Standing Rock situation, “Standing on the Rock.” I then closed out my MMC 2017 experience at the Pour House on Derry in Harrisburg. I arrived in time to see Connecticut quintet Remember September. I thoroughly enjoyed this group, who performed a pleasant, upbeat rock/funk/pop sound. Their melodies were catchy and their presentation tight and inspired. Finishing the night were Butler/Pittsburgh-based rockers Highway 4. Led by feisty frontwoman Kelly Brown, Highway 4 blended arena rock firepower with a modern rock edge, and drew calls for an encore at night’s end.
I returned to Harrisburg the following weekend to take in a benefit concert at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC). Part of my mission this day was to record an interview with this month’s cover story group, Wings That Buzz. After completing that interview, I grabbed a bite to eat at HMAC’s downstairs Stage on Herr, and ended up seeing a dinner hour performance by Shine Delphi. Singing, playing acoustic guitar and harmonica, Shine performed tasty blues, jazz, roots music and originals, even tapping into Tin Pan Alley-era sounds. He ended his first set with the “Shine Delphi Childhood Memory” medley, where he mixed together “When You Wish Upon a Star,” plus “Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” from Disney’s The Jungle Book! I then headed upstairs to HMAC’s Capitol Room to check out the Playing For Purpose benefit, which raised some money and awareness for Purpose Farm Rescue & Recovery Center, a facility which pairs people recovering from addiction with rescue farm animals. Harrisburg-based indie rockers Black Black Beast took the stage as I first arrived, but their set ended after three songs due to unexpected technical issues. Wings That Buzz then performed, demonstrating their distinctive flavor of acoustic rock original songs that tap classic, ‘90s and indie-rock flavors. This group generated good momentum as their set progressed, and even prompted dancers during the homestretch. Chambersburg’s Cameron Molloy Band then took the music in a country direction, firing off a hearty set of classic-flavored country original songs plus select covers from Chuck Berry and others. A native of British Columbia, Canada, namesake Cameron Malloy led the group with a bold voice and stage presence. Guest harmonica player Glenn Bowie joined the group on several early songs. This group built steam through their set, culminating in a stormy rendition of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky.” Harrisburg country rockers Mountain Road then finished the night. This was my first time seeing this group live (they were guests on my radio show a few years ago), and I came away impressed! Singer Kevin Cole demonstrated great vocal power and range, flanked by lead guitarist John Lee Rossey, bassist James Clisham and drummer Brandon Valentine. Mountain Road mixed up original songs, country and classic rock favorites; performing favorites from Johnny Cash, Brooks & Dunn, Chris Stapleton, Georgia Satellites, Marshall Tucker Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Band and more. Their harmonies were strong, especially on a version of the Eagles’ “Seven Bridges Road!” This band also gave all to their audience – voluntarily playing for an additional hour when the encore was requested, and playing their hearts out until the end, despite only a dozen folks remaining by the time they finished. Other performers at this benefit before my arrival included Watergate, ADO, CASA Kids for the Cause, Nick Andrew Staver and Jon Ingels.
With Queensryche being one of my all-time favorite bands, I eagerly anticipated seeing the group’s former singer, Geoff Tate, when he brought the “Whole Story Acoustic Tour” to State College’s State Theatre in late February. New York City’s Voices Of Extreme opened the night. Normally a hard rock/metal group, this trio kept with the acoustic theme of the evening and stripped their presentation down to acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and hand percussion (bongos and congas). Lead singer Don Chaffin displayed a strong voice on the group’s array of original songs, and he showed a good Robert Plant tone on two Led Zeppelin numbers. After the intermission, Geoff Tate’s band – lead guitarist Scott Moughton, rhythm guitarist Kieran Robertson, violinist Evan Cleve and Ollie Jordan-Kelly on cajon – took up their positions on stage and started performing, before Geoff arrived to join them. They opened with Queensryche’s “Walk in the Shadows,” instantly followed by “Another Rainy Night,” two of many numbers from throughout the Queensryche catalog performed this night. Geoff’s voice was in top form, delivering the same power and clarity that defined his tenure with Queensryche. He then did “Some People Fly” from Queensryche’s Hear in the Now Frontier album, and cheers erupted when the group launched into “Jet City Woman.” Geoff periodically shared stories with the audience, including an interesting Nashville sojourn highlighted by seeing the late Johnny Cash eat pancakes at an eatery, and he explained how encountering a refugee camp in Germany inspired Queensryche’s song “Blood,” highlighted by a Evan’s fiery homestretch violin solo. Geoff did a number from his current band project Operation Mindcrime, called “The Fight.” The performers showcased other Queensryche numbers, including “Chasing Blue Skies,” “Out of Mind,” “Take Hold of the Flame” and the first song Queensryche created for their debut EP, “The Lady Wore Black.” Geoff introduced a song written for his wife, “Until There Was You,” as well as one inspired by his father, Queensryche’s “Hundred Mile Stare.” After the musicians closed the main set with two numbers from Queensryche’s classic Operation: Mindcrime album – “I Don’t Believe in Love” and “Eyes of a Stranger,” the audience quickly called for an encore. Upon returning, Geoff introduced his band members, and with several hailing from Ireland, launched into a rendition of Dropkick Murphys’ “Shipping Up to Boston,” before Queensryche’s “Around the World” finished the night. This was a fun and insightful show, which enabled fans to experience Queensryche’s creations in stripped-down, acoustic form.
Penn State Altoona celebrated Mardi-Gras in late February by presenting a Fat Tuesday performance by Philadelphia-based zydeco group Zydeco-a-Go-Go at the campus’ Port Sky Cafe. This group – bandleader, accordionist and singer Pete Gumbo, guitarist Billy Baltera, sax and washboard player Carl “CC” Crabtree, bassist Jimmy Pritchard and drummer Bob Holden – fired up a nice blend of zydeco, New Orleans-styled rhythm and blues and a touch of rock’n’roll. The group quickly had some ladies and children up and dancing early as they did numbers like “Zydeco Cha Cha,” “Cajun Waltz,” “Bon Temps Rouler,” Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi-Gras” and more. The group also paid homage to the late Buckwheat Zydeco with Buckwheat’s version of Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya.” Later in the set, Zydeco-a-Go-Go welcomed Penn State Altoona student guest Ikechi Onyenaka to help out on saxophone for a few numbers, including a rowdy set-closing edition of “Iko Iko.”
St. Patrick’s season brought some musical fun last month, including the St. Patrick’s night “ShamRock Shakedown” at Ebensburg’s Castle Pub. Ben Dumm performed before my arrival, and The Overtones were under way when I walked in. Singer/upright bassist Rik Golden, singer/guitarist Jeff Reid and drummer/singer Mikey Wax celebrated early rock’n’roll with numbers from Buddy Holly, CCR, the Rolling Stones and others; plus closed their set in polka fashion with “In Heaven There Is No Beer.” Introducing new drummer Matt “Matty Flo” Floravit this night, Nobody’s Heroes finished the night with their rowdy brand of punk-fueled folk and Americana. They mixed plentiful original songs with select covers such as The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak” Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl,” Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road,” Dion’s “Runaround Sue” and more. When the crowd demanded the encore at night’s end, Nobody’s Heroes responded with their punkgrass take on The Misfits’ “Skulls.”
The new Chewy’s Pizza location in Altoona presented a St. Patrick’s ‘hangover’ party the next night, with live rock’n’roll from Bone Jacked. Now the roster of singer/harmonica player Mat Wirtner, guitarist/singer Chris Guella, singer/bassist Mike Gherrity and drummer Terry Wilt, Bone Jacked kept the crowd happy and dancing with a variety of rocking favorites from the 1970s through 1990s. They delivered a few surprises, such as versions of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ “If You Want to Get to Heaven,” Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Let Her Cry” and Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” as well as numbers from Georgia Satellites, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Matchbox 20, Collective Soul, ZZ Top, Everclear, Cheap Trick and more.
For a more unusual live music event, I attended Spangler Subaru’s Subaru Impreza More 2 Love launch event last month at Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center in Johnstown. The new Impreza models were displayed and celebrated with free food and refreshments, plus live acoustic music from Tim Kargo and The Crew Of The Half Moon. Under way as I arrived, Tim performed classic hits with his own flavor, doing versions of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion,” and a fusion of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” with Men At Work’s “Down Under.” The Crew Of The Half Moon – currently the duo of multi-instrumentalists and singers Dan Oatman and Katie Rhodes – mixed original tunes, including several from their new Blanket Fort Radio album, with select numbers from the Beatles, REM, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and more. Katie did much of the singing and showed a clear, powerful voice, and both she and Dan displayed talent and versatility on a variety of instruments, demonstrating captivating arrangements and well-structured vocal harmonies.
Other shows and performers I saw recently included The Flannels, Railroad City Murder Machines and X’s For Eyes during the latter portion of last month’s “Who Said It’s Dead” Punk Fest at McGarvey’s…Last month’s Midwestern state triple-bill of Nebraska’s Saint Christopher Webster, plus Michigan bands The Devil’s Cut and Jason Alarm at McGarvey’s…Born & the Beanstalk with special guests Jae Smith (Root and the Fifths) and Chuck Cox on mandolin at McGarvey’s…And Felix & the Hurricanes plus singing guest Phil McCaulley torching the rafters with an intense version of “Free Bird” during one of the group’s weekly Sunday shows at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern.
News and notes…Last month’s passing of former Boston drummer Sib Hashian at age 67 had some area impact; Hashian died unexpectedly on March 22 while performing during the annual Legends Of Rock Cruise, which journeys between Miami, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and also features regional rockers and cruise co-sponsors Hybrid Ice…Sib was also slated to perform with former Boston bandmate Barry Goudreau and former Foreigner singer Lou Gramm at the Legends Of Rock Concert at Altoona’s Blair County Convention Center on May 27…One of central PA’s most popular live music venues, Tubby’s in Duncannon, was destroyed by fire early on March 19; several benefits take place this month throughout the region to help out staff who lost employment due to the fire…The inaugural Karoondinha Music & Arts Festival will happen at Penn’s Cave near Centre Hall from July 21-23; more than 80 bands and artists will perform at the festival; early names announced to perform include John Legend, The Roots and the X Ambassadors, with more names to be announced soon…The Spin Doctors will be one of the headliners for the upcoming Happy Valley Music Fest, happening June 2-3 in downtown State College…The Hemlock Groove VI festival happens April 22-23 at Port Royale Farm south of Bedford…The Allegheny Ukulele Kollective presents their fourth annual Ukulele Soiree on the weekend of April 21-23 at Laurel Lodge retreat outside of Altoona; the Soiree will feature ukulele skill workshops, jam sessions and open mics, a ukulele petting zoo, plus guest performers including Lil’ Rev, Stuart Fuchs, Rachel Manke, Ben Carr, Gracie Terzian, Mim of Mim’s Ukes and more – for information, visit the website soiree.alleghenyukes.com…Longtime Johnstown party-rock favorites Yum have parted ways after an 18-year run on area stages…After a 17-year run, popular Irish-themed duo the Michael O’Brian Band have decided to go their separate ways…Johnstown’s Inside Out and drummer Jim Bagrosky have parted ways, with the parting a friendly one; former drummer Mark Gindlesperger steps back behind the group’s drum kit…Mixing Numbers With Sounds have parted ways with longtime guitarist Tanner Means…Ember’s Fall played their final Pennsylvania show last month at McGarvey’s in Altoona before going their separate ways due to happenings in their personal lives; singer Dennis Ray Gee plans to restart the group with new members later this year when he relocates to Arizona…The ‘Beer Kegs’ portion of former area country group Pistol Peg & the Beer Kegs are continuing on as The Ten High Five, and will debut June 2 when they open for The Clarks at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum…Down to the Wire has a new guitar player, as Scott Sensebaugh replaces Kirk Robison…Windber-based alternative rock band Drive-By Magic Show has issued their debut CD, called Pulling Strings.
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!