By Jim Price
The outdoor live music season has entered its homestretch, with a few more fall festivals and late season outdoor concerts remaining before everything heads back indoors.
County fair and festival activity continued in recent weeks. One year ago, local country singer/songwriter Josh Gallagher started his run on Season 11 of NBC Television’s The Voice, punching his ticket to the season’s finale, national notoriety and a fourth-place finish. The Cresson native and his Nashville-based band were greeted by a huge and joyous regional crowd when they performed during last month’s American Legion County Fair (formerly the Cambria County Fair) in Ebensburg. Josh explained to the audience that seeing country star Dustin Lynch perform at this fair four years earlier inspired his own dream of someday performing on the same stage, with that dream reaching fruition this night. Flanked by guitarists Johnny Meyers and Spencer Wade, steel guitar player Cody McKinney, bassist Joe Birmingham and drummer Andrew Bone, Josh performed many of his original songs, along with a few select country favorites. Josh brought resounding cheers with each song he and his band did – including “Overtime,” his breakthrough song on The Voice “Stay A Little Longer,” “No Turning Around,” “Ain’t No Angels,” “Lovin’ On You,” “This Town Shouldn’t Sell Beer,” “Make Believe,” “Real Good Man” and more. He introduced new songs such as “Ain’t As Tough As I Think I Am” and “How About You.” Josh paid homage to Dustin Lynch with his own version of “That’s Where It’s At,” and did renditions of Eric Church’s “Homeboy,” Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” Josh and his band kept the audience at a feverish high clear to the end, when he finished his performance with another highlight song from his run on The Voice, “Pick Any Small Town.” Josh’s friend Sundance Head, the winner from Season 11 of The Voice, also performed in the area last month with a concert at Altoona’s Mishler Theatre.
Slim Jim Phantom (of the Stray Cats), Commander Cody and Patty Larkin provided some of the entertainment during last month’s annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival in downtown Indiana. I was able to take in some of the Saturday afternoon entertainment on two stages, beginning with The Pack A.D. From Vancouver, the duo of singer/guitarist Becky Black and drummer/singer Maya Miller brought a big garage/punk rock sound, as they performed a high-velocity set of original songs. The Pack A.D. combined melodies with a blistering, brash presentation and a touch of wit as they plowed through original numbers such as ”Animal,” “Deer,” “Yes, I Know,” a request for their song “Needles” and more. I then checked out New York-based solo performer J.R. Linaberry, whose stage persona is The Bones Of J.R. Jones. Armed with resonator guitar and bass drum, J.R. performed original electric delta-style blues, working up a fury on numbers such as “The Heat,” “The Dark,” “Good Friend of Mine,” “Sing Sing,” a rendition of R.L. Burnside’s “Poor Black Mattie” and more. And I caught some of Patty Larkin’s performance. Performing both on acoustic and electric guitars, Patty sang with a clear, expressive voice as she presented folk-based songs from throughout her catalog. She shared insight on her songs, which presented observational and personal lyrical themes; some of Patty’s numbers this day included a song inspired by an ex-husband, “Johnny Was a Pyro,” along with “Best Of Intentions,” “I Told Him That My Dog Wouldn’t Run,” “It Could Be Worse,” “Dear Heart” and more.
I also had briefly seen Texas duo Whiskey Dick at the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival, but power issues at their stage curtailed their performance and relegated them to stepping off stage and performing to fans totally uuplugged and without amplification. But I would get my chance to witness Whiskey Dick plugged-in the following night at McGarvey’s in Altoona, as they were part of a captivating four-band/performer bill. Washington (state)-based singer/songwriter James Hunnicutt (who also performed at the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival earlier that day) led off the night. James sang with a bold, resonant, clear, full vocal range packed with purpose as he blended folk-flavored original songs with select roots country and rock covers from Porter Wagoner, the Wilburn Brothers and Eddie Cochran. He held everybody’s strict attention from start to end as he did songs such as “Dying Healer Waltz,” “The Cold Hard Facts of Life,” “Never Meant,” “Risk the Fall” and more. Whiskey Dick – the duo of singer/guitarist Fritz and lead guitarist Reverend – then presented their brand of acoustic “heavy metal honky tonk.” Whiskey Dick slammed rowdy, high-powered original odes about life, drinking, heroes and more. Fritz delivered a raw, scathing snarl rooted somewhere between David Allen Coe and Phil Anselmo, while Reverend demonstrated some amazing lead guitar solo work. Songs like “Bastard Sons of Texas,” “Horse Made of Acid,” “Yeehaw” and more kept the crowd raucous and rowdy, and the pair also dedicated “Fallen Heroes” in memory of Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell. Next, showing that punk rock and American roots influences stretch globally, Hungarian punk/roots rockers The Silver Shine then stormed the stage and fired up the crowd with their rowdy set. Touring the country with The Rocketz (the fourth band of the night), the Budapest-based trio of singer/guitarist Ati Edge, singer/upright bassist Krista Kat and drummer Peete Jones played fiery original tunes and amped-up covers. Their style blended punk, rockabilly/psychobilly and surf rock; some of their tunes included “One Mile From Heaven” and “Just Make Your Guns” (off their new CD Reloaded), plus rowdy takes on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz,” and Ati leading the crowd on a fiery sing-along version of “Got My Mojo Working” to close the set. Los Angeles-based punk/psychobilly trio The Rocketz then launched the night’s slamming finale, delivering total velocity and fun with their blend of spit and swagger on odes to drinking, fast living and more. Singer/guitarist Tony Slash, upright “slap” bassist Chango and drummer Anthony Drinkwater kept it lively and exciting; highlights included James Hunnicutt returning to sing lead on amped-up versions of Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-a-Lula” and Junior Parker/Elvis’ “Mystery Train,” the group tailoring their song “East LA” to the Altoona crowd as “East Altoona,” and their glorious beer-themed set closer, “Label on the Bottle.”
Johnstown has been a busy place for live music in recent weeks. The Eric Tessmer Band returned to the Flood City last month to deliver their blues-rock firestorm at People’s Natural Gas Park. The Derek Woods Band kicked off the night with their own energetic mixture of rock, funk and blues. Namesake Derek and his group brought some serious talent, from Josh Carns’ flavorful guitar leads and solos to George Hilf’s inventive keyboard fills, to the punchy drum work of Justin Landers and lean bass lines of Chris Schaney. They warmed up a decent-sized crowd with a number of original tunes, including songs from their Taste EP such as “Don’t Look Away” and the extended “Much Better Now,” some newer songs, and inspired takes on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” the Allman Brothers’ “One Way Out,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music” and the set-ending edition of The Band’s “The Weight.” Picking up the torch from blues-rock guitar legends like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Texas’ Eric Tessmer put on a guitar clinic from the get-go of his band’s set, displaying fierce shredding, distortion barrages, behind-the-back soloing and more! His band was top notch – Gian Ortiz did busy, precise finger work on his bass strings to complement whatever Eric was doing, and drummer Marc Redix’s powerhouse rhythms added drive and purpose to each song. Eric performed many of his own originals, from catchy vocal numbers to dazzling instrumentals. And he paid homage to Jimi Hendrix several times during his set, lighting up the stage with takes on “Are You Experienced” and the explosive set-ending version of “Voodoo Chile,” where he ripped the guts (strings) out of his weathered 1959 Fender Stratocaster! He then brandished his other Stratocaster to give the crowd “one more for the hardcores…” – a powerful rendition of “Little Wing” to end the night.
As always, Labor Day weekend meant my annual pilgrimage to Johnstown’s Cambria City neighborhood for another edition of the Cambria City Ethnic Festival. I attended both Saturday and Sunday this year; with rains from the former Hurricane Harvey deluging the area on Saturday, I caught several acts in the dryness under the tent at the Ethnic Fest Block Party on 3rd Ave., presented by the Venue Of Merging Arts (VOMA) and the BottleWorks Ethnic Arts Center. I arrived in time to catch the last few songs from western PA-based funk/jam rockers Habatat, who generated feisty grooves on their selection of original songs. My favorite new discovery during this year’s Ethnic Festival was the next group, Pittsburgh’s Funky Fly Project. Comprised of four youngsters all under the age of 18, Funky Fly Project displayed some amazing talent and poise on their instruments. These guys were fearless – saxophonist Winston Bell, keyboardist Henry Schultz, bassist Eric Dowdell, Jr. and drummer Brandon Terry (just 12 years old!) dazzled the audience with their blend of instrumental original compositions, plus jazz/funk-driven takes on popular numbers. My favorite highlights from their set included inventive arrangements of “My Favorite Things” and The Buckinghams’ 1967 hit “Mercy Mercy Mercy.” Funky Fly Project provided evidence that the future of live music is in good hands – watch out for these youngsters! Harrisburg’s Yam Yam then finished up the evening on this stage with their mixture of funk, jazz and jam elements. Comprised of guitarist/singer Tom Fuller, drummer Tyler Fuller, keyboardist/singer Mike Dempsey, bassist Xander Moppin and sax player Jason Mescia; Yam Yam cooked up plenty of tasty original grooves that triggered dance action in front of the stage. They also broke out an upbeat update of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” Afterward, I headed inside Ace’s Lounge to see the last two sets of Undercover’s dance-rock party. Singer Jason Riek, guitarist/singer JJ Mason, bassist Barron Shipley and drummer Vince Spino kept Ace’s dance floor busy with their uptempo blend of current and classic rock and dance hits. Undercover provided nonstop music with tunes from Walk the Moon, Bryan Adams, Prince, Journey, Bruno Mars, DNCE and more.
When I returned to Cambria City Ethnic Festival on Sunday, the weather was much improved, so I was able to catch performers on several of the other outdoor live stages, starting with Tree at the ACRP stage. As I enjoyed a stuffed hot pepper sandwich and a bottle of Irish Harp lager, singer/guitarist Matt Harnett, fiddler Jen Harnett and drummer Mike Dixon mixed Irish-flavored rock and folk favorites, along with a few traditional folk numbers. Among Tree’s song selection were versions of Flogging Molly’s “Drunken Lullabies,” “Nancy Whiskey,” Whiskey in the Jar,” Steve Earle’s “Galway Girl,” “Ramblin’ Rover” and more. I then headed to the Holy Cross stage, where Rosie & the Jammers were finishing up their performance. Namesake Rosie Sida on keys, Jim Mosey on vocals and guitar, Eric Furfari on accordion and vocals, and Brian Anater and Brian Regala on saxophones mixed up a variety of polkas, pop standards and other favorites. The group did polka favorites like “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” and Eric sang lead as he converted the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel” into a polka! Jim displayed an excellent voice on Ronnie Milsap’s “It Was Almost Like a Song,” and the group ended their set with Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.” Keeping with tradition, I had to indulge my most anticipated culinary moment during each year’s Ethnic Festival, feasting on the St. Mary’s Church Polish “grand slam” of a kolbasi and sauerkraut sandwich, halushki, halupki and pierogies. This year, though, I enjoyed this platter while being entertained by Felix & the Hurricanes on the church’s trailer stage. Lead Hurricane and guitarist Felix Kos, bassist/singer Jeff Clapper and drummer Bob Watters mixed original song favorites with a variety of classic rock numbers from America, Badfinger, the Beatles, Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Eric Clapton, Boz Scaggs and more. I then headed back to the Ethnic Fest Block Party tent to see the final group of this year’s festival, Johnstown jazz performers The John Bagnato Group. This group focused on Brazilian-styled jazz this night, and welcomed guest Frank Filia to sing lead on several numbers toward set’s end.
Following the conclusion of Cambria City Ethnic Festival, I headed to Johnstown’s Southmont Gardens, where Pittsburgh legend Norman Nardini and his band provided the musical fun. Norman and his band – Harry Bottoms on bass, Larry Siefers on keys, sax and harmonica, and Mike Floccari on drums – played for three hours nonstop as they mixed up newer and older favorites, punctuated by Norman’s humor and wit between songs. Song highlights included Norman’s ode to hooking up with a female cop, called “Messin’ With the Law,” “Pittsburgh PA” converted into “Johnstown PA,” Norman referencing current and recent news events on “Game On,” and “Three Times Your Fool,” which D.C. blues legends The Nighthawks are recording for their new album All You Gotta Do. Norman and his band welcomed two popular local guitarists on stage, as Gene Sweeney worked guitar strings on “She’s Crazy” and “I Hate a Nickel,” and Mark Middleton added his guitar skills to an instrumental version of The Buckinghams’ “Mercy Mercy Mercy” and the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”
Hastings in northern Cambria County was again partying down in late August during the annual St. Bernard Parish Homecoming celebration. I caught entertainment during the festival’s final day, Sunday, starting with Disorganized Crime, the duo of singer, guitarist and harmonica player Rick Ramsey and percussionist and singer Ed Hofer. They had fun mixing up a wide variety of tunes spanning rock, pop and country favorites. Rick followed his muse throughout the afternoon, with Ed shifting rhythms on the fly for whatever Rick threw at him. The two drew cheers and occasional dancers with tunes from Gordon Lightfoot, Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp, Waylon Jennings, Men At Work, U2, Beatles, Hank Jr., Elvis, Bruce Springsteen, Tesla and many more. For the nightcap, Johnstown brass rock ensemble Flood City Brass – ten musicians strong this night – mixed up rock, funk and soul hits. Singers Tom Pavic and Natalie Kurchak both showed great voices up front, with drummer John Homerski singing out impressive voice on a few tunes as well. Instrumentally this group dazzled as well – Jen Shuty delivered some great sax solos on a few numbers, and guitarist Randy Rutherford shined with his guitar skills, especially on Flood City Brass’ take on Steely Dan’s “My Old School.” Randy even showed his trombone skills on the night’s last song, the John-fronted edition of the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin!’” Flood City Brass kept the dance area filled through much of the evening with favorites from the Sanford Townsend Band, Katrina & the Waves, Bruce Springsteen, Donna Summer, Van Morrison, LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Doors, Bruno Mars, B-52s, Wilson Pickett, Abba, Neil Diamond, Sister Sledge, Gloria Gaynor and more. This month, Flood City Brass will provide entertainment as part of the Fort Ligonier Days Festival in downtown Ligonier on Oct. 15.
Craft brew enthusiasts again converged upon Altoona’s Railroaders Museum in late August for the annual Rails and Ales Brewfest, with proceeds benefiting Altoona Community Theatre. Brewers presented more than 80 of their craft brew creations for sampling, while The Crew Of The Half Moon and DD & the Pub Crawlers provided the live musical entertainment. (Two-thirds of Born & the Beanstalk – the Ed n’Born duo of percussionist Ed Hofer and singer/guitarist Sean “Born” Osborn – entertained during a special VIP sampling before the public event.) Taking the rail flatcar stage first, The Crew Of The Half Moon – singers/multi-instrumentalists Katie Rhodes and Dan Oatman plus drummer Jon Beard – mixed an eclectic array of original songs, modern and classic rock/pop favorites. The group tapped numbers from their latest Blanket Fort Radio album such as “Stark Lost Lovers,” performed several songs from the Beatles, and presented their unique takes on The Wallflowers’ “One Headlight,” The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” REM’s “Losing My Religion,” an exceptional rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” and more. DD & the Pub Crawlers then struck up their brass-edged party, throwing down a mixture of rock’n’roll, blues, funk, ska, swing sounds and more. Singer Dana “DD” Martino, bassist/singer Art Martino, guitarist Jim Howsare, keyboardist Tim Boland, drummer Todd Harshbarger and the four-piece horn section of sax players Anthony Martino and Lyndsay Reilly, trumpet player Adam Lingenfelter and trombonist Nick Martino kept the music and excitement constant. Some of their highlights included a version of Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade” with a Santana “Evil Ways” midsection, guest drummer Kevin Siegel packing the beats behind Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” the brass section cutting loose on “Land of 1,000 Dances,” and the group swinging out on Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot.”
I also saw Todd Harshbarger in action the following day as he provided the drumbeats behind Shallow 9 during their Sunday Funday boat cruise aboard the Proud Mary riverboat on Lake Raystown. This fun afternoon began with a picnic under a pavilion, before the fun then moved onto the Proud Mary and “set sail” for a two-hour journey around the lake, with Shallow 9 playing on the boat’s upper deck. Singer Erika Marino, guitarists Tucker Landis and Ryan Weaver, bassist Mitch Neuder and Todd on drums fired up the party, mixing up rock, pop, funk and hip-hop favorites that soon triggered happy dancing on the deck. Shallow 9 kept boat passengers happy with hits from Amy Winehouse, Cee-Lo Green, Pat Benatar, Sublime, Paula Abdul, Lady Gaga, DNCE and many more. Guest Mike Stanley multitasked several times during the show, voicing several hip-hop rants while running sound with a hand-held mixer at the same time. Shallow 9 amped up the party with some nonstop medleys along the way, and the fun was constant clear until the boat arrived back at the dock.
I caught my first look at The Reflections last month as they entertained during the annual New Germany Festival of Arts & Crafts at New Germany Grove in Cambria County. From Johnstown, The Reflections – singer Kim Miller, lead guitarist/singer Pat Mollohan, rhythm guitarist/singer Chuck Glacken, bassist Bobby Palmer and drummer John Kot – specialize in dance-friendly rock and pop hits from the 1960s through 1980s. They delivered a wide mixture of sounds this day, spanning hits by the Beatles, Martha & the Vandellas, Tommy James, Mitch Ryder, Del Shannon, CCR, Tom Petty, the Kingsmen, The Doors, Nancy Sinatra and more. Doing most of the singing, Kim provided a potent and clear voice up front, with the rest of the band supporting her with solid instrumental backdrops. The Reflections kept folks dancing and having a good time throughout their performance.
Back indoors, I caught several other shows at McGarvey’s in recent weeks, including last month’s return of Virginia-based string band the Hackensaw Boys. Opening the night was the debut of a new local bluegrass-geared group, Black Ridge, who did a short set of punk-fueled bluegrass and folk. Despite some sound issues, Black Ridge’s first set was a good start. The Hackensaw Boys then performed their brand of traditional folk and bluegrass before a large audience. The group did a selection of their original songs, and frequently showed their instrumental chops, especially fiddler Ferd Moyse, whose skills shined on nearly every song. Again I found myself fascinated with Brian Gorby’s unique percussion contraption, the “charismo,” which contains several tin cans and other household items fused together; he used brushes on them to provide the rhythms. The Hackensaw Boys played their primary set on stage through the sound system; after short break, the group brought their instruments out onto the floor and into the crowd and played completely unplugged to finish the night. The Hackensaw Boys embark on a European tour later this month, performing show dates in The Netherlands and Spain.
McGarvey’s also hosted an entertaining, hard-rocking triple-bill in late August. Altoona punk rocking favorites X’s For Eyes led off the night with their high-velocity, thrashing punk sounds. Guitarists/singers Tom Noel and Tim Mort, bassist/singer Oob and drummer Justin Fair awakened the house with their bristling array of original tunes, flooring the accelerator and never letting up. Pittsburgh pirates then stormed the stage, as The Bloody Seamen – decked in full swashbuckling gear – fired off rowdy and rocking pirate-themed original tunes, amped-up drinking songs and seafaring takes on rock and metal favorites. Armed with a keyboard/accordion player and a concertina player this night, the Seamen plundered the house with tunes off their latest CD Sail Hatin’ such as “Bullets An’ Brine,” did a Motorhead “Ace of Spades” spin on Disney’s “Under the Sea,” and hijacked Black Sabbath’s “Supernaut” into their own buccaneering adaptation, called “Super Yacht.” Beyond the swashbuckling theatrics, The Bloody Seamen delivered tight and full-force instrumental execution; and booming out full voice, Cap’n Blackguts gloriously kept the attention riveted toward the stage for the entire set, earning a hearty “ARRRRRR!!!” from the audience. After the plunder, The Lurking Corpses soon were strewn on the stage to finish the night with monster and horror-themed thrash/death-flavored metal. Decked in face masks and black druid hoods and capes, the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based cast of Lord Vladimir Von Ghoul, Cousin Eerie, The Nameless Horror and Friar Frightengale blasted multiple original horror assaults, including several from their latest CD Lust for Blood such as “Mark of the Devil,” “Orgy in the Mausoleum” and more. Lord Vladimir’s humorous, ghoul-edged cackle between songs kept the vibe from ever becoming too dark or serious, and The Lurking Corpses kept the McGarvey’s crowd cheering until the end.
Pittsburgh’s Bastard Bearded Irishmen returned to McGarvey’s in late August with their high-velocity Irish-flavored sounds. After X’s For Eyes led off the night, the Irishmen – singer/guitarist Jimmy Bastard, mandolinist Danny Rectenwald, fiddler Paul Dvorchak, bassist Ben Jaber, rhythm guitarist Ryan Warmbrodt and drummer Dan Stocker – mixed up high-powered original songs with high-velocity Irish-flavored takes on traditional and popular numbers. Delivered with fast-paced, high-flying action and even instrument-swapping onstage, some highlights included drinking odes like “Whiskey, Rum, Bourbon, Beer” and “Bartender’s Friend,” an amped-up Irish take on Aha’s 1980s hit “Take On Me,” and Jimmy’s accelerating a cappella rendition of “The Rattlin’ Bog.” When the crowd called for an encore, Bastard Bearded Irishmen responded with their Irish-edged take on Guns N’Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine” and another rowdy original drinking ode, “F*** You I’m Drunk.”
And I saw Johnstown trio The Cheeze as they entertained last month at Johnstown’s Ohio Street Lounge. Singer/bassist Scott Barkhimer, guitarist/singer James Forish and drummer Mike Curry dished out hearty portions of ‘80s rock and pop gems, with a few non-‘80s classics and surprises thrown in. Tunes from Bryan Adams, Tone Loc, Honeymoon Suite, Poison, Motley Crue, Georgia Satellites, Prince and more filled the evening. One highlight included the group’s take on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall,” which morphed into the midsection of Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like We Do” with James utilizing the guitar talkbox.
Other performers I saw recently included Ron “Music Man” Balestino at Altoona’s Family Pizza & Pub, Force Of Habit during Huntingdon’s Wine Down celebration, Backlash – with new bassist Andy Krishak – at The Arena in State College, Mama Corn at last month’s Downtown Night Market event at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza, singers Daniela Pasquini and Marco Fiorenta during the annual Italian Food & Heritage Festival at Delgrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton, and recent McGarvey’s appearances by D.C. indie-rockers In Your Memory, up-and-coming State College rockers The Roof and acoustic performer Jae Smith.
News and notes…Pantera tribute Penntera, Agent Smith and their “Agent In Chains” Alice In Chains tribute provide some of the musical highlights during the second annual Zombietown USA celebration; Altoona’s zombie apocalypse festival happens Oct. 6-7 in downtown Altoona…CJ Ramone and Michale Graves pair up for the first time ever at McGarvey’s on Oct. 7, with opening acts X’s For Eyes, Railroad City Murder Machines and The Legendary Hucklebucks…Natascha & the Spy Boys are slated to issue their first full-length CD, That’s the Hardest Part…, later this month…Altoona guitarist Tom Brown has released the latest album from his long-running studio project Pensive Fear, entitled The Awakening…and we at PA Musician extend speedy get-well wishes to Small Town Horror Show keyboardist Mike Henneman, who has been logging hospital time recently.
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!