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The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – December 2017

By Jim Price

   We arrive at another holiday season, and an opportunity for life to slow down for a little while. I like to use this time of year to step back, take stock, appreciate everyone and everything that enriches my life, and recharge for the New Year. I wish everyone a pleasant and safe holiday season, including a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and peace for all, no matter what you are celebrating!

I caught one last outdoor festival in late October; the third annual Akersville Fall Festival in Fulton County – a small, friendly festival that raised funds for the town’s community church and schoolhouse. Live music was part of the three-day event. I attended on the second day, Friday, and saw a trio of musicians: singer/guitarist Wilmer Garlick, guitarists Vernon Klingerman and Colt Jenkins. These three casually performed a selection of old-timey folk, country, bluegrass and gospel, honoring audience requests along the way. Some of their song selection while I was there included Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Elton Britt’s wartime hit “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere,” and gospel numbers such as “Kneel at the Cross” plus requests for “Great Speckled Bird” and “Amazing Grace/The Old Rugged Cross.”

Although live music has now moved indoors for the cold weather season, it has remained busy. One recent highlight was last month’s annual Patched Together: A Day of Music to Benefit the Healing Patch at Altoona’s Bavarian Aid Society. Taking on a Star Wars theme, this year’s Patched Together featured a variety of children’s activities, baskets and other giveaways, check presentations, Star Wars characters, and – of course – live music. Alternating between two stages, eight bands and performers donated their talents to raise money and awareness for the Healing Patch, which provides counseling and mentoring services for young people and families that have experienced the loss of loved ones. Zach Wade & the Good Grief started the afternoon’s music on an upbeat note, performing their blend of acoustic-rooted original rock. Namesake Zach on vocals and acoustic guitar, lead guitarist Rogan Allen, bassist Devin Pierce and drummer Keegan Allen mixed tunes off their debut EP @ the Bitter End with newer song material. Set to release their second album Earthworks, the Nag Champions Mystery Band followed with their all-original set. Singer/guitarist Derek Gresh, percussionist Ed Hofer, keyboardist Tim Homerski and guest Joe Konior on bass introduced a sound that blended elements of folk, rock, blues and alternative as they performed new songs such as “Brown River Blues,” “Leaving on the Light” and more. Longtime area musician Greg Burley next performed his acoustic set. Singing with his hearty voice, Greg blended a variety of folk, rock, pop and country numbers; including some numbers not commonly heard on area stages such as Bob Seger’s “Shame on the Moon,” the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody,” Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” and Michael Murphy’s “Wildfire.” He also did numbers from John Mellencamp, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Drake White, Howie Day, Bob Dylan, Old Crow Medicine Show, Leonard Cohen and more. Playing their swan song performance, Johnstown’s Stone Bridge Blues Band made it count with an enthusiastic set of electric blues. Singer/guitarist Mike Borstnar, bassist Brian Moore, keyboardist Harold Hayford and drummer John Mundy did blues classics from Willie Dixon, Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King and more. Likewise, Patched Together also served as the final show from the next band, The Sitch, before they went on indefinite hiatus. Singer Ashley Thompson demonstrated her powerful and hearty voice, flanked by guitarist Art Martino, bassist Ryan McCracken and drummer Kevin Siegel. The Sitch fired up the dance floor with favorites from Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, Lita Ford, Volbeat, Michael Jackson, a funky read of Deep Purple’s “Hush,” Republica, Nena, and – in tribute to Malcolm Young – a rendition of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” to end their set. Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors kept the dance floor moving with their set of upbeat music, mixing songs from their self-titled album with new songs from their forthcoming second CD and select covers. Jim on guitar and lead vocals, bassist Kent Tonkin, lead guitarist Kevin McDonald, guitarist/mandolinist/harmonica player Dan Murphy, percussionist Bryan Fazio and drummer Joe Marini quickly stirred up dancing and grooving on the dance floor, and maintained that happy vibe as they did original songs plus versions of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and a tune from Jim’s Rusted Root tenure, “Back to the Earth.” The Chrome Hearts then took the party in a country-rock direction as they mixed original songs with favorites. Singer Stephanie Onkst, singer/guitarist Bob Onkst, lead guitarist Chad Buterbaugh, bassist Brian Baum and drummer Doug Fetter triggered their own dance party with original tunes such as “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is,” “Drunkensville USA” and “We Got It All Goin’ On,” plus hits from Miranda Lambert, Jason Aldean, Johnny Cash and more. Providing the finale was Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, who capped the benefit with their blend of original numbers and their groove-infused takes on select favorites. This year’s Patched Together was another big success, raising well over $10,000 toward the Healing Patch.

Also happening at the Bavarian Aid Society last month was the third annual Park n’ Rock Benefit, which raised money for the Central Blair Recreation Commission’s programs and facilities. This year’s event followed a “Parrothead” theme, based around the night’s headliner, Pittsburgh-based Jimmy Buffett tribute Tom Watt & the Fruitcakes. “Cousin Mike” Wieland started off the evening with a selection of acoustic favorites, spanning Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” to REO Speedwagon’s “Take It On the Run” to Toto’s “Africa” and more. Mike’s smooth voice and friendly stage personality warmed up the crowd and helped set the night’s festive tone. Tom Watt & the Fruitcakes then performed three sets, celebrating the Jimmy Buffett songbook plus other tropical and vintage rock’n’roll favorites. While folks decked out in Hawaiian shirts and Parrothead gear took to the dance floor, the group – namesake Tom “The Buffettman” on vocals and guitar, Zach Watt on lead guitar, Derrick Edwards on e-percussion, Leslie D’Angelo on congas and Adam Warble on steel drums – performed Buffett favorites such as “Son of a Son of a Sailor,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” “Margaritaville” (performed twice, once early and once late ), “5 O’Clock Somewhere,” “Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw,” “Come Monday,” “Cheeseburger in Paradise” and more. They also did select hits and favorites from the Eagles, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Diamond, Grateful Dead, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks and others. The night also featured a Parrothead costume contest and tropical-themed food. Heavily attended, the Park n’Rock Benefit was a big success.

“One of the best things about being a touring ukulele player is that no matter where you go, the audience has such low expectations,” joked renowned ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro when he visited State College’s State Theatre in late October. Flanked by Nolan Verner on bass and Dave Preston on guitar, Jake redefined those expectations of what can be done on a ukulele, as he performed everything from jazz to rock to classical to Hawaiian folk and more over the course of his two sets. Highlights were numerous as Jake offered insights and perspective on his array of song material. His inspiration for “Go For Broke,” for example, was the Japanese-American veterans who served during World War II, and he dedicated the song to all veterans and members of the Armed Forces. He explained that his original number “Travels” was designed around the open tuning of the ukulele, and he disclosed the classical roots of numbers such as “Tritone” and “Tokada.” Jake performed several cover songs along the way, including two of his most famous – the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which propelled him into a viral video sensation a decade ago, and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” (the song that first made me aware of Jake and his talents); he also did renditions of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” What struck me the most about Jake was his fearlessness and adventurism, and an eagerness to take the ukulele to places it has not gone before. As a result, he is a modern pioneer on this instrument, and he demonstrated incredible precision, tone, detail and versatility throughout his performance.  Afterward, Jake met and greeted fans, many who brought their own ukuleles to be autographed. I didn’t bring my ukulele, but purchased Jake’s instructional book and got it signed instead. This concert reignited the spark to sink more serious time into getting my own ukulele playing up to the next level.

Halloween season usually brings with it the annual performances of The Rocky Horror Show; and for the tenth consecutive year, State College’s Love & Light Productions presented this popular horror/sci-fi musical at the State Theatre. This year’s presentation opened with a film vignette celebrating Love & Light’s tenth anniversary of Rocky Horror, featuring comments and photos from folks who have been involved in the production over the years. The production itself was wild and lively, as the performers made full use of the State Theatre’s stage and environs with a two-tiered set-up, with the backing band – Greg Mudzinski on bass, Alex Sterbenz on guitar and Kirk Mountz on drums – playing on the upper level behind the actors and actresses. (Show narrator Joe Tombasco played piano on the left side of the lower stage level.) The Rocky Horror cast – including Daniel Skiles as Brad Majors, Haley Hendrick as Janet Weiss, Erik Hartman as Dr. Frank N’Furter, Alicia Starr as Magenta, Allen Boyd as Riff Raff, Julia Wilson as Columbia, Clarence Miller as Rocky and Oscar Cleaver in the dual role as both Eddie and Dr. Scott – presented their freewheeling version of the now-classic story of a young engaged couple whose car breaks down near a castle on a rainy night, and the cavalcade of bizarre sci-fi experiments and sexual confusion they encounter once they enter that castle. This presentation featured plenty of unexpected twists and turns, including localized improvisations that tied in the tenth anniversary theme, embellishments on the various plot elements, and – as expected – crazy audience callbacks and ad-libs! Coupled with the strong performances of the various Rocky song ‘hits’ such as “Time Warp,” “Sweet Transvestite,” “Hot Patootie,” “The Floor Show” and more, this production of Rocky Horror provided an action-packed, exciting audiovisual spectacle. Hats off to director Rachel Moon and the entire cast for a wild, fun ride!

McGarvey’s had a very busy November, hosting several noteworthy national names during the week before Thanksgiving. Fat Wreck Chords recording group the Swingin’ Utters brought their west coast brand of slamming punk rock, with special guests X’s For Eyes and Western Settings, plus Utters guitarist Darius Koski performing an acoustic set. Another obligation prevented me from arriving until just after the Swingin’ Utters began their set, but the group was firing up a full house with their full velocity punk rock. The roster of singer Johnny Bonnel, guitarist/singer Darius Koski, bassist Miles Peck and drummer Gary McEntee played melody-based, go-for-broke punk rock, tapping songs from throughout their 25-year career. Not familiar with their song library, I didn’t catch any song titles, but I enjoyed Swingin’ Utters’ feverish energy and enthusiasm, and their genuine appreciation for the large crowd that showed up to see them in Altoona, PA on a Tuesday night!

Two nights later, 1990s hard rock hitmakers Sponge arrived on McGarvey’s stage in front of another large crowd. Openers Zach Wade & the Good Grief came on strong and fired up the crowd, mixing older and newer originals with a couple of select cover songs, Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” and Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.” The group’s mix of melody and grooves generated more cheers as their set progressed, setting the table for the headliners. From Detroit, Sponge was then greeted with a fired-up house as they launched into one of their 1990s rock radio and MTV staples, “Wax Ecstatic,” to open their set, immediately following with another hit, “Molly (16 Candles).” Obviously elated with the big turnout and enthusiastic response, singer Vinnie Dombroski happily remarked that the crowd was acting like they were waiting 25 years for this show. He and the rest of Sponge – guitarists Andy Palatan and Kyle Neely, bassist Tim Palatan and drummer Billy Adams – then continued their set, emphasizing material from their first two albums, Rotting Pinata and Wax Ecstatic, along with a few newer songs and tunes off their latest CD, The Beer Sessions. They did songs from Rotting Pinata such as the title track, “Neenah Manasha,” “Pennywheels,” “Drownin’” and “Rainin,’” and from Wax Ecstatic they performed “Have You Seen Mary” and “Silence is Their Drug.” Sponge also pulled out “Glue” from their 2005 album The Man (with Vinnie initiating audience response by repeatedly asking the lyrical line “Is everybody losing their minds?”), and they did a pair of songs from the new Beer Sessions album, “Jump While the House Is On Fire” and “The Whores Are Closing In.” Vinnie addressed and kept the crowd engaged throughout, and his voice was in great form; the group’s instrumental execution was tight and fiery. The set rode on an energetic high throughout, culminating in an extended version of the much-anticipated final song, the radio hit “Plowed,” with Vinnie stepping into the crowd to lead a slow-motion callback of the song’s chorus to cap the night.

Two nights later, McGarvey’s hosted Bobaflex and Silvertung, along with the annual visit of former VH1 Classic That Metal Show host and comedian Don Jamieson as show emcee. Rebooted after a few years away from the area music scene, Altoona’s The Opposition opened the night to re-introduce their blend of funk, metal, punk and hip-hop. Although I missed their set due to Patched Together-hosting duties, The Opposition’s new incarnation includes Mike “Iceman” Bryant on vocals, Phil Wagner, Rich Johnson and Jody Earnest on guitars, Mike Stanley on bass and Dave Russell on drums. Host Don Jamieson brought laughter in between band sets with his brand of rock music-rooted stand-up humor, sharing stories referencing Kiefer Sutherland, Johnny Depp and more. Baltimore’s Silvertung then performed their brand of blistering, modern hard rock/metal. This group has a new bass player since the last time they performed at McGarvey’s in August, as TC replaces Skoot. Singer Speed, guitarist Codey Red, TC and drummer Danno hammered out hard rocking assaults such as “Coming Alive,” “Justify” and “Devil’s Advocate,” as well as the new single “Dig,” their radio single “Never Too Late” and more. Silvertung’s blend of melody and tenacity generated a lot of excitement with the crowd, and this group’s Altoona fan base is steadily growing. West Virginia’s Bobaflex then slammed the lid on the night with their powerful set. Opening with the title from their latest album, Eloquent Demons, Bobaflex fired off a set featuring rock from the new album plus some of their past material. Singers/guitarists Shaun and Martin McCoy, new guitarist Jake Earley, bassist Jymmy Tolland and drummer Tommy Johnson did numbers such as “Mama (Don’t Take My Drugs Away),” “Say What You Will,” “Bad Man,” their single “Long Time Coming,” their update of Pink Floyd’s “Hey You,” “Bury Me with My Guns” and more. Bobaflex maintained a high energy level during the entire set, and kept the crowd’s attention.    

I saw a number of other performances at McGarvey’s in recent weeks as well, including last month’s triple-bill headlined by Small Town Horror Show. Making their first McGarvey’s appearance, northern Cambria County rockers Negan kicked the show off with their strong set of current and ’90s rock and metal favorites. The group introduced a new guitar player this night, Jeremy Ashhurst, who replaces Tim Homerski. One thing I enjoy about Negan is that they tackle different songs that don’t get covered much or at all on area stages – case in point this night was Silverchair’s “Israel’s Son!” Pittsburgh’s The Filthy Lowdown then stormed the stage with their high-velocity brand of thrashing punk rock. These guys let fly with total reckless abandon, as frontman Abe Like Lincoln wrapped his mic cord around his face and the rest of the group fired at a feverish pace on whiplash-inducing original song assaults. Then, utilizing a video screen backdrop, Small Town Horror Show closed the show with their brand of zombie groove metal, mixing tunes from their The Dead Didn’t Die CD with new songs from their forthcoming second album. Their rapid fire pace and intensity kept folks cheering until the end.

Other performances I saw at McGarvey’s included Pittsburgh’s Children of October as they headlined a triple-bill that included Dave Hates Everything and Scratch n’Sniffs. Comprised of singer/guitarist Timmy Gibson, drummer Rick O Mortis and on-loan bassist Jason from The Jasons, Children of October rendered horror-themed manic punk, thrash and metal original songs, including tunes from their latest EP, You Mean It’s Not Jazz. Among their songs were titles such as “I Wanna Be Your Sin,” “The Jersey Devil,” “One Bite Together” and “I Want to Rip Your Guts Out Through Your Mouth.” On the milder side, the group did a torrid take on Dion’s early rock’n’roll hit “Runaround Sue”…I also caught The Crew Of The Half Moon’s November visit; I end up amazed every time I see this Johnstown trio, who show me a new fold or layer with each show. Katie Rhodes and Dan Oatman switched between various instruments and singing duties, with Jon Beard providing the constant on drums. Highlights included at least one new original song that will be on the group’s next album, as well as their versions of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” David Bowie’s “The Man They Sold the World,” their powerful take on Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” plus strong original songs like the dark-toned “U-235” and the lengthier “Stark Lost Lovers,” merging an indie-rock vibe with hints of Led Zeppelin III… I also witnessed Black Sun as they capped a late October triple-bill also featuring Fyre and Echoes Never Lie. Black Sun sounded powerful on their improvisational brand of doom metal. Instrumentally these guys were intense as always, with Jason Feathers scorching the cosmos with his fierce and furious guitar solo work, launching off the thunderous foundations laid down by drummer Nate Woods and bassist David MollicaTodd McKeone’s lead howls become more feral with each show; he unleashed unbridled vocal ferocity this night…And I also got to see Halloween weekend performances of both Nobody’s Heroes and Zach Wade & the Good Grief at McGarvey’s as well.

I checked out some new bands in recent weeks, including State College’s DopplerPoppins last month as they played at Zeno’s. Guitarist Tucker Landis (also of Shallow 9 fame), keyboardist Sam Lapp, bassist Jon Keller and drummer Matt Price cranked up some dance-inducing grooves that pulled folks onto the dance floor area in front of the stage. They split between instrumental and vocal numbers, with lead singer Tyler Ringland stepping up to deliver some soulful voice several times during each set. DopplerPoppins mixed original compositions and select covers through the course of the night. It was exhilarating to hear the interaction and improvisation between these musicians, with Tucker delivering clean, precise guitar solo displays and Sam creating innovative keyboard solos and fills, including classical and jazz flavors. Beyond the instrumental fireworks, other highlights included versions of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon,” a fiery take on the Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” Pink Floyd’s “Money” (referencing DopplerPoppins’ recent performance of the entire Dark Side of the Moon, also at Zeno’s), and the lid-slamming finale rendition of the Commodores’ “Brick House,” highlighted by guest Olivia Jones’ passionate wail. DopplerPoppins performs every Thursday night at Zeno’s through fall semester, with The Tommy Roberts opening.

Another new band I saw was Johnstown’s 2’Shea early last month at the Windber Hotel in Windber. The group’s name (pronounced like ‘touche’) actually comes from two band members with the last name of O’Shea, the brother/sister tandem of Billy O’Shea on guitar and Andrea O’Shea on lead vocals. Providing the rhythm section are Bruce Siwy and Matt Birk on bass and drums respectively. Making their Windber Hotel debut, 2’Shea fired off an eclectic mixture of classic rock favorites. Their last set opened with a fiery read on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.” They broke out the funky rock pairing of Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time” into the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” and 2’Shea also did tunes from Cream, Pat Benatar, a tribute to Tom Petty and more. Andrea displayed a hearty and powerful voice up front, and Billy clearly knew his way around the guitar strings. The icing on the cake for me, though, was the night-ending Pink Floyd double-shot, as “Comfortably Numb” led into “Any Colour You Like” – I don’t think I have ever seen an area band tackle this unsung Floyd classic before! A new name to check out, watch for 2’Shea’s return to the Windber Hotel soon.

I caught up with Rokkandy last month as they entertained at the newly-opened Dog House in Bellwood. With Randy Servello filling in behind the drum kit this night, Rokkandy sounded strong as they mixed a variety of rock, pop and country favorites. Pat McConnell on vocals and keys, Bob DeArmitt on vocals and guitar, Kelly Montgomery on bass and Randy stirred up cheers and dance floor activity with tunes from 4 Non Blondes, Wild Cherry, Green Day, Doors, ZZ Top, Pat Benatar, AC/DC, Neil Young, Proclaimers and more. Kelly got loose a few times, doing his version of a walk from the Monty Python “Ministry of Silly Walks” catalog during the Proclaimers’ “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles,” and spinning on his back with his bass on the floor toward night’s end. Rokkandy maintains a busy performance schedule around the area; catch their party (with regularly-scheduled drummer Doug) at a venue in your neighborhood soon.

The Flight 19 “Party Plane” continues its charter service to area live music stages, and I caught the group’s arrival on the stage of Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge in late October. Singer Brian Thomas, guitarist/singer Rogan Allen, bassist/singer Mark Triforo, keyboardist/singer Phil Steele and drummer Paul Caracciolo II kept the Dees’ dance floor busy and occupied with their uptempo mixture of new and classic rock, pop and dance favorites. Medleys are commonplace during Flight 19’s performance, and this night featured one medley that began with INXS and ended with Love and Theft’s “Girls Love to Shake It,” while another fused together funk, disco and hip-hop classics from K.C. & the Sunshine Band, the Commodores, the Temptations, Salt’n’Pepa, Tone Loc and Chic. The group sans Paul shared singing duties throughout the night, and maintained a tight, energetic pace from start to end. Flight 19’s “Party Plane” touches down throughout the region; they return to the Four Dees on Dec. 16.

And Felix & the Hurricanes close out weekends every Sunday night at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern. Every Hurricanes show offers something different; on the night I attended last month, Pat McGinnis was filling in on bass alongside namesake, singer and guitar man Felix Kos and drummer Bobby Watters. Felix was in an adventurous mood this night, and several times launched his guitar into space-rock territory with cosmic distortion and feedback displays to end songs like George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” and CCR’s “Suzie Q.” The Hurricanes have accumulated a vast library of song material and can change up the musical menu each night; this night included songs from the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stealers Wheel, Delbert McClinton, Pink Floyd – and by request, the ever-popular “Rocky Top!” See what musical storm Felix & the Hurricanes whip up on any given Sunday night at the Black & Gold Tavern, and other numerous locations throughout the region.

News and notes…Former NBC-TV The Voice finalist Josh Gallagher is among performers appearing on a new holiday compilation CD showcasing the Johnstown music scene; organized by Bo Moore, the CD, A Johnstown Christmas, features 16 songs from a variety of Johnstown area musicians, with sale proceeds helping out the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper’s Santa Fund, which provides toys for area children ages 12 and under from families who are facing financial hardships (see the review of this CD elsewhere in this issue)…Jeffrey Gaines will release a brand new album in January; the ten-song album, called Alright, comes out Jan. 26 on Omnivore Records…Sterling Koch has introduced a new band project, Sterling Koch & Freeway Jam, and they will perform an instrumental blend of jazz, funk, rock and blues. Sterling has issued his new modern R&B-toned CD, called GuitaR & B…The second Punx For Pets fundraiser for the Central Pennsylvania Humane Society happens Dec. 2 at The Anvil in Altoona, and will feature performances from Samara, Dave Hates Everything, Deadside, Off the Top Rope, Such Fools and more.

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. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC! SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC! And HAPPY HOLIDAYS! 

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