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The Professor’s “Live Reviews”

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – February 2018

By Jim Price

              I’ll never accuse post-holiday season winter of ever being my favorite time of the year, but a few seasonal live music-related events make it more bearable. One of them is the Millennium Music Conference (MMC) – this year’s 22nd annual edition happens at a new host facility, the Park Inn by Radisson Harrisburg West in Mechanicsburg. MMC will again feature a two-day business conference, keynote speakers, the trade show, the PA Musician Acoustic Stage, and showcase performances around the Harrisburg vicinity from nearly 300 different bands and artists. And participating Millennium bands and artists are again invited to submit recordings into my 105.9 Qwik-Rock “Homegrown Rocker” radio show drop box for airplay on the show – and one recording will be randomly drawn at the end of the end of Saturday’s trade show, with the winner scoring an instant guest interview on the March 25 edition of the program!

              Another event that helped to warm up my winter was last month’s fifth annual Feel the Heat Chili & Soup Cookoff, presented by Downtown Bedford, Inc. Various local eateries, catering services and taverns – with some as far away as Cumberland, Maryland – provided their tastiest and most creative chilis and soups for participants to sample, with sampler votes determining the winners. Live music was again part of this year’s event, as each of the seven downtown Bedford tasting venues hosted acoustic performers. My first stop was at HeBrews Coffee Company, where Brandi Naugle was singing and strumming country-flavored numbers from Miranda Lambert, Loretta Lynn, songs from her CD and more. Brandi demonstrated a smooth and sturdy singing voice and a pleasant stage presence. I then headed up Pitt Street to Bedford Candies, where Happy Hour – the duo of Tommy Fix and Sarah Mellott – was performing. With Tommy playing acoustic guitar and both singing, Happy Hour mixed up a variety of hits spanning country, pop, rock and soul – including numbers from Johnny Cash, Zac Brown Band, Bill Withers, Florida-Georgia Line, 4 Non Blondes and more. My third stop was Founders Crossing (antique and gift shop), where Coltt Winter Lepley entertained, strumming and singing a selection of country, folk and gospel numbers. (More about Coltt later.) I then caught Dunnings Creek as they performed at Pigeon Hill Studios (art space). The duo of Mark Diehl and Duane Sipe strummed and sang a mixture of rock and pop hits, including numbers from Rick Springfield, John Mellencamp, Collective Soul, Green Day, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and more. At Oak Spring Winery’s new Bedford location, the duo of Eric Delozier and Mo Yon mixed up acoustic classic rock and folk numbers from Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and others. I then headed to Locality art space, where the Bad Luck Lover Boys performed original songs and select covers. Singer/guitarist Chris Diehl (son of Mark from Dunnings Creek), guitarist Matt Godisart and bassist Brennon Miller performed indie rock/punk toned original songs, plus versions of the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and more. I finished my chili and soup-tasting tour at Briar Valley Winery, where Dave Howsare wrapped up his performance with Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” and the Classics IV’s “Spooky,” which featured some very detailed guitar work. The mixture of music, chilis and soups made for a fun day. When the votes were tallied, the Most Creative Soup honors went to Fairways Bar and Grill for their Dill Pickle Soup, and Most Creative Chili went to Omni Bedford Springs Resort  for their Smoked Beef & Ham Hock Chili with Shishito Relish. Bedford Elks won Best Flavored Soup for their Cream of Mushroom, while Maddie Lou’s Barbeque took Best Flavored Chili honors for their Smoked Sweet Meat Chili.

              The recent holiday season provided several live music highlights. One of the final shows I saw in 2017 occurred at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge, as local rockers Agent Smith continued to build their resume as musical chameleons by morphing into “Agent INXS” to mark the 20th anniversary of the passing of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence in November, 1997. Joining the Agent roster of singer Steve Oswalt, guitarist Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner, bassist Mike Stanley and drummer Shawn Gioiosa were guests Phil Steele on keys and Randy Rutherford on sax. Transforming for their second set of the night, Agent INXS mixed up hits and curios from throughout INXS’s career; starting with “Don’t Change,” and including “Listen Like Thieves,” “Disappear,” “Elegantly Wasted” and “The Devil Inside.” Randy then stepped in during “Need You Tonight,” and added his sax talents for the remainder of the set. The group continued to crank up the INXS hits and dance floor action with “Never Tear Us Apart,” “Original Sin,” “Suicide Blonde,” “New Sensation” and “What You Need.” The group sounded airtight through it all; they delivered pulsing rhythms, driven by Mike’s throbbing bass work on the more dance-friendly numbers. Agent Smith also sounded strong on their first and third sets, doing numbers from Tom Petty, Billy Squier, Loverboy, Cracker, Toadies, Van Halen, the Tubes, Cheap Trick, Alice In Chains and more. Guest Autumn Shiffler belted out impressive lead voice on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” and Agent Smith wrapped up the night with a funky “Play That Funky Music” medley that infused portions of the Temptations’ “Shakey Ground,” Parliament’s “Give Up the Funk,” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and Prince’s “When Doves Cry.” Watch for more chameleonic behavior from Agent Smith in the months ahead, including a possible Soundgarden tribute “Agent Cornell” angle.

              D.D. & the Pub Crawlers provided the musical soundtrack during my transition from 2017 into 2018 as they rang in the New Year at Altoona’s Unter Uns Music & Entertainment Society. The Pub Crawlers – nine members strong with four-piece horn section and Kevin Siegel filling in on drums – brought the party as they mixed it up between soul, ska, rock’n’roll, swing, pop and other favorites. Singer Dana “D.D.” Martino’s voice was in great form, backed by Art Martino on bass and backing vocals, guitarist Jim Howsare, keyboardist Tim Boland and Kevin on drums. The horn section – Anthony Martino and Lyndsay Reilly on saxophones, Adam Lingenfelter on trumpet and Nick Martino on trombone – brought their vibrant brass assault out onto the dance floor early and often, mixing it up with dancers and serenading the dance floor crowd. The group’s song selection tapped everything from Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” to Sam & Dave’s “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and “Soul Man,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ “Impression That I Get,” Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4,” Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive and Wail,” Wham’s “Careless Whisper,” Aha’s “Take On Me,” Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot,” Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You and Me and The Bottle Makes Three Tonight” and more. Coupled with the traditional champagne toasts plus hot dogs and sauerkraut at midnight, D.D. & the Pub Crawlers helped the Unter Uns crowd start the New Year on a happy note – and the group is already scheduled to bring in 2019 at the Unter Uns as well.

              The first new band I witnessed in the New Year was area country performers Railtowne during their first visit to the stage of the Four Dees Lounge last month. Five familiar area music scene names converge on this new project: Ty Ayers on lead vocals and guitar, Kenny Murdick on lead guitar, Paul Rainey on bass, Eric Wertz on drums and Nathan Beatty on keys. Playing their second show overall, Railtowne kept the dance floor busy all night with their blend of modern and classic country, including favorites from Jason Aldean, Joe Nichols, Sawyer Brown, Lee Brice, Big & Rich, Cole Swindell, Eric Church, Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Cash and more. Ty demonstrated a sturdy voice up front and also introduced an original tune toward night’s end, while Kenny – in his first country project – showed some dazzling guitar work of a different flavor. An additional highlight was guest Matt Pletcher stepping up to sing on a few songs, including Hank Williams, Jr.’s “Family Tradition.” A good-sized crowd greeted Railtowne on their Four Dees debut; watch for more of this group on area stages in the weeks and months ahead.

              Already established on State College stages, The Tommy Roberts made their first Altoona foray last month, playing at McGarvey’s for the first time. I arrived in time to catch the last song from show openers The Blacksnakes, who sounded strong on their brand of charged electric blues. The Tommy Roberts has expanded in number since the last time I saw them in 2016; joining the original acoustic inception of singer/guitarist Brian Cleary and guitarist, singer and harmonica man Nate Cutshall are bassist Chuck Haegele, drummer John Macko, fiddle player Aly Martin and Brian’s sister, Mary Ann, on backing vocals and tambourine. This fleshed-out version of The Tommy Roberts mixed up alt-country, folk-rock, blues and rock on a variety of original tunes and select covers. This group was musically strong and showed different angles on each tune, with Nate showing some fiery harmonica wailing and Brian delivering some hearty guitar solos along the way. The new original tunes sounded good, as well as their one of their established favorites, “Fishin’ for Pearls.” They also demonstrated fresh arrangements on “Hard to Handle,” a hip-hop-edged take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” and a funk-blues encore rendition of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” The Tommy Roberts will go on hiatus for a little while, as Brian takes over guitar duties in the band Pure Cane Sugar and Nate will be working with other projects.

              While the Penn State student populace was out of town for the holiday break in late December, I finally caught up with Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s as they performed one of their weekly Friday shows at the Phyrst in State College. I observed a stripped-down version of the Hi-Fi’s this night, with namesake Ted on lead vocals and guitar, Jack Wilkinson on drums and Rene Witzke on bass. Every Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s show is high-energy fun and surprises, and this one was no exception, as the group mixed up an eclectic range of sounds, from Modest Mouse’s “Float On” to Todd Rundgren’s “Bang on the Drum,” an extended jamming display on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Hank Williams, Sr.’s “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” AC/DC’s “I’m a Rocker” and “TNT,” Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died,” Jack belting out the blues on “Stormy Monday,” and the night-ending Nirvana jam version of “Come As You Are” with Ted taking his guitar out onto the dance floor to mix it up with some fans. This performance was feverish and enthusiastic, with Ted and the Hi-Fi’s delivering sharp and dazzling musicianship. Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s can reliably be seen on Fridays at the Phyrst and Saturdays at Bar Bleu in State College.

              I also saw Jack Wilkinson in action behind the drum kit at the Phyrst in December, this time as he filled in with another group I had not seen in a while, The Nightcrawlers. Jack joined frontman/guitarist Noah Figlin, singer Veronica Auger, bassist Peter Jogo and keyboardist/guitarist Erek Kapusta. I caught their last two sets, as The Nightcrawlers lit up the Phyrst with a mix of classic and new rock, pop and soul. Veronica shined on voice and demonstrated an upbeat stage presence as she belted out tunes from Sublime, Pat Benatar, Amy Winehouse, and especially Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and the night-ending take on Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” Besides his stellar drum work, Jack showed he has a voice as well, delivering a hearty blues howl on Jimi Hendrix’s “Redhouse.” Noah dazzled on the guitar strings, Peter was rock solid on bass, and Erek fleshed out the group’s sound with his key and guitar underscores, fills and backing vocal work. The Nightcrawlers are also weekly inhabitants of the downtown State College music scene; see them Tuesdays at the Phyrst, Thursdays at The Saloon and Fridays at Bar Bleu.

              Ember’s Fall performed in two different hard-hitting bills I saw in recent weeks at McGarvey’s. They capped a triple-bill with Dragline and One Adam 12 just before Christmas. I missed Dragline’s opening set, but eyewitness accounts gave rave reviews – watch for the lowdown on this group in next month’s writ. Cambria County rockers One Adam 12 then performed a set of new and older originals, reprising tunes off their debut CD Earworm and introducing tunes from their new Sophomore Jinx follow-up album. The group’s sample specialist, Anthony Dostal, is back in action after his recent medical leave, rejoining singer/guitarist Lloyd Rummell, guitarist Bill Stiles, bassist Joe Stiles and drummer Brandon Adams. One Adam 12 provides a sound that cannot be pigeonholed, blending elements of hard rock, metal, punk, surf, Misfits-toned horror rock and more. They have forged an identifiable, signature sound, defined by Lloyd’s bold, soaring voice, the rhythm section’s authoritative rumble to drive the tunes forward, and Anthony’s digital touches, from theramin-flavored fills to sonic booms, surges and more. Ember’s Fall then brought the heavy artillery, slamming their brute-force brand of technical metalcore. Now based in northern PA, the group played as a four-piece this night, with frontman Dennis Ray Gee Jr. wielding rhythm guitar duties, with Jairo Cerritos on lead guitar, Adam Schaffer on bass and Josh Sheesley on drums. They pummeled McGarvey’s with tight executions of selections from their original song arsenal, including “No Escape,” “Wrath,” “Between Hope and Hopeless” and more. Ember’s Fall was powerful and precise, providing dynamic song arrangements that varied between melodic elements and all-out fury.

              Ember’s Fall also closed out a three-band, one solo performer bill at McGarvey’s last month. Austin, Texas-based solo artist Alex Culbreth and Harrisburg-based metalcore rockers If Not For Me performed before my arrival, and Fyre was in the midst of their set as I entered the venue. Singer Matt Stoyanoff, guitarists Zach Kensinger and Sean Stringer, bassist Joe Earnest, drummer Tanner Kaurudar and backing singer Denice Stoyanoff sounded strong on several new originals, including a lengthier progressive metal-geared epic called “The Life and Times of a Demi-God.” At full strength this night, Ember’s Fall again scorched the walls with their intense set, mixing tunes from their recently-issued Faceless EP with other new songs and select tracks from their Cessation debut CD. The group introduced a new bass player this night, as Kyle Linscott replaces Adam Schaffer, joining the aforementioned band members and guitarist Westley Sickler (who did not perform during the December show). Ember’s Fall returns to McGarvey’s on Feb. 23.

              Also at McGarvey’s, I took in the ‘Christmas Eve’s eve’ bill of Zach Wade & the Good Grief and The Unknown Legends. Their debut performance, The Unknown Legends brings together singer/guitarist Eric Delozier, percussionist Ed Hofer and cellist Kirsten Leigh. These three pooled their talents into a fresh, rustic sound and drew unanimous cheers as they performed a variety of folk-toned numbers. They captivated with their creative arrangements on such tunes as Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” a folk rendering of Blink 182’s “Dammit,” Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” Pink Floyd’s “Time,” and the seasonal set-ending folksy read on “Silent Night.” Zach Wade & the Good Grief then performed two sets of upbeat original acoustic-rock numbers and select covers. Namesake, singer and guitarist Zach, lead guitarist Rogan Allen, bassist Devin Pierce and drummer Keegan Allen introduced several new song compositions, as well as favorites from their EP @ the Bitter End. They also did select tunes from Counting Crows, Dave Mason, Michael Jackson, Gin Blossoms, Foo Fighters, Stevie Wonder, Rusted Root and a version of “Please Come Home for Christmas.” According to Rogan, the group plans to get back into the studio this year to do more recording.

              I also saw two-thirds of The Unknown LegendsEric and Kirsten – last month at the U.S. Hotel in Hollidaysburg as part of an artist showcase hosted Charles McClanahan. The drummer for Matt Otis & the Sound, Charles is also a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Charles used this show to “pay it forward,” sharing his stage with other rising area talent. I missed opening performer Brandi Naugle, but arrived as Bedford-based singer/songwriter Coltt Winter Lepley was performing. Coltt did nice work on a variety of acoustic classic rock, folk and country favorites, showing a good voice on numbers from Bob Dylan, Lyle Lovett, Grateful Dead, Simon & Garfunkel, Marshall Tucker Band, John Prine and more. Eric and Kirsten followed Coltt with an eclectic mixture of acoustic folk numbers. With Kirsten providing cello accompaniment, Eric sang out modern and back-of-the-rack folk tunes, including Todd Snider’s “Play a Train Song” to close the set. I’m always impressed with how Eric becomes immersed in each song and ‘becomes the song’ – another seated observer remarked to me his amazement at this as well, that Eric knows and lives each song as he performs it. Kirsten provided just the right touches with her string accompaniment as well, resulting in a pleasant, tranquil performance. Host Charles closed out the show with his own set, strumming and singing a mix of original songs and a few spiritual numbers, such as acoustic takes on “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Charles displayed a sturdy, smooth voice and pleasant personality, continually thanking the audience for their support. Watch for all of these talented and rising performers as they bring their music to area stages.

              Matt Pletcher continues to maintain a busy solo schedule around the area. During his performance last month at Altoona’s Family Pizza & Pub, Matt’s voice was in good form as he mixed up acoustic country, rock favorites and original songs. He performed tunes from David Allan Coe, John Mellencamp, Cole Swindell, Foo Fighters, Chris Janson, George Michael, Green Day and more, and he also broke out the title track from his debut album, Sure Thing. Keep an eye open for Matt’s solo, trio and full group performances around the region.

              I also caught Rich Edmundson in action last month at McGarvey’s. Rich presents one of the more unique shows on local stages, improvising and freestyling on original songs and a few select covers. This night’s performance featured off-the-cuff vocalizations and expansive adventures on his acoustic guitar. It’s not uncommon to see Rich ‘enter the zone,’ with a wide grin appearing on his face as he launches into his guitar excursions and rides the moments for all they are worth. Rich is currently in the process of assembling a band, and can be seen performing solo or collaborating with other musicians on local stages.

              Felix & the Hurricanes are closing in on three decades of entertaining audiences far and wide. The group – namesake, singer and guitar slinger Felix Kos, singer/bassist Jeff Clapper and drummer Bob Watters – continues to perform every Sunday night at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern. During the show I caught last month, the Hurricanes performed a wide variety of material. This group is constantly adding new songs to their large arsenal; this night included at least two I hadn’t seen them do before, versions of Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” and Bob Seger’s “Betty Lou’s Getting’ Out Tonight.” They also energized the crowd with tunes from the Allman Brothers, Eddie Money, the Beatles, Molly Hatchet, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Chris Stapleton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more. A guest singer named Rachel stepped up to display her impressive voice on Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” and the group also did original tunes such as “The Feeling” and “Beale Street.”

              Other performances I saw recently included…New York’s American Pinup, headlining a triple-bill last month at McGarvey’s with their charged brand of female-led, original power pop/punk…And I saw (and performed at) several installments of the weekly Tuesday Open Mic Night at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, and the weekly Wednesday Open Mic Night at Altoona’s Unter Uns, presented by the Live Music Preservation Society.

News and notes… After a nearly 20-year run on area stages, the “Party Plane” has announced its final landing; Flight 19 will close out their run on area stages, which began in 1999, performing shows through the end of June. A special “landing party” show will take place at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge on April 21, during which past and founding members of the group will reunite on stage…The band Star 69 will host a benefit dance at the Bedford American Legion on Feb. 10, with proceeds helping out Fueled By Ignorance (F.B.I.) singer Ronnie Sheirer, who recently underwent a major surgery and is unable to earn income until he recovers…For those thinking about warmer weather, Quiet Riot and Great White have been announced as headliners for Johnstown’s Thunder In the Valley motorcycle rally in late June, and Blues Traveler has been announced to headline Johnstown’s Flood City Music Festival in early August…Singer Pat Conway is retiring from live performing, and stepping away from Cambria County rockers Bazooka Joe, who have also announced their farewell from area stages…Former Bazooka Joe drummer Jared Fetcko takes over drumming duties with Johnstown hard rockers RustDuane Sipe is taking over bass duties with area rockers Urban MythHate Grenade will release their second full-length CD, called The King Is Dead, on March 10…Small Town Horror Show’s second CD will be called Way Past Indifferent, and will be issued later this year.

              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!

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – January 2018

By Jim Price

Welcome to New Year 2018! And cutting to the chase quickly, I wish all of our readers and the state’s music community a safe, prosperous and Happy New Year!

The New Year is the time for resolutions. Last year, I marked 30 years of writing for PA Musician Magazine. I never expected I would still be doing this when I wrote that first article back in 1987. My tenure in covering the local and regional music scene has seen its ups and downs through the years, as music styles and trends, the music business, careers, people and interests change. I have encountered crossroads moments when I asked myself why I continue to do this, and weigh whether to keep doing this thing or hang it up and try to pass the torch. In such moments, something always reminds me why I continue to write for PA Musician, whether it be a kind comment from a reader or musician, witnessing a stunning musical performance, or seeing an exciting new band or performer that re-energizes my mission.

My original inspiration for writing that first PA Musician article (then branded the “Altoona” column) was twofold: I was managing the Altoona-based hair-metal band Tommi-Gunn at the time, and saw my article as a way to help get them exposure and possible gigs. But I was also discovering the other bands and faces of the Altoona area music scene at that time – names such as Sidewalk Romeo, The Front, Xeno, Rapid Fire, Slammer, The Edge, XL and numerous others – and I realized that few people beyond the Altoona area had any clue that these groups existed, and many people within the Altoona area weren’t aware of this talent, either! As I wrote that first article, I realized my mission – to share my enthusiasm for these performers and the excitement of the live music experience in general, and to encourage readers to get out and see these performers for themselves.

Thirty-plus years later, that fire still burns…When I witness an exciting performance or discover a new band or performer with something fresh and exciting to offer, I want to tell the world about it. I want to generate excitement for that performer, as well as the live music experience in general. And given the changes in recent years that have diminished audiences for live music in many situations, I realize a renewed importance to that mission I established in 1987. My resolution for 2018 is to continue to bring my passion for live music into these pages. And I hope that sharing my enthusiasm will inspire others to want to discover what the area music scene has to offer, bring new fans into the fold, and to help re-energize support for the live music scene so that musicians will continue to have places and situations to play.

I extend big thanks to the Altoona area music community for the great gift bestowed upon me early last month, a day-long celebration of my 30 years with PA Musician Magazine that took place at McGarvey’s. For me, it turned into a celebration of the vast amount of musical talent that populates this region and powers my monthly writs, as eight different bands – all with distinctive styles and angles of musical flavor – brought excellent performances to the McGarvey’s stage. This day even prompted a reunion performance of area hard rockers Lies, Inc. to kick off the afternoon. This reunion marked the first time that two guitar players graced the Lies, Inc. roster simultaneously, as both Jason “Dax” Berardi and Nate Nagle joined singer Lily Hoy, bassist Kent Tonkin and drummer Ron Brode. Lies blasted off the rust as they reprised numbers from their original song arsenal such as “Plaster Apparent,” “Invertigo,” “Hypnotic,” “Waking the Misery,” “Losing Ground,” and more – plus their rousing treatment of Rush’s “Temples of Syrinx.” The chameleonic Agent Smith followed with a powerful set that split between their ‘Agent In Chains’ Alice In Chains tribute and other hard-rocking classics. Watching this group turned into a reflective moment for me – singer Steve Oswalt was one of the first area musicians I ever saw and met, dating back to his days in the band I.O.U. in the mid ’80s! Likewise, drummer Shawn Gioiosa was also making music when I started this gig in 1987, playing drums in Giornesto and Chilling Vision. And I recalled my first time seeing guitarist/singer Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner in the teenaged band Misconceived in the late 1990s! Agent Smith fired off Alice In Chains classics such as “We Die Young,” “Them Bones,” “Angry Chair,” “Sea of Sorrow” and “Would?” before firing off tunes from Queensryche, Stone Temple Pilots, and a storming edition of Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight.” Next was my first look at the updated roster of Locked & Loaded. Now featuring singer Dawn Morrison, guitarists Bill Maguire and Mark Pettenati, bassist Bethany Helsel and drummer Toby Hunter; Locked & Loaded have forged a bold new direction, now mixing edgy female rock and alternative. Dawn has developed into a poised and confident frontlady, and she brought the fury on tunes from Hole, No Doubt, Cranberries, Volbeat, Pat Benatar, and even a fiery read of the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb!” Also thanks to Locked & Loaded for doing one of my punk favorites, the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop!” Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band brought more reflections, including my first encounter with namesake Chris as he fronted Neogumbo in the 1990s, and witnessing Brian Pavlic for the first time in the teenaged jam-rock group Sound Driven. Chris on vocals and guitar plus the Stanley Street BandBrian on lead guitar, Bill Smith on bass, Nate Beatty on keys and Randy Servello on drums – laid down the grooves with their selection of new and older original tunes. They did tunes off their latest CD Trinkets and Time Travelers such as “Weird Angry Hard,” “Lonely Cells,” “Never Again” and “Armchair Preachers,” and also did earlier songs such as “Be,” “Pink Parking Ticket,” “Shine” and “Tupelo Tree.” Up next was Zach Wade & the Good Grief; I reflected on how, two years ago, I received a Facebook message from namesake Zach Wade, inviting me to come check out his new band as they played at an open mic stage in Altoona, and then the joy of discovery as I saw this exciting, fresh-sounding group for the first time and shared that enthusiasm in my PA Musician article. Now an established local force, Zach on vocals and acoustic guitar, Rogan Allen on lead guitar, Devin Pierce on bass and Keegan Allen on drums fired off a set of catchy original acoustic-rock songs. Thanks to Zach and the Good Grief, area musician Dustin Wagner and the other musicians for the gift of an electric ukulele to surprise me during the middle of the set, and to Zach and company for their torrid take on MC5’s “Kick Out the Jams” to slam the lid on their set! The show then angled toward a heavier rock direction, with Small Town Horror Show taking the stage. I recalled how guitarist Chris Peters and bassist Eric Shumac helped introduce extreme metal brutality to area stages with Dragonfire in the 1990s; now with singer Todd McKeone, keyboardist Mike Hennaman and drummer Joe Richards, they pave a fresh new path with their unique style of ‘zombie groove metal,’ merging aggressive heavy metal rhythms with strong melodies and eerie touches of electronica. Small Town Horror Show mixed songs from their debut CD The Dead Didn’t Die with newer material from their forthcoming album, expected out later this year. Todd provided the voice for the next band as well, Black Sun, who torched the stage with their brand of heavy, intensifying, angular metal rock. Todd, guitarist Jason Feathers, bassist Dave Mollica and drummer Nate Woods generated expansive compositions that grew and evolved into climactic, apocalyptic sonic fury. And closing the night, Naildriver tore the roof off with their set of savage, driving metal. Frontman Matt Watson was clearly fired up, bringing total rage on Naildriver’s mix of new and older originals, including “Enemy Within,” “Executioner,” “The Ghost of Me,” “Hypocrite’s Anthem,” “Sinking Ship,” “Seal the Exits” and more. Guitarist Scott Botteicher threw heat on the fretboard with searing solo displays, and the rhythm battery of bassist Gregg McCloskey and drummer Luke McCloskey played it full force from start to end, providing the perfect sonic punch to the jaw to energize the house and slam the lid on the night. Thanks again to the organizers, all the musicians, Rich McGarvey, and all the friends and fans for making this special day happen!

The late year holiday season provided several musical highlights in recent weeks. Often one of the busiest nights of the year for live music, Thanksgiving Eve 2017 delivered musical fun as well. After my own weekly Wednesday night trivia-hosting duties at Altoona’s Buccinese Society, I stuck around to watch Flight 19’s acoustic show. The ‘Party Plane’ roster of singer Brian Thomas, keyboardist Phil Steele, guitarist Rogan Allen and drummer Paul Caracciolo II provided an upbeat party with tunes from the Black Keys, Tom Petty, Elton John, Sweet, Three Dog Night, Stone Temple Pilots, Collective Soul, Journey, Jim Croce, Alice In Chains and more. Brian, Phil and Rogan all shared lead singing duties, and guest Kathy Niedenthal joined Brian to help sing on the group’s take on John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good.”

I finished Thanksgiving Eve by catching the last two sets of Shallow 9’s dance party blowout at McGarvey’s. I arrived to a packed house and good times as singer Erika Marino, guitarists Ryan Weaver and Tucker Landis, bassist Mitch Neuder and drummer Todd Harshbarger brought the party full force and full production! The dance floor stayed busy throughout the night, as Shallow 9 kept folks moving and grooving with hits from DNCE, Lady Gaga, Soft Cell, Wheatus, Billy Idol, Fallout Boy, Justin Timberlake and more. Guests joined Shallow 9 during the last set, as Rogan Allen (showing up after the Flight 19 show at the Buccinese Society ended) joined in on guitar alongside Tucker on several numbers, guest drummer Shawn Gioiosa provided the beats on Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” and Mike Stanley joined Erika to sing and rap out a floor-packing dance medley that commenced with their floor-igniting take on House Of Pain’s “Jump Around,” and wound its way through seven other tunes before arriving at “Uptown Funk!” Shallow 9 executed as a well-tuned party machine, and they kept this celebration firing on overdrive clear until the last note!

Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors returned to Hollidaysburg’s U.S. Hotel for their annual Black Friday performance. Kicking off the night was the Nag Champions Mystery Band – this night the trio of singer/guitarist Derek Gresh, percussionist Ed Hofer and guest guitarist C. Leo Bloomfield. The group performed a set of their original tunes, with the emphasis on songs from their brand new second CD Earthworks. Their style was a mixture of folk, rock, blues and a touch of jam fusion as they did numbers such as “Brown River Blues,” “Leaving on the Light” and more. Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors soon followed with a strong, two-hour performance mixing tunes from their first album, their forthcoming second CD (expected out in April) and select covers. The group – namesake and former Rusted Root drummer Jim Donovan on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, guitarist Kevin McDonald, guitarist/harmonica player Dan Murphy, percussionists Harry Pepper and Bryan Fazio, bassist Kent Tonkin and drummer Joe Marini – quickly had dancers on the floor by the time they got to their third song “Oolalala.” Highlights were constant, including Harry’s spoken-word passage of wisdom during the group’s version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” a two-song Tom Petty tribute with renditions of “Wildflowers” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” slow dancing and grooving during the Rusted Root classic “Back to the Earth,” the raucous extended percussion jam featuring Jim, Joe, Harry and Bryan, and the funky night-ending spin on Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin).” Jim and the Sun King Warriors’ constant musical versatility and upbeat, hopeful vibes kept the audience happy from start to end. Besides preparing to release the new Sun King Warriors album in the New Year, Jim Donovan is also playing drums on his former Rusted Root bandmate Jenn Wertz’s forthcoming new album, also expected out later this year.

Christmas season began with the release of a brand new Johnstown-based Christmas compilation CD, A Johnstown Christmas (see review in last month’s issue). The official kickoff event for the CD took place on Thanksgiving weekend at Johnstown’s BottleWorks Ethnic Arts Center. CD organizer and brainchild Bo Moore hosted the event, which featured songs from the CD mixed with live performances from some of the album’s participants, along with background and perspective about each song. Live performances included Bo and the Moore Brothers performing the rock-and-roller “Christmas Time in Johnstown,” Mutual Fun Society doing “How to Build a Snowman,” the combo of singer/guitarist Johnny Bayush (who engineered several new songs on the album), singer Rachel Allen, keyboardist Brandon King and singer Jessica King lighting up the house with their rousing “Jesus, the Light of the World,” Denise Baldwin singing and strumming guitar on “His Holy Light,” Sam Coco performing “Windows in the City,” and Bo and Rachel Allen singing “Winter Lullaby.” The event also featured a video message early on from former NBC-TV The Voice finalist Josh Gallagher before the playing of his contribution to the album, “Silent Night.” The event closed with Denise Baldwin and one of her voice students, Hailee Halaburda, singing “Silent Night,” before Bo and Denise led audience sing-along versions of “Let It Snow” and “Jingle Bells.” Proceeds from sales of A Johnstown Christmas helped out the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat newspaper’s Santa Fund, which helped area needy children and families during the Christmas season.

Following the CD release event, I headed a few doors down the block to take in the monthly Blues Gathering at Johnstown’s Venue Of Merging Arts (VOMA). This was a fun performance, as Chandler Mical on bass, Adam Mundok on vocals and percussion, Rob Bonsell on drums, TK Mundok on vocals and harmonica, Adam Milkovich on acoustic guitar and John Bagnato on resonator guitar mixed up a wide variety of traditional and electric blues. This gathering of blues practitioners did numbers from B.B. King, Son House, Willie Dixon, Professor Longhair, Robert Johnson, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimi Hendrix and more. Musical highlights were numerous, including the version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” venturing into snippets of the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” and U2’s “Desire,” the stormy rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” and the instrumental skills demonstrated by all six of these musicians throughout the course of the show.

After the VOMA Blues Gathering concluded, I decided to make it a Johnstown area tripleheader this night by heading to the Windber Hotel in Windber to catch my first look at the group Saturn Plan. Formed last summer, this project features Wine Of Nails collaborators John Charney on lead vocals and guitar, and Dominick Peruso on drums; Brad Barron plays bass, and the group was joined this night by guest keyboardist Mike Meketa. Saturn Plan performed an eclectic mix of tunes, blending select hits with some back-of-the-rack and obscure gems and surprises. Their diverse song mixture included Van Halen’s “Little Dreamer,” the Prince double-shot of “Take Me With You” into “Raspberry Beret,” Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” Elton John’s “Honky Cat,” a jamming version of Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” the night-ending version of Steely Dan’s “Do It Again” and more. The musicianship was strong, with John demonstrating his fretboard prowess often, and Mike showing some colorful and inventive keyboard work. Saturn Plan plays infrequently on area stages; keep an eye open for  them in the New Year.

As Christmas approached, Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society featured Flashpoint as part of a holiday-themed night highlighted by visitations by Krampus (who beats and punishes children who misbehaved) and Saint Nicholas (who rewards good children with presents). Flashpoint – singer/guitarist Don Osborn, bassist Bill Hunter, keyboardist Ken Civils and drummer Jeff Crownover – provided their ‘rock’n’roll with a groove’ before and after these seasonal characters’ visit. Flashpoint mixed up a variety of classic rock, blues and pop hits; stirring up dance floor action with songs from Dire Straits, Van Halen, Van Morrison, Robert Palmer, ZZ Top, Wild Cherry, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more. Some of their highlights included their Cheap Trick take on “Don’t Be Cruel,” their Social Distortion take on Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the ‘Under the Boardwalk Singers’ (comprised of several band members’ wives and friends) joining the group for the Drifters’ classic of the same name, and their fusion of Bruce Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac” with the “Peter Gunn Theme.”

I caught my first look at The Brew Dogs last month as they performed at The Brewery in State College. Four established area musicians comprise this pack of musical Dogs – Brian Lubrecht on vocals and guitar, Adam Becker on lead guitar and vocals, John Cimino on bass and Kevin Thomas on drums. The Brew Dogs barked up a variety of rock favorites from the late 1960s to 2000s, spanning the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to Kings Of Leon and The Killers – and lots in between, including tunes from Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots, David Bowie, Black Crowes, CCR, Journey, Toto, Dropkick Murphys, Alice In Chains, and a pounding rendition of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” to slam the lid on the night. The Brew Dogs’ performance was solid, and stirred up increasing amounts of dance floor action as the night progressed.

Southern Illinois-based roots rockers The Number 9 Blacktops made their first visit to McGarvey’s early last month. Together since 2005, the Blacktops – singer/guitarist Jim Rotramel, upright bassist Kasey Lee Rogers and drummer Cody Beckman – played high-energy rock’n’roll rooted in early rock, surf-rock, rockabilly and blues as they mixed original songs with select covers. Their own songs centered on lyrical themes such as hot rods, women and the rock’n’roll lifestyle; some of their original songs this night included “Rock’n’Roll Band” and “Holy Holy Hell.” They also covered the Dusty Springfield-popularized hit “Son of a Preacher Man,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Pt. 2,” “Ice Cream Man,” John Prine’s “Paradise” into Juice Newton’s “Queen of Hearts,” and JJ Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze.” The Number 9 Blacktops drew cheers with their rowdy and enthusiastic performance, with Jim frequently offering energetic solo work on his Gretsch guitar.

McGarvey’s also hosted a heavy-hitting tripleheader last month featuring Fÿre, Dilemma and Paradigm. Fÿre led off the proceedings with their blend of classic and modern original metal music, doing numbers off their III Ghosts CD plus several newer songs that showed a more experimental edge with more complex song arrangements. Matt Stoyanoff’s high-soaring voice brought the house to attention, backed by powerful backdrops laid down by guitarists Zach Kensinger and Sean Stringer, bassist Joe Earnest and drummer Tanner Kaurudar, plus Denice Stoyanoff singing backing vocals. Next was the debut performance for new Altoona-based rockers Dilemma. Featuring guitarists/singers Micah Button and Devin Conrad, bassist Theopolis T-Hammer and drummer Joel Kyle, Dilemma introduced a hard-edged sound that blended elements of metal, punk and alternative, performing songs from their recently-issued debut EP. Their songs were solid and their performance was on the mark, making for a strong debut. Bedford County’s Paradigm then slammed the lid on the night with their fiery blend of high-velocity power metal, mixing newer and older original song material. Lead howler Joel Gerber worked the crowd well with his blend of gentle persuasion and aggression to get folks up and rowdy. Joel, guitarist Art Hollabaugh, bassist Josh Savage and drummer Tyler Hillegass fired on all cylinders on numbers such as “Mindfreak,” the shout-along anthem “One Word One Voice,” the sinister “The Illusionist” and more.

It’s hard to believe it was almost a dozen years ago that I heard some buzz and then first saw the teenaged roster of singer/guitarist Tom Fronauer, guitarist/singer Mike Furry, bassist/singer Ryan Furry and drummer/singer Chris ConradThe Syrins – doing music created long before they were born, ‘60s and ‘70s era classic rock. The Syrins have quietly continued to become a mainstay on Altoona area stages, and they remain rooted in vintage classic rock, demonstrated during last month’s performance at Hollidaysburg’s Old Canal Inn. With Tom, Chris and Ryan sharing lead singing duties, The Syrins performed classic hits from the Yardbirds, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Tommy James & the Shondells, CCR, Them, Monkees, the Kinks and more. They also did some “newer” rock from the Romantics, Greg Kihn Band, R.E.M., The Smithereens, Simple Minds and others. The Syrins were amazingly tight and precise with all of it; their vocals and harmonies were airtight, their instrumental performances clean and on target, and they played each tune for keeps. They triggered dance floor action and hearty cheers throughout the evening. I salute The Syrins for staying rock solid for more than a dozen years, and continuing to keep ‘60s and ‘70s-era rock vibrant on this area’s stages.

Other performances I saw recently included various performers during both the weekly Tuesday Open Mic Night at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, and Wednesday Open Mic Night at the Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society in Altoona.

News and notes…A Happy Valley landmark and tradition, The All American Rathskellar in State College is set to close this month after 85 years in business…Members of Black Sun, Small Town Horror Show, Rain Must Fall, The Good Seeds, The Black Snakes and Saving Jake will take part in “Petty Crime: A Tribute To The Music Of Tom Petty” at McGarvey’s on Jan. 27…Altoona-based rockers Teazed played their final show last month…Guitarist Jason “Junior” Tutwiler is leaving the bands Pure Cane Sugar and Raven and the Wren to relocate to Nashville; replacing him is Brian Cleary…Drummer Rick Rock has parted ways with Johnstown-based heavy rock group Rust to pursue other musical interests…Bassist Mike Gherrity announced his retirement from full-time live playing, and is stepping away from Altoona-based rockers Bone Jacked…Big thanks and kudos to Deanna Trio-Schompert, Mo Yon and Zac Grace, who help me deliver PA Musician to Johnstown, Bedford and Huntingdon County locations respectively every month.

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 IN 2017! 

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! 

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – November 2017

By: Jim Price

Pennsylvania Musician Magazine notches another trip around the sun this month, serving the state’s music community for 36 years! Hats off again to Whitey and Robin Noll for continuing to provide Pennsylvania Musician as an important source for information, promotion and networking on the Keystone State music scene, and thanks again for allowing me to continue to be a part of it!

The outdoor live music scene approached its conclusion in recent weeks with a number of fall festivals, concerts and other events. Rumors of a zombie virus infecting Altoona area residents prompted the second annual Zombietown USA festival early last month. Live music was a big part of the two-day event, kicking off with a special Friday night “Dead @ 5” concert at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum featuring Small Town Horror Show and Penntera. Small Town Horror Show launched the night with their driving brand of ‘zombie groove metal,’ firing off new songs plus material from their debut CD The Dead Didn’t Die. Back from the dead (well, almost) was keyboardist Mike Hennaman, generating keyboard accents and fills just one day removed from ending a several-week hospital stay. Singer Todd McKeone belted out intense and high-flying vocals on CD cuts such as “Storm of the Century,” “Let It Go,” “Fearless” and more, plus new songs from the group’s forthcoming second CD. After an intermission zombie costume contest, Penntera brought their vulgar display of firepower as they celebrated the metal music of Pantera. With Jason Robison now singing lead, Penntera rattled the railcar stage with classics from throughout Pantera’s peak 1990s period. Jason, guitarist Pat Bowser, bassist Nate Showalter and drummer Space throttled the crowd with numbers such as “This Love,” “Cemetery Gates,” “Cowboys from Hell,” “5 Minutes Alone,” “Mouth for War,” “Drag the Waters,” “Revolution Is My Name,” “Primal Concrete Sledge,” “I’m Broken,” “F**king Hostile,” an audience request for “Shedding Skin” and more. Jason gave an animated performance, continually vaulting back and forth on the railcar stage, and even leaping off the stage and into the crowd several times during Penntera’s two sets. At night’s end, Penntera got called back for an encore, and responded with “A New Level” and Pantera’s popular anthem, “Walk.”  

Zombietown USA resumed on Saturday, with festivities convening at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza. Live music happened throughout the day; my own two bands, the Backyard Rockers and Running Creek, kicked off the music with our respective varieties of acoustic classics. Both bands were mostly untouched by the zombie virus, with the exception of the percussionist. Stricken with the zombie virus, Elaini Arthur followed with her performance of country classics and select original songs. Singing and strumming her acoustic guitar, Elaini pleasantly sang selections from Reba McEntire, Olivia Newton John (I hadn’t heard the song “Let Me Be There” in ages!), Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Elvis and more. As crowds grew in advance of the zombie/Halloween parade, Born & the Beanstalk mixed up their acoustic variety of classic and modern rock/pop favorites, original songs and more. Following the parade, the Allegheny Ballet Company demonstrated choreographed dance and groove steps to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” with Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band providing the funky backdrop before performing their own set. Chris sang, and along with Nate Beatty provided a dual keyboard edge this day; flanked by Brian Pavlic on guitar, Bill Smith on bass and Randy Servello on drums. The group did original songs from their latest album Trinkets and Time Travelers, along with their own distinctive funk/jam-edged takes on favorites from Prince, Dolly Parton, Amy Winehouse and more. The evening Zombietown concert shifted the music into a harder rock direction, starting with Agent Smith and their “Agent In Chains” tribute to Layne Staley-era Alice In Chains. After an opening set that featured rocking favorites from the Toadies, Fuel, Tom Petty, Soundgarden and a funk medley, Agent Smith – singer Steve Oswalt, guitarist Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner, bassist Mike Stanley and drummer Shawn Gioiosa – were joined by singer Todd McKeone and guitarist Jason Feathers for Agent In Chains. With a towering ‘Jason Vorhees’ keeping vigil near the stage, the group performed precise renditions of Alice In Chains classics like “We Die Young,” “Them Bones,” “Down in a Hole,” “Angry Chair,” “No Excuses” and more. In the wake of his father’s recent passing, Steve dedicated in memory of his dad the song “Rooster” (written by Layne Staley about his own father), before Agent In Chains closed with “Would?” into “Man in the Box.” Jason and Todd’s doom metal group, Black Sun, then concluded the concert with a set of dark, intense original compositions, plus a version of Alice In Chains’ “Dirt.” A video tribute to George Romero and a public screening of the classic zombie movie Night of the Living Dead then capped the Zombietown celebration. Excellent weather and attendance made the second annual Zombietown USA a huge success, and plans are already under way for the event’s return next year.

Ebensburg again celebrated the spud on the last Saturday of September with this year’s installment of Potatofest. And while this festival has become known for intriguing spud-based edibles such as potato pizza, potato sundaes, potato candy and Idaho potato candy bars, it has also become established as a great festival for live music. This year’s Potatofest featured bands and performers on four stages spaced throughout downtown Ebensburg. I arrived in time to see most of the performance by Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors on the Main Tent stage. Playing acoustic guitar and singing, Jim and the Sun King Warriors – guitarists Kevin McDonald and Dan Murphy, bassist Kent Tonkin, drummer Joe Marini and percussionists Harry Pepper and Bryan Fazio – entertained a large crowd with a mix of new and older original songs plus a few select covers. They introduced songs from their forthcoming new album such as “Stay in My Arms,” “Can’t You Feel It” and the set-closer “You Are My Everything,” which escalated into a feverish rockabilly-flavored finish. They also did songs from Led Zeppelin and Violent Femmes, plus two songs from Jim’s former band Rusted Root, “Back to the Earth” and “Send Me On My Way.” I then proceeded to the Penn Eben Park stage, where The Crew Of The Half Moon demonstrated their eclectic blend of sounds. The group – multi-instrumentalists Katie Rhodes and Dan Oatman plus drummer Jon Beard – jolted onlookers into paying instant attention with a powerful opening rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love, before mixing a selection of original songs and wide-ranging covers. Katie and Dan shared singing duties while switching between guitars, bass, harmonica, mandolin and keys. They did several songs off their latest album, Blanket Fort Radio, as well as songs from the Beatles, REM, CCR, Neil Young, The Verve and more. I then caught several songs from solo performer Bruce Schettig as he performed under the South Center Street tent. Singing and playing acoustic guitar, Bruce presented a wide mixture of pop, folk, country and even classical standards; including numbers from Glen Campbell, John Hartford, the Temptations, and even a version of Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” I returned to the Main Tent stage to witness the homestretch of Flood City Brass’ performance, as they kept a large audience happy and cheering with horn-driven hits from Aretha Franklin, Abba, B-52’s, Spiral Starecase, Doobie Brothers and more.

I caught several performances during last month’s two-weekend Bedford Fall Foliage Festival. During the first weekend, I saw western PA-based country group Knob Road. “It’s all about the twang” with this group, as they performed a mixture of country, southern and classic rock. Singer Mike Triplett, lead guitarist Duane Galensky, rhythm guitarist Dave Allen, bassist Tom Hollowood and drummer Billy Blodgett mixed old and newer country favorites from Jason Aldean, John Anderson, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt, Confederate Railroad, David Allan Coe and more. Knob Road also tapped into country rock and southern rock, doing songs from Charlie Daniels, Bob Seger, the Allman Brothers, the Amazing Rhythm Aces and others. Their presentation was casual and laid-back, providing the feel of good friends playing music on a back porch. Mike’s vocals were strong, and the group’s harmonies and instrumental execution were tight and together.

I returned for the final Sunday of Bedford’s Fall Foliage Festival, and got to see Matt Otis & the Sound and Andy Mowatt’s Steely Jam. Matt Otis & the Sound were on their last few songs when I arrived. Namesake Matt on lead vocals and guitar, bassist/singer Kent Tonkin and drummer/singer Charlie McClanahan did selections off their new CD, So It Goes…, such as the ode to cellphone selfie obsession “Frozen Moments,” “Melancholia” and more. The group played their song material with an upbeat, pleasant vibe, with Matt showing constant energy and enthusiasm. From Lancaster, Andy Mowatt’s Steely Jam energized the audience with their bright blend of jazz, rock and funk fusion. Six members strong, this group mixed original songs and jams with jazzy and funky takes on several favorites. Namesake Andy on guitar, the dual-keyboard tandem of singer Tuck Ryan and Nate Young, bassist Cole Sipe, sax player Paul Berry and drummer Taylor Wade did several songs from their latest CD, Rock Hard Funk Vol. 1, including “Mainline,” “Not the Only One,” “The Extra Dank” and “Blow It.” They also did inventive, soulful arrangements on Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” Tuck displayed a bright and soulful voice on the vocal numbers, and instrumental highlights were frequent throughout the group’s two sets. Andy Mowatt’s Steely Jam maintained a fun vibe and triggered dance action.

Live music was again a feature during last month’s annual Hartslog Day Festival in Alexandria. I arrived in time to see local favorite Anita Roseborough as she performed a blend of acoustic pop, rock, folk and gospel numbers. Anita welcomed several guests along the way, including her sister, Regina Miller, who helped sing on America’s hit “Ventura Highway,” and Carole Lang, who sang along on numbers by Simon & Garfunkel, John Denver and Stephen Foster. Anita also sang tunes from Buffalo Springfield and Fleetwood Mac, and ended with her crowd favorite rendition of John Denver’s “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” I also saw much of Unusual Suspects String Band’s performance. The Lewistown quintet mixed a variety of Appalachian string music, bluegrass, folk and country songs. Among their selection were “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (from the Beverly Hillbillies television show), the Tanya Tucker-popularized “Delta Dawn,” Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and more.

Several years ago, area resident Tim Surkovich was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and fought the battle to deal with this debilitating condition. Music helped him take up the fight, as he began to write lyrics that documented his struggles. When he showed his lyrics to friend and musician Randy Sciarrillo, Randy told Tim that the songs needed to be created and recorded, and the band Progmium was born. An initial assembled Progmium cast soon recorded the 2014 album Project: Diagnosis, and Tim subsequently created his Project Diagnosis Foundation, which raises funds and awareness toward MS research. Progmium had never performed live until late September, when they headlined the inaugural Rock Out to Knock Out MS benefit concert on the Diamond in downtown Hollidaysburg. The current Progmium roster – Randy Sciarrillo on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, lead guitarist J. Luis Morales, bassist Dan Mullen and drummer Randy Servello – performed select tracks from the Project: Diagnosis album, demonstrating a progressive rock/metal flavor. Among the songs performed were “Numb,” “As I Am,” and the hopeful album closer about overcoming adversity, “Take Up the Fight.” Prior to Progmium’s set, Tim told the audience his story and how Progmium was created. During the set, checks for $2,500 each were presented to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Also performing during Rock Out to Knock Out MS were Felix & the Hurricanes, the Hollidaysburg School District Marching Band, Matthew Sheedy, Lauren & Joe and Walkney singer Derek Mrdjenovich.

I caught my first look at western PA country performer Coston Cross and his band at this year’s Harmony Grange Fair near Westover in late September. Based near Oil City, Coston on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, lead guitarist Hunter Butler, bassist Wendall Holmes and drummer Hunter Auber performed a mixture of original country songs and classic country hits. Coston’s original songs are inspired by classic, story-based country music; some of his songs this night included “Fireman,” “Copper,” “Freedom Has a Price,” “Off the Record,” “Should Have Found a Cowboy” and “Red Lights and Blue Lights.” He also did numbers from George Jones, David Allan Coe, Waylon Jennings, George Strait, Johnny Cash and others.  

Live music and regional history combined during Canal Jam 2017, which happened in late September at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historical Site near Cresson. This day-long event celebrated traditional American music from the canal era of the mid-1800s, and featured a variety of performers. The day began at the Historical Site’s auditorium with a blend of instrumental music and spoken word courtesy of the Jive BombersRichard Sleigh and Jerry Zolten – and words from Steven Sherrill as he read passages from his book The Locktender’s House. Rochester, New York’s Bill Hullfish & the Golden Eagle String Band then celebrated canal era music with numerous traditional tunes about rivers, canal personalities, boats, mules and more, utilizing a variety of folk instrumentation. Many of their songs dated back to the mid-1800s, including the “Oil City Quickstep,” “A Life on the Raging Canal,” “Never Take the Hind Shoe from a Mule,” “The Canal Boatman’s Dance,” “The Girl from Yewdall’s Mill” and more. Besides the music, Bill and his band also shared a lot of history about the canal period throughout Pennsylvania and New York. From Gettysburg, Dearest Home then celebrated traditional 1800s-era folk music, with an emphasis on Civil War-era and Appalachian folk music. Three of the group’s members – Margaret Folkemer on tinwhistle, Stephen Folkemer on keys and concertina, and Beth Folkemer on acoustic guitar and dulcimer – sing, with Chris Barnabei playing upright bass. Dearest Home demonstrated beautiful vocals and harmonies on numbers such as “Tiptoe Fine/Keep Your Feet Out of the Sand,” Stephen Foster’s “Nelly Was a Lady” and “Camptown Races,” “Ole Dan Tucker,” “Farewell Sweet Mary,” the logging song “Jimmie Judd” and more. Next was lunch at the nearby Lemon House, with music courtesy of Penn State Altoona associate professor of music Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber and her students, who sang more canal-era folk numbers. After lunch, entertainment resumed at the auditorium with the Jive Bombers performing several traditional folk music selections, before Grammy award-winning performer Dom Flemons played a variety of early folk, blues and country. Accompanied by upright bassist and fiddle player Brian Farrow, Dom – “The American Songster” – played banjo, harmonica, bones and quills on a diverse range of spirituals, folk numbers, Piedmont blues, country blues, original songs and more. And the day wrapped up with a traditional folk jam session, including members of all of the day’s performers plus audience members who brought their own instruments. This fun jam included renditions of old-timey favorites like “Oh Suzanna,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Monongahela Sal” and more. Canal Jam 2017 was a rewarding experience that entertained and educated participants about Canal-era history and tradition. It was fun to “party like it was 1839!”

Heart’s Nancy Wilson and Liv Warfield of Prince’s New Power Generation have been touring the country with a new band project called Roadcase Royale, and have recently been opening tour dates for Bob Seger. Roadcase Royale visited the State Theatre in State College in late September. The trio incarnation of Pure Cane Sugar started the night; singer/guitarist Kate Twoey, singer Natalie Race and Bob Hart on guitar; they demonstrated bright vocal harmonies on original numbers such as “Box N’ Nails,” “Crazy” and more. Roadcase RoyaleNancy on guitar, Liv on lead vocals, lead guitarist Ryan Waters, and Heart members Dan Rothchild on bass, Ben Smith on drums and Chris Joyner on keys – introduced their sound, merging hard rock with a rhythmic, soulful edge. Liv’s powerful voice took the spotlight early and often as Roadcase Royale introduced original numbers such as “Hold on to My Hand,” “Get Loud,” “Mind Your Business,” “Insaniac” and more. Several Heart hits made the transition into this new endeavor, as “Even It Up” received an R&B makeover, and “Alone” and “These Dreams” were converted into soulful ballads; the group also did versions of “Straight On” and “Crazy for You.” Nancy also introduced “The Dragon,” a song she wrote in memory of Alice In Chains’ Layne Staley. Roadcase Royale’s powerful sound was a hit with the State Theatre audience, and when calls for an encore sounded at show’s end, the group returned to perform two more original numbers to close the night.  

I also saw JJ Grey & Mofro for my first time last month at the State Theatre. The Commonheart raised the bar high with their opening set of original brassy soul and R&B. Ten members strong this night, this Pittsburgh ensemble lit up the State Theatre audience with numerous songs from their debut CD Grown, led by frontman Clinton Clegg’s hearty, throaty, soulful growl. The Commonheart won over the State Theatre audience convincingly enough that they received a standing ovation. JJ Grey & Mofro then welcomed the audience to their world of southern-flavored rock, blues and R&B. Clad in suit and tie, JJ Grey immediately took charge of the audience with his colorful personality, vibrant stage energy and musical talents as he sang, played guitar and harmonica, backed by his five-piece Mofro cast. Their music was bright, often channeling a Memphis-type vibe and groove, and the overall musicianship and enthusiasm was infectious, stirring up some dancing and grooving throughout the theatre. JJ Grey & Mofro performed such songs as “A Woman,” “Every Minute,” “Brighter Days,” “Hide & Seek,” “Country Ghetto,” “Orange Blossoms,” “Ho Cake” (about corn bread), and a funky take on the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” to end their main set. When the audience called for an encore, the group answered with two more songs, “This River” and the title track to JJ Grey’s latest album, Ol’ Glory.

McGarvey’s hosted several major shows in recent weeks, including the first area visit of Saskatchewan, Canada-based folk and bluegrass sensations The Dead South in late September. A multitude of folks attended to witness The Dead South’s unique and edgy style and sound; rooted in folk and bluegrass, with some subtle touches of Canadian folk and darkish lyrical overtones. Singer/guitarist Nate Hilts, mandolinist/singer Scott Pringle, banjo player Eliza Mary Doyle and cellist Erik Mehlsen performed original songs such as “Dead Man’s Isle,” “The Recap,” “Banjo Odyssey,” “The Good Lord,” “Miss Mary,” their viral internet hit “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company,” “That Bastard Son,” “Long Gone” and more. The Dead South kept the crowd riveted for the duration, and responded to encore demands with the song “Travellin’ Man” to end the show. But that did not end the music; after a short break, The Dead South took their instruments outside McGarvey’s front door and serenaded a gathered group of fans along the sidewalk! Nobody’s Heroes and Zach Wade & the Good Grief opened the night.

Former Ramones bassist CJ Ramone and former Misfits singer Michale Graves played together onstage for the first time early last month at McGarvey’s. The Legendary Hucklebucks, Railroad City Murder Machines and X’s For Eyes led off the show, before Michale Graves and his band tore into their set of high-powered punk and metal-fueled original numbers. Flanked by guitarist Loki, bassist Christopher Dean and drummer Tony Baptist, Michale demonstrated a clear, soaring voice and charismatic presence on tunes such as “Bedlam,” “American Psycho,” “Beginning of the End,” “Worlds Collide,” “3 Days Til Dawn” and more, along with Misfits favorites like “Crying on Saturday Night” and the set-closer “Dig Up Her Bones.” CJ Ramone and his band then took the stage, firing off a spirited blend of his own solo songs plus select Ramones classics. Opening with “Let’s Go” from his latest album American Beauty, CJ led the group on new numbers from the CD such as “Run Around,” “You’ll Never Make Me Believe,” “Steady As She Goes,” “Girlfriend in the Graveyard” and more. He and his band also celebrated Ramones favorites such as “Judy Is a Punk,” “Cretin Hop,” “Rockaway Beach,” “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Blitzkrieg Bop.” The night’s most anticipated moment closed the show, as Michale Graves joined CJ Ramone onstage to sing lead on “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.”

After area musician Tim Homerski sustained multiple injuries in a bicycling accident, his friends from the community and music scene converged on Patton American Legion in late September for a special benefit show to help Tim with medical expenses. I missed early sets from Nag Champions and the duo of Joe Konior and Mellissa Vella, but arrived in time to see the latter half of Rust’s set, as they fired off a mix of hard-hitting classic rock and metal.  Bassist/singer Mike “Griff” Griffiths, guitarist/singer Aaron Wolf and drummer Rick Rock sounded strong on renditions of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” Rainbow’s “Man on a Silver Mountain,” Iron Maiden’s “Flight of Icarus” and more. On an adjacent acoustic stage, Rob Sottile then anchored an acoustic jam as several musicians joined him on a selection of hits and classics. Acoustic Stew then performed, with show beneficiary Tim Homerski playing guitar and flute. Tim, singer/guitarist Jaime Dubetsky, drummer/singer John Homerski, bassist Bill Kibler and a guest percussionist presented fresh-sounding takes on classics from the Grateful Dead, Marshall Tucker Band, Doobie Brothers, The Band, Eric Clapton and more. Craig Fitzpatrick followed with his acoustic set, as he performed numbers spanning Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” to Jethro Tull classics like “Thick as a Brick” and “Locomotive Breath.” The benefit ended with the debut performance of new northern Cambria County rockers Negan. Former Hi-Tyde drummer Mike Davis sings lead in this new project, joined by Bob Gray on guitar, Josh Yahner on bass and Damien Falatek on drums.  Negan fired off two sets of powerful, mostly 1990s-era rock from Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, Live, Incubus, Soundgarden, Audioslave, Our Lady Peace, Alice In Chains, Queens of the Stone Age, Filter and more. Mike sounded strong in the frontman role, and Negan instrumentally was tight and prepared, making for an impressive opening chapter. Watch for future appearances on area stages. This benefit was successful, raising $1,500.

Other performances I saw in recent weeks included my first look at Hooversville-based family rock group Orange Fire during a late September show at Slammin’ Sams in Johnstown…Indiana County-based country rockers Long Road Home at Rocky’s Tavern in Johnstown…This Albatross as they filled in for Felix & the Hurricanes’ weekly Sunday night show at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern, as well as The Hurricanes themselves during another Sunday night…Centre region heavy rockers Quarterstick at The Arena in State College…The Band OZ during their weekly Sunday evening show at Hollidaysburg’s U.S. HotelFyre and The Snipped, two-thirds of a punk/metal triple-bill at McGarvey’s…and I celebrated another trip around the sun last month with Ed n’Born – Ed Hofer and Sean Osborn – as they performed at McGarvey’s.

News and notes…This year’s annual Patched Together: A Day of Music to Benefit the Healing Patch will take place on Nov. 18 at Altoona’s Bavarian Aid Society, raising funds and awareness for Home Nursing Agency’s Healing Patch program; performers at this year’s event include The Sitch, Stone Bridge Blues Band, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, The Chrome Hearts, Greg Burley, Nag Champions, Zach Wade & the Good Grief and Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors…The third annual “Park n Rock” benefit concert for the Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission will take place Nov. 10 at the Bavarian Aid Society, and will featuring Jimmy Buffett impersonator Tom Watt “The Buffettman” and the Fruitcakes, along with special local guest “Cousin” Mike Wieland…A GoFundMe page has been established to help out former Ribbon Grass guitarist Jim “Chico” Mirkovich and his wife, who lost their home and belongings in a fire last month…Eric Ian Farmer is recording a live album; and recorded a live performance toward that album last month at the State Theatre in State College.

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!  

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – October 2017

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 HucklebucksNatascha & 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 jptheprofessor@gmail.com. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!  

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – September 2017

By: Jim Price

              The Summer of 2017 enters its homestretch and transitions into fall, with summer festivals and fairs giving way to autumn-themed festivals before live music heads back indoors with the arrival of cold weather.

              Summer season live music continued at a frenzied clip in recent weeks. County fair season kicked into high gear, and the 157th annual Clearfield County Fair again provided several marquee national recording acts. I caught the Saturday headlining concert, featuring Autograph, Kix and Queensryche. Leading off, Autograph – these days featuring founding members Steve Lynch on guitar and Randy Rand on bass, plus singer/guitarist Simon Daniels and drummer Marc Wieland – delivered a strong set that blended new songs with material from their 1980s heyday. Autograph introduced songs from their forthcoming new album Get Off Your Ass, along with two of their best-known ‘80s numbers, “Send Her to Me” and their popular anthem “Turn Up the Radio” to close the set. Kix soon followed, and wasted no time in amping up the party. Singer Steve Whiteman, guitarists Ronnie Younkins and Brian Forsythe, bassist Mark Schenker and drummer Jimmy Chalfant proudly fired off a succession of their most popular numbers, including “Ring Around Rosie,” “Girl Money,” “Cold Shower,” “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” “Cold Blood,” “Blow My Fuse” and more. Steve again was the consummate showman up front as he blended nonstop energy with his vocal range, sass and sense of humor; and Jimmy thundered out a drum solo toward set’s end. Having seen former Queensryche singer Geoff Tate’s acoustic concert in State College earlier this year, I eagerly anticipated my first look at Queensryche with Geoff’s replacement, Todd La Torre, on lead vocals. As their headlining set unfolded, it quickly became evident that Todd clearly has a voice, vocal range and power consistent with his predecessor. Now featuring Todd, the founding trio of guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield, plus guitarist Parker Lundgren; Queensryche did one newer song – their set-opener “Guardian” – before celebrating their back catalog with popular songs and deep cuts up through their 1994 Promised Land album. Their performance was tight, powerful and  focused; the group did multiple songs from their popular Operation: Mindcrime and Empire albums, including “Operation: Mindcrime,” “Best I Can,” “The Mission,” “Silent Lucidity,” “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Empire” and “Jet City Woman.” They also performed “Queen of the Reich” off their 1982 debut EP, “The Killing Words” and “Surgical Strike” off their Rage For Order album, “Damaged” off Promised Land and “Take Hold of the Flame” off The Warning to end their initial set. When the Clearfield crowd demanded an encore, Queensryche returned to deliver a few more: “Anarchy-X/Revolution Calling,” “Screaming in Digital” and “Eyes of a Stranger.” And – given the tumultuous nature of their split and subsequent litigation with their former singer – it was interesting to note Todd’s final words to the Clearfield crowd this night as the last song ended: “We are the one, we are the only Queensryche.”

              Also at the Clearfield County Fair, I saw one performance at the Grove stage, catching my first look at the Josh Squared Band. Based near Elizabethtown, this group is named after two members named Josh; Josh Tindall on keys and guitar and Josh Duma on bass and sax. This group mixed a wide variety of favorites spanning early rock’n’roll to country to modern pop and funk. Drummer Rob Schwartz gave a dazzling drum solo display on The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” as I arrived, and singer Kali Rodgers belted out impressive voice on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” The Josh Squared Band also did songs from Van Morrison, Luke Bryan, Bruno Mars and more.

              Last month’s 46th annual Clinton County Fair near Mill Hall featured several local and regional performers. I saw the Thursday entertainment, including Loose Cannons and The Hobbs Sisters. From the Lock Haven area, Loose Cannons – singer/bassist Phil Reeder, guitarist/singer Steve Linn and drummer Pete DeSanto – performed a robust blend of classic rock and funk favorites. They fired up their audience with tunes from Bryan Adams, Wilson Pickett, The Kinks, 38 Special, Doobie Brothers, Grand Funk Railroad, AC/DC and more. Phil delivered strong vocal range, and showed some impressive funky bass licks on Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” while Steve demonstrated strong guitar solo work on numbers such as ZZ Top’s “La Grange” and the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues.” From Pittsburgh, the Hobbs SistersHannah and Lauren – and their band performed a blend of original country and country rock, along with country and rock’n’roll favorites. Both sisters showed big voices and nice harmonies, as well as poise and a pleasant stage presence up front. Accompanying them were lead guitarist Tommy Bozek, drummer TJ Thomas, bassist Dave Gregory and Hollis Greathouse on keys, banjo and acoustic guitar. The Hobbs Sisters performed songs off their two EP’s, as well as hits from Zac Brown Band, Little Big Town, Joan Jett, Old Crow Medicine Show, Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris and more.

              Portage’s 27th annual Summerfest happened last month at Crichton McCormick Park in Portage. I caught some of Sunday’s entertainment slate, including Bon Journey and Three Of Hearts. From Pittsburgh, Bon Journey mixed classics from – who else? – Bon Jovi and Journey, along with a few other 70s/80s-era classics. This group presents two strong singers – Tony DiCesaro handling the Jon Bon Jovi singing duties, and keyboardist Jeff Morris in the Journey Steve Perry role – both accompanied by lead guitarist George McGrew, bassist Pat Duff and drummer Mike Vargo. Bon Journey alternated back and forth between favorites from both the Journey and Bon Jovi libraries. The more mobile singer, Tony worked the stage and engaged the crowd, firing them up into joining singalongs on “Lovin Touchin’ Squeezin,’” “Living on a Prayer,” the show-closer “Don’t Stop Believin’” and more. Then closing out the festival, Three Of Hearts brought the classic hits, doing favorites from the 1950s through 1980s from such names as Wilson Pickett, Elvis, Tommy James, Neil Diamond, Georgia Satellites, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Clash, CCR, The Hollies, Bad Company and more. All three musicians were strong – guitarist Joe Tirpak’s solos and leads were clean and precise, Duaine Detrick’s bass work was sturdy and full, and drummer John Shimko was christened “The Octopus” by soundman Ray Buksa, as he sang, played drums and keys at the same time, and kept it all straight! Three Of Hearts delivered a fun show, honored requests and kept the mood lighthearted.

              Altoona’s Railroaders Museum capped their Alive @ 5 Summer Concert Series early last month with a performance by New York-based Styx tribute group Rockin’ the Paradise. Although a strong thunderstorm wreaked some havoc and delayed the start, local rockers Teazed eventually opened the evening. Singer Justin Dell, guitarists Jason Berardi and Jim Mincin, bassist Mike Stanley and drummer Shawn Gioiosa warmed up the crowd with a mix of hard rock favorites from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s – including songs from Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Jackyl, Tesla, Poison, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, Def Leppard, Guns N’Roses and more. Rockin’ the Paradise then celebrated the music of Styx, performing classics and hits from throughout the group’s career, and mixing in a few other ‘80s-era favorites along the way. Singer Jim Vagnato displayed a great voice that achieved Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw-styled vocal range and clarity throughout the performance, and established a friendly connection with the audience early and often. Backing him were guitarists Chris Iazzetta and Mike Baranski (who has performed with Styx members James Young’s and Glen Burtnik’s side projects), bassist Butch McCracken and drummer Carmen Speziale. Over two sets, Rockin’ the Paradise performed almost all of the essential Styx classics, including the title song “Rockin’ the Paradise,” “Blue Collar Man,” “Suite Madame Blue,” “Too Much Time on My Hands,” “Show Me the Way,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Man in the Wilderness,” “Lady,” “Crystal Ball,” “Snowblind,” “Grand Illusion,” “Lorelei,” “Renegade” and “The Best of Times.” They also blended in other songs from the 1980s, including numbers from Night Ranger, Loverboy, Journey, Bon Jovi, and even a comical salute to Axl Rose and David Coverdale. When the Railroaders Museum crowd demanded more, Rockin’ the Paradise responded with “Come Sail Away” and Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” to end the night.

              The City of Altoona presented its first-ever National Night Out Against Crime celebration early last month at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza, and among the night’s festivities was the debut of new area rock group Kicked In. This new collaboration features former members of Kyx, Inside Out (Altoona edition) and The Kick. Bassist/singer Jim Walstrom, guitarist/singer Paul Dixon, acoustic guitarist/singer Jeff Hollingshead, keyboardist/singer Terry Wills and drummer Lisle Weaver mixed up classic rock, pop and country favorites from the Eagle, Collective Soul, Golden Earring, Rolling Stones, Romantics, Stevie Wonder, Robert Palmer, Tom Petty and more. They sounded solid throughout, and I liked the finishing touch at the end, the Terry-sung version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” The National Night Out Against Crime festivities were well-attended; watch for Kicked In as they start performing regularly this fall.

              I finally was able to attend and catch part of last month’s fifth annual Route 22 Rock n Blues Festival, which took place at the Lincoln Caverns fairground near Huntingdon. On the stage as I arrived during the festival’s second day was a brand new band, On The Brink, who was filling in for an act that had to bow out late. A trio, On The Brink features two alumni from The Flame Sky, singer/guitarist Ed Brinkel and drummer Nate Woods, with Dana Brinkel playing bass. The group performed several classic-rooted original songs; including their interesting closer, “My Liver Can’t Handle a Broken Heart.” Next was performer Rich Edmundson, who did his unique brand of improvisational acoustic music. Rich improvised lyrics and vocalizations on the spot as he did original songs such as “Firefly” and others, and closed his set with a variation on his popular instrumental “Percussive Guitar,” where he strums, taps and pulls a myriad of different tones and rhythms from his acoustic guitar. And I caught much of The Blacksnakes’ performance, as they did electric blues and blues-rock. Singer Brian Elliott, guitarist Jason Feathers, bassist Hunter Karns and drummer Nate Woods mixed original songs and cover material. They tapped into the catalogs of blues masters like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, and did the original song favorite “Bottom Shelf Woman” from their previous incarnation as The Hawks Blues Band. The Blacksnakes also brought up a special guest, 14-year-old guitar prodigy Ty Fowler, who swapped solos with Jason on Robin Trower’s “Bridge of Sighs” and the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.” An approaching severe thunderstorm prompted my hasty exit from the festival, but I enjoyed what I experienced and plan to return.

              After renovations and the completion of their new stage pavilion and amphitheater earlier in the year, Everett’s Tenley Park hosted several free concerts this summer, including The Zillion Dollar Combo last month. Formed ten years ago, this group features singer Natalie Ebersole, her husband and bassist Mike Ebersole, guitarist Ryan Chandler, keyboardist Robert May and drummer Lucas Steinbrunner. The Zillion Dollar Combo mixed up a tasty blend of classic rock, funk, pop and blues numbers. Natalie showed impressive vocal range, smoothness and soulfulness as she sang on numbers from Santana, A Taste Of Honey, Chic, Wild Cherry, Blues Traveler, Bob Marley and more. This group threw some interesting twists in along the way, including an instrumental rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” and spotlighting Robert’s keyboard skills on Booker T & the MG’s “Green Onions.”

              I did manage to escape for a three-day mini-vacation last month, venturing northward to Rochester, New York to visit and tour my personal beer “mecca,” the Genesee Brewing Company and Brewhouse. I didn’t really plan on seeing much live music during my journey, but it found me anyway. The first band I saw was on my itinerary, though, as I learned that Marshmellow Overcoat was performing at an Italian festival – Festa Italiana – in their hometown of Bradford (just south of the PA-NY border) on the first day of my journey. The group – singer/guitarist Tyler Calkins, bassist/singer Jason Wood, lead guitarist Alan Hancock and drummer Anthony Cavallaro – entertained with their bright blend of classic rock/pop covers and their own originals, rooted in the 1960s/70s pop songcraft tradition of the Beatles and the Monkees. Singer/guitarist Marshmellow Overcoat did original tunes such as their title song “Marshmellow Overcoat” (off their self-titled latest album; the name came from The Band as a monicker they considered using, revealed in the 1978 concert film The Last Waltz), “See the Plan,” the title track from their previous album Wait For Me and “Girl with the Red Hair.” I liked their cover selection, as they mixed tunes from Badfinger, Collective Soul, Moody Blues, The Band, Grateful Dead, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Guess Who and more. In between sets, guest Michael Miller played a short set of rock and pop favorites.

              It turned out that my hotel accommodation in Henrietta, just south of Rochester, housed a live music venue called Nashvilles, a country-themed roadhouse. So with live music mere footsteps from my hotel room, I couldn’t resist, and ended up checking out local Rochester area classic rock power trio These Guys. Featuring singer/guitarist Dan Tette, bassist/singer Nick Matyjakowski and drummer/singer Ryan Smith, These Guys did fiery takes on a wide selection of classic rock favorites from Bad Company, Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk Railroad, CCR, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Band, Buffalo Springfield, Allman Brothers, The Doors, Black Crowes and more. As live music at Nashvilles was sponsored by local music store House Of Guitars, and Genesee is the prominent local beer flavor, These Guys cleverly worked references to both into the lyrics of numerous songs. The group also welcomed Dan’s uncle, Steve, to sing and play drums on several songs during the second set, along with another singer to belt out AC/DC’s “TNT” during the third set.

              During the final day of my Rochester sojourn, I visited the aforementioned House Of Guitars, a music store jam-packed with new and vintage guitars, basses, amps and multiple other instruments and accessories. They also regularly present live music on an outdoor stage next to the building; and this day happened to be Metal Day, with four bands taking the stage. I caught the set from Buffalo-based thrash/grindcore trio Prepare For the Mindscan. Guitarist/vocalist Jay Wopperer, bassist/vocalist Shawn Gomez and drummer Joe Musial fired off terse, intense original numbers, and covered a song from Avulsion.

              Indoors, Gaelic Storm brought their Celtic-flavored folk and rock sounds to State College’s State Theatre in late July. This was my first time witnessing Gaelic Storm; with Celtic flavors serving as their foundation, this group – guitarist/singer Steve Twigger, singer/multi-instrumentalist Patrick Murphy, fiddle player Katie Grennan, multi-instrumentalist Pete Purvis and drummer Ryan Lacey – ventured into bluegrass, country and rock directions during their two-set performance. Gaelic Storm’s variety of styles and instrumentation kept their presentation fresh as they mixed original songs with traditional numbers, with Patrick throwing in touches of humor along the way. Highlights were frequent; including Katie and Pete alternating solos and dueling fiddle and bagpipes respectively on one number, Katie opening the second set by demonstrating her step-dancing skills, Patrick warning the audience about the dangers of mixing a mechanical bull, whiskey and Indian cuisine before the group’s song “The Mechanical Bull,” and Katie bringing some of her young fiddle students on stage for the night-ending rendition of “The Rattlin’ Bog.” Among the State Theatre’s shows in September will be 1970s hitmaker Al Stewart on Sept. 23, and Heart’s Nancy Wilson with Roadcase Royale on Sept. 26.

              Musicians and the Lycoming County community came together last month to address and raise awareness about the region’s – and country’s – heroin and opioid addiction epidemic. During the Rock-n-Roll Away Heroin event at the Skybox Sports Bar in Montoursville, performances by a variety of area bands and musicians were punctuated by information presentations by various speakers about the heroin and opioid problem. I arrived as speaker Abdul Raheem Ali gave a powerful dissertation about the problem in Lycoming County; he broke it down between what happens on the streets, the successes and failures of efforts thus far to address the problem, and his ideas for what needs to happen to fix the problem. Next was the acoustic duo of Lost Saints members Keith Randall and John Freas, who performed a blend of original songs and select covers from Alice In Chains, Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, Danzig and more. Show organizer and host Jeff Pittinger and The Betty Ford All-Stars performed next. This night featuring Jeff on vocals, guitarist Bill Zimmerman, guitarist/keyboard player Steve Kepner, bassist Jason Miller and drummer Matt Colegrove, the All-Stars rocked the house with tunes from Queen, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, CCR, ZZ Top, Grand Funk Railroad, Ozzy and more. Special guest Dan Feist stepped in behind the drum kit for the rendition of ZZ Top’s “Tush.” And 44Mag slammed the door on the night with their brand of intense original power metal. Singer Jared Mondell, guitarist Jason Miller, bassist Chris Bartley and drummer Jesse Roedts mixed new songs with older material, even pulling some tunes from their early Past Sins CD. Kudos to Jeff Pittinger and everybody who worked to make this event happen – it’s important to raise public awareness and inform communities about the heroin and opioid problem, as it is happening everywhere, small towns and big towns alike. Hopefully events like this one will get more people to pay attention, get involved, and work to turn the tide on this situation.

              Baltimore-based national recording group Silvertung paid their first visit to McGarvey’s in Altoona last month. Small Town Horror Show opened the evening prior to my arrival, debuting new song material from their forthcoming second CD. After more than a year away from live stage action, the new mach edition of Naildriver then scorched the stage with renewed fury. Joining founding guitarist Scott Botteicher and vocalist Matt Watson are the father and son rhythm tandem of bassist Gregg McCloskey and drummer Luke McCloskey. From the opening riffs of their first song, “Enemy,” Naildriver slammed out their volatile set of power metal originals with all-out intensity. Matt proudly conquered the front of the stage, rallying the crowd as he barked and snarled out the words to new assaults such as “Refocused and Reformed,” “Life” and “Suicidal Layaway,” as well as established favorites like “Executioner,” “Hypocrite’s Anthem” and “Seal the Exits.” All four musicians were clearly happy to be back on the stage, and the crowd fed off that enthusiasm, making for an exciting set. This nicely set the table for Silvertung, who went for broke with their own aggressive set of hard-rocking tunes. Frontman/guitarist Speed, lead guitarist Codey Red, bassist Skoot and drummer Danno mixed established songs with newer originals. They unleashed their radio single “Never Too Late,” along with popular numbers such as “Face the Music,” “Coming Alive,” “Devil’s Advocate,” “Justify” and more. Silvertung’s intensity drew strong approval from the McGarvey’s crowd. Silvertung returns to McGarvey’s on Nov. 18 in a double-bill with Bobaflex, with comedian Don Jamieson (formerly of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show) hosting.

              McGarvey’s last month hosted a special acoustic performance from Scott Reynolds, former singer for All and The Pavers. I arrived in time to catch Scott’s last six songs. He mixed new songs, some tunes from his past bands, and some cover material done in his own style – he did both a version of the Misfits’ “Astrozombies” and Freddy Fender’s “Before the Next Teardrop Falls!” Scott displayed a great voice and a unique style, with a bit of a unique jazz-flavored edge. Scott stuck around afterward to do autographs and photographs, and chat with fans.

              In 2005, Carrolltown native and musician John Solinski made the decision to relocate to southern Florida and “live the dream,” and has since established himself as a full-time solo acoustic entertainer who regularly plays at Irish Kevin’s Bar in Key West. Every so often, John takes a break from “the dream” to visit his old stomping grounds in northern Cambria County, and sometimes he performs a show or two. During his visit last month, John and his brother, Dave “Redawg” Solinski, performed and gave back to their home area with a special show at the Barnesboro VFW in Northern Cambria, with proceeds benefiting the Hope and Spangler Volunteer Fire Companies. This was a fun night. John and Red played for three hours straight through, never taking any breaks. Strumming acoustic guitar and singing, John brought his nightly beach show to the crowd this night, with Red on zendrum (an electronic mobile percussion instrument that can generate any and all sounds). The two provided fast-firing, nonstop musical action, covering a wide spectrum of tunes spanning rock, pop and country hits with plenty of surprises. Few songs ever went predictably, with John changing up lyrics on the spot (often to hilarious adult-themed revisions), veering into medleys and other wild side journeys, coaxing and demanding crowd sing-alongs, encouraging crazy crowd antics and more. John and Red maintained the theme of the night, constantly referencing the fire companies and encouraging crowd donations to their cause. (Part of this was plastic fire helmets – John had by chance received a donation of a box of plastic fire helmets from the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware fire department, and he gave the hats to any audience members who made donations onstage.) At one point, John and Red brought the chiefs of both the Hope and Spangler fire companies to the stage, saluting both chiefs and their companies before having them engage in a quick beer consumption contest. By the end of the night, $1,400 was raised and split between the two fire companies, capping a great night of entertainment and community spirit.

              Other shows I saw recently included performances by Derek Mrdjenovich of Walkney, Zach Wade & the Good Grief, Dave Hates Everything and Fyre at McGarvey’s, Burnicide and Awaken From Ruin during the “Metal for Melvin” memorial benefit show for It Is Written bassist Colin McAtee in late July at McGarvey’s, and Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors during St. Francis University’s annual Summer Rhythm Renewal weekend in July.

News and notesSlim Jim Phantom, Patty Larkin and Commander Cody will headline the annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival in downtown Indiana, which happens Sept. 9 and 10…The sixth annual Striking Chords Against Cancer Benefit happens Sept. 8 at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society; performing will be Drew Dodson, The Chrome Hearts, Ten High Five (acoustic), Flight 19, Matt Wagner, Agent Smith, Matt Pletcher and This Albatross…A benefit show has been organized to help out area musician Tim Homerski as he recovers from substantial injuries suffered in a bicycle accident; the benefit to help Tim with his medical costs will take place on Sept. 23 at the Patton American Legion in Patton. and will feature performances from Disorganized Crime, Joe Konior & Melissa Vella, Rob Sottile, Acoustic Stew, The Huge Midgets, new area rock group Negan and an open jam session…The inaugural Rock Out to Knock Out MS concert will take place Sept. 30 on The Diamond in downtown Hollidaysburg; sponsored in part by the MS patient Tim Surkovich’s Project Diagnosis Foundation, the event will feature live music from Felix & the Hurricanes, the Hollidaysburg School District Marching Band, Matt Sheedy, Questionable Methods, Walkney and Progmium, the band project Tim assembled to perform songs he wrote about his MS experience…Aaron Gindlesperger takes over bass duties in the group Down to the Wire, replacing Bob SeilerLovebettie’s husband and wife duo of C.T. and Alexandra Fields have formed a new country-rock side project, Willow Hill, and will be issuing a debut album from that project this fall.

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!    

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – August 2017

By Jim Price

              Summertime live music activity continues at a frenzied clip, with concerts, festivals, fairs, celebrations and other various events and occasions providing plentiful music both outdoors and indoors!

              Outdoor music events have kept my life crazy in recent weeks. I took in two days of Johnstown’s 20th annual Thunder In The Valley motorcycle rally in late June. First attending on Thursday of Thunder weekend, I arrived in time to catch part of Norman Nardini’s performance at People’s Natural Gas Park. Flanked by his cast of Harry Bottoms on bass, Larry Siefers on keys, sax and harmonica, and Mike Floccari on drums; Norman mixed a smorgasbord of blues, rock, soul and country-toned original songs, dropping in generous dosages of his trademark humor and wit. Along the way, Norman welcomed renowned local guitar-wielding guests Felix Kos (of the Hurricanes) and Gene Sweeney (of Who’s Your Daddy) to work their respective six-string magic. Following Norman on the same stage was Johnstown trio Van Waylon, who fired up their blend of classic rock staples from the 1970s through 1990s. Singer/bassist Todd Harteis again showed a gritty, soulful voice, while guitarist Sebastian Steele displayed his axeslinging prowess and Ben Ressler’s driving beats propelled forward songs from Led Zeppelin, Black Crowes, Alice Cooper, Bad Company and more. I next headed to the Train Station stage, where Inside Out closed out the night with their fiery brand of modern, classic rock and originals – with some unexpected surprises thrown in. The catalyst for the surprises was 11-year-old guest drummer Alex Shumaker, who coaxed Inside Out to perform a few songs outside of their hard-rocking comfort zone. The result was rare Inside Out renditions of Fallout Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down,” Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and Walk the Moon’s “Shut Up and Dance.” But not to fear – singer/guitarist Tim Frick, bassist Larz Philip, new guitarist Cody Williams and drummer Mark Gindlesperger kept their rocking fan base happy with original tunes such as “Vampire Eyes,” “Giving Myself Away” and even their ‘90s-era original rocker “Can’t Stop a One Way Ride,” along with tunes from Disturbed, AC/DC, Marilyn Manson, Three Days Grace and more.

              I then returned for much of Saturday’s Thunder In The Valley slate, arriving to catch the last several songs of Second Wind’s performance on the Central Park gazebo stage. This western PA-based band of Riches – Bell on guitar and vocals, Howard on guitar, fiddle and vocals, Kost on bass and Resslar on drums – did nice work on classic, southern rock and country favorites. For their finale, Rich Howard took the spotlight, displaying fiery fiddle work on renditions of Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and “Orange Blossom Special.” I then headed to the Biker Mall stage to see Nate Myers & the Aces in their first Thunder appearance. Namesake Nate singing and wailing on harmonica, guitarist/singer Jimmi Sexton, bassist Pete Netznik and drummer Kenny Ross mixed up R&B, funk, soul and swing sounds as they did original songs and select cover material. Nate sang and delivered play-by-play on original song favorites “Jager and Waffles” and his canine ode “Sparky Come Home,” and introduced the new song “Got a Job” from the group’s forthcoming album; and he and the Aces gave their signature flavor to renditions of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Louis Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” and Bobby Blue Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light.” From there, I returned to the Central Park stage to see Krazy Kat Daddies as they performed vintage pop, rock and country favorites. Singer Jo Ann Nardelli, drummer Mike Nardelli, guitarist Vic Sabo and bassist Gary Faidley sparked dancing in front of the stage with hits from the Surfaris, CCR, Tommy James, Wilson Pickett, Elvis Presley, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more. Then back to the Biker Mall stage (yes, I got my cardio in during this event!), where the Stone Bridge Blues Band had begun. Singer/guitarist Mike Borstnar, bassist/singer Brian Moore, keyboardist Harold Hayford, harmonica player Rick Rhodes and drummer John Mundy generated bluesy grooves and stellar musicianship on blues canons from Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Freddie King and more. Guest sax player Greg Maiocco helped stir up instrumental fireworks when he dueled with Mike and Rick on Albert Collins’ “Love Me Like You Say” and Freddie King’s “I’m Tore Down.” I then headed to the People’s Natural Gas Park stage to discover Pittsburgh country performers The Stickers. Brothers Joe Wodarek on lead vocals, John Wodarek on bass and Jim Wodarek on drums, plus guitarist Mike Ofca and keyboardist Jay Casper, fired up line dancing with their upbeat set of country original songs and select covers. One highlight was their popular song “Girl in a Pickup Truck,” which will be featured in the new movie Pure Country Pure Heart; they also did songs such as “Summertime” and “Country Proud,” plus a version of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.” I later returned to this same stage to see Shades Of June close out the night; sisters Jill and Leah Gontkovic joined the group as they performed rock and pop favorites.

              In between The Stickers and Shades Of June, I saw Thunder In The Valley Saturday headliners 38 Special rock the crowd at the Train Station stage. Starting with their classic anthem “Rockin’ Into the Night,” 38 Special – lead singer/guitarist Don Barnes, guitarist Danny Chauncey, keyboardist Bobby Capps, drummer Gary Moffatt and bassist Barry Dunaway – fired up the crowd with hits and favorites from throughout their career. 38 Special delivered constant energy and tight execution as they performed numbers such as “Back Where You Belong,” “Wild Eyed Southern Boys,” “Second Chance,” “Fantasy Girl,” “If I’d Been the One” and more. Kicking off with a take on Bad Company’s “Live for the Music,” the group strung together a lengthy medley of favorites that included “20th Century Fox,” “Back to Paradise,” “Sound of Your Voice,” “Somebody Like You,” “Honky Tonk Dancer,” “Teacher Teacher” and “You Keep Runnin’ Away.” A rendition of ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid” led into a guitar solo display by Danny, followed by “Trooper with an Attitude” and a Gary drum solo – all setting up for the set-closing hit “Caught Up in You.” When the Thunder crowd demanded an encore, 38 Special returned to do three more – “Chain Lightning,” the hit “Hold On Loosely,” and a roaring rendition of CCR’s “Travelin’ Band.”

              Besides 38 Special, I saw another legendary southern rock/country name recently – Charlie Daniels headlined last month’s 43rd annual Country Music Show fundraiser for the Indiana County Fraternal Order of Police, which took place at the Indiana County Fairgrounds. Johnstown-based Johnny Cash/June Carter tribute group Ole 97 set the joyous tone for the afternoon. This group’s “Johnny” and “June” – singers Randy Hunter and Charlene Boldin – led the group as they celebrated ‘The Man In Black’ and June Carter with hits and curios from throughout Cash’s career. Randy, Charlene, guitarist/fiddler Joe Brucker, guitarist Doug Nagy, bassist Andy Heinze and drummer Paul Carpenter did Cash standards such as “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,” “I’ve Been Everywhere” and the set-closing “Folsom Prison Blues.” Randy and Charlene recalled the Johnny-June duets on “Long-Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man” and “Baby Ride Easy,” and Charlene sang lead on “Juke Box Blues.” Ole 97 dedicated the gospel-toned “Peace in the Valley” to all police and military personnel who gave their lives in the line of duty, and they did Joe’s original Cash-themed number, “Whole Lot of Cash.” Ole 97’s happy and reverent celebration of Johnny and June drew unanimous applause as they warmed up the huge grandstand crowd. Then, with the “Tennessee Waltz” playing through the sound system, Charlie Daniels and his band arrived on the stage. At age 80, Charlie showed no signs of slowing down as he and his band took charge from the get-go, opening with “Southern Boy” and “Drinkin’ My Baby Goodbye.” Charlie sawed on his fiddle early, and introduced “Redneck Fiddlin’ Man,” before switching off to guitar for two songs off his landmark 1974 album Fire On The Mountain, “Trudy” and “Caballo Diablo.” Charlie frequently celebrated his sidemen, and let guitarist Bruce Brown sing and take the spotlight on his own original song “Peace in the Morning.” He also spotlighted guitarist Chris Wormer’s shredding skills on a heated rendition of the “William Tell Overture” toward show’s end, and showcased the talents of keyboardist Shannon Wickline, bassist Charlie Hayward and drummer Ron Gannaway on the instrumental jam “Black Ice.” Charlie frequently addressed the audience between songs; saluting the troops and sharing his sentiments about a strong America before his hit “In America,” sharing the inspiration behind his spooky hit “The Legend of Wooley Swamp,” and humbly acknowledging how “Long Haired Country Boy” escalated into a fan favorite. He also related his early career as a session player who got hired to play guitar on Bob Dylan’s 1969 Nashville Skyline album, prompting his rendition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” Charlie saluted Johnny Cash with his band’s own take on “Folsom Prison Blues,” and offered a reverent, escalating version of “How Great Thou Art.” And to end the show, Charlie brandished fiddle again to recall his epic “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” dueling and jamming with his bandmates for a feverish finish to a great show.

              Set to achieve the 90-year-old milestone early next year, the man who first taught me what treble and bass clefs, rests and quarter-notes are – my childhood accordion teacher Mario Crocetti – is still booking shows and entertaining audiences with his self-named trio. I checked out the Mario Crocetti Trio in action during the Lilly Fire Company Carnival in late June. Playing his Siwa & Figli accordion, Mario wasn’t even the eldest member of his own band this night, as singer Jack Dominick is already at the 90 mark, and still has a good singing voice! Mario, Jack, sax player/singer Brian Regala and drummer Jake Yarnish entertained carnival-goers with a variety of pop, jazz and country standards, polkas and even renditions of Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now or Never” and “Don’t Be Cruel!” The group also did favorites from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Boots Randolph, Glenn Miller, Jim Reeves, Tom Jones, Louis Armstrong and more. And Mario and his trio broke out a few tunes I remember from long ago when I had to learn those songs for weekly accordion lessons – I’m now going to have to dig into my old Sedlon Accordion Method music books to relearn and find out what they were!

              Arts festivals were plentiful in recent weeks, including the 51st annual Central PA Festival of the Arts in downtown State College. I attended and witnessed several of the Saturday entertainers this year, beginning with Pure Cane Sugar at the Festival Shell stage. Vocal harmonies were again front and center of this group’s performance, as singer Natalie Race and singer/acoustic guitarist Kate Twoey blended their voices with stunning results. They, along with guitarist Jason “Junior” Tutwiler, bassist Bob Hart and drummer Daryl Branford triggered fun vibes and plentiful hula-hooping with their mix of original songs and inventive takes on favorites. The group introduced newer original songs such as “Box n’Nails” and their new single “Crazy,” as well as innovative takes on Tears for Fears’ “Shout,” Buffalo Springfield’s “Mr. Soul” and more. Next on the same stage was Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line. Since the first time I saw them a few years ago, this group has evolved their brand of Americana-flavored music to mix traditional folk and bluegrass roots with country, rock, gospel and other elements. Singing and strumming acoustic guitar, Nora Jane and the Party Line – her husband and multi-instrumentalist Joe Overton, guitarist Josh Vana, bassist Brian Miller and drummer Drew Lanhorn – did a variety of folk, country and bluegrass-toned original songs and select covers. She tapped newer and older material, doing an upbeat arrangement of the title track to her 2013 album Carnival, and new songs from her next album, to be released in October. Nora and the Party Line also did versions of the Staple Singers’ “We’ve Got to Get Ourselves Together” and Guy Clark’s “Texas Cookin.’” From there, I headed to the Sidney Friedman Park stage to catch the last few songs of Velveeta’s performance. These Happy Valley favorites – singer/guitarist Brian Kriley, keyboardist/singer Brent Martin, bassist/singer John Matthews and drummer/singer John Harper – had a brisk dance party going as they finished up with favorites from The Foundations, Neil Diamond, the B-52s and Bryan Adams. I then returned to the Festival Shell for that stage’s final act, Pittsburgh’s Billy Price Band. Still possessing a strong and soulful voice and presence, Billy and his band – this night saxophonist Eric DeFade, guitarist Steve Delach, bassist Tom Valentine, keyboardist Jimmy Britton, drummer Dave Dodd and trumpet player George Amer – took the audience on a spirited rhythm and blues joyride. Opening with two songs from his new live CD Alive and Strange – “Ain’t a Juke Joint Without the Blues” into “Lickin’ Stick” – Billy and the group played songs from throughout his library, including more from the new CD such as “Something Strange,” “This Time I’m Done for Good,” “One More Day” and “Never Get Enough.” Billy’s spark was constant, and his band was tight and in the pocket, with Eric, Jimmy, Steve and Dave each providing stellar solo work along the way. After this performance, I caught the tail ends of both The Ultra Kings’ set at the Allen Street stage and Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band (more on them later) at the Sidney Friedman Park stage to cap my Arts Festival experience.

              During the same week, the 25th annual People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts took place on the grounds of the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg. Attending on the first day, Thursday, I saw two performances. State College’s Bluegrass Redemption performed on the South Stage shortly after I arrived. This group – singer/guitarist Rick Auhl, fiddler/singer Jane Auhl, banjo picker/singer Keith Miska, upright bassist Mike Bratton and mandolin player George Macias – entertained with a mix of traditional bluegrass, folk and country, with a few surprises thrown in. Bluegrass Redemption pleased the audience with numbers from George Jones, Pete Seeger, Jimmy Martin, Earl Scruggs, Dolly Parton and more; they also did a grassed-up version of Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life Again.” Afterward, I headed to the North Stage to catch part of ESP’s performance. Featuring singer/bassist Pat Elliott, guitarist/singer Ralf Southard, guitarist/singer Jerre Price and singer/multi-instrumentalist Eileen Christman, ESP demonstrated strong vocals and harmonies plus instrumental dexterity as they did classic rock gems from the 1970s. The group opened with the Crosby Stills & Nash double-shot of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Wasted On The Way,” the Doobie Brothers’ “Black Water” and Toto’s “Africa.”

              I also attended the first day of the annual Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival, which took place at Twin Lakes Park near Greensburg in late June. A variety of live music was offered on four stages during this festival; the first performer I witnessed was Eirinn Abu on the Laurel stage. A Grammy-nominated saxophone artist who has worked with Miami Sound Machine and Dolly Parton, Eirinn performed a selection of instrumental adult contemporary numbers. Citing Andrea Bocelli, Michael Buble and Kenny G as influences, Eirinn explained his performance philosophy as singing through his saxophone. He demonstrated a smooth, gentle style as he performed movie themes from Romeo & Juliet, Titanic and other films, versions of Elvis Presley’s “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “How Great Thou Art” and more. I next headed to the Island stage to catch my first look at the Bad Boy Blues Band. Formed in 2012, this Greensburg-based group – singer/guitarist Bob Boyle, guitarist Vinnie DeFloria, bassist Ned Stokes and drummer Mike Sheffler – performed a rowdy mixture of electric blues, classic rock and original songs. Their original song selection mixed newer numbers with tunes from their debut album Temptation’s Calling; they also did numbers from the Rolling Stones, The Band, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bad Company and more. I then returned to the Laurel stage to see Patsy Cline tribute performer Cathi Rhodes. After performing and directing the theatrical production Always Patsy Cline more than a decade ago, Cathi started her tribute to Patsy’s legacy, and regularly performs throughout western PA. Cathi gave background information about Patsy’s career, while performing many of Patsy’s songs such as “In Care of the Blues,” “Leavin’ on Your Mind,” “Stop, Look and Listen,” “Anytime” and more. And back at the Island stage, I watched Washington, D.C.’s Black Masala perform their worldbeat-driven sounds. Seven members strong including a brass section, Black Masala mixed elements of Slavic, Balkan, funk, punk, reggae and more into an energetic, unpredictable presentation. No two songs were the same, and the group’s multiple angles, vocal and instrumental diversity made this a fun show.

              The July 4 holiday brought another edition of Central PA 4th Fest, which took place around Penn State’s Beaver Stadium. Again, a number of musical performers entertained leading up to one of the biggest fireworks displays in the Northeast. I arrived in time to see the last three songs of former The Voice contestant Adley Stump’s performance. Adley and her band performed her new single, “Call You Mine,” before displaying her rocking persona with the AC/DC double-shot of “Highway to Hell” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.” I then saw Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band present their high-energy, brass-edged mixture of funk, soul and R&B. Namesake Jackie was front and center, energizing the large audience with her vibrant, hearty voice and stage presence – flanked by keyboardist/singer John “JT” Thompson, guitarist/singer Charles Halcomb, bassist Peter Jogo, drummer Stubby Stubbs, and the four-piece horn section of sax players Tom Gallagher and Benjamin Kim, trumpet player Richard Meyer and trombone player Dave Priester. Highlights were numerous, as Jackie and Gill Street roused the crowd with hits from Average White Band, Marvin Gaye, Donna Summer, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and more. And Jackie doesn’t just sing; at one point, she went behind the drum kit to capably provide the beat on a few songs. And just before the fireworks began, I caught the last several songs of Velveeta’s set, as they triggered a dance party with hits from Dave Matthews Band, Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen, Don Henley, Styx, Old Crow Medicine Show and more.

              Also on July 4th weekend, I caught up with Ricky Lee and his band as they entertained partiers on the Bistro Deck at Lake Raystown Resort. This was a fun night as Ricky – flanked by bandmates Chip and C’Jay Castello on guitars, Dave Collins on bass and new drummer Rob Bonsell – sang a mixture of his original songs, country and southern/classic rock favorites. Ricky sang popular patriotic odes such as “She’s an American Soldier,” introduced new tunes such as “Something About You,” and performed favorites from Big & Rich, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brooks & Dunn, Travis Tritt, Kid Rock, Luke Bryan, George Jones, John Mellencamp and more. Ricky’s hearty voice was in good form, and he had fun with the crowd and kept them involved in the show. He celebrated his parents in the audience, and saluted his father, a cancer survivor. He also honored several requests from the packed-deck crowd. An obvious highlight was the fireworks display over Lake Raystown in between Ricky’s sets, with the band resuming the music as the fireworks concluded. Ricky and his band return to the Lake Raystown Bistro Deck on Sept. 3 (Labor Day weekend).

              Altoona’s Railroaders Museum stayed busy in recent weeks with several more installments of their Alive @ 5 Concert Series. New Jersey-based Tom Petty tribute Damn the Torpedoes graced the Museum’s flatcar stage in late June, with Agent Smith opening. With special fifth agent Rich Johnson helping out on guitar, Agent Smith accomplished their mission of rocking the rail yard crowd with a blend of hard-rocking favorites from the 1970s through 1990s. They did excellent work on tunes from Living Colour, Stone Temple Pilots, Queensryche, Tonic, Fuel, Led Zeppelin, Journey, Van Halen, The Cult and more. Guest Autumn Shiffler joined in to belt out her superb voice on versions of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” and Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know.” Damn the Torpedoes then followed, bringing the maximum Tom Petty music party for two sets. Five members strong, Damn the Torpedoes blended Petty hits and deep cuts from throughout the group’s career. Frontman Rich Kubicz was strong in the role of Tom Petty; his voice and presentation captured Petty’s style and sound. The rest of the group – guitarist Jimi Alan, keyboardist Gary Castelluccio, bassist Jon Provan and drummer Ross Kantor – were solid as well, nicely capturing the Petty-like arrangements. Most of the essential Petty catalog was performed: “I Won’t Back Down,” “Listen to Her Heart,” “I Need to Know,” “Running Down a Dream,” “Don’t Do Me Like That,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “You Got Lucky,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels,” “The Waiting,” “Even the Losers,” “Yer So Bad,” “Free Fallin,’” “Learning to Fly,” “Breakdown,” “Jammin’ Me,” “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” “Here Comes My Girl,” “Refugee,” “American Girl” and more. When the crowd demanded more, Damn the Torpedoes encored with the Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care,” “Don’t Come Around Here No More” and “You Wreck Me.” 

              I also witnessed Florida-based U2 tribute group U2 By UV last month at the Railroaders Museum, with Rewind opening the night. Rewind – singer Tom Getz, guitarist Chris Silva, bassist Dan Lukens and drummer Jamie Lane – won some new fans with their blend of rock and country favorites. During two sets, Rewind mixed up tunes from Poison, Finger Eleven, Lit, Bryan Adams, Pat Benatar, Luke Bryan, Bowling for Soup, Good Charlotte, Sponge, Van Halen, Theory Of A Deadman and more. They kept the momentum going, and attracted more cheers as their performance progressed. U2 By UV soon took the stage, and proceeded to open eyes and ears with their stunning depiction of U2, as they played hits and deep cuts from the U2 catalog, with special emphasis on The Joshua Tree album. Singer Michael Schmidt delivered a convincing voice as ‘Bono,’ and offered personality and charisma to match. The group’s ‘Edge,’ Eddie Steklasa, captured the various tones and nuances of The Edge’s guitar sound, and bassist Keith Howard and drummer Jeff Clemens were tight and convincing in the Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. roles respectively. This group was invested in their U2 catalog, and did exceptional work on U2 canons such as “I Will Follow,” “Beautiful Day,” “Mysterious Ways,” “Vertigo,” “Pride (in the Name of Love),” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Bullet the Blue Sky” and more. They closed their first of two sets with a Joshua Tree mini-set that included “Red Hill Mining Town,” “With or Without You” and “One Tree Hill.” Another highlight was “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” where Michael used his own version of the Bono ‘rant’ to honor veterans and military personnel, and encourage the audience to pressure lawmakers to work harder for legislation to support veterans and their families. In lieu of an encore, U2 By UV thanked the audience before doing their final two songs, “Until the End of the World” and “One Love.” The Alive @ 5 Concert Series concludes Aug. 4 with Styx tribute Rockin’ the Paradise and Teazed.

              Space limitations prohibit me from going into detail, but other shows I saw in recent weeks included…D.D. & the Pub Crawlers’ fun performance last month at Altoona’s Valley View AmphitheaterDenny Pompa and the Jess Zimmerman Band at the second annual Northern Cambria Heritage Festival in downtown Northern Cambria…Singers/songwriters Dylan Miller and New Jersey’s Wyl White at the annual Showing For Victory, Pulling For Kids benefit at the Huntingdon County Fairgrounds…Singer/songwriter Josh Starrett at Mr. Toad’s in Greensburg…Performances by Montreal, Canada’s Era 9, Doctor Smoke, Pittsburgh’s Defy The Tide, Nobody’s Heroes, Lose The Name, The Snipped, X’s For Eyes and Klockwick at McGarvey’s…And Felix & the Hurricanes’ Sunday shows at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern.

News and notesJefferson Starship, Sugar Ray, The Clarks, John McEuen & Friends and Igor & the Red Elvises are among the performers at this year’s AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, happening Aug. 4-5 at People’s Natural Gas Park in Johnstown…Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band, Mama Corn, Frackwater Jack and Biscuit Jam will be among the performers at the 34th annual Bellefonte Arts & Crafts Fair, happening Aug. 11-12 at Bellefonte’s Talleyrand ParkAltitude Entertainment will present “Remember When Rock Was Young: The Elton John Tribute” at Altoona’s historic Mishler Theatre on Aug. 18, featuring Broadway veteran Craig A. Meyer as “Almost Elton John” and performing many of the legend’s hit songs…Cottonmouth and Phil McCaulley will perform at La Ferme Rouge near Patton during the after-party of Brian Gates’ fifth annual Bri’s Rock N Ride, a fundraiser for Autism Solutions, on Aug. 20…The annual Route 22 Rock’n’Blues Festival happens Aug. 18-20 at Lincoln Caverns Amphitheater near Huntingdon, featuring 16 local and regional bands…Members of The Betty Ford All Stars, 44 Mag, Prairie Dogma, Veer and C4 will be among numerous performers at “Rock-n-Roll Away Heroin” at the Skybox Sports Bar & Grill in Montoursville Aug. 19, with proceeds helping out Project Bald Eagle, a coalition working to battle the opioid/heroin epidemic…The Crew Of The Half Moon and D.D. & the Pub Crawlers will entertain craft brew connoisseurs during the annual Rails & Ales fundraiser for Altoona Community Theater on Aug. 26 at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum…New area country band RailTowne, featuring former members of the Adam Ernst Band, Bad Daze and Hello, Vixen, debuts Aug. 19 at Davey’s Lounge in Hastings as part of a benefit show to help out cancer patient Steve Price…Drummer Richie Servello has parted ways with Blossom HollowChris Rattie has named Jeff Downing as the new bass playr of his group The New Rebels…And Aaron Gindlesperger takes over bass duties in the group Down to the Wire, replacing Bob Seiler.

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!  

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – July 2017

By Jim Price

              I never like to start an article on a bummer note, but now that we have passed Summer Solstice, daylight will now start to get shorter in the northern hemisphere – all the more reason to get outside and enjoy warm weather live music and soak in that daylight while it lasts!

              I’ve been doing a lot of that lately…Bluegrass music and the wilderness of the PA Wilds again drew me to last month’s 14th annual Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival, which took place at Quiet Oaks Campground near Cross Fork (north of Renovo), and raised money for the Lupus Foundation of PA. Spanning four days, Smoked Country Jam (SCJ) again presented a wide expanse of bluegrass, folk and Americana musical flavors from more than 20 performing acts on two stages, spanning traditional-leaning groups to inventive performers who stretched genre parameters. One example of the latter category was Boston-based OctoPladd. Featuring four students from Berklee College of Music, OctoPladd roots their sound in traditional string music, but incorporates detailed jazz-styled improvisation and musicality to lift it to a fresh new level. Guitarist/singer Sam Leslie, upright bassist Noah Harrington, violinist Julian Pinelli and mandolinist Ethan Setiewan mixed quirky original compositions with renditions of numbers from Leadbelly, David Grisman, Levon Helm, Townes Van Zandt and more. Also offering a different slant on folk and bluegrass was North Carolina quintet The Midatlantic, who also used acoustic roots music as a launching pad into rock, jazz and even worldbeat flavors, utilizing a variety of instrumentation. Appearing in previous years as a member of Virginia’s Drymill Road, banjoist Robert Mabe brought his self-named group to this year’s SCJ, and introduced a bluegrass-rooted sound laced with intriguing tempo and chord shifts on a mixture of original songs and select covers. Robert’s fiddle player, Patrick McAvinue, also performed as a member of Baltimore’s Charm City Junction, who merged bluegrass music with Irish folk and other flavors. And for just two members strong, Virginia’s Herb & HansonHerb Manila and Michael Hanson – delivered a vibrant, full-band sound as they mixed bluegrass, newgrass, folk, blues and rock flavors.

              Various SCJ performers offered their own distinctive angles on traditional-flavored bluegrass and folk as well. Perennial Saturday festival headliners The Hillbilly Gypsies again dazzled audiences with their fast-firing style of traditional bluegrass and string music. This group has a new look; recently joining founding couple Trae and Jamie Lynn Buckner are fiddler Ben Townsend, banjo player/guitarist Levi Houston Sanders and upright bass player Ryan Cramer. One of the clear highlights of this year’s SCJ was seeing Jamie Lynn back in action and singing, following her battle with breast cancer earlier this year – she sank full heart and soul into every note she sang! And the festival closed with the Hillbilly Gypsies’ finale, as they welcomed multiple guest musicians on stage to bring the event to its jubilant finish. Also showing a more traditional flavor were Florida-based solo performer Mean Mary (Mary James), who demonstrated a hearty voice and fast flair on fiddle and banjo as she offered a southern-tinged variety of bluegrass, folk and blues originals. Their name inspired by the Beatles, Boston’s Lonely Heartstring Band offered melodic bluegrass and folk, displaying colorful vocal harmonies on originals and select cover material from Bob Dylan, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and a bluegrass edition of the Beatles’ “Something.” North Carolina’s Town Mountain demonstrated hard-driving string music, blending their bluegrass with a honky-tonk edge. And although I missed their sets, New York’s Bug Tussle also brought a traditional flavor to SCJ.

              Pennsylvania was well represented at this year’s Smoked Country Jam, with 11 PA-bred groups and performers taking the stage. Although now Nashville-based, Huntingdon County native Doug Forshey showcased his catalog of original folk compositions as well as songs from his new CD collaboration with Chris Strait, called Tied to the Tracks. Chris and his band, The Crooked Line, joined Doug onstage during his set, and also performed their own sets at SCJ. Chris on guitar and vocals, Steve Buckalew on vocals and violin, “Banjo Bob” Baronner, mandolinist Kevin Briggs and bassist Steve Belcher performed bluegrass/folk-rooted numbers from their just-issued CD, Far From Perfect. Pittsburgh’s Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers demonstrated their fast and fiery brand of folk and bluegrass, showcasing songs from both their new studio album White Lightning Road and their live album Sleepy Creek Harfest. Altoona’s Mama Corn introduced string music from their newest album, Live and Learn, along with older originals and grassed-up takes on numbers from CSNY, Manfred Mann and more. Another festival favorite, Harrisburg’s Colebrook Road honored traditional bluegrass flavors as they did original songs and select covers, and welcomed several guests on stage along the way. Centre region favorites Grain mixed bluegrass and roots music with their blend of original songs and spins on numbers from Tom Petty, John Hartford, Chris Isaak and more. Formed last year, Jersey Shore’s Bronze Alley Boxer made their SCJ debut; singer/guitarist Dan Murray, mandolin/fiddle player Watson Thompson, guitar/mandolin/banjo player Ben Griswold and upright bass player Derrick Cunningham blended original songs with folk, bluegrass and blues classics from John Prine, the Stanley Brothers, Bob Dylan, Whiskeytown and more. Another Berklee College of Music student, Clearfield County’s Megan McGarry, demonstrated a clear, vibrant voice and talent on fiddle and banjo as she performed original compositions, accompanied by her father Chris on guitar. And although I didn’t get to witness their full performances, Chambersburg’s Mountain Ride, Danville’s Strawberry Ridge and Lock Haven’s Lockport Drifters also represented the Keystone State at this year’s Smoked Country Jam.

              And Pennsylvania’s heritage was represented at SCJ again via the annual Pennsylvania Heritage Songwriting Contest, as this year’s three winners were honored. Third-place winner Doug Forshey performed his song about Mount Union’s 1,000 Steps landmark, “Ledges Quarry Blues,” and first-place winner Chris LaRose of Lock Haven played his winning entry, “Pepper Hill.” Although not present to perform it live, the Hanover-based duo of Mike Blottenberger and Robert Shuey captured second place with their song, “Kissing Bridges.”

              I attended other outdoor events as well…One of the towns nationwide that lays claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day, Boalsburg again marked the holiday with a variety of activities, including live music and the day-ending Memorial Day Service at Boalsburg Cemetery. I saw several performers on the downtown Diamond stage, arriving for the last few songs of Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats’ set. Singer “Miss Melanie” Morrison Zeigler’s voice was in excellent form as she sank total heart and joy into renditions of Cyrill Neville’s “Brother John” and – in salute to the nation’s fallen servicemen – a beautifully reverent read of “Amazing Grace.” Next was some 1950s-era a cappella doo wop courtesy of State College’s Rama-Lama. Five members strong, Rama-Lama blended voices, harmonies and steady timing as they sang early rock and pop hits such as The Monotones’ “The Book of Love,” the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” Danny & the Juniors’ “At the Hop,” Thurston Harris’ “Little Bitty Pretty One,” The Penguins’ “Earth Angel” and more. And Urban Fusion closed out the afternoon with their upbeat mixture of jazz, funk and R&B sounds. Founding member, singer and drummer Andrew Jackson led the group – this day, Eli Byrne on sax and flute, guitarist Jeff Gibble, bassist Rob Gardner, keyboardist Chip Lovette and violinist Carl Ector – on several instrumental fusion jams, along with fresh renditions of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” a Latin-edged spin on George Gershwin’s “Summertime” and more.

              Summerhill borough in Cambria County celebrated its 125th anniversary last month with a gala weekend featuring plenty of live music. I caught the Saturday entertainment, starting with Johnstown’s KB & the Crew. KBKenny Biter – sings and plays guitar, with Dave Knobloch on bass and Stan Korus on drums. They mixed up a variety of classic and new country, plus some rock’n’roll favorites thrown in. They prompted some dancing from young and older folks alike as they did tunes from Johnny Cash, Jamey Johnson, David Allan Coe, George Jones, Charlie Daniels, CCR and more. I then caught my first look at the sisterly duo of Jill & Leah Gontkovic, who entertained an outdoor wine-tasting party at the Summerhill Firehall. Leah plays acoustic guitar; both sisters sing. They displayed great voices and harmonies on a wide variety of song material from such artists as Tom Petty, Stevie Nicks, Bill Withers, Johnny Cash, Miranda Lambert, Walk The Moon, Guns N’Roses, Dixie Chicks and more. It wouldn’t be my last time seeing Jill and Leah this day, as both sang during Shades Of June’s nightcap – joining singer/guitarist Ryan Krinjeck, bassist Chris Myer and drummer Jesse August on their uptempo mixture of rock and pop favorites. Shades Of June successfully fired up a robust parking lot dance party to cap the day.

              The Clarks headlined the kickoff of the Alive @ 5 Summer Concert Series at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum last month. Opening the night was the much-anticipated debut performance of Ten High Five. Comprised of former country favorites the Beer Kegs minus Pistol Peg, Ten High Five – singer/guitarist Mark Simanski, lead guitarist/singer Joe Scott, guitarist Brandon Kane, bassist Brad Davis and drummer Steve Holtz – tapped the Beer Keg arsenal of country favorites from Dierks Bentley, John Mellencamp, Eric Church, Pure Prairie League, Chris Stapleton, Eagles, John Michael Montgomery, Randy Houser and more, plus mixed classic rock gems in as well. They provided a few surprises, such as a ska-tinged take on Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You,” a percussion-powered edition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” and Mark going full-tilt Robert Plant on the set-ending version of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Marking 30 years together as a band (with the same original four members), The Clarks are still having fun firing up their signature brand of original rock. Opening with “Snowman,” singer/guitarist Scott Blasey, guitarist/singer Rob James, bassist/singer Greg Joseph and drummer Dave Minarik – joined by keyboard man Skip Sanders, steel player Gary Jacob, and at times by Dave’s son, Noah on guitar – performed plentiful Clarks favorites and mixed some new tunes in along the way. The crowd cheered to Clarks canons like “Born Too Late,” “Mercury,” “Maybe,” “Map to the Stars,” “On Saturday,” “Trampoline” and more. They introduced new songs such as “She’s On Fire” and “What Do You Do.” Highlights included Scott and Rob joking about that ‘girl from IUP’ (Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where the group first formed) who inspired their acoustic favorite “Penny on the Floor,” and the set-closing rendition of “Cigarette,” where Scott launched into a Bob Dylan “Rainy Day Women” midsection and Rob teased a Rush “Working Man” riff at the end. When the crowd demanded more, The Clarks returned to do three more – the ballad “Irene,” “Shimmy Low” and “Better Off Without You” to slam the lid on the night.

              With construction work on its amphitheater recently completed, Everett’s Tenley Park hosted last month’s annual Great Eastern Arts & Music Festival, which provided a day of arts, vendors, food, refreshments and live music. I arrived just before the Coal Mountain Ramblers took the stage. With members from Bedford County and Baltimore, the Ramblers mixed improvisational acoustic folk and bluegrass sounds with jam band furvor, turning most of their songs into freewheeling excursions with instrumental duels and more. Singer/guitarists Andrew Luttrell and Mark Calhoun, percussionist/singer Tim Custer, Jr. and fiddle/banjo player Kevin Kutz welcomed festival emcee/organizer Matt Otis on stage late in their set to have fun with a ‘mash-up’ of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” into the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower” into the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” Local high school musical talent next took the spotlight with single-song performances by Shelby Schleinkofer and Morgan Eisenhart, with Nathaniel Maxwell providing keyboard accompaniment. Celebrating the release of their brand new CD So It Goes…, Matt Otis & the Sound next played an exciting set that mixed songs from the new album with Matt’s other original tunes and select cover songs. Matt on vocals and guitar, Kent Tonkin on bass and Charlie McClanahan on drums were joined by guest backing singer Alyssa Smith. After opening with the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” the group did songs from the new CD such as “Blinds,” “Melancholia” and more. They also did other Matt originals such as “Karma,” “Make” and “The Most Important Thing.” The group welcomed several guests along the way, including Morgan Eisenhart on backing vocals, Jim Eisenhart on drums and Nathaniel Maxwell on keys. Mixing Numbers With Sounds wrapped up the festival with their hearty and funky grooves. This festival had special meaning for them, as the band members grew up just a short distance from Tenley Park, and they appreciated the improvements to the park and that this event enabled them to celebrate their hometown and give back to the fans that have supported them. After kicking off with Santana’s “Everybody’s Everything” and continuing with a Lipps Inc. “Funkytown”-rooted jam excursion, guitarist/singer Tanner Means, bassist/singer Emmanuel “Man E Funk” Wright, keyboardist Evan Neva and drummer Anthony Diflavis engaged in feverish, heated funky jams with caution-to-the-wind improvisation and intense playing. Mixing Numbers With Sounds gave all on the stage, and it was clear that all four of these musicians were totally invested!

              And summer concert season is under way at the historic Roxbury Bandshell in Johnstown. The opportunity to perform in the Bandshell last month with my Backyard Rockers bandmates also enabled me to see Somerset acoustic trio Red Paint. Singing and playing multiple instruments, J.D. and Cindy Ross plus percussionist/bassist Mike Kinsella generated a vibrant folk-rock sound as they did a variety of covers and original songs. Both J.D. and Cindy displayed stellar voices with great range and clarity as they swapped acoustic guitar and bass. Cindy also played mandolin and ukulele, and based on his past as frontman for Nixon Pit Crew, I was hoping to see J.D. break out the flute – he did, flavoring the group’s take on Stevie Nicks & Don Henley’s “Leather and Lace,” before launching on a feisty flute solo display that teetered on the brink of going full Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull. I also enjoyed Red Paint’s creative spins on Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” the ‘dreamy’ double-shot of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” into Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” and the uplifting set-closing rendition of the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Red Paint also did “Abbasong,” the ‘title’ track off their recently-issued Abigail EP.

              Indoors, Altoona’s Blair County Convention Center hosted the Legends Of Rock concert during Memorial Day weekend, featuring three former singers for legendary rock bands. Former Foreigner singer Lou Gramm and his band headlined the concert, with former Kansas singer John Elefante and former Journey singer Kevin Chalfant opening; Hybrid Ice served as their backing band. Before a large audience, Hybrid Ice – keyboardist/singer Bob Richardson, singers/guitarists Chris Alburger and Rusty Foulke, bassist Jason Shaffer and drummer Rick Klinger – started with two of their own numbers, “On We Go” and their classic “Magdelene.” Kevin then joined the group to sing several Journey classics – “Separate Ways,” “Only the Young,” “Stone in Love” and “Any Way You Want It.” Kevin then introduced John, who sang “Point of Know Return” and Kansas’ biggest chart hit with him as frontman, “Fight Fire with Fire.” The two singers continued to alternate back and forth with classics from their respective former bands; Kevin sang Journey’s “Be Good to Yourself,” “Lights” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” while John sang “Hold On” and “Dust in the Wind.” For the set finale, both singers joined forces to front on Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son.” After the intermission, Lou Gramm appeared with his touring band – guitarist Michael Staertow, rhythm guitarist/saxophonist Scott Gilman, bassist A.D. Zimmer, keyboardist Jeff Jacobs and drummer Rob Mount. Opening with “Long, Long Way from Home,” Lou and his band performed many of the essential Foreigner hits – “Feels Like the First Time,” “Blue Morning, Blue Day,” “Cold As Ice,” “That Was Yesterday,” “Head Games,” “Dirty White Boy,” Lou’s 1987 solo hit “Midnight Blue,” “Double Vision” and “Juke Box Hero.” He dedicated the hit “I Want to Know What Love Is” to a couple in the audience who was celebrating an anniversary, and Scott took the spotlight with his fiery sax soloing on “Urgent.” When the audience demanded an encore, the band returned to fire off Free’s “All Right Now” as a prelude, leading into Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” to end the night.

              Los Lobos was among several marquee acts to visit State College’s State Theatre last month. Opening the night, The Stratoblasters lit up the room with a dazzling display of Texas blues-rock firepower. This night featuring renowned Texas guitarist Jimmy Wallace, Jerry Don Branch on guitar and lead vocals, bassist Mike Holmes and drummer Mike Gage; The Stratoblasters came on strong from the get-go with a spirited set, mixing original songs with blues and blues-rock standards. Opening with Freddie King’s “Living in the Palace of the King,” The Stratoblasters showcased scorching guitars and fiery vocals, lifting each number to an intense high. Highlights were numerous, including a feisty rendition of T-Bone Walker’s “T-Bone Shuffle,” and a rendition of Storyville’s “Good Day for the Blues” that escalated into a powerful edition of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” Performing electric this night, Los Lobos followed with their performance. For those who only know the group from their chart-topping 1987 remake of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” Los Lobos provided a comprehensive display of their wide-ranging musical scape; mixing elements of rock, blues, folk, country, Tex-Mex, Latin and other flavors. Singer/guitarist Cesar Rosas, guitarist/accordionist/singer David Hidalgo, sax player/keyboardist Steve Berlin, bassist Conrad Lozano, guitarist Louis Perez and drummer Enrique Gonzalez mixed multi-flavored songs from throughout their career. They did several songs from their latest studio album, Gates Of Gold, including the title track and “Made to Break Your Heart,” and also performed numbers such as “Wicked Rain” and “Kiko and the Lavender Moon.” They also broke out their own distinctive renditions of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and Johnny Thunders’ “Alone in the Crowd.” When the State Theatre audience demanded an encore, Los Lobos returned with a Latin-flavored number and a drum solo from Enrique, which led into the night-ending hit – “La Bamba,” which incorporated a Rascals “Good Lovin’” midsection.

              Southern Culture On The Skids (SCOTS) last month returned to western PA for the third time in the past 13 months, this time performing at Pittsburgh’s Rex Theater. After Cleveland-based country-punkabilly artists the Whiskey Daredevils opened the night, SCOTS quickly set up gear and the party was on! Starting with their stormy surf-rock instrumental salute to Link Wray, “Skullbucket,” the group launched their fun show of southern-themed surf rock, rockabilly and country-flavored fare, with their trademark brand of humor thrown in. Singer/guitarist Rick Miller, singer/bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman mixed established song favorites with new tunes from their recently-issued album The Electric Pinecones. They instantly had the crowd dancing and grooving as they did favorites such as “Voodoo Cadillac,” “Liquored Up and Lacquered Down,” “Mojo Box,” “House Of Bamboo,” “Too Much Pork for Just One Fork,” “Banana Pudding,” “Dirt Track Date” and many more.  Along the way, the group did tunes off the new album such as “Dirt Road,” “Freak Flag,” “Waiting On You” and “Gray Skies.” SCOTS brought audience members onstage to demonstrate their moves on the hit “Camel Walk,” before serving fried chicken to the audience during “8 Piece Box.” When the crowd called for more, SCOTS answered with three more songs: “Daddy Was a Preacher But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl,” “Cheap Motels” and the stormy surf rock finisher “Greenback Fly.”

Baltimore’s Silvertung rocked the stage of The After Dark in Clearfield in late May. Altoona metal rockers Fyre began the night with a strong set, performing numbers off their recently-completed debut recording. Silvertung then brought their full fury and intensity for the entire set, making it count for the folks in attendance. Lead singer/guitarist Speed, lead guitarist Codey Red, bassist Scoot and drummer Danno fired off multiple original tunes, and mixed in covers from some of the bands they have shared stages with; including Rob Zombie, Drowning Pool, Disturbed, Godsmack, Three Days Grace, Theory Of a Deadman and Limp Bizkit. From their own arsenal of songs, Silvertung did popular radio tracks like “Never Too Late,” “Coming Alive,” “Deja Vu,” “The Pawn” and more. Speed established a quick rapport with the fans and never let up, keeping these folks involved with the show. Silvertung even took the show to one table of ladies who wouldn’t get up from their table, prying “Go away!” choruses from them during a version of Godsmack’s “Whatever.” And with Chris Cornell passing just days before, Silvertung saluted him with an “Outshined” jam toward night’s end.

Lancaster hard rockers Time Bomb visited The Arena in State College during Memorial Day weekend. Guitarist Brian Gates was in the group’s earliest edition in the late 1980s, before they disbanded in 1990 and reformed in 2000. Joining Brian in Time Bomb’s current edition is singer Tas Journey, bassist Todd Williams and drummer Louis Vera. Time Bomb detonated with a rocking party this night, keeping the dance floor active with tunes from Van Halen, Autograph, Prince, Bulletboys, Billy Idol, Kiss, Guns N’Roses and more. Time Bomb delivered nonstop energy and enthusiasm, and kept the Arena audience happy. Time Bomb is working on expanding their range across the state – watch for and give this band a look!

So many shows, but limited space – Other groups I saw in action recently included Phobos Anomaly at Zeno’s in State College, rebooting their brand of alternative and progressive-geared rock sounds after a few years away; they released their first self-titled CD late last month…Johnstown bluesmen Black Cat Moan making their first Altoona appearance at McGarvey’s, one of their first shows with recently-added drummer Rob BonsellFelix & the Hurricanes as they rang in Memorial Day at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern, with lead Hurricane Felix Kos’ son, Forrest, sitting in behind the drum kit for a few tunes…Van Waylon’s display of southern and classic rock at Rocky’s Tavern in Johnstown, highlighted by some extended Led Zeppelin fireworks during their last set…The Giants Of Science conducting more musical lab experiments at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge…Former area Elvis impersonator Phil McCaulley’s first full-band endeavor, The McCaulley Project, at Altoona’s Family Pizza & Pub (and yes, Phil was asked to do an Elvis number, responding with “Suspicious Minds” during the encore)…And 100 Proof delivering boot-scootin’ country, rock and boogie at Chewy’s Pizza in Altoona. More on all these bands in upcoming columns!

News and notes…Rising country star Adley Stump will be one of the featured performers during the July 4 Central PA 4th Fest near Penn State’s Beaver Stadium; other performers preceding the huge fireworks display this year include Philadelphia-based Tom Petty tribute act The Big Jangle, ESP, Rama Lama, Joe Quick, Polkadelphia, Velveeta, Tommy Wareham, Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band and more…The 51st annual Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts takes place in downtown State College July 13-16; performers this year include Nora Jane Struthers & the Party Line, Bovine Social Club, JD Eicher & the Goodnights, Billy Price Band, Bushmaster, Mama Corn, Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s, Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats, Pure Cane Sugar, My Hero Zero, the Earthtones and many more…During that same weekend, the 25th annual People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts happens at the Pennsylvania Military Museum in Boalsburg; performers this year include The Original Drifters, O’Neil Peart & the Nomaddz Band, Chris Rattie, Raven and the Wren, The Crooked Line, Black Horse Motel, Jackie Brown & the Gill Street Band and much more…Vets Jam takes place July 22 at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg, with money being collected by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Blair County Chapter 967 to help local veterans of all wars; performing will be Running Creek, Flight 19, Skye 2.0 and X’s For Eyes…The annual Remington Ryde Bluegrass Festival happens July 5-9 at Grange Park in Centre Hall, and will feature some of the top names on the bluegrass circuit, including headliner Rhonda Vincent, Flatt Lonesome, Danny Paisley, Ralph Stanley II, the Hillbilly Gypsies, host band Remington Ryde and more… Drummer Adam Rider has stepped away from State College area party rockers TV BlondeIt Is Written have completed work on their new studio CD, which will be released soon…We extend special get well wishes to area musician and sound engineer Alan “Delbert” McConnell, who is battling lung, thyroid and kidney cancer; a special benefit night to support and help Alan with medical expenses took place last month at the Park Avenue Pub in Patton.

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!    

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – June 2017

By Jim Price

The story began in the summer of 1986, when a young radio announcer and aspiring writer was drafted into managing and handling promotions for an Altoona area hair band. In his quest to find gigs and spread word about the band, the new manager took note of a magazine that started showing up on local record store shelves called Pennsylvania Musician. He started advertising the band’s schedule in the magazine. As time progressed, he noticed that while PA Musician had columns for other towns across the state, there was no such column for his hometown Altoona music scene. On a whim, he called and inquired with the magazine’s editor about starting an Altoona column, but she replied that the magazine was not seeking new writers at the time. Undaunted, the hopeful writer decided to send a sample column to the magazine anyway. It would cost all of five sheets of typewriter paper (this was in the age before the internet and email), a large envelope, a few postage stamps and a few hours to type the column. What was the worst that could happen? It might end up in the round file. Or…it might get published.

The “Altoona” column made its PA Musician debut in June, 1987. This month, I mark my 30th anniversary of writing for PA Musician Magazine!

I never could have imagined that I would be writing for this magazine 30 years! PA Musician has been a game-changer in my world, and has become a central thread in my life and career. It cemented music and writing as centerpieces of my existence. I have met countless friends over the years through my work with PA Musician. This magazine helped me build my radio career, and I landed several jobs – including my current college teaching position at Penn State Altoona – through people I met through my work with PA Musician. I became a fan of a broad spectrum of music through my coverage of events for this magazine. I even became a working musician myself! As I reflect over the past 30 years, I think of numerous adventures while covering shows, doing monthly deliveries and more. And as last month marked the 20th anniversary of the passing of my mother, I think of how I used to take her along on some of my delivery trips, hitting five-and-dime stores and eateries as we delivered magazines to small towns throughout Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Centre, Clearfield and Huntingdon Counties. It has been an incredible ride! Big thanks to Whitey and Robin Noll for letting me hop on board for this sojourn 30 years ago! Thanks to all the area bands and musicians for inspiring me to do what I do each month, and to all of the readers and members of the music community for your support throughout this journey!

Many things have come and gone during the past 30 years, while a few things have endured over that span. One of the latter has been the annual Blair County Arts Festival, which celebrated 50 years last month at Penn State Altoona. I attended both days this year; arriving during Saturday’s half as Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band performed at the Food Court Stage. The group performed as a four-piece this day, with namesake/singer Chris handling keyboard duties alongside new guitarist Brian Pavlic, bassist Bill Smith and drummer/singer Randy Servello. After opening with their distinctive take on Prince’s “Kiss,” the group performed original grooves with the emphasis on their latest CD, Trinkets &Time Travelers. I next headed to the Misciagna Portico Stage to catch a succession of acoustic-geared performances, starting with traveling trio The Coteries. Originally from New Jersey but now calling Colorado their home base, The Coteries – singer/harmonica player Emily Parasiliti, guitarist/mandolin player Matt Runciman and guitarist/mandolin player/percussionist Ben Brosh – shined with a spirited blend of acoustic original songs, folk and some classic rock tunes, mixing their music with an upbeat personality and sense of humor. Some of their original songs included “Run, Run Elmira,” “I’m Travelin’ On” and a new tune, “Time to Run”; they also covered numbers from Marshall Tucker Band, Tom Waits and the Irish folk tune “Galway Bay.” Next was Dan Hulse with guest Ben helping on bass. Dan picked banjo and did an interesting assortment of original tunes, classic folk and bluegrass, and tunes from Pennsylvania history. After breaking the ice with the audience with his improvised singalong “Blair Art Show” to open the set, Dan sang tunes about the Allegheny Portage Railroad, western PA frontiersman Sam Brady, Revolutionary War-era protest songs and more. Following Dan was Arts Festival frequent flyer Jay Smar, who demonstrated his skills on guitar, banjo and fiddle as he mixed original folk tunes and select folk and bluegrass favorites. He showed fingerpicking ability on his instrumental read of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” to open the set. Jay also performed several numbers he wrote about eastern PA coal mining history, including “Rise and Fall of the Molly Maguires,” “30-Inch Coal” and more. Jay also shared some history and insight with his tunes as well, and dedicated the song “Good Man” in memory of another Arts Festival frequent flyer, singer/songwriter Jerry Haines, who passed away in January. I caught the last few songs from Walkney, the creative vehicle for singer/songwriter/guitarist Derek Mrdjenovich. Derek performed a set of alternative-geared original songs, both with full band and solo acoustic.

I returned for Sunday’s half of the Arts Festival, arriving in time to witness Mama Corn serve up their brand of bluegrass and folk sounds at the Food Court Stage. Singer/guitarist Bruce Forr, singer/banjoist Jeremy Nelson, singer/upright bass player Bryan Homan and singer/dobro/harmonica man John Stevens mixed original songs with select covers from Flatt & Scruggs, Si Kahn and more. I then headed to the Misciagna Portico Stage, where I observed perhaps the liveliest dancing of Arts Festival weekend, courtesy of Camara Drum & Dance. A Guinea, West Africa native now based in Pittsburgh, group leader Yamoussa Camara sang and played djembe this day, joined by Tasana Camara on balafon (a wooden xylophone-styled instrument), Mito Camara on djun-djun (West African bass drum), and Paul Turner and Dolores Heagy on djembes. Dressed in authentic costumes, the group performed a variety of West African songs and dances. Their presentation had a continuous joyful vibe, and Yamoussa encouraged audience participation. During the set’s homestretch, he drafted a group of young passers-by to dance along, triggering a lively audience dance party to end their performance. Camara Drum & Dance will host the a free West African Drum Circle at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza every Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. throughout the summer. I then returned to the Food Court Stage to see Felix & the Hurricanes as they mixed original songs and classic/southern rock favorites. Although closing in on the 30-year milestone themselves, the Hurricanes are still being discovered by new fans; it was fun to hear reactions from first-time observers this day! 

Another recent outdoor highlight was the “Ivyside Off the Rails” concert in late April at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum. Organized by Penn State Altoona students, this show featured two headliners picked by the student body via a survey conducted earlier in the school year. The two acts selected were Khalid, a modern pop/R&B artist who scored a Top 20 hit single last year with his song “Location,” and The Strumbellas, a rising Canadian alt-country/indie folk rock group. I arrived in time to see the last few songs from an opening artist, New Orleans-based artist Arthur Baxter, who has been supporting Khalid on tour. Performing along with digital backing tracks, Arthur blended pop, R&B and hip-hop into his own performance style, and displayed a good singing voice and pleasant personality. Accompanied by a lead guitarist, drummer and keyboard/sample performer, Khalid then took the stage, opening with the song “Let’s Go.” Khalid’s style is modern-day R&B, but he gives it his own distinctive flavor and personality. He was a confident performer who instantly owned the crowd, singing catchy songs from his debut album, American Teen, largely about being a teen and the adventures of growing up. Some of his songs included the album title track “American Teen,” “Another Sad Love Song,” “Shot Down,” “Young, Dumb and Broke” and “8Teen.” Khalid’s band was strong, and during “Saved” and his hit “Location,” the guitar player cut loose with some impressive shredding solo work. After the intermission, The Strumbellas took the stage, presenting a musical flavor totally different from the two artists before them. From Ontario, The Strumbellas – singer/guitarist Simon Ward, keyboardist/singer David Ritter, lead guitarist Jon Hembrey, violinist Isabel Ritchie, bassist Darryl James and drummer Jeremy Drury – mixed alt-country, folk, roots rock, rockabilly and pop flavors into a high-energy, tasty mixture all their own. The group opened with their song “Wars,” and continued with their popular song “Spirits” (which they performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last year). Shortly into their set, Simon greeted the crowd and acknowledged the uniqueness of performing at a railroad museum, prompting David to fire off a succession of train-related puns throughout the set. The Strumbellas generated a pleasant, upbeat vibe as they performed original songs such as the rockabilly-driven “Rhinestone,” “The Long Road,” “Sheriff,” “The Fire,” “Lakes” and more. The energy level between band and crowd escalated as the show proceeded; at one point, students and band engaged each other with the enthusiastic “We Are! Penn State!” back-and-forth chant. The weather was great and the mood was festive, with a multitude of students laughing, making huge bubbles with large bubble wands, creating art and painting a large graffiti wall tapestry on the side of the rail yard, enjoying food and refreshments, and celebrating the live music they helped to pick for this night.

Craft beer enthusiasts and live music fans converged on Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field early last month for the tenth annual Pints for Pets Brewfest fundraiser for the Central PA Humane Society. Cold, damp weather did not thwart the fun as The Chrome Hearts and Born & the Beanstalk provided the music during the first session, while Nobody’s Heroes and Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band entertained during the nightcap session. Opening the music, The Chrome Hearts blended original songs with rock, pop and country favorites. Singer Stephanie Onkst has emerged into a poised, confident and energetic performer, displaying spunk as she sang tunes from Miranda Lambert, LeAnn Rimes and more. Guitarist Bob Onkst also sounded strong as he belted out tunes from Bruce Springsteen, Eagles and more. Chad Buterbaugh showed some dazzling guitar solo work, while bassist Brian Baum and drummer Doug Fetter anchored with strong, driving rhythms. Born & the Beanstalk followed with their fast-firing blend of acoustic favorites. Singers/guitarists Sean Osborn and Ben Bower plus percussionist/singer Ed Hofer sparked cheers as they did numbers from Black Keys, Lumineers, Foo Fighters, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and others. Preceding both public sessions, the duo of Lauren Johnson and Joe George entertained at special VIP sessions in the stadium’s upper concourse. Lauren did most of the singing as Joe played guitar; both did nice work on classic and modern rock, pop and country favorites spanning Adele and Elle King to Fleetwood Mac, Melissa Etheridge, Journey, 4 Non Blondes, Janis Joplin and more. Pleasant surprises included a version of the Roberta Flack/Fugees hit “Killing Me Softly With His Song” and the Guess Who’s “These Eyes.” Nobody’s Heroes launched the evening session’s music with their raucous mixture of original punk-inspired acoustic Americana and select covers. They performed numerous songs from their One Foot on the Gas, the Other in the Grave CD, plus versions of The Coasters’ “Yakety Yak,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Hank Williams’ “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” and more. And the five-member edition of Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band – with Nathan Beatty on keys and trumpet, and namesake Chris on acoustic guitar and vocals – finished out Pints for Pets with their mix of funk-laced grooves. Highlights included Nate’s feisty trumpet solo on the group’s original “Tupelo Tree,” as well as a new reworking of one of their early songs, “False Flags.” Although the weather wasn’t the best, this year’s Pints for Pets was another big success.

The Altoona In Bloom Street Fair debuted last month at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza, and featured activities, businesses and vendors, food and refreshments, and live music. Among the musical entertainment was Free Donuts. While they did not bring free donuts, the Bedford-based duo of singer/guitarist Kenny Fetterman and singer Michal Wiles did bring free acoustic sounds and sunshine to push out cloudy skies through most of the day. Kenny and Michal performed a wide variety of pop, country and rock standards, spanning Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “Jackson” to Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee, to the pairing of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons” into the Ray Charles hit “Hit the Road Jack.” Other performers during this inaugural event included Deuces Wild, Asbury Lane, the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective, Lauren & Joe and Questionable Methods.

Performance duties with my two bands, the Backyard Rockers and Running Creek, limited the amount of entertainment I could take in during this year’s Huntingdon Mayfest in late April, but I was able to see some music in between and following gigs. Mayfest favorites Dan & Galla again sparked smiles with their variety show as they mixed rock’n’roll, pop hits and standards, and provided fun activities for youngsters. And I got to see Hawestone as they performed country original tunes and favorites in front of the Clifton 5 Movie Theater in downtown Huntingdon. Singer/guitarist Ken Gray Jr.’s voice was in great form, and he engaged passers-by, audience members and dancing children with a happy, up-front presence. Lead guitarist Eric Smith, bassist Dick Shoemaker and drummer Tim Guthridge provided the tight backdrops behind him. Hawestone’s original songs impressed me – tunes like “Had You For a Day” and “White Knuckle Ride” featured powerful hooks and melodies, and blended perfectly with the group’s cover material, which included hits from Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Zac Brown Band, Johnny Cash, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dustin Lynch and more.

Indoors, the ukulele again took the spotlight during the fourth annual Allegheny Ukulele Soiree in late April at Laurel Lodge near Altoona. The weekend featured ukulele skill workshops, open mics, vendors, and concerts and from several noteworthy names from the ukulele world. The Saturday night concert started with Vermont’s Ben Carr, who demonstrated his fingerpicking prowess on the ukulele as he performed original compositions and “tone poems.” His style was often improvisational, and he also incorporated loop pedals to generate backdrops to some of the songs. Late in Ben’s set, another of the weekend’s featured performers and clinicians, Lil’ Rev, joined in on harmonica for the bluesy set-closer “A Song for Tina.” Brandishing her unique harp ukulele, Gracie Terzian performed the middle leg of the concert, demonstrating a jazz-folk sound with her selection of original songs as well as select covers from Jimmy Rogers and Bob Dylan. Assisted by Rotem Sivan on standard uke, Gracie sang as she worked all corners of her harp ukulele, and also played a bass uke during a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Finishing the concert was Stuart “Stukulele” Fuchs. Stu demonstrated great technique and stylistic variety as he blended his own original tunes with select covers, including the Beatles pairing of “Norwegian Wood” into “Something” and more. He also did a song he wrote about his ukulele called “My Little Jumping Flea.” When the audience called for an encore, Stu responded with the instrumental “Julia Florida” to end the night.

McGarvey’s has been busy lately with a number of noteworthy shows. Former Misfits singer Michale Graves returned in late April to headline an all-acoustic triple-bill. Unique acoustic sets from One Adam 12 and Railroad City Murder Machines opened the night. As demonstrated during previous visits, Michale Graves’ acoustic shows are more laid-back and intimate, and allow him to share more insight about his music and inspirations; such was the case at this show. Michale did several established favorites from both his solo and Misfits careers, such as “Halloween,” “Dig Up Her Bones,” “We Are the Wicked,” “Lucifer, I Am,” “Crying on Saturday Night” and his follow-up to it, “Dying on Sunday Morning,” and “When Worlds Collide.” He stage-tested a few newly written songs such as “All the Troubles” and “The Worst Day of My Life.” And he also performed such numbers as “All the Hallways,” “Train to the End of the World” and “The Best of Me.” Toward the end of his set, he shared the inspiration of his song “Man Versus Train,” relating a story of learning about a train-pedestrian accident up the street from him, heading to the scene and seeing the victim with injuries, and he explained how the traumatic experience shaped his appreciation of enjoying the moment and savoring the opportunity to share his music with fans. Afterward, Michale remained and greeted fans clear until closing time. Michale returns to McGarvey’s on October 7, sharing the stage with C.J. Ramone for the after-party following Zombietown USA!

Another big highlight at McGarvey’s was Agent Smith’s “Agent In Chains” tribute to Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley in late April, marking the 15th anniversary of Staley’s passing. For this tribute, the full roster of Agent Smith – singer Steve Oswalt, guitarist/singer Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner, bassist Mike Stanley and drummer Shawn Gioiosa – were joined by two special guests, Black Sun/Small Town Horror Show frontman Todd McKeone and his Black Sun bandmate, guitarist Jason Feathers. Simply put, this tribute was incredible! The vocals and harmonies between ToddSteve and Phil were spot on, as was Phil’s and Jason’s guitar tones and the driving rhythms laid down by Shawn and Mike. These musicians nailed the nuances in their Alice In Chains selection, and it was clear they did their homework heading into this show. “Agent In Chains” tackled 16 canons of the Layne Staley-era Alice In Chains catalog: “We Die Young,” “Them Bones,” “Dam That River,” “Grind,” “Down in a Hole,” “Sea of Sorrow,” “It Ain’t Like That,” “Again,” “Heaven Beside You,” “Got Me Wrong,” “Dirt,” “Angry Chair,” “No Excuses” and “Rooster.” When the crowd demanded more, the group encored with “Would?” and “Man in the Box.” And the non-Alice part of Agent Smith’s night wasn’t shabby either, with the group doing strong work on tunes from Faith No More, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Silverchair, Screaming Trees, Cracker, Queensryche, Tonic, Soundgarden, Live, The Cult and more. Following the excitement and huge crowd for this special show, Agent Smith is discussing a sequel with some additional songs from the Alice In Chains catalog.

Other shows I saw at McGarvey’s in recent weeks include the return of Tennessee’s Husky Burnette and his raw, gritty brand of blues rock…Pittsburgh’s Legendary Hucklebucks and their over-the-top rockabilly/psychobilly firestorm…Shallow 9’s feverish dance party (with drummer Todd Harshbarger’s new lighting array, this group gets bigger and brighter with each show!)…Johnstown’s The Crew Of The Half Moon with their unique mix of original indie folk-rock and select covers…and From Nowhere, the new duo featuring area singer/songwriter Drew Dodson with drummer Cody Fickes.

Several area bands and performers stepped up to help out an area family early last month. The Benefit for Candy Barger took place at Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society and raised money for the children and surviving family of Candy, who passed away unexpectedly in March. Deuces Wild, pairing singer/harmonica player Randy Karle with Mo Yon on acoustic guitar and vocals, opened the afternoon with a selection of classic rock and pop hits. Randy showed some tasty harmonica solo work, especially on versions of Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” and Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” Sans singer/guitarist Rich Dasch this day, new acoustic group Running Creek nonetheless continued with their unique mixture of classic rock and folk hits. Guitarists Ron Russell, Bob Welsh and Mo Yon all sang, with Mo switching between acoustic guitar and bass; yours truly provided percussion on djembe and bongos. Running Creek this day did numbers from Bob Dylan, Blues Image, 4 Non Blondes, Traffic and Bob Seger, as well as one of Ron’s original songs, “Drunk Girl.” Making their debut next was Fortune & Glory, a new quintet showcasing two musical families and generations. The husband and wife tandem of guitarist/singer Art Martino and singer Dana Martino front the group, with son Nicholas Martino playing bass; Brian Starr plays drums, with son Nick Starr playing guitar. Fortune & Glory presented an interesting mix of classic rock and pop favorites, spanning Social Distortion’s “Ball and Chain” to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” to Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and also threw in two surprise ‘80s rock numbers from Tesla and Enuff Z’nuff. The Sitch then cranked up the party with their blend of rock and dance favorites. Singer Ashley Thompson belted premium voice as she fronted the group on numbers from No Doubt, Journey, Outfield, Lita Ford, Republica, Guns N’Roses and more. Providing the backdrop to her vocal fireworks were guitarists Art Martino and Tim Michrina, bassist Ryan McCracken and drummer Kevin Siegel. And I got to see part of Tyrone-based duo Into the Storm’s set. Guitarist Jon Wafa and drummer Nathan Secrist launched a series of short, riff-driven original metal/hardcore original compositions during their set, each conveying varying tempos and levels of intensity. Some of their titles included “Epic,” “Dawn” and “Running from Bullets.” Closing out the benefit were sets by local Christian rock group Forge and Shawn & Dylan.

Hollidaysburg’s U.S. Hotel hosted a visit by Nashville-based duo Steel Blossoms last month. Opening the evening was Ed N’Born, comprised of two-thirds of Born & the Beanstalk. Sean Osborn and Ed Hofer spotlighted original songs during their set, mixing them with acoustic favorites from Ed Sheeran, the Black Crowes and more. While based in Nashville, Steel Blossoms features two PA natives – Altoona’s Hayley Prosser and Pittsburgh’s Sara Zebley – who have been performing together since 2011. Their performance was pleasant, as they mixed catchy, country-toned original songs with audience requests and select covers. Their voices and harmonies were bright; both women played acoustic guitars, with Sara switching between guitar and fiddle. I didn’t catch all of their original song titles, but some of them included “You Ain’t Sleepin’ Over No More,” “Twenty Something” and “You’re the Reason I Drink.” They eagerly honored audience requests, doing renditions of Elle King’s “Exes and Ohs,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier,” Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” and – sending greetings from now famous area native Josh Gallagher – a version of his “Pick Any Small Town.” The moment that quickly won me over was when Steel Blossoms unleashed their acoustic country take on the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post,” making this rendition totally their own! For a pleasant surprise encore, both Steel Blossoms and Ed N’Born joined forces to deliver a happy rendition of “Wagon Wheel!” to end the show.

And I caught up with Rust last month at Slammin’ Sams in Johnstown. This trio generated a powerful sound – Mike “Griff” Griffiths on bass and vocals, Aaron Wolf on lead guitar and vocals, and Rick Rock on drums hammered out tunes from AC/DC, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and more. Their presentation was exciting and excellent; Aaron’s voice and guitar solo work were stunning, Rick’s drum mix was deep and booming, and Griff’s bass lines were sturdy and his polecat howl on the AC/DC tunes was on target. Song highlights included Rust’s takes on Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold,” the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter,” Deep Purple’s “Highway Star,” Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills,” Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way,” and they slammed the night home with a fiery version of their ‘title’ anthem, Neil Young’s “Rust Never Sleeps.”

News and notesThe Clarks open the season for the Alive @ Five Summer Concert Series at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum on June 2; Ten High Five will open…The Clarks will also headline the Rock for A Cure Festival at Tussey Mountain Amphitheater near Boalsburg on June 10, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society; also performing will be Biscuit Jam, Echoes Never Lie and Fÿre…The 11th annual Day Of Rock Benefit happens June 10 at the Saxton Sportsmen’s Pavilion near Saxton, with proceeds helping out the We Care Foundation; bands performing include Rick Ramsey & Co., Hawestone, Downshift, Teazed, Late Last Nite, Bone Jacked, Backlash, DD & the Pub Crawlers and Urban Myth…A special benefit for area musician/soundman Alan “Delbert” McConnell will take place at the Park Avenue Pub in Patton on June 16; Delbert is battling several forms of cancer…Following up from last month’s article, the “wild card” entry into the finals of 105.9 Qwik-Rock, Miller Lite and The Arena’s recent “Battle of the Bands”Medusa’s Disco – won the battle, with Asialena taking second and The Bigs finishing third…Drummer Rob Bonsell has joined Johnstown-based blues group Black Cat MoanLocked & Loaded has added former Hello, Vixen guitarist Bill Maguire and former Untyed drummer Dan Way to their roster…The Backyard Rockers have added bassist/singer Big Jim to their roster…Johnstown’s Inside Out has a new guitarist, as Cody Williams replaces Kolt Green.

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!  

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – May 2017

By Jim Price

Let the fun begin! We again enter the time of year when the outdoor live music season starts to shift into higher gear. A number of outdoor festivals, summer concert series and other events have already been announced for this warm weather season, and it looks like we’re in for a fun stretch!

For me, the outdoor music season started early last month when I roadtripped to Meyersdale to catch the final day of the two-weekend Pennsylvania Maple Festival. Because this festival happens in conjunction with maple tapping during late March and early April, weather is often a question mark each year; sunshine and temperatures in the 60’s graced this particular day, making for a fun afternoon as I witnessed Johnny Cash tribute group Cash Through the Years on the Festival Park stage. I enjoyed this group’s presentation, as Cash Through the Years mixed numbers from various stages of Johnny Cash’s career, plus provided some historical perspective along the way about instruments and musicians who appeared on and recorded each song. The group’s “Man in Black,” Bill Venet Sr., nicely captured Johnny Cash’s vocal tone and guided the audience through the musical tour of Cash favorites. Bill Venet Jr. and Todd Schafer played guitars, with Todd capturing the Bob Wooten era of Johnny Cash recordings, and Bill Jr. spotlighting the Luther Perkins years. Singers Cathy Jaggers and Shawn McConville provided the Carter Sisters voices alongside Bill Sr., Walt Fieser played piano, Dan Stonerook played bass, and new drummer George Feathers made his debut with the group this day. During their latter set, Cash Through the Years performed Cash favorites such as “Folsom Prison Blues,” “San Quentin,” “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” “Ring of Fire,” “Cry Cry Cry,” “I Walk the Line,” “Tennessee Flat Top Box” (with Bill Jr. demonstrating Tennessee flat box technique on his acoustic guitar), “You Are My Sunshine,” “Ring of Fire” and more. The group did a Johnny Cash train song medley plus another medley of favorites later on, and Bill and the women teamed on several duets, including “I Never Will Marry,” “Jackson” and more. Cash Through the Years provides a relaxing, entertaining and educational journey, and is well worth checking out.

Meanwhile, lots of indoor live music activity continues to take place, and more great shows have been happening at State College’s State Theatre. Unlike many longtime rock fans, I never got to see the Grateful Dead in concert, nor have I seen any of the various offshoot projects that have carried on the Dead’s legacy since the passing of Jerry Garcia. That finally changed in late March when I saw Melvin Seals & the JGB at the State Theatre. Melvin became popular as the keyboardist with the original Jerry Garcia Band, and contributed to the evolution of jam band music. A constant highlight of this performance was Melvin’s Hammond B-3 organ groan and rollicking, soul and gospel-informed keyboard solo work; he knew how to bring the magic out of that keyboard! Melvin, singer/guitarist Zach Nugent, backing singers Cheryl Rucker and Shirley Starks, bassist Jean-Paul McLean and drummer Peter Lavezzoli blended elements of funk, blues, rock, jazz and Americana into an uplifting, feel-good musical mix that instantly triggered dancing and grooving throughout the State Theatre. This was largely happy, major-key music, and I don’t recall hearing any minor-key sounds during the entire two sets! Melvin & the JGB featured many songs from the Jerry Garcia Band catalog, including “Cats Down Under the Stars,” “When the Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” “Money Honey,” “Gomorrah,” “Tough Mama” and “My Brothers and Sisters.” The group also did versions of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me,” the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence,” Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” and more. The performances sounded clean, tight and tasteful, and the song arrangements and jams were efficient; each solo that Melvin and Zach executed had purpose and served the song.

The State Theatre also presented Bethlehem-based Talking Heads tribute Start Making Sense in late March. This group struck up the party as they performed hits and other songs from the Talking Heads catalog, quickly triggering a crowd of dancers in front of the stage plus people dancing in aisles and at their seats. Singer/guitarist Jon Braun did a great job in the David Byrne role, capturing Byrne’s gestures and mannerisms. The group also featured Jon Fadem on guitar, Mike Davidson on bass, Brad Murray on keys and theramin, Jesse Braun on drums, Steve Brunette on percussion and Kathleen Weber on backing vocals. Start Making Sense performed all of the essential Talking Heads favorites; opening with “Psycho Killer,” and also doing “And She Was,” “Life During Wartime” (where Jon ran laps around the stage while singing), “Wild Wild Life,” “Once In a Lifetime” (complete with Jon’s gestures and head-slapping), “Burning Down the House” and “Take Me to the River.” They also broke out deeper Talking Heads cuts such as “Thank You for Sending Me an Angel,” “The Great Curve,” “Road to Nowhere,” “What a Day That Was,” “Don’t Worry About the Government,” “Girlfriend Is Better” and more. Start Making Sense delivered it all with a constant, robust energy that kept the State Theatre crowd moving and grooving for the show’s duration. Among the State Theatre’s upcoming shows are guitarist Eric Johnson on May 30, Los Lobos on June 14, and George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic on June 23.

The Arena in State College, 105.9 Qwik-Rock and Miller Lite presented preliminary rounds of a Battle Of the Bands competition on six Friday nights at The Arena starting in March, with a variety of band contestants performing and competing each week. Weekly winners – determined by both judge and audience voting – moved on to the Battle finals on April 28, with cash prizes for the top three winners, and the first place finisher also winning a paid gig at The Arena. I caught three of the preliminary rounds. The March 24 Battle presented a strong bill with four impressive bands: psychedelic/progressive rockers Medusa’s Disco from Lancaster, Scranton hard rockers Watching Savannah Burn, Harrisburg rock foursome Nothingmen and Harrisburg metal force Gun Metal Gray. When the judging sheets and audience votes were tallied, Gun Metal Gray won the night by a slim two-point margin over Medusa’s Disco to advance. The April 7 Battle took on more of an acoustic flavor, with Altoona’s Born and the Beanstalk, State College Beatlesque duo TV Dinners, Scranton duo Asialena and Lewistown country foursome Hawestone stating their cases. The votes this night sent Asialena to the finals. And the final preliminary round on April 21 featured State College indie rockers The Band Junkies, Altoona punk trio Tadwilder (who dealt with the unexpected arrival of a rowdy bachelorette party armed with an inflatable part of the male anatomy), Wiconisco rockers Broken Fayth and Lewistown alternative rockers Calmly Poisoned. The audience and judging tallies sent Calmly Poisoned from this round to the finals. Also announced on this last preliminary night was that The Arena staff – in the tradition of NBC’s “The Voice” – “saved” one band that didn’t win in the preliminary rounds to also advance to the finals: Medusa’s Disco. So the field for the April 28 finals included first Battle winners Threatpoint, Gun Metal Gray, Medusa’s Disco, third Battle winners Suspended By Chains, Asialena, fifth Battle winners The Bigs and Calmly Poisoned. Results will be reported next month.

Also at The Arena, I caught my first look at Chrissy & the Heart Attacks in late March. The latest project featuring Al and Chrissy Miller, Chrissy & the Heart Attacks sounded fine as they fired up the dance party, mixing up classic rock and dance floor hits. Chrissy still has one of the finest singing voices in the land, demonstrated especially on Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and “Heartbreaker,” and Heart’s “Barracuda.” She, Al on lead guitar, Jac Gassler on bass and vocals, Jon Lodge on keys and vocals, and drummer Brad Lundsford kept the dance floor hopping with favorites from Adele, Labelle, Shania Twain, Joan Jett, Bon Jovi, Journey, Black Crowes and more. The group slowed it down for the slow-dancing fans with a tasty version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” fired up the funk machine with the blending of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” into Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music,” and triggered some disco dancing action with the pairing of A Taste Of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie” into Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” to start their final set. Watch for Chrissy & the Heart Attacks as they return to The Arena soon, and they will also perform at the Summer Kickoff Festival fundraiser for the Hollidaysburg Area Public Library at Hollidaysburg’s Legion Park on June 22.

Former Ramones bassist C.J. Ramone (who replaced Dee Dee Ramone and was with the group from 1989 to 1996) returned to McGarvey’s last month, headlining a four-band punk-rocking bill. Railroad City Murder Machines, X’s For Eyes and The Flannels all performed before my arrival. Singing and playing bass, C.J. Ramone and his band – guitarists Nate Sander and Josh Blackway, plus drummer Chris Eller – mixed C.J.’s original tunes with a number of Ramones favorites. The Fat Wreck Chords recording artist introduced songs off his new American Beauty CD albums such as “Girlfriend in a Graveyard,” “Run Around,” “Moral to the Story” and “Steady as She Goes.” C.J. also did the song “Three Angels,” which he wrote in honor of fallen Ramones brethren Johnny, Joey and Dee Dee. And he and band tapped the Ramones catalog frequently, doing such numbers as “Rockaway Beach,” “Commando,” the group’s renditions of Phil Spector’s “Baby I Love You” and The Rivieras’ “California Sun,” “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” “I Wanna Be Sedated,” “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker,” “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “R.A.M.O.N.E.S.” (which Motorhead wrote as a tribute to the Ramones, and that C.J. sang lead on when the Ramones recorded it for the 1995 album Adios Amigos). C.J. and his band played at a continuous, high-velocity clip and kept the large McGarvey’s crowd happy.

Doctor Smoke returned to the area in late March to headline a heavy-hitting triple-bill at McGarvey’s. Hand Of Doom set the tone with their opening set of early Black Sabbath classics. Black Sun then thundered the rafters and scorched the oxides off McGarvey’s walls with their leviathan brand of original heavy rock, blasting out seismic, expansive jams. Drummer Nate Woods and bassist Dave Mollica’s menacing rhythms set the cavernous backdrops for frontman Todd McKeone and guitar ace Jason Feathers to push the limits of their intensity. Based near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, Doctor Smoke then hammered the night home with their powerful set of Sabbath-rooted original heavy rock. Singer/guitarist Matt Tluchowski, lead guitarist Steve Lehocky, bassist Kathryn Flesher and drummer Cody Cooke provided tight and forceful execution as they performed a number of tunes off their The Witching Hour CD. Some of their numbers this night included the disc-opener “The Willow,” “Blood and Whiskey,” “Faces in the Fog,” “The Seeker” and more. Their blend of velocity, thunder and melody kept the crowd riveted from start to end. It was great to see a big crowd in the house for this night of original rock and metal music; watch for Doctor Smoke’s return to McGarvey’s later in the year.

Northern Virginia’s Plank Stompers made their first visit to the Altoona area last month, performing at McGarvey’s. Beginning as a traditional Appalachian string group, Plank Stompers are one of those groups that ultimately stepped outside the box and tossed out the rule book. Their musical style maintains a central Americana thread, but weaves in elements of funk, jam, ska, rock, reggae, jazz and more. All four band members can play their instruments and sing, and it’s not too often you hear a lead mandolin solo on a rock or funk-styled song – but Erik Burnham knows how to make that mandolin sing. He, bassist Ben Walters, lead guitarist Will Spaulding and – moving from his usual key/trumpet position to behind the drum kit this night – Rudy Bzdyk mixed it up between original tunes and select covers, which included their fresh take on “Sitting on Top of the World,” John Hartford’s “Tear Down the Grand Ole Opry,” plus tunes from Space Canoe, Hank Williams Jr. and more. Plank Stompers provide a breath of fresh musical air; watch for them when they return to the area. 

I saw several new bands in recent weeks, including Buster Krow for the first time last month at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg. Five members strong, Buster Krow fired up an interesting variety of cover material, from dance party favorites to classic rock, pop, country and rap hits. Their set list stretched from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” to Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” from J. Geils Band’s “Centerfold” to Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” from Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” and many more. Lead singer John Bauman and guitarist Pat Irwin share the brunt of lead singing duties, J.R. West plays bass and Brian Gearhart the drums. Buster Krow got several folks up and dancing, and good vibes abounded throughout the night. Buster Krow delivers a strong musical party; watch for their return at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso.

Another new band I discovered last month was Out Cold, as they partied down with their hometown crowd at JD’s Wild Cherry Inn in Portage. These guys and gal – singer Whitney Myers, guitarists Sean Cronauer and Tyler Troxel, bassist Jesse Kreutzberger and drummer Zack Cronauer – mixed up modern and classic rock/pop/country favorites. I arrived late during their second set, and they had a good party going, with lots of folks populating the dance floor and having fun in front of the stage. Whitney showed a strong voice with good power and range, and the rest of the band was solid and enthusiastic. They did numbers from Gin Blossoms, Guns N’Roses, AC/DC, Luke Bryan, Tom Petty, Three Doors Down, Fallout Boy, Eddie Money, Sublime, Journey and more. When the crowd demanded one more at the end of the night, Out Cold responded with Elle King’s “Exes and Oh’s” to finish off the party.

Matt Pletcher continues to populate area stages as both a solo performer and with his band trio. I caught up with Matt in late March during one of his solo performances at Joe’s 58th Street Grill in Altoona. Matt blended original tunes with new and older rock and country favorites. I enjoyed Matt’s driving style of strumming as he fired off tunes from Tom Petty, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Nightsweats, Fuel, Bob Seger, Oasis, Dion, Incubus, Weezer, Kid Rock, Chumbawamba, Matchbox 20, Felice Bros., Green Day and more. Matt also did select original numbers from his Sure Thing CD, along with new material he is composing and recording toward a new CD. Matt’s hearty voice and energetic style fired up some dancers and even demands for an encore by the end of the night. Matt is a frequent flyer performer at Joe’s 58th Street Tavern; catch his solo performance there, and watch for his trio performances around the region as well.

I have seen Felix & the Hurricanes many, many times in my sojourns around the area music scene. And one of many things that endears this group to its large and continually expanding fan base of “Hurricaniacs” is that no two Hurricanes shows are the same, and that this group – singer/guitarist/lead Hurricane Felix Kos, singer/bassist Jeff Clapper and drummer/singer Bob Watters – is never afraid to throw a new wrinkle into the mix. Such was the case during one of their weekly Sunday shows at Altoona’s Black and Gold Tavern last month. With Felix decked out in denim work/farm-style suspenders, Hee Haw references started bringing laughter from both the band and the audience, and the group playfully referenced songs from the Hee Haw television show such as the “Where Are You Tonight” chorus with raspberry (“pthpththppp”) and “Gloom, Despair and Agony.” It was only logical that with Mama Corn guitar man and bluegrasser Bruce Forr in the house, he soon partook in the ‘Canes craziness during the final set as did Hurricanes drumming alumnus Kevin Siegel. The Hurricanes used this night to break out a bunch of new tunes, with the biggest surprise being a wild and crazy read of Focus’ 1973 classic “Hocus Pocus” (with all three Hurricanes yodeling, they couldn’t keep straight faces!). The group also introduced versions of Climax Blues Band’s “Couldn’t Get It Right,” Paul Revere & the Raiders’ “Kicks,” Delbert McClinton’s “Giving It Up for Your Love,” a fast-galloping rendition of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and more. This night served as further proof that just when you think you have these Hurricanes figured out, they throw a few crazy curve balls at you! Catch a Hurricanes Sunday at the Black & Gold Tavern, or see them when they kick off Hollidaysburg’s Downtown Live! free summer concert series on May 25.

One other performance I briefly observed recently was three members of State College-based alternative jam band Intermission Improv braving the early April outdoor cold to perform outside Barranquero Colombian Cafe as part of State College’s First Friday celebration last month. 

News and notes…The 50th annual Blair County Arts Festival happens May 20-21 at Penn State Altoona; among this year’s performers are Born and the Beanstalk, Ride the Song, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, The Coteries, Project Blues Book, Dan Hulse, Jay Smar, Walkney, Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats, The Ed Heads, Mama Corn, Felix & the Hurricanes, a reunion of the U.S. Sound Theatre and more… The Chrome Hearts and Born & the Beanstalk will play the afternoon session, and Nobody’s Heroes and Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band will perform the evening session during the 8th annual Pints for Pets Brewfest on May 6 at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field; proceeds benefit the Central PA Humane Society…Following the passing of former Boston drummer Sib Hashian in March, former Kansas singer Jon Elefante and former Journey singer Kevin Chalfant will now join “The Voice of Foreigner” Lou Gramm and former Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau during the Legends Of Rock concert at Altoona’s Blair County Convention Center on May 27; Hybrid Ice will be the backup band for all four performers…Simple Gifts presents their annual Folk College event May 26-28 at Juniata College in Huntingdon…Pittsburgh favorites The Clarks open the annual Alive @ Five Summer Concert Series at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum on June 2…The Spin Doctors, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, Marah, The Commonheart and National Reserve are among the entertainers at the inaugural Happy Valley Music Fest (formerly Summer’s Best Music Fest) in downtown State College on June 2-3…Chris Rattie is in the final stages of production on his second solo recording; the album, Porch, is slated for a September release.…Happy Birthdays to Ron Dalansky and Joe George (Half Tempted), John Charney (The Chi/Wine Of Nails), Beau Saller and Mary Villani (R2B2), Pat McGinnis, Nate Smouse (Emberstitch), Chris Silva (Rewind), Scott Bush, Jerry Carnicella and Harry Young (White Shadow), Chris Whitmer, Dave Skipper (The Insomniacs), Mitch Neuder (Shallow 9), Ray Buksa, Mike Gambardella (Chris Woodward & ShinDiggin’), Shane Speal, Jim Speese (Cloud Party), Andy Tolins and Stubby Stubbs (Triple A Blues Band/Natascha & the Spy Boys), K.C. Seidel, Frankie Lyxx (Sunset Strip), Mike Wise (Emily’s Toybox), Randy Rutherford (Flood City Brass), Jules Bianchini (The Amplified Heet), Erek Kapusta (Nightcrawlers), Rue Moyer, Jake Makin, Denny Pompa, Priscilla the Tambourine Lady, Ronnie Sheirer (F.B.I.), Ty Ayers (Doubtfire), Deb Demko, Paul Miller, Greg Larrimore, Paul Patterson, Bill Nusom, Jim Mosey and Steve Shutt.

              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!