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The Professor’s “Live Reviews”

The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – June 2018

By: Jim Price

As PA Musician’s new era begins under new editor and publisher Josh Noll this month, I celebrate the completion of 31 years of writing for PA Musician this month, and kick off my 32nd year! Thanks to Josh’s parents and predecessors Robin and Whitey for allowing me to write for PA Musician all these years, and thanks to Josh for keeping me on board!

As I reflect on my years of area music coverage in these pages, I realize that one of the most rewarding aspects of that tenure has been the continual expansion of my musical horizons. I was a devout metalhead when I wrote my first article in 1987…And while I am still a big fan of metal music, my experiences in covering the area music scene have opened my ears to many other musical genres as well. In just this month’s writ alone, I am writing about rock, metal, punk, funk, folk, country, Celtic, soul, blues, rockabilly, jazz, EDM, West African drum music and more! It’s all good!

Let’s start with soul and folk…State College’s historic State Theatre hosted renowned singer and recording artist Bettye LaVette last month. Eric Ian Farmer and friends kicked off the evening. Flanked by ‘friends’ Denise Strayer on accordion and Josh Troup on drums, Eric again demonstrated his ability to bring a room to total attention through his talents and message. Strumming acoustic guitar and singing, Eric’s dynamic vocal style, clarity and cadence quickly grabbed the audience as he opened with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” As the original 1971 song subtly raised consciousness about realities facing America such as Vietnam, poverty and racism, Eric’s treatment made this song newly urgent again as he referenced recent news headline locations that have caused national soul-searching such as Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, Orlando and many more. Eric brought the State Theatre to pristine silence several more times as he addressed social issues on subsequent songs, underscored by Denise’s gentle accordion tones. He then finished with a hopeful tone, closing his set with an uplifting rendition of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.” Several minutes later, three-time Grammy nominee Bettye LaVette and her band took the stage and opened with Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” the title track from her latest album of Dylan song interpretations. Backed by her support cast of guitarist Brett Lucas, bassist James Simonson, drummer Darryl Pierce and new keyboardist addition Evan Mercier, the 72-year-old singer showcased her Dylan interpretations, following with her passionate and soulful makeover of Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe.” As her set unfolded, Bettye captivated the audience by emotionally investing in and becoming every song she sang. On her rendition of Dylan’s “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight,” Bettye sounded so convincingly distraught that an audience member responded with “I’m here for you baby!” at song’s end. Sharing her insights and wit along the way, Bettye gave new perspective to such Dylan numbers as her keyboard ballad treatment of “Mama, You’ve Been on My Mind,” “Seeing the Real You at Last,” “Ain’t Talkin,’” “What Was It You Wanted,” “Emotionally Yours,” the sharp and sassy “Do Right to Me Baby,” and her fitting departure number at set’s end, “Going Going Gone.” Bettye then returned moments later for her encore, performing her own number “Before the Money Came,” before bringing the audience to total silence with her a cappella treatment of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” to end the night. Through her performance, Bettye LaVette demonstrated a knack for recasting pieces of Bob Dylan’s song catalog in her own seasoned style and perspective, making for a stirring, fascinating display.

McGarvey’s in Altoona hosted two prominent national recording acts in recent weeks, including Mississippi recording artists Saving Abel. Local rockers Negan opened the night strong with their set of 1990s, modern rock and original songs off their just-released Burnt Pages EP. Opening with Stone Temple Pilots’ “Wicked Garden,” singer Mike Davis, guitarists Bob Gray and Jeremy Ashurst, bassist Josh Yahner and drummer Damien Falatek heated up the crowd with tunes from Live, Queens of the Stone Age, Nirvana, Chevelle, Tool, White Zombie and more – including a scathing take on Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight.” They also did the four tunes off their EP: “Where Do We Go From Here,” “We,” “Obsolete” and “The Devil’s Coming.” Rolling into town after a 16-hour journey from Mississippi, Saving Abel soon stormed the stage and delivered their rowdy “Southern Rock” party. Before a packed house, singer Scott Austin set the tone of the performance early by getting the crowd loud and rowdy, something he would do frequently during the set. He, guitarists Jason Null and Scott Bartlett, bassist Scott Wilson and drummer Steven Pulley commenced with “New Tattoo,” and proceeded with tunes from throughout their career. They did their FM radio hits such as “The Sex Is Good” (which singer Scott turned into a crowd sing-along), “18 Days” (which Scott led into with a salute to members of the military), “Drowning (Face Down)” and the group’s 2008 breakthrough song “Addicted” to end the night. Other numbers included “Contagious,” “You Make Me Sick” and a few more. Saving Abel delivered full-throttled energy from start to end, and singer Scott kept the crowd at a feverish pitch with his rallying calls and wild humor along the way. Saving Abel convincingly proved to McGarvey’s that they are a fearless, fun live act, and they delivered their promise of a rock party from start to end. Afterward, Saving Abel happily stayed late and hung out with the crowd, did photos, signed autographs and showed appreciation to the folks who came out to enjoy them this night – even going above and beyond to make the night special and lift the spirits of a Stage 4 cancer patient in attendance.

Popular late 1980s hair-metal rockers the BulletBoys also performed recently at McGarvey’s. Local rocking favorites Fyre and Hair Force One, along with Chicago’s 20 Spot, opened the evening. Lone remaining founding member, singer (and now guitarist) Marq Torien, is now flanked by bassist Chad MacDonald, guitarist Nick Rozz and new drummer Anthony “Tiny” Biuso. The BulletBoys mixed some of their classics with tunes off their new album, From Out of the Skies. Marq displayed his trademark vocal howl early and often, and fired off generous dosages of guitar solo work as well. One of my favorite highlights was their third song, “Hell on My Heels” – this song sounded powerful when it first came out in 1988, and it still sounded powerful this night! BulletBoys did an extended version of this number, with both Nick and Chad executing solos on their respective instruments. The group also performed two of their MTV staples; their popular heavy-rocking take on the O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money,” and – saving it for last – “Smooth Up In Ya.” They also performed “THC Groove,” “D-Evil” off the new album plus several more. Although the crowd wasn’t huge, it was loud, and the group increasingly fed off the crowd energy as the set continued.

Several outdoor highlights transpired in recent weeks, including last month’s 51st edition of the Blair County Arts Festival at Penn State Altoona. Jazz was a prominent musical flavor during the festival’s first day. I arrived at the festival’s Misciagna Portico stage in time to catch the last few songs of the Steve Johnopolos Trio, who performed jazz standards and favorites. Namesake Steve demonstrated his prowess on keys, along with Randy Rutherford on bass and lead vocals, and Randy Servello on drums. This trio sounded skillful and smooth as they did such numbers as the Fred Astaire and Frank Sinatra-popularized “Just the Way You Look Tonight,” Eddy Arnold’s hit “You Don’t Know Me” and more. Later at the Food Court stage, the Jay Vonada Jazz Quartet performed their mixture of original modern jazz and select favorites. Namesake Jay on trombone, Kirk Reese on keys, Jeff Beck on bass and Kevin Lowe on drums dazzled with stellar musicianship on numbers such as “Inspired,” the bossa nova-flavored “Serenity,” “That’s What I Said,” “The Midnight Waltz” and “Early Morning Chill,” as well as their variation on George Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Among other performances I saw this day was the latter part of Camara Drum and Dance’s set at the Food Court stage, as they demonstrated West African percussion and dance music and welcomed audience members to play and dance along…On the Pavilion stage, Born and the Beanstalk – the strumming and singing duo of Sean “Born” Osborn and Ben “Beanstalk” Bower – demonstrated captivating vocal harmonies as they did popular numbers from the Beatles, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Blind Faith, America, the Moody Blues and more…And closing out the Food Court stage this day, the acoustic edition of Pittsburgh’s Michael Christopher BandMichael on lead vocals and guitar, Zach Reeder on guitar and Ben Pentz on drums – mixed original country songs with favorites from Florida Georgia Line, Kenny Chesney, Johnny Cash, Brantley Gilbert, John Denver and more.

During the Arts Festival’s second day, I arrived in time to enjoy perennial Festival favorite Jay Smar on the Misciagna Portico stage. Brandishing acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle, Jay sang and educated the audience as he performed a blend of original folk songs and classic American folk music. Jay demonstrated his clawhammer banjo technique on such numbers as Mike Paxton’s “Thirty Inch Coal” and the pairing of the Appalachian folk tune “Cluck Old Hen” with his own instrumental “Banjo Wipeout.” And he sawed on the fiddle for his finale, blending together “Turkey in the Straw,” John Hartford’s “Long Hot Summer Says,” “We Bid You Goodnight” and “Sally Ann.” In a similar vein, Minnesota-based performer Paul Imholte closed out the Portico stage with his folk-based set, singing and performing on acoustic guitar, hammered dulcimer, fiddle and banjo. Paul’s song list ranged from Jimmy Driftwood/Doc Watson’s “Tennessee Stud” to the Scottish fiddle number “Neil Gow’s Lament,” to original numbers such as “Tarvy Road” (‘tarvy’ is Minnesota slang for asphalt) and his dulcimer instrumental “Yet As Yet.” In between the Portico stage performances, I took in two performances at the Food Court stage. Altoona area favorites R2B2 struck up an upbeat set of dance-friendly favorites. Singer/keyboardist Mary Villani, singer/guitarist Rick Wertz, bassist/singer Fritz Wyland, guitarist/singer Ric Criste and drummer/singer Beau Saller triggered smiles and some dancing with hits from Jennifer Lopez, KC & the Sunshine Band, B-52’s, DNCE, Wild Cherry, Gloria Gaynor, Escape Club and more, before a power outage cut their set slightly short. Power was restored in time for the next performer, young West Virginia-based singer and songwriter Lucia Valentine and her band. Flanked by her father, Dominic Valentine, on bass, guitarist Scott Smith and drummer Eric Calhoun, Lucia displayed a smooth, gentle voice as she crooned a mixture of light funk/rock-toned original songs and classic hits. She sang tunes off her self-titled debut album such as “Magic,” “Up For This,” “Be My Love Tonight” and “We Are One,” and also did fresh-sounding renditions of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’ “Tracks of My Tears” and Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love in Your Heart.”

Helping to usher in the outdoor festival season was Huntingdon’s 14th annual Mayfest celebration in late April. Happening along several blocks of Washington Street in downtown Huntingdon, this year’s Mayfest featured plentiful food and craft vendors, children’s activities, and several performance stages with live music and other entertainment. Keeping with recent tradition, my own band, the Backyard Rockers, helped open Mayfest at the Desert Garden Spa stage, before I then caught a few of the day’s other performers afterward. Next on the Desert Spa stage was Hawestone, who battled arriving raindrops to deliver a variety of country favorites and original songs. Singer/guitarist Ken Gray, lead guitarist Eric Smith, bassist Dick Shoemaker and drummer Tim Guthridge mixed up numbers from Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Brantley Gilbert, Jon Pardi, Luke Bryan, their own original “Had You for a Day” and more.” Meanwhile at the Renaissance Faire stage, Full Kilt entertained passers-by with their Irish-flavored sounds. Singer/guitarist Mike Zerbee, fiddler Mandy Passmore-Ott, bassist/singer Chris Myers and drummer/singer Pat Boland injected a wee bit o’ Irish into favorites such as Alabama’s Mountain (Irish) Music,” Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to (Dublin)” and more. And up the street at the Colonial Times stage area, Dylan E. Miller hosted a singer-songwriter showcase that featured performances from himself, along with New Jersey-based songwriting friends Wyl White and Dre Brown.

On the same day as Mayfest, ArtsAltoona – along with partnering organizations and neighborhood businesses – presented the inaugural StART Here Block Party, a community event that took place along three blocks of 4th Avenue in Altoona’s Juniata section. StART Here featured three performance stages with musical entertainment, artists, art and other vendors, food and refreshments, and neighborhood beautification projects. I caught some of the day’s many performers on the three stages – including young singer Maggie Park (who was joined by Block Party host Rue Moyer), Felix & the Hurricanes (with Pat McGinnis standing in on bass), singer/songwriter Dee Hartman, EDM artist Sascha Damon Frost, Nag Champions Mystery Band, Ride the Song and Happy Hour (the country, rock and pop-crooning acoustic duet of Sarah Mellott and Tommy Fix). The combination of live music, artistic creativity (including painting of a fence and a building front along 4th Avenue), and sunny skies resulted in a well-attended, successful event that elevated community spirit and togetherness. ArtsAltoona is planning other similar events, and a sequel to the initial StART Here event is likely.

Brewers, bands and fans of beer and music converged at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field last month for the 11th edition of the annual Pints For Pets Brewfest fundraiser for the Central PA Humane Society. Pints For Pets again featured two sessions, where beer connoisseurs could sample creations from more than 90 craft brewers from throughout the region and country. Live music was again part of the Pints For Pets festivities. Johnstown’s Tree opened the afternoon session’s music with their blend of Irish and traditional folk sounds. Singer and guitarist Mike Harnett, fiddler Jen Harnett and drummer Mike Dixon set the day’s tone with rowdy takes on numbers such as “Wild Rover,” “Johnny Jump Up” and more. The new roster of Walkney followed; joining founding singer and guitarist Derek Mrdjenovich in the new lineup are guitarist Jextin Pugh, bassist Nate Nagle and drummer David Applas. Walkney mixed original alternative rock/pop songs with select covers; among the original songs was “Lucia Rose,” which was recently included as a ‘What’s Next’ track in the hit music compilation series Now That’s What I Call Music. The group battled arriving thunderstorms and rain, but were able to complete their set as the weather turned wet. Before the evening session commenced, the acoustic duo of singer Lauren Johnson and guitarist/singer Joe GeorgeLauren & Joe – entertained attendees to a special VIP session that took place in the ballpark’s upper concourse level. As the evening session then got under way, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band continued the music. Rogan Allen took over lead guitar duties with the group this day, joining namesake Chris on acoustic guitar and vocals, Nate Beatty on keys and trumpet, Bill Smith on bass and Randy Servello on drums. The group mixed original groove-driven songs with their own distinctive takes on select covers, including Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” More thunderstorm issues briefly interrupted their performance, but the group kept brave rain-soaked onlookers happy. As the rain continued, the Chrome Hearts closed out the music with their blend of country, rock’n’roll and originals. Singer Stephanie Onkst, guitarist/singer Bob Onkst, lead guitarist Chad Buterbaugh, bassist Brian Baum and drummer Doug Fetter weathered the rains and brought smiles with original tunes like “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and “Jealous of You,” plus favorites from CCR, Gretchen Wilson, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and more.  

Besides the national names mentioned earlier, McGarvey’s hosted several touring acts in recent weeks, including nomadic rock’n’rollers The Living Deads during Cinco de Mayo Saturday last month. After Ben Dumm & the East Side Band opened the night, the duo of drummer/ guitarist/singer Randee McKnight and singer/upright bassist Symphony Tidwell mixed up a variety of styles into a unique musical concoction all their own. Punk, folk and rockabilly all blended into varying configurations as The Living Deads did original numbers such as “Sh*t Men Say to Symphony,” “God Damn,” “Like A Bad Girl Should,” “Walk Away” and more. Randee frequently switched instruments between guitar and drums, and a few times played both simultaneously. When the McGarvey’s crowd called for an encore, The Living Deads returned for a mini-set of  cover songs that reflect their influences, including a song by The Cramps, Hank Williams’ “Lost Highway,” the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” the Misfits’ “Astro Zombies,” and Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “Jackson” to end the night.

San Diego punk trio Some Kind Of Nightmare brought their brand of vinegar and velocity to McGarvey’s for a rare Monday night show last month. Sets by Lose The Name and Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Gutter Villain opened the night, before Some Kind Of Nightmare delivered their raw punk-rocking speed and reckless abandon on a set of original tunes. Singer and guitarist Chy Mess, singer and bassist Molly Mess and drummer Tai slammed out furious numbers such as “F.D.A. Approved,” “Survive,” their closer “Back to San Diego” and more. One highlight was their song “Last Round,” dedicated to Molly’s grandmother who fought breast cancer – the group sold a pink vinyl 45 of that tune with proceeds going toward cancer research. Their velocity was infectious, and although not a big crowd for a Monday night, Some Kind of Nightmare kept the onlookers in attendance cheering.

New York’s American Pinup returned to McGarvey’s as part of a four-band bill last month. The Snipped led off the night with their punk-rocking “dadcore,” followed by Washington, DC-based indie rock duo DoubleMotorcycle. Singer/guitarist Joe Jalette and drummer Colin McGuire offered a wild, off-the-wall blend of pop melody, punk agitation and quarky antics on their set of original numbers, resulting in an unpredictable presentation that kept the crowd attentive and entertained. In the midst of a month-long tour, American Pinup showcased songs from their new EP, Get Better, as part of their set of edgy, high-octane melodic pop-punk rock. Lead singer and guitarist Lauren West sang with a potent, clear voice and friendly personality, flanked by guitarist A.J. Chiarella, bassist Tim Robbins and drummer John Casale. And Altoona’s Dilemma closed the night with their punk-driven hard rock sound. Singers/guitarists Micah Button and Devin Conrad, bassist Duane Ferrell and drummer Joel Kyle fired off charged original numbers such as “High Tide,” “Force Fed” and “Stain,” as well as versions of Nirvana’s “Lithium” and Blink 182’s “Dammit.”

Pittsburgh’s Legendary Hucklebucks brought their over-the-top brand of roots rock back to McGarvey’s in late April. Altoona’s Black Ridge PABG opened the night with their punk-toned brand of bluegrass and Americana music, doing numbers from their just-issued EP. The Legendary Hucklebucks then delivered their fire-and-brimstone assault of high-powered, psychotic rockabilly. Tattooed singer Ted Bundy, upright bassist Uncle Piddles, guitarist Johnny Devil and drummer Dave Fresch kept the action nonstop as they delivered driving original anthems like “3 Sheets,” “One Less Drunk,” “Honky Tonk Angel,” “Black Eyed Susan” and “Don’t Feed the Rats,” as well as their own torrid takes on the Kinks’ “I Need You” and Motorhead’s title song “Motorhead.”

And I caught my first look at State College-based punk rockers Owned By A**holes at McGarvey’s last month, headlining a punk triple-bill. Dave Hates Everything set the tone with their opening set of lively punk rock original tunes. Singer and guitarist Pat Orr also set the humorous theme of the night after happening upon a quantity of protein bars, which he brought along to McGarvey’s to share out to willing fans and musicians. The Snipped’s bass player, Rik Golden, celebrated this bounty by brandishing and raving about his protein bar during his band’s set, and The SnippedRik, frontman/guitarist Mikey Wax, guitarist Jeff Reid and drummer Justin Burket – rewarded Pat by “knighting” him into their realm of “dadcore” using a garden rake and a workshop magazine. Owned By A**holes then closed the night with their bold, bristling brand of punk rock. Singers/guitarists Kyle Hartzell and Pissed Off Christoff, bassist Andrew Ball and drummer Josh Griffith mixed original songs with select covers, all delivered with fury and enthusiasm. Their original song arsenal this night included tunes such as “Alcohol,” “Generation Z,” “Social Mannequin” and “Garbage People,” and they also did numbers from Screeching Weasel, NOFX and more.

And I caught up with Railtowne last month during an eventful performance at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge. Railtowne – singer/guitarist Ty Ayers, lead guitarist Kenny Murdick, bassist Paul Rainey, keyboardist and soundman Nate Beatty and drummer Eric Wertz – had special guests in the house this night, as the newlywed This Albatross tandem of singer Autumn and guitarist Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner brought the wedding reception to the Four Dees. Bouquet and garter tosses punctuated the night as Railtowne kept the celebrants happy with their mix of modern country favorites from Lee Brice, Big & Rich, Joe Nichols, Eric Church, Luke Combs, Johnny Cash, John Michael Montgomery, Jason Aldean and more.

Other performers I saw recently were the father and son reunion of Greg and Dustin BurleyAcoustic Mayhem – at McGarvey’s, as Dustin was back in the area from his current home base of Durango, Colorado…And I saw Felix & the Hurricanes during one of their weekly Sunday shindigs at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern.

News and notesSpecial benefits for two area sound engineers battling cancer will take place this month; the Rawken for Hawken benefit happens June 10 at Slammin’ Sam’s in Johnstown to raise money to help Brad Hawken, recently diagnosed with colon/rectal cancer; performers thus far include Inside Out, Chasing Frequency, The Holy Gift and members of Octane…And a benefit for Alan “Delbert” McConnell will take place at the Barnesboro VFW in Northern Cambria on June 30; Negan, Downshift, Nag Champions, Talisman, Acoustic Stew, Rust and the Backyard Rockers are among many performers taking part…The Clarks, Penntera, Josh Gallagher and national recording artists Puddle Of Mudd are some of the featured acts performing during Altoona’s inaugural Pennsylvania Roundhouse Rally, happening June 20-23…The Marauders have reformed after a nine-year hiatus, and have been added to the lineup for Johnstown’s annual Flood City Music Festival in early August…Fireside Collective, The Hillbilly Gypsies, Mama Corn, Colebrook Road, The Crooked Line, Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, Doug Forshey and the Tussey Mountain Moonshiners are among many performers at the 15th annual Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival fundraiser for the Lupus Foundation of Pennsylvania, happening June 14-16 at Quiet Oaks Campground in Cross Fork (north of Renovo)…Shallow 9, Downshift, Inside Out, Negan, R2B2, Zach Wade & the Good Grief, Matt Pletcher and the Backyard Rockers are among the performers at the 12th annual Day Of Rock benefit at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum on June 16…Matt Otis & the Sound, Rue Moyer and Afro’n’at are among the performers at the third annual Great Eastern Arts Festival, happening at Tenley Park in Everett on June 2…Western PA progressive rockers We Came From Space have issued their second CD, called While You Were Away.

We offer our condolences to the family and friends of Ken Earnest, who passed away on April 28 at age 88. Ken was a longtime Altoona area musician and guitar teacher, and played in such area bands as The Legends, The Cavaliers and The Prime Time Band. He was also the father of area musicians Troy and Jody Earnest…And the regional music scene was saddened by the unexpected passing of Smokin’ Gunnz singer and drummer Robert Morris, Sr. on May 7 at age 52. Bob was a member of Smokin’ Gunnz for most of their 20-plus year history. He is survived by his wife of 24 years, Vickie, along with two sons. We at PA Musician express our sympathies for Bob’s family, friends and musical colleagues.

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”

By Jim Price

For much of last month, I thought I would be opening this writ with a farewell to these pages, as my editor, Robin Noll, announced the pending final chapter of Pennsylvania Musician Magazine, and that this month’s issue would be the swan song. However, thanks to Robin and Whitey Noll’s son, Josh Noll, stepping up to take the reins, PA Musician continues on, and so does this column! Thanks Josh for continuing this magazine and its legacy! And thanks to Robin and Whitey for their 36-plus years of building that legacy!

In the days that followed Robin’s initial announcement, many musicians, readers and fans approached me to show appreciation and share memories of their own experiences with PA Musician. Memories varied from musicians recalling their first-ever write-up or “Hot Shots” on these pages, to appreciation over remembrances to fallen area musicians, to the general appreciation that PA Musician has always been here as a central hub and database where readers can learn about the state’s music scene; its musicians, bands, venues, shows and news. On behalf of Robin, Whitey and my fellow writers and staff, thanks to everybody for the kind words!

Live music is starting to head back outside…One of this spring’s first outdoor shows was Penn State Altoona’s second annual “Ivyside Off the Rails: Glow On” music and arts festival last month at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum. Penn State Altoona students, via voting and a local “battle of the bands” event during the winter, selected the performers for this year’s concert. The Roof won the opening slot as the local battle victors, and did an impressive job in setting the tone for the evening, warming up the student audience with their blend of rock, folk, blues and R&B flavors. Singer, guitarist and bassist Frank Musaraca, guitarist and bassist Ivan Zvorsky, guitarist Jake Finkbiner and drummer Skyler Scholl performed original songs such as “Trouble in My Veins,” “Alan’s Song,” “Kindle,” “The Drought” and “Moving to the Country,” and also pulled out versions of the Grateful Dead’s “Scarlet Begonias” and their set-ending edition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Next was Brooklyn-based, Danish-born New Politics, who delivered a crisp and exciting blend of punk-based pop and rock flavors. This group was fun – singer and breakdancer David Boyd, guitarist, singer and keyboardist Soren Hansen and drummer Louis Vecchio drilled airtight, catchy melodies with nonstop action. Some of their songs included “Everywhere I Go (Kings and Queens),” “Girl Crush,” “Love Is a Drug,” “Dignity,” “Tonight You’re Perfect” and more. David provided constant movement on stage, suddenly giving a breakdancing clinic in the middle of one song, and then – on their set-closer “Harlem” (which presented an unexpected Bay City Rollers flavor) – David executed a back flip off the top of the bass drum on the riser, and stuck a perfect landing on the stage that would have earned him a gold medal in Olympic gymnastics! Capping the night was rap artist Waka Flocka (Flame) with his group, who instantly had the entire student audience excitedly in front of the stage. Waka and his crew delivered visceral, pulsing beats and rhymes that often had the crowd chanting and grooving along. I didn’t know much of his song library, but some of Waka’s numbers this night included “Trap My Ass Off,” “Big Dawg” and “No Hands,” and he also briefly referenced DJ Snake/Lil’ John’s “Turn Down for What.” Crowd enthusiasm hit a feverish pitch several times, with the show interrupted briefly as audience members were instructed not to climb up on speakers and sound gear. Positioned before the last week of classes and finals week, Ivyside Off the Rails provided a needed stress reliever for students (and at least this faculty member) alike.

Indoors, the current edition of British Invasion-era legends The Zombies performed in late March before a sold-out house at State College’s historic State Theatre. Opening the night was New England native and indie folk artist Don DiLego. Don performed a short selection of original songs, with touches of humor thrown in between. He playfully acknowledged his role as the opener, and jokingly told the audience he was honored to let The Zombies close for him. And as he led into the song “Step into the Fire” – an ode to his mother having his back throughout life – he called his mom from the stage and let the audience cheer greetings to her. Some of Don’s other original songs included “Go Pack Your Suitcase,” “Television Sun” and the new song “Great Escape,” and he also stepped from the microphone to sing the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” directly to the audience, which turned into an audience sing-along. The Zombies soon came out and delivered a stellar set that featured songs from throughout their career. Founding members Rod Argent on keys and Colin Blunstone on lead vocals, plus guitarist Tom Toomey, drummer Steve Rodford and bassist Soren Koch performed all the essential hits, plus newer songs from their 2015 album Still Got That Hunger, curios and more. Some of their songs from the new album included “I Want You Back Again,” “Moving On” and the jazz-toned “Edge of the Rainbow.” They performed “I Love You,” a Zombies original that became a 1968 hit for the group People, and they did their own big hits, “Tell Her No,” “She’s Not There,” and – as part of a trio of songs from their celebrated 1968 album Odessey and Oracle – “Time of the Season.” They also performed “Care of Cell 44” and “This Will Be our Year” from Odessey and Oracle, the samba-flavored “Sanctuary,” and a strong rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Bring It On Home.” My favorite part of the night happened when the group broke into a nearly 10-minute version of “Hold Your Head Up,” the biggest hit from Rod Argent’s self-named band Argent. Now 72, Rod totally went for broke on his keyboards with an extended solo display that had the State Theatre crowd rocking. When that crowd demanded an encore following “She’s Not There,” The Zombies responded with another Argent original – “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” (a song later redone and popularized by Kiss). For both being 72 years of age, Rod and Colin still brought abundant energy, enthusiasm and grace as they sounded sharp and established a pleasant rapport with the audience, giving insights and memories on their various songs. Some of this month’s featured performers at the State Theatre include Pink Floyd tribute group The Machine on May 11, and singer Bettye Lavette on May 20.

McGarvey’s in Altoona provided the “pulpit” for two “Reverends” to perform in recent weeks. In late March, Indiana (state)-based roots performers Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band electrified a packed house. Work duties prevented me from witnessing the two opening acts; the swan song performance of local roots quintet Nobody’s Heroes and Shane Speal & the Snakes. I arrived shortly into the headliner’s set, and witnessed as namesake, singer and guitarist Rev. Peyton, washboardist and backing singer Washboard Breezy Peyton, and drummer and backing singer Maxwell Senteney delivered fire-and-brimstone country, traditional and electric blues. Rev. Peyton sang with a hearty, boisterous howl and exhibited slide guitar mastery on a variety of instruments, including electric, cigar box, resonator guitars and even a stringed ax! All three band members whipped up the frenzy on original songs and select remakes from throughout their career; songs this night included “You Can’t Steal My Shine,” “Clap Your Hands,” the new song “Poor Until Payday,” “Saints Go Marching In” and more. Their energy, enthusiasm and personable stage presence kept the crowd happy and cheering for their entire performance. Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band performs at Pittsburgh’s Rex Theater on May 4 and Harrisburg’s Appalachian Brewing Company on May 5; and they will return to McGarvey’s in September.

Several days later in early April, the Reverend Horton Heat returned to McGarvey’s with their brand of fire-and-brimstone music. Likewise, work duties prevented me from catching the opening acts this night, including the first-ever Altoona appearance of Igor & the Red Elvises and Unknown Hinson. But the Reverend Horton Heat was heating up the house as I arrived with their fast-firing blend of punk-fueled roots rock, country and rockabilly. Frontman Jim “Reverend Horton” Heath, his longtime upright bass-playing cohort Jimbo Wallace, new drummer Arjunas “R.J.” Contreras and keyboardist Matt Jordan cranked out songs from throughout the group’s career. The group was in the midst of “Let Me Teach You How to Eat” when I first got there, and they also did numbers such as “Bales of Cocaine,” “400 Bucks,” “Galaxy 500” and their own torrid take on Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” to end their primary set. When the packed house demanded an encore, “R.J.” returned to the stage first to deliver a drum solo display, which found him eventually stepping away from his kit to tap on Jimbo’s big bass strings, the stagefront wooden crowd fence and more. The rest of the musicians then joined him to musically declare “It’s Martini Time.” Then Unknown Hinson, who had joined in with the group earlier, rejoined the band onstage to sing and play guitar on one of his numbers, “King of Country Western Troubadours,” to close out the night. The energy between band and crowd was continuous, resulting in a rowdy, happy-go-lucky time.

Another Ramone graced McGarvey’s stage in late March, as Richie Ramone – who played drums for the Ramones during the 1980s – headlined a four-band bill. One Adam 12 and Pittsburgh’s Filthy Lowdown kicked off the night, followed by long-running New Jersey-based punk rockers Bigwig. Four members strong, Bigwig generated high-velocity, melody-geared punk rock original songs that kept the packed house excited; some of their anthems this night included “Waste,” “One Side,” “Sore Losers,” “Friends,” “Moosh,” “Dreams Are Dead,” “Alone in New Jersey” and “Counting Down.” Splitting time between his drum kit and the lead microphone, Richie Ramone and his band closed the night with a blistering set that blended his own original songs with select Ramones classics. Flanked by bassist and singer Clare Misstake, lead guitarist Glenn Gilbert and rhythm guitarist Ben Reagan (who took over behind the drum kit when Richie stepped out front), Richie did Ramones numbers such as “Smash You” (which he wrote for the group), “I Don’t Care,” “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Judy Is a Punk,” the Ramones take on CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” and the night-closing “Sheena Is a Punk Rocker.” Richie’s own original music spanned fast and furious punk rock numbers like “I Fix This” to slower, rock and metal-toned assaults.

Nearly 11 years since going their separate ways, Backstreet Law reconvened for two reunion performances last month. I attended the first of the two, which took place at The Arena in State College. The Arena was a packed mass of humanity by the time I arrived, just as the opening group was concluding their set. Pittsburgh-based rock foursome Haven State soon took the stage, introducing an intriguing style that merged elements of progressive rock, funk and metal. Their songs featured detailed melodies with tempo shifts, interesting time signatures and unexpected twists and turns. Singer Josie Banks displayed a soaring, siren-like voice up front, backed by guitarist Cody House, bassist Brendan Mickoloff and drummer Lucas Martucci. Haven State showcased several original songs, including numbers from their debut EP Stratus such as “Broken Life,” “Dead Dog,” “Peachy Keen” and more. The packed house quickly escalated into frenzy as the reunited Backstreet Law roster of singer Matt Goodreau, guitarist Jeremy Edge, bassist Jamie Morral and drummer Tony Esposito launched into “Hockey Helmet,” and reprised their signature brand of hard rock and rap-edged metal. They proceeded through multiple crowd favorites, including “Falling,” “Party in the Parking Lot,” “Frustrated,” “Till December,” “Hollow,” “Sharks,” “Sorry,” “Open Your Eyes,” “For Dead” and more. They also broke out their popular heavy send-up of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” and closed their set with the Jamie-fronted rendition of Pantera’s “Walk.” Almost immediately, the Arena crowd started yelling for the encore, and repeating the title of one song they had not heard yet – “Seat Belt! Seat Belt!” Backstreet Law shortly resurfaced, and launched into the song’s trademark opening beats, turning the stage front dance floor area into a pulsing, moshing ocean of humanity. This night clearly showed that fans have not forgotten Backstreet Law or their music; this was one rowdy party!  

The Arena and 105.9 Qwik-Rock crowned a new champion to cap their second annual Battle of the Bands competition last month. When the dust settled on the Battle finals on April 14, Altoona’s Fyre outscored second-place finishers Traverse the Abyss from Scranton, third-place finishers 86 Bullets from Baltimore, State College’s Making State and Bedford County’s Rest in Peace; winning a paying gig at The Arena plus other prizes. I caught two more of the preliminary rounds leading up to the finals…The third round qualifier featured Fyre, along with Altoona’s PennSoulVania, Williamsport’s Ic.a.Nikki and Altoona’s Maul…And the fourth round qualifier featured 86 Bullets, Lewistown’s Psycho Prophecy and Clearfield’s Deadside.

The Flight 19 “Party Plane” will park in the hangar permanently after June, ending a nearly 20-year run on area stages. The group welcomed past members during their final appearance at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge last month. The group’s current edition – singer Brian Thomas, guitarist and singer Rogan Allen, bassist Joe George, keyboardist and singer Phil Steele and drummer Paul Caracciolo – filled the Four Dees’ dance floor with their uptempo variety of rock, country, funk and dance favorites. The show’s key highlight was a reunion of the original “Party Plane” crew – Brian, guitarist and singer John McKelvey, bassist and singer Scott Imler, bassist Jim Phillips and drummer Darin Hand – to perform a set that featured the group’s early cover and original song favorites, including their signature party anthem “Hands.” Following the reunion, the current Flight 19 kept bodies gyrating until night’s end with tunes from Prince, Walk the Moon, Stevie Wonder, Three Dog Night, Toto, the Black Crowes, Love and Theft, Wild Cherry and many more. Area fans will have one more chance to see Flight 19, as their final public concert will take place on June 8 at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza.

Hate Grenade celebrated the release of their second full-length CD, The King Is Dead, with a CD-release party early last month at McGarvey’s. Everett-based metal rockers Paradigm opened the night before my arrival, followed by Johnstown’s Darkness On The Radio. These guys roared with their signature skull-crushing metal sound, performing pulverizing original tunes like “Sons of Devilry,” “New Murders Old Crows,” “Judas Take the Wheel” and more. The commanding, monstrous wall of sound levied by lead howler and guitarist Jason Straw, lead guitarist Jay Snyder, bassist Greg Hatch and drummer Jason Kirchner filled the room and brought everybody to full attention front and center. Hate Grenade then pulled the pin and detonated their set, mixing songs from the new CD with previous tunes. Frontman Jeff Glace, guitarist Chuck Lavera, bassist Donny D and drummer Mike Powers opened with the new CD’s title tune, “The King Is Dead,” followed by the first single “Burn,” and other new numbers such as “Reborn,” “Temptress,” “Watch Your Back,” “Rue,” “Come With Me” and more. Hate Grenade’s presentation was explosive from start to end, as the group pulled all stops to keep the audience charged and cheering. Hate Grenade will open for Butcher Babies and Nonpoint at Reverb in Reading on May 7.

Lansing, Michigan-based rockers The Devil’s Cut made a return visit to McGarvey’s last month, with special guests Phobos Anomaly. Unveiling their second full-length CD, Good Luck of a Giant, Phobos Anomaly kicked off the show with a set that mixed songs from the new CD with material from last year’s self-titled debut CD. Singer and bassist Mark Holland, guitarist and singer Jon Spearly and drummer Damien Page demonstrated innovative melodies with hard-hitting arrangements and tight execution, and kept the music constant for the duration of their set. The Devil’s Cut reestablished their hard-hitting sound, which merges edgy, punk-toned rock with blue-collar lyrics and a slight hint of Bruce Springsteen. Singer and guitarist Joe Fox, guitarist Corey Staley, bassist Pat Hogan and drummer Derek Vaive mixed original songs from their latest album, People Let You Down, with select cover tunes. They did songs from the CD such as “Forty Two Arrows” and “Old Ghosts and Classic Cars,” and pulled out spirited renditions of Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and the Rolling Stones’ “Dead Flowers.” Joe displayed a hearty voice up front, and he and the rest of the band gave a spirited, enthusiastic performance for the small audience in attendance this night.

I fulfilled one of my New Year’s resolutions last month, finally paying my first visit to Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria to see the Jukehouse Bombers in action. Speal’s has become a popular venue in western PA for the blues, and houses the Cigar Box Guitar Museum, with multiple cigar box guitars and other unique blues instruments on display. A favorite at this venue, the Jukehouse Bombers lit up the room with their boisterous brand of electric blues. The triple-guitar army of the father/son tandem of Jimmy and Joe Roach plus Kirsch, along with Troy Laney on bass and the group’s newest member, former Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing drummer Josh Williams, cranked out original tunes from their two CD’s, plus some blues and southern rock covers. Highlights were abundant, from watching Joe switch off between various guitars, including his own cigar box guitar, to watching Josh’s powerhouse drumming and the nuances and fills he threw into the mix. Song highlights included the group’s original tunes such as “My Dues Ain’t Ever Paid,” “Born to Hard Time,” “Rooster Gets to Crowin,’” “Burnt Biscuit,” “Winding Our Way Back Home” and more. Their cover selection included a hard blues-rock makeover of Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy,” the James Gang’s “Funk #49,” Blackfoot’s “Highway Song,” the Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” Otis Redding’s “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” the Allman Brothers’ “Soulshine” and more. Speal’s Tavern was a highlight as well; this room has a great atmosphere for live music, as folks here are into the music, and paid undivided attention to the Jukehouse Bombers from start to end.

Thickhead Productions presented the double-bill of Baltimore’s Deaf Scene and State College’s DopplerPoppins last month at Zeno’s. I caught the tail end of DopplerPoppins’ set, as they generated soulful, funk-rocking grooves on original numbers and an extended jamming rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire.” Deaf Scene – guitarist Dave Fullerton, bassist Eric Courtney and drummer Brett Schatz – took the Zeno’s crowd on a cosmic instrumental joyride; merging elements of progressive and indie rock, jazz-styled fusion, jam improvisation and 1960s-styled psychedelic rock into a style uniquely their own. Dave incorporated a freewheeling variety of guitar effects and distortion into each number, with Eric and Brett generating moving, versatile rhythms. Deaf Scene performed original instrumental compositions such as “Rijal,” “Godzilla Skin,” “Three-Pound Universe,” “Zealot,” “Nebula” and “Acid Fight,” and also did renditions of Tool’s “Schism” and “Sober,” plus a Foo Fighters “Everlong”-rooted jam excursion to finish the night. Deaf Scene will perform later this month at the 9th annual Domefest festival at the Port Royale Farm near Bedford on May 17-19.

I caught up with western PA hard rockers fAil last month as they rattled the rafters at Rocky’s Tavern in Johnstown. Singer Mike May, guitarist AJ Hamara, bassist Colin McCallay and drummer Frank Tomaselli brought full-fury hard rock, alternative and metal, much of it from the 1990s. Over the two sets I witnessed, fAil fired off tunes from Candlebox, Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Papa Roach, Slipknot, Breaking Benjamin, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Korn, System Of a Down and more. Their execution was strong; Mike’s voice brought the right blend of melody, grit and aggression, while A.J. displayed sharp solo work, and Colin and Frank provided the booming, battering rhythm section. Rocky’s Tavern was digging it, with a steady crowd of folks grooving in front of the band for the duration. When they demanded more at night’s end, fAil responded with Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fire.”

I also caught up with Stormy as they performed last month at Hollidaysburg’s Argonne Cafe. The venue was full as Stormy – singer and harmonica player Mark Montrella, keyboardist Charlie Leiden, singer Carol Fedeli, drummer Ray Fedeli and guitarist Brandon Stewart – did a tasty mixture of classic rock, pop, folk and blues. I enjoyed their eclectic mixture; Stormy performed a lot of music you don’t ordinarily hear anyone else doing, from Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” and Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” to the Carol-fronted Carole King double-shot of “I Feel the Earth Move” and “It’s Too Late,” the Steely Dan pair of “Pretzel Logic” and “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” and Brandon growling out the voice on Tom Waits’ “Heartattack and Vine.” Mark kept the mood upbeat and happy, wailing some sinister harmonica a few times during the night, while Charlie tickled the ivories early and often with tasty solos and fills, and Ray gave each song just the right rhythmic touch, varying his drumbeats from soft underscores to upbeat and driving. Stormy delivered a pleasant time and kept the crowd happy, enough so that the folks called them back for an encore, and the group answered with a version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.”

Other performers I saw recently included Felix & the Hurricanes, capping Easter Sunday at Altoona’s Black & Gold TavernBlind Liver – the alias of acoustic guitarist and singer Seth Shumaker – presenting his wide-ranging musical mixture at McGarvey’s in late March…and various open mic performers Tuesdays at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, Wednesdays at the Unter Uns in Altoona, and even a Thursday open mic at the aforementioned Speal’s Tavern in New Alexandria.  

News and notes…The 51st annual Blair County Arts Festival happens May 19-20 at Penn State Altoona; among this year’s performers are Stormy, Ride the Song, Jay Vonada Jazz Quartet, Stephen Johnopolos Trio, Camara Drum & Dance, Born & the Beanstalk, the Dave Villani Trio, R2B2, Lucia Valentine, the Altoona Brass Collective and more…Walkney, Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band, the Chrome Hearts and Tree will perform during this year’s Pints for Pets Brewfest on May 12 at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field; proceeds benefit the Central PA Humane Society…Pittsburgh favorites The Clarks this month release their new CD, Madly in Love at the End of the WorldNatascha & the Spy Boys have released their first full-length CD, called …That’s the Hardest PartNegan releases their debut EP, Burnt Pages, this month…Simple Gifts presents their annual Folk College event May 25-27 at Juniata College in Huntingdon.

The area music scene recently mourned the unexpected passing of Eric Deamer on March 23. Eric was 48. Eric played guitar with a number of Huntingdon and Mifflin County-based rock bands during the past three decades, including Defiance, Thin Ice and others. And we also send our condolences to Priscilla “the Tambourine Lady” Gati after the passing of her husband, Robert Gati, last month at the age of 61.

              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” – April 2018

By: Jim Price

    We have again arrived at that time of year where outdoor temperatures start to rise, snow melts a little quicker (such as the foot-plus snowfall that deluged my home area, Altoona, on the first day of Spring), and the first outdoor live music events of a new warm weather season begin to happen. Several outdoor concerts and events are already on my radar, making me more anxious for the temperatures to warm up!

    Again providing a big highlight to my winter was the 22nd annual Millennium Music Conference (MMC) in late February, happening at the Park Inn by Radisson Harrisburg West hotel complex in Mechanicsburg. One of the most valuable aspects of this conference for me each year is that it captures – through its panels, seminars, networking and keynote presentations – the current state of the music industry during any given year. By the end of MMC, I always come away with a clearer picture of where things are and where they are headed. The industry has changed vastly since this conference’s debut, and especially the definition of “making it.” The traditional goal for “making it” was to get signed to a major recording deal; but in the present day that is not necessarily the be-all end-all. Anything from getting a song to go “viral” online to passing an audition and achieving several weeks of success on a television talent show, to even being seen by the right person at the right time at an event such as the MMC (just ask Halestorm or Crobot) can punch a ticket to a performer’s music industry success.

    Both of this year’s MMC keynote interviews addressed this changing music industry climate, and how musicians can best position themselves to take advantage of it. As she was interviewed during the Friday keynote by Bob 94.9 radio’s Nancy Ryan, Diane Lockner – regional manager for Triple Tigers Records – offered advice to musicians about nurturing fan bases, effectively using social media to market and promote their music, staying persistent, and – most importantly – believing in themselves and their music. “If you’re true to yourself, if you really believe that you can do it, you can do it,” said Diane. “I think the most important thing is, believe in yourself…stay true to yourself. Don’t chase fads.”

    During the audience Q&A near the end of the interview, Diane was asked about ‘making it’ via the path of appearing on musical talent television shows like American Idol or The Voice and winning a recording contract. She responded that such contests present opportunities, but with a caveat. “It’s your ride, it’s your journey,” according to Diane. “If that’s how you think it’s gonna work for you and you get an audition, go for it. Every opportunity is an opportunity.” But she added, “If you win, know that you are an artist that has won a contest…What they don’t tell you is that said record label is only getting two percent. So, if you’re an American Idol winner and you’re signed to a major label like Universal Music Group, think about all the other artists who are on that label that are making that label a whole lot more money than two percent. Who do you think they are going to push more, they’re going to push the artists that are making them more money.”

   Saturday’s keynote featured Andrew Goodfriend of TKO booking agency in New York, interviewed by Reverbnation co-founder Lou Plaia. Andrew provided tips about getting the attention of agencies like TKO and landing spots in music festivals and high-profile events. He stressed the importance of an artist’s strong musical identity, cultivating a solid fan base, visibility, accessibility to information and music via social media and the internet, and persistence in pursuing opportunities.

Of course, showcasing bands and artists were again a major part of my MMC experience. That experience began shortly after I first arrived on Thursday night, and attended the conference kickoff party at the host hotel’s Bravo 11 Mess Hall & Deck. On stage as I arrived was the same band I saw first during last year’s conference kickoff party, Saskatchewan, Canada rockers Autopilot. This trio again did nice work on their set, demonstrating a sound that merged elements of pop song craft with alternative and progressive-leaning arrangements. Autopilot’s tunes were catchy yet innovative, with interesting layering of guitars, soaring vocals and busy rhythms. Another international act then took the stage: Glasgow, Scotland’s Single By Sunday. Sporting brightly-colored hairdos, these young Scotsmen were fun, cutting loose with a raucous brand of melody-based punk/pop rock. Bright red-haired lead singer and rhythm guitarist Josh, blue-haired lead guitarist Jonny, purple-mopped bassist Jack and drummer Jorge fired up the crowd with their original song arsenal. Their songs were powered by rapid fire punk rhythms, but their melodies suggested they might have heard of some famous folks named John, Paul, George and Ringo. Their song hooks were infectious, and their choruses were easily memorable; they had the large audience cheering loudly by the end of their set. Closing out the night were Johnstown rockers Silver Screen, who gave a strong performance in their mission to ‘make grunge great again.’ Singer/rhythm guitarist Stephen Platt, lead guitarist Ben Ressler, bassist Alex Richardson and drummer Austin Danel mixed original songs and select covers, and as the last band of the night, got to play a lengthier set. They did songs off their debut EP ‘Inertia’ such as the slower “Codeine,” “Talk to Me” and “Labelled Off,” and they also did tunes from Kiss, Weezer, Silverchair, Jet, Nirvana and more. An electrical snafu late in their set prompted international cooperation between Silver Screen and Single By Sunday; after a breaker malfunctioned, drummer Austin started up a beat, while Josh and Jonny of Single By Sunday free-styled a rap on the microphone until power was fully restored!

    During the daytime conference Trade Show on both Friday and Saturday, I was able to see abbreviated acoustic sets on the PA Musician Day Stage by many of this year’s showcasing performers. Performers I experienced on the Day Stage this year included Austin, Texas-based Megan Flechaus and her self-named band…Ben Bollinger of Harrisburg’s Six Bar Break…Harrisburg native (now based in Nashville) Meaghan Farrell…Chicago-based Ryan Pleckham…Michigan-based Alex Schofield…New York City’s The Foxfires…State College’s Chris Rattie (more on him later)…Chicago folk artists Almond & Olive…Los Angeles singer and songwriter Smolsky…Lancaster’s Justin Angelo…Bucks County native and Houston, Texas-based singer and songwriter Jeannine Higgins…Easton-based traveling troubadour Eli the Hawk…Johnstown’s Silver Screen…Austin, Texas’ The Human Circuit…Connecticut-based EDM artist A/8 (Alon Gordon)…Cleveland’s Oblivea…Harrisburg folk-rock trio Jelli…Maine-based Tom Emerson…Connecticut’s EZ Bluez…Michigan’s Neil Obremski…Nate from New Hampshire’s Epic Season…and MMC frequent flyer Chris Whitmer. Among my favorite highlights from the Day Stage included the spirited and adventurous music of New Jersey’s Random Hubiak…Upbeat music and a dance clinic from Harrisburg’s D-Bo…the dazzling string-bending and fingerstyle of Harrisburg-based singer and guitarist Suzi Brown…youthful Canadian lady performers Girl Pow-r (more on them later) and the return of the rollicking keyboard music of Columbus, Ohio’s Bill Kurzenberger. And as the Day Stage concluded on Saturday, Jeannine Higgins’ self-titled CD was drawn from my radio show dropbox, so Jeannine won a guest appearance on the March 25 edition of Qwik-Rock’s “Homegrown Rocker” program!

Multiple showcase performances happened on both Friday and Saturday night, as nearly 300 different bands and artists performed throughout the Harrisburg area. My Friday showcase adventures began at the aforementioned Bravo 11 at the host hotel. The first band up was Added Color from Brooklyn, New York. Four members strong, this group provided an intriguing blend of funk, rock, alternative and even progressive elements in their original sound. They delivered often intriguing song arrangements anchored in tight grooves as they performed original songs plus a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade.” Their instrumental skills were strong; I especially noted bassist Danny Dahan, who enthusiastically invested into each groove he played. Next up was the two-man acoustic edition of Baltimore’s Skinny Is Green, who played a selection of original numbers, including some from their forthcoming new album coming out this month.

   I then headed to Harrisburg’s Pourhouse on Derry, arriving just before my first look at Chris Rattie & the New Rebels. I was anxious to see this latest chapter in Chris’ musical story, and it is a rowdy one. Chris on vocals and guitar, guitarist Brian Cleary, bassist Jeff Downing and drummer Forrest Schwartz quickly awakened the Friday night crowd with the sharp-witted opener “Country Boy” off the group’s recently-issued album Porch. Chris and company mixed edgy Americana-rock songs from the new album with some of his past material. His new songs included “Prisoner 743” and “My Mountain,” and the group did songs from Chris’ 2013 All These Things CD such as “So Long” and “Hotel By the Highway.” Chris sang with a clear, authoritative voice, and his songs displayed heart and purpose. He and the New Rebels generated strong cheers from the crowd by the close of their set. Next was Bowie, Maryland’s Wise Eyes, who demonstrated their brand of soulful rock. These guys showed a tight and together sound, sturdy melodies and some freewheeling jams as their set progressed. Among their songs was a new reggae-toned original called “Diamond,” and a fast-moving take on CCR’s “Green River.” Again showcasing at MMC was Jake Tavill & the Indigo Child Blues Band, who closed the night with their intriguing blend of sounds. Singing and playing keys, Jake and his band – sax player Michael Squillace, bassist Casey O’Connell and drummer Ben Ley – played several numbers off Jake’s new Twisted Ideology album such as the feisty set opener “Legs in a Twist,” the Motown-meets-Tin Pan Alley number “It Don’t Matter” and “Gold.” They also broke out a few older originals, plus strong takes on Sly & the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay” and Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Jake’s innovative song arrangements, soulful vocals, and the fun spirit he and his band exhibited throughout their set made for a joyful close of the night.

     My Saturday night showcase adventure again started at Bravo 11, with York rockers Small Town Titans convening their performance shortly following Andrew Goodfriend’s keynote interview. Singer/bassist Phil Freeman, guitarist Ben Guiles and drummer Jonny Ross sounded sharp as they fired through their original song arsenal, opening with “Wreck” and hard-hitting numbers such as “We Owe You the Truth,” “Sky High,” the new composition “Junkie for You,” “Me, Myself & Monster” (featured on this year’s MMC compilation CD), “Party In Hell,” “9 to 5,” their take on Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” and more. Phil delivered a commanding voice and charisma up front, and these Titans were constant action as they maneuvered about the stage.

I then headed to my second showcase destination of the night, the Keystone Musical Arts Center in Camp Hill, where youthful talent was being celebrated. Three different performances at this showcase proved The Who’s adage that “the kids are alright,” as teenaged performers delivered jaw-dropping performances. Performing as I arrived was 14-year-old North Carolina guitar shredder Johnny Zostant, who demonstrated nonstop fretboard pyrotechnics on original compositions and select covers. Playing along a backing track, Johnny’s fingers were nonstop as he delivered arpeggios and other rapid fire solo work. The clincher for me was one of his covers, as Johnny did the Jeff Beck Group’s “Going Down” – great to witness a young talent tapping into the Jeff Beck catalog! Next up was a group I saw earlier in the day on the PA Musician Day Stage, Canada’s Girl Pow-R. Five women strong this night (their total ensemble numbers 13), this teenaged group sang, played instruments and danced on a selection of pop/dance covers and original songs, with each member introducing a song while sharing a positive thought or encouraging message. Among their originals was their current single “Krisi” and “Stronger Than Yesterday,” and the group covered hits from Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga and more. Closing this showcase was teenaged PA jazz fusion trio Teen Town. These youngsters – Connor Rohrer on keys, Gabriel Severn on bass and Logan Bedard on drums – were amazing as they showed incredible instrumental skills on jazz numbers from Weather Report, Tribal Tech, Adam Nitti and more. They improvised, soloed off one another, and had fun exploring the musical cosmos as the audience cheered on. This led to the finale, as Johnny Zostant joined the group on a funky jam, while the members of Girl Pow-R danced along.

    My MMC 2018 experience then concluded at the Grotto Pub in Enola. I had hoped to see Indiana, PA bluesmen the Jukehouse Bombers, but only got to see half of their last song, as they started performing early when the first band of the night didn’t show up. The Hall Williams Band from the Baltimore/D.C. area was next, and they stunned with their mixture of blues, funk, soul and jazz flavors. Namesake Hall Williams on guitar and lead vocals, bassist Lorenzo Sands, keyboardist Justin Taylor and drummer Rodney Dunton delivered stirring grooves and superb musicianship, capped by one of the best versions of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer” I have ever witnessed – Lorenzo’s bass solo fireworks had to be seen/heard to be believed! Annapolis, Maryland’s Rickshaw Lizard then closed out the night with their hearty mixture of groove-laden funk, rock, blues and jams. Guitarist/singer Dr. Move, bassist Hans Tronic, sax man Joe Sax, drummer Pete Kaster and David Gorozdos on keys punched out a variety of sounds on their original set, elevating their songs into heated jams along the way. They did numbers from their Move With Me EP such as “Rick’s Rumble,” “Kudzu” and “Notion,” plus several other tunes as well, and they inspired more dance floor action as their set progressed.

    Closer to home, musicians, friends and fans last month remembered an area musician and colleague, Terry Croft, with a benefit show to help with his final costs at the Altoona Grand Hotel. Ed N’Born and R2B2 kicked off the afternoon, before Rokkandy took the stage. Singer/keyboardist Patricia McConnell, guitarist/singer Bob DeArmitt, bassist/singer Kelly Montgomery and drummer Doug Stephens generated a strong set of classic rock, pop, country and dance favorites. Rokkandy kept the musical action constant as they did numbers from Young MC, Jimmy Eat World, Styx, Luke Bryan, Walk the Moon, 4 Non Blondes and more. Pat and Bob alternated most of the singing duties, and the group pulled off some surprises, such as Toni Basil’s “Mickey,” the Bob-fronted take on Foreigner’s “Waiting for a Girl Like You,” and the Pat-fronted version of AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll).” I then joined my Backyard Rockers brethren – singer/guitarist Rich Dasch and guitarist, bassist and singer Mo Yon – as we provided acoustic favorites from Steve Earle, Neil Young, The Band, Elton John, Tom Petty, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and more. Mama Corn then brought their stringed sounds to the stage, mixing original tunes with their diverse range of grassed-up covers. Mama Corn brought smiles as they did favorites such as their take on Banjo & Sullivan’s “I’m Home Getting Hammered While She’s Out Getting Nailed,” Crosby Stills & Nash’s “Helplessly Hoping,” original tunes like “The Hanging of Alfred Andrews” and “Another Couple Days” and more. And providing much of the backline this day, Bone Jacked closed the benefit strong with their set of classic-rocking favorites. Decked in clown shoes and partial clown make-up as he served double-duty with the ToonTown Klowns this day, new singer Dave Mitchell sang on the first several tunes, joining guitarist Chris Guella, bassist Dave Collins and drummer/show organizer Terry Wilt. Jacob Baskin fronted the group the rest of the way, belting out voice on tunes from Tom Petty, Doobie Brothers, Counting Crows, Hootie & the Blowfish, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Palmer and more. When all was said and done, more than $1,000 was raised.

     The Central PA punk rock scene has remained steadily vibrant over the years, and the area’s punk musicians celebrated that vibrancy with last month’s second annual “Who Says It’s Dead” Punkfest at McGarvey’s. Seven area punk bands brought their visceral brands of music to the stage. State College’s Owned By A**holes and Altoona’s Railroad City Murder Machines launched the event and had performed prior to my arrival. X’s For Eyes was wrapping up their torrid set as I got there, with Lose The Name then taking the stage. Reconvening last year, the roster of singer/guitarist Brandon Kane, guitarist/singer Jimmy Gehrdes, bassist Brad Davis and drummer Toby Hunter mixed up older and newer high-velocity punk anthems that kept the crowd excited and turbulent. State College favorites The Whatleys maintained the momentum, slamming down their reckless abandon punk anthems. Singer/bassist Eddie Fraud, singer/guitarist Hiro, guitarist TJ Fadehawk and drummer JLaw fired off tunes from their American Party CD such as “Go For Broke,” “Balloon Drops (Over Confetti Falls)” and “CJ Ramone,” plus other favorites like “My Way Home.” For the next band, The Flannels, it was the swan song for frontman John Brehm, who departs the group to devote time to family and career. John, guitarists James McNulty and Mike Lanzendorfer, bassist Chet Lafferty and drummer Josh Ryan let fly with their melody-driven, high-velocity take on punk, doing numbers such as “Be There For Me,” “10:38” and more. Closing out the show was The Snipped, performing their punk-rocking “dadcore.” What is “dadcore,” you ask? ‘Old’ guys playing punk rock music, and expressing anger at things dads might be mad about – such as one of their songs that vented punk rock venom at getting stuck behind a school bus while you’re already running late for work. Singer/guitarist Mike Wax, guitarist Jeff Reid, bassist Rik Golden and drummer Justin Burket presented several such original numbers, plus a few older punk rock covers during their set. These enthusiastic performances and the large, brisk attendance to support them showed that area punk rock is certainly not dead, and the “Who Says It’s Dead?” punk fest proved that the spirit of punk will live on in these parts for a long time to come.

    The Arena in State College and 105.9 Qwik-Rock commenced their second annual Battle of the Bands competition at The Arena last month. The competition features five preliminary battles, with each winner advancing to the finals on April 14, and the top three winners scoring prizes. I caught the second preliminary competition, featuring performances from four band hopefuls. From Down The Road launched this night’s battle with their unique mix of styles, spanning modern and classic rock flavors, ska, reggae, punk rock and more. Singer Guy Mauro, guitarist Ben Eberhart, bassist Eric Baker and drummer Tyler McEvoy mixed original tunes and select covers from Jimi Hendrix, Green Day and others. Pittsburgh’s Forsaken By Society stepped up the intensity with their set of brute force metalcore. Frontman Matt Micenko, guitarist Allan Trail and drummer E.J. Novak unleashed furious original numbers such as “Self Destruct,” the anti-hate “Back Down,” “Breathe” and more. The night’s third act, Scranton’s Traverse the Abyss, also escalated the intensity with their blend of power metal and hardcore, performing original songs from their CD The Gamble of Life plus newer numbers. Singer Eric Abyss took his performance to the crowd, often venturing off the stage to engage with observers around the room. Flanking him were guitarists Mike White and Matt Mierzejweski, bassist Mike Bieniecki and drummer Nathan Cardona. And Altoona’s Dilemma closed out the Battle with their presentation, which mixed elements of punk, alternative and postpunk. Singers and guitarists Micah Button and Devin Conrad, bassist Duane Ferrell and drummer Joel Kyle performed original numbers and their take on Nirvana’s “Lithium.” After scores from the three judges were tallied and averaged, Traverse the Abyss scored highest and moves on to the finals.

    Also at The Arena, I caught up with the Chris Bell Band early last month. Assisted by Nashville’s Joey Dotson on drums, Brian McHugh on bass and Jonathan Phillippi on rhythm guitar, Chris demonstrated supreme skills on the guitar strings, delivering fiery lead solos throughout the night on a variety of country and Americana favorites. Chris and company did numbers from Jason Aldean, Kip Moore, Toby Keith, George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Blake Shelton, Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton, Travis Tritt, Old Crow Medicine Show and more. They also broke out a few of Chris’ original country compositions, such as “(That’s How) Country Girls Do It.” The band was strong and the music pacing was tight, and despite a lighter attendance this night, Chris and his band still played for broke and left it all on the stage – they even played almost 30 minutes past their scheduled end time of 1 a.m. to give the fans their money’s worth. For upbeat country and excellent guitar fireworks, make the effort to see the Chris Bell Band when they hit stages in these parts – you won’t be disappointed!

    Pittsburgh’s Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers visited McGarvey’s stage for the first time last month. As they have demonstrated the previous times I have seen them (at the Smoked Country Jam and Windber’s Bluegrass In The Park festivals), the Stragglers showed abundant musical skills as they blended folk, bluegrass and string music with jazz-styled improvisation on a selection of original numbers, including a few from their latest CD, White Lightning Road. All five musicians – singer/guitarist Gary Antol, singer/fiddle player Libby Eddy, mandolinist Ray Bruckman, dobro player Jody Mosser and upright bassist Evan Bell – displayed precision on their respective instruments, delivering exciting solos and interaction on each number. Some of their numbers this night included the CD title track “White Lightning Road,” “Things Take Time,” “Tumbleweed” and “In Harmony,” and they also did a refreshing take on “I Know You Rider.” Along the way, Gary shared some humorous insight on the actual location of Jakob’s Ferry (a blink-your-eyes-and-you’ll-miss-it landmark in Greene County). The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers will release their new CD, Poison River, shortly and will play dates in North Carolina later this month, gearing up for a busy summer season of bluegrass and music festivals – including Smoked Country Jam in June and Johnstown’s Flood City Music Festival in early August.

    Work duties limited my Irish-themed merriment during St. Patrick’s season last month, and I spent the latter part of St. Patrick’s night witnessing Nashville-based singer and songwriter Nathan Kalish and his group, the Lastcallers, at McGarvey’s. Flanked by Karen Frederick on upright bass and Jackie Ray Daniels on fiddle, Nathan introduced his brand of grooving Americana string music, demonstrating a calm and sturdy voice as he sang original songs from his latest CD, I Want to Believe, plus select covers from roots performers like Gram Parsons and more. Given the St. Patrick’s occasion, Nathan and the Lastcallers also broke out versions of the traditional “Irish Washerwoman” and Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues.” 

    I also caught two-thirds of a triple-bill at McGarvey’s early last month, seeing Making State and Walkney in action. Dilemma started off the night, and Making State was just under way as I entered the building. Singer Nick Myers, guitarist Sam Magliaro, bassist Billy Vaughn and drummer Jaymeson Rowles hammered original tunes that blended elements of alternative, pop, punk and classic hard rock. They did a few songs from their debut EP Waiting for Signals such as “All I Need,” as well as a bunch of newer songs. Nick’s voice was in good form, and he demonstrated confidence and swagger to engage the crowd. The rest of the band sounded tight, and Making State drew cheers and good crowd response. Walkney – a.k.a. singer and guitarist Derek Mrdjenovich – ended the night with his solo acoustic set, introducing a number of new songs and his own update of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie.” At press time, Derek has been auditioning for and being spotted on the new season of American Idol, and was headed to Hollywood for the latest development in that journey.

    News and notes…Waka Flocka and New Politics will headline the second annual Ivyside Off the Rails “Glow On” concert, happening at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum on April 22; the concert is presented by Penn State Altoona’s Campus Activities Board…Logic, Daya, Judah & the Lions and Mick Jenkins perform at Penn State’s annual Movin’ On festival on April 27 at the university’s Intramural Fields…The Reverend Horton Heat returns to McGarvey’s on April 3…The Allegheny Ukulele Kollective presents the fifth annual Ukulele Soiree on April 20-22 at Laurel Lodge near Altoona, featuring ukulele workshops, jam sessions and open mics and guest performers including Sarah Maisel, Craig Chee, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Jim D’Ville, Mim of Mim’s Ukes and more…Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors release their new album, We See Through It, this month; a CD release show happens April 6 at Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale…Nobody’s Heroes is disbanding after a seven-year run on area stages; their final performance took place opening for Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band at McGarvey’s late last month (recap in next month’s issue)…Guitarist Brian Pavlic has parted ways with Chris Vipond & the Stanley Street Band to pursue other musical interests…To end confusion from fans expecting rowdy Cajun music, western PA’s Crawdad Joe has changed his band’s name to his own last name, Dedon.

    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” – March 2018

By: Jim Price

             Although Spring officially starts later this month, it appears that winter has already started relenting, which has permitted me to see a number of noteworthy live music performances in recent weeks.

              One highlight for me in the past month was catching my first look at Canadian folk/Americana group The Wailin’ Jennys at State College’s historic State Theatre. Three multi-talented women provide the core of this group: singer and stand-up bassist Heather Masse; guitarist, percussionist and singer Nicky Mehta; and singer, banjo, guitar and accordion player Ruth Moody. Assisting these women this night were Ruth’s brother Richard Moody on viola, and acoustic guitarist Adam Dobres. Together 16 years, The Wailin’ Jennys showcased wondrous vocals and harmonies, as well as tasty, ear-pleasing arrangements on an assortment of original songs and select covers. Their sound combined elements of folk, Celtic, bluegrass, country and rock as they performed songs from their five CD’s, including their latest album of cover songs, Fifteen. Although each of their songs this night qualified as a highlight, standouts for me included their intertwining voices on the a cappella “These Blues” and Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” Heather’s jazz-rooted “Cherry Blossom Love,” the audience sing-along “Oh Sweet Peace,” and – as this show happened the day after the Parkland school shooting in Florida – the solemn show-closer “One Voice.” The Wailin’ Jennys also performed renditions of Emmy Lou Harris’ “Deeper Well” and “Boulder to Birmingham,” Warren Zevon’s “Keep Me in Your Heart,” Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and the traditional “Old Churchyard.” During their current tour, The Wailin’ Jennys have teamed with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – this night, the group invited audience members to make donations to NAMI during intermission. Everybody who donated any amount received a raffle ticket to win The Wailin’ Jennys’ entire five-album CD catalog and a T-shirt. (I’m now the proud owner of those items, as my ticket was drawn!)

              A popular adage suggests that a man’s worth is not measured by his possessions, but by the number of friends he has, and friends who remember him when he’s gone. The late Tom Petty won the hearts of many with his music, and a wall-to-wall crowd packed McGarvey’s in late January for a special “Petty Crime” tribute featuring a cast of area musicians. The assembled cast of singers Brian Elliott, Todd McKeone and Aislinn Feathers, guitarist/mandolinist Mike Wertz, guitarist/keyboardist Jarrett Bickel, bassist Hunter Karns and drummer Sam Thurau performed two sets of pure Petty, touching on many of his best-known numbers and a few deep cuts. After a strong opening set by Ed N’Born, the Petty Crime cast cut loose with “You Wreck Me” to open their first set, and did Petty favorites such as “Running Down a Dream,” “The Waiting,” “You Don’t Know How It Feels” and “Refugee.” Aislinn then sang the Stevie Nicks lead on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” before the group dug out a few Petty deep cuts such as “Honey Bee,” “The Apartment Song” and “Lover of the Bayou.” Next was “Don’t Do Me Like That,” before Ed N’Born’s Sean Osborn joined in on acoustic guitar for the set-ending edition of “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” The crowd remained festive as the cast launched into their second set with “I Need to Know,” Petty hits and favorites filled out the duration: “I Won’t Back Down,” “Breakdown,” “Handle with Care,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Learning to Fly,” “Wildflowers,” “Yer So Bad,” “Even the Losers,” “It’s Good to Be King,” “American Girl,” and – to end the night – “Free Fallin.’” The performance was strong and enthusiastic from start to end, and it was clear that this assembled cast did their homework and had these songs down before hitting the stage. The mood was happy throughout; this celebration of Tom Petty and his body of work made for a memorable night.

              I saw a number of shows at McGarvey’s in the past several weeks…Another recent highlight there was a night of blues headlined by all-female New York-based blues quintet Jane Lee Hooker. This was an excellent night of blues and blues rock, with the Rogan Allen Project kicking things off early. Flanked by Bill Smith on bass, Nathan Beatty on keys and trumpet, and Randy Servello behind the drum kit, Rogan sang and jammed guitar on a mix of original tunes and select blues-rooted covers. One of Rogan’s originals was the catchy “Warm Beer and Cold Women,” and he and his bandmates finished with Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love.” Felix & the Hurricanes followed with their strong set of original tunes and covers. Namesake, singer and guitar meister Felix Kos, singer and bassist Jeff Clapper and drummer Bob Watters served up a few original songs I had not heard in a while, such as “Free” and “I Just Had to Play the Blues,” as well as favorites like “Walking a Straight Line,” “Beale Street,” “Keep On Rockin’” and more. Guest Steve Oswalt hopped onto the stage to belt out voice on “It’s All Over Now,” and the Hurricanes also did numbers from the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Robben Ford, and the lid-slamming finisher, Focus’ “Hocus Pocus.” Jane Lee Hooker then came, saw and conquered the Altoona audience with their fiery set of blues and blues-rock, serving up original songs from their two CD’s and a select remake or two. These five women brought it all, from fast-firing boogie and blues-driven rockers to slow heart-ripping blues tunes. Their base sound tapped Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones influences especially, but they also opened with Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man” and did a fiery version of Bobby Bland’s “Turn On Your Love Light” (which they cover on their latest album, Spiritus). Singer and keyboardist Dana “Danger” Athens displayed a high-flying, powerful voice, passion and all-out energy from start to end; guitarists Tracy Hightop and Tina “T-Bone” Gorin demonstrated chunky riffs, slick solos and even some harmony leads, and bassist Mary Zadroga and drummer Melissa Houston set the strong rhythms and foundation behind it all. Jane Lee Hooker had the house howling and cheering from the get-go, and left much of the crowd picking their jaws up off the floor by show’s end.

              McGarvey’s hosted the fast-firing triple-bill of Dragline, The Flannels and The Filthy Lowdown in late January. Alle-Kiski Valley trio Dragline brought full fury to the stage to lead off the night, performing unapologetic, blistering hard rock and roll. Singer/guitarist Jimmy, bassist/singer Mike and drummer Jay mixed elements of rebel country, southern rock and rockabilly into their high-powered, Motorhead-rooted sound. Some of their highlights included originals like “Mommy’s Got Bacon, Daddy’s Got Beans,” “Whiskey and the Devil,” “Rock and Roll Machine,” and their fiery set-ending cover of David Allan Coe’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” The Flannels then fired off their set of short, sweet, blistering, melody-rooted punk rock numbers. Their tunes were fast and furious, but tight and tuneful – singer John Brehm, guitarists James McNulty and Mike Lanzendorfer, bassist Chet Lafferty and drummer Josh Ryan drilled tunes such as “My Way,” “Song About You,” “Be There for Me,” “Feet So Cold” and their established closer, “10-28.” The Flannels kept their foot on the accelerator and never let up, and their set kept the energy level high from start to end. Pittsburgh’s The Filthy Lowdown slammed the lid on the night with their high-velocity, whiplash-inducing punk and metal-geared rock. This band was a speed trip from start to end, with guitarists Max Snyder and Brandon Habera, bassist Charlie Kowalski and drummer Dan Kelly setting the rampaging backdrops for singer Abe Like Lincoln to do his manic thing – often wrapping his mic cord around his face as he barked and snarled tunes from the group’s original song arsenal. Some of The Filthy Lowdown’s tunes this night included “308,” “Punk Rock and Roll,” “Hydroplane” (which is currently getting some Pittsburgh radio airplay), “Dog in Heat” and more. The Filthy Lowdown was fast, furious, intense and focused, and their set provided the perfect blowout finale to the night.

              McGarvey’s also featured longtime New Jersey-based rockers the Hudson Falcons, who headlined a triple-bill last month. Greg Burley performed his acoustic show before I arrived, and I got there just before the Rik Golden Band took the stage. Namesake Rik on lead voice and guitar, guitar man Rick Ramsey, bassist Steve Seymore and drummer Todd Harshbarger cranked out their set of high-octane, punk-infused original tunes and select covers. Rik and company did longtime original tune favorites like “Jonny Leatherjacket,” “The Gig Is Up,” “Something Else (In Mind),” “Brown Eye Mary” and one from Rik’s Full Time Kings stint, “Don’t Bother Me.” They also broke out versions of Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio,” the Rick Ramsey-fronted take on the Ramones’ “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” a Descendents number and more. Paying their first visit to the McGarvey’s stage, the Hudson Falcons – in the midst of their 20th anniversary tour – tore it up with their mixture of raw, slamming punk and rock’n’roll. Their first few songs demonstrated all-out, reckless abandon, blue-collar-themed punk rock, but gruff-voiced frontman Mark Linskey and the group – guitarist Chris Lynn, bassist Jim and Alyson Cina on drums – then showed another twist on their persona, mixing in some melody-based, thoughtful numbers with a Bruce Springsteen edge – such as “Be There With You,” “Interstate Bound” and “Long Live the King.” There were also several boisterous odes that championed working class struggles, such as their set-opener “Revolution,” “We’ll Fight Back” and more. The Hudson Falcons also threw in a few select covers, including a Devil Dogs number and their closing take on the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” which infused snippets of CCR’s “Travelin’ Band” and Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy.”

              Snowy conditions on a Saturday night last month couldn’t thwart me from seeing Syracuse, New York rockers The Spring Street Family when they paid their first visit to McGarvey’s. This band was impressive as they mixed hard rock, funk, reggae and hip-hop. Rage Against the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers served as primary reference points for their sound, but there were also hints of Led Zeppelin, Parliament-Funkadelic and even a touch of jam rock present. Singer Ryan Vendetti brought the fury, from Zach de la Rocha-flavored raps to scathing howls and more, and lead guitarist Ben Blujus did some wild stuff on the guitar strings, with bassist Dennis Lingel and drummer Mike Redmond providing strong rhythms behind them. The Spring Street Family did a number of original tunes, including songs off their self-titled CD such as “Putting the Biscuits in the Basket” and more. They also broke out covers from Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cake and others – I especially liked their mash-up salvo of DJ Snake/Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” into Rage’s “Bulls on Parade” and “Know Your Enemy.” The inclement weather stunted the crowd at McGarvey’s this night, but the Spring Street Family will likely return later this year.

              The live music dance party machine known as Shallow 9 fired on last month, even as a key component of the group was missing. Regularly-scheduled lead singer Erika Marino wasn’t available for the group’s performance at McGarvey’s, as she was out of town becoming Erika Marino Ankeny. (Yes, she got married – Congratulations!) In Erika’s absence, though, a few other voices stepped up, including guitarist Ryan Weaver, the group’s frequent-flyer soundman Mike Stanley, and – returning to the lead microphone role after ‘retiring’ ten years ago – former Silver Sunday singer Cathie Stultz. These three platooned singing duties throughout the night, joining guitarist Tucker Landis, bassist Mitch Neuder and drummer Todd Harshbarger. This piecemeal edition of Shallow 9 delivered the hits, keeping the dance floor busy with modern and classic rock, pop, funk, hip-hop and dance favorites. Cathie belted out voice while frequently venturing off stage to serenade the entire room on numbers by Elle King, Fallout Boy, Alanis Morisette, Lady Gaga and others. Ryan fronted the group on hits from Blink 182 and Billy Idol. And in his multitasking role, Mike stepped to the stage between mixing duties to lead Shallow 9 on funk/hip-hop medleys; he led the group on one mash-up medley that fused together House Of Pain’s “Jump Around,” Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Baby I Got Your Money,” Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady” and Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain,” and another that put together tunes from Outkast, Commodores, Wild Cherry, Bruno Mars and more. With Erika back at the microphone, Shallow 9 will be busy this month with shows in Maryland and central PA, including performing at the annual Mac’s Irish Bash fundraiser for the McEldowney Academic Scholarship Fund, happening at Altoona’s Jaffa Shrine on March 16.

              A rising name on area stages is From Down The Road, who made their first appearance at McGarvey’s last month. Comprised of singer Guy Mauro, lead guitarist Ben Eberhart, bassist Eric Baker and drummer Tyler McEvoy; From Down The Road were all over the road musically, playing everything from classic 1960s and 70s rock to 1990s alternative, touches of punk and metal, and original tunes as well. Each of their original tunes had a different vibe – “Anywhere But Here” displayed a Jim Morrison/Doors flavor, and tunes like “The Word,” “Take It From Me,” “Summer Journey Into the Sun” and “Magic Rug” also displayed unique flavors. Their cover selection ran the gamut from Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and the Misfits’ “Last Caress” to the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” the Monkees’ “Daydream Believer,” the Black Sabbath double-shot of “Paranoid” into “War Pigs,” Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” plus tunes from the Raconteurs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, the Cars, Sublime, Jimi Hendrix, Jet, Weezer and more. With their wide variety of flavors and influences, it will be interesting to see where From Down the Road takes their music in the months ahead.

              I couldn’t get enough of them on New Year’s Eve, so I enjoyed the happy vibes of D.D. & the Pub Crawlers again early last month at McGarvey’s. This band again delivered upbeat fun as – eight members strong this night – they mixed up a variety of rock, soul, swing jazz, blues, ska and more. With bassist Art Martino, guitarist Jim Howsare, keyboardist Tim Boland and drummer Todd Harshbarger providing the group’s steady backbone, singer Dana “D.D.” Martino belted out lively and happy-go-lucky vocals, while the trio of trumpet player Adam Lingenfelter, sax players Lyndsay Reilly and Anthony Martino added the brassy spice. It was all fun, as D.D. & the Pub Crawlers did songs from CCR, Stevie Wonder, Ides Of March, the Eagles, A-ha, Wilson Pickett and more. Some highlights included the group’s swinging medley of Louis Prima’s “Jump Jive and Wail” into the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and – to end the night – the group’s modern swing medley of Cherry Poppin’ Daddies’ “Zoot Suit Riot” into Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s “You and Me and the Bottle Makes Three Tonight.” D.D. & the Pub Crawlers bring their festive music and stage show throughout the region, and they return to McGarvey’s on April 13.

              After 30-plus years of covering the area music scene, there are some things that – although I have seen them many times – still remain fresh for me. One of them is seeing the Giants Of Science pack dance floors with their trademark blend of 1980s-era pop and new wave classics – something this band has been doing since their inception in the 1990s! I witnessed this again last month during the Giants’ visit to The Arena in State College. As I watched this night, it was still cool to see these GiantsMick on guitar and lead vocals, Scotty B on keys, keytar and vocals, Johnny 5 on bass and Steve on drums – quickly filling the dance floor with those ‘80s-era chestnuts…tunes like Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night,” Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance,” Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round,” the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax,” Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come On Eileen,” Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love,” U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” A-ha’s “Take On Me,” Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself,” Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and “Don’t Stop Believin,’” and many more. Sans their popular white labcoats and facepaints, the Giants Of Science brought the party, and the dancers loved it. The Giants Of Science found their musical niche a long time ago, and they continue to keep dance crowds happy with it, maintaining a busy slate of shows across the state.

              Buster Krow continues to bring their party to area stages. I caught the last set of the group’s performance early last month at Hollidaysburg’s Old Canal Inn. Singer John Bauman, guitarists/singers Pat Irwin and Jeff Rhodes, bassist J.R. West and drummer Brian Gearhart did a solid job mixing up favorites spanning the 1970s to present. A good-sized crowd cheered and danced to Buster Krow’s takes on numbers by the Proclaimers, Black Crowes, Radiohead, Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Stray Cats, the Rolling Stones and more. Last set highlights included the group’s takes on Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” and Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town,” and the crowd not wanting the show to end and coaxing at least three extra songs from the group to finally close the night. Buster Krow returns to the Old Canal Inn on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

              On the acoustic front, Bedford’s Dave Howsare made his first appearance at Altoona’s Family Pizza & Pub in late January. Dave performed a blend of mostly classic rock numbers, demonstrating detailed guitar work and innovative uses of looping and layering on several numbers. Some of his highlights included an extended workout on America’s “Horse With No Name,” his arrangement on the Classics IV’s “Spooky,” the Doors’ “Crystal Ship,” his night-ending take on the Bouncing Souls’ “The Pizza Song,” and a medley that merged together CCR’s “Green River,” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy” and “Ice Cream Man.” Dave also performed songs by Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Black Crowes, Buffalo Springfield, John Mellencamp and more. Dave received a good response from the audience, will return to Family Pizza soon.

              Also at Family Pizza, I caught up with Conner Gilbert last month. Conner kept the dinner and bar crowd happy with his pleasant mixture of new and older favorites. Conner kept the music constant and nonstop as he sang and strummed acoustic guitar; doing numbers from Cheap Trick, Three Doors Down, Tom Petty, Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson, Walk The Moon, Eagles, Styx, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more. The most intriguing highlights for me included Conner’s take on Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” and his night-ending edition of Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis.” Conner has become a frequent flyer on Altoona area stages; he returns to Family Pizza & Pub on March 23 and April 8.

              Other performances I have seen recently included various musicians during the weekly Tuesday Open Mic Night at D’Ottavio’s Gran Sasso in Hollidaysburg, and the weekly Wednesday Open Mic Night at the Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society, presented by the Live Music Preservation Society.

              News and notesBackstreet Law is reuniting for two shows on the weekend of April 13 and 14; on April 13 they will perform at The Arena in State College, and on April 14 they will perform at Goodfellas Warehouse in Pottsville…State College’s The Tommy Roberts has announced they will be going their separate ways after a four-and-a-half year run on area stages…Mysterytrain has added new rhythm guitarist Gary McCloskey, formerly of Cambria County acoustic group Punk FictionThis Albatross is seeking a new bass player…Images Of Eden has signed with Pavement Entertainment, and will issue their new CD, Soulrise, worldwide 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” – 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!