The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – April 2024

It looks like live music in these parts will have very little difficulty transitioning back outdoors this month, with the forecast for mild daytime temperatures boding well for several outdoor music events slated for this month. Annual festival favorites such as the Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale (April 19-21, 25-28) and Huntingdon’s Mayfest (April 27) will again feature live music, The Blair Creators Festival will provide a day of area music favorites at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza on April 27, and Tru-Healing Concepts will again present the Cann-A-Toona cannabis festival with plentiful live music in downtown Altoona on April 20.

Indoor events again kept me busy in recent weeks. I caught six different events during St. Patrick’s Day weekend just before the April issue’s deadline. My St. Patrick’s celebration started on Friday night by catching up with area singer, guitarist and creator John Charney at Levity Brewing Company’s downtown Altoona location. John sang and displayed his precision guitar skills, and was joined early in the performance by his former Dean-O & the Emotions bandmate, singer Dean Gittings. John and Dean got their Irish on by playing tunes from Thin Lizzy and U2, and kept the house cheering with their wide mix of classic rock and hit favorites – spanning tunes from Billy Joel, Stray Cats, Redbone, Tears For Fears, Simple Minds, the Beatles, Crowded House, The Police, The Cars and more. Dean still has the voice, and John’s guitar stylings and arrangements were captivating, especially the frenzied jam solo work he displayed during “Got My Mojo Working!” 

I then headed to McGarvey’s in Altoona for the fun show billed as “Without Autumn/Zerb Rising.” I almost needed a scorecard to follow this one – the bands Autumn Rising and Without Zerb share almost the same backing band behind their respective singers – Autumn Shiffler and Bryan “Zerb” Zerbee. Without Zerb – with Zerb – opened the night before I arrived. Then Autumn Rising – with Autumn – had the full-fledged party firing as I arrived. Autumn, guitarists Scott Imler and Kirk Robison, bassist PJ Kelly and drummer Shawn Gioiosa kept the crowd dancing and cheering with a wide variety of energized favorites – from Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up” and Toni Basil’s “Mickey” to the Cranberries’ “Zombie,” Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” and just about everything in between. If you’re still keeping scorecards – both Autumn and Zerb, backed by the entirety of Autumn Rising’s backing section plus Brian Mannarino to make it Without Zerb’s roster, all took the stage. So we had Autumn and Zerb Rising, With Zerb and Autumn! (My brain hurts.) Whatever this amalgamation of singers and musicians was, it brought the blowout party finale, with both singers alternating and blending their voices on everything from Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” to Stevie Wonder/Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Higher Ground” to songs from Sublime, Wheatus, Queen, Simple Minds, Lady Gaga and more. Both singers and bands indicated that sequels to this exhaustive, fun night are likely.

On St. Patrick’s Eve Saturday, Dauber’s Fourteenth St. Patrick’s Day Party took place at the Gallitzin American Legion’s Oriental Ballroom, as multitudes of green-clad revelers came to celebrate food, libations, live music from Full Kilt and the Giants Of Science, prizes, and the memory of the event’s founder, Christopher “Dauber” Cox, a longtime member and officer with the Gallitzin Fire Company who passed away in 2022 after a valiant fight against cancer; proceeds helped out the Gallitzin Fire Company. After dinner was served, Full Kilt kicked off the music with their spirited mixture of Celtic-flavored favorites, original songs, folk songs and more. Singer and guitarist Mike Zerbee, fiddler Mandy Passmore-Ott, bassist and singer Chris Myers and drummer Jake Yarnish led the audience on sing-alongs, including their audience-dueling rendition of “Whiskey in the Jar.” They also did other Irish folk and drinking songs such as “Johnny Jump Up,” “Irish Rover,” “The Night Paddy Murphy Died” and others; rocked with some Irish punk rock numbers such as Dropkick Murphys’ “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” and “Rose Tattoo”; and gave their own Celtic rock flavor to renditions of “Wagon Wheel,” Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls,” Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to (Dublin),” Van Morrison’s “Wild Night” and U2’s “With or Without You.” People were clearly ready to dance by the time the Giants Of Science were ready to perform, evidenced by the dance floor filling up quickly during the first verse of their first song, Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” The Giants – Mick on vocals and guitar, Scotty B on vocals and keys, Steve on drums and Johnny 5 on bass and vocals – kept the floor packed throughout their sets with their mix of 1980s and 90s rocking hits; including numbers from REM, Sublime, Cars, Tom Petty, Men At Work, Soft Cell, Modern English, Killers, Chumbawamba, Green Day, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and others. The group welcomed several audience guests to the stage to help sing on a few numbers. The party was feverish until the end, and when the packed house called for one more, the Giants responded with Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself.” 

My St. Patrick’s Day Sunday live music journey then started with corned beef and cabbage plus The Band OZ “lite” at Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society. The duo of singer and guitarist Don Osborn and bassist and singer Bill Hunter played their smooth mix of acoustic classic rock and blues. Their selection over their two-set performance included numbers from Eric Clapton, Matchbox 20, Albert Collins, Tom Petty, Allman Brothers, Three Dog Night, CCR, the Beatles, Gerry & the Pacemakers and more. And they saluted an Irish artist with their rendition of Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” Their presentation was relaxed, casual and pleasant, and this two-man version of The Band OZ kept revelers and diners happy…I next paid my first visit to the new ALTUS Brew Pub in Altoona (formerly the Iron Pint) to catch the last several songs of Bedford folk artist Coltt Winter Lepley. Before an appreciative group of onlookers, Coltt mixed several of his original songs with numbers from the American songbook – including versions of “Let the Circle Be Unbroken,” “Rocky Top” and “This Train.” Guest Alex Snyder of The Pines stepped up and played a version of Goo Goo Dolls’ “Drive” to finish the show…And I finished my St. Patrick’s Day by catching a wee bit of Felix & the Hurr-O’Canes as they brought delectable bluesy lucky charms to a good-sized audience. Singer and guitarist Felix Kos, bassist and singer Pat McGinnis, drummer Bobby Watters and Dave Villani on keys and vocals kept the mood upbeat and brought dancers onto the floor with numbers from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Stephen Stills, ZZ Top, Marshall Tucker Band, Eric Clapton, Allman Brothers and more. The group introduced a new original song, “Only Gravity,” and also played their ballad “Strength and Courage” late in the show. Musicianship was again top notch, highlighted by Felix and Dave dueling solos on guitar and keys respectively during several of the songs. This Hurricanes lineup will be one of several bands vying for the opportunity to represent western PA at next year’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis during the Pittsburgh Blues Challenge, happening April 14 at VFW 402 in Coraopolis (near Pittsburgh). It was quite the night for area guitarist Nate Nagle at McGarvey’s early last month during the “Nate Nagle Dirty 30” birthday celebration. For his milestone birthday, Nate played guitar with many of the area bands he has been part of throughout his career to date. Prior to my arrival, Nate played sets with Altoona blues group Juju Bone, Walkney and 90s rockers The Zuds; and he was partying down with Shallow 9 as I entered the venue. Easily the biggest highlight of the night occurred with Nate during The PennSoulvanians’ ensuing set. With Nate on guitar, the group was into their original song “I Wanna Be Your Man,” and at mid-song Nate beckoned his love Amanda to step up to the stage. In the spirit of the song, Nate told her that he wanted to be her man, and popped her the big question…and she said YES! To say that McGarvey’s was ecstatic at this moment was an understatement! That ecstatic vibe rode high through the rest of the PennSoulvanians’ set and the night’s final band, hard rockers Maul.

Also at McGarvey’s, Black Ridge and The Jaded Lips joined forces for a high-powered party last month. The Jaded Lips had a busy dance floor grooving to the Commodores’ “Brick House” when I first arrived, and kept the crowd moving as they finished up their set with the medley of the Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster” into Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” into Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Western PA’s Black Ridge then took the stage, and immediately the group’s singer, Paul Guerrini (“Paul G”), took control of the house during the group’s original song opener, “Live Fast (and Leave a Good Looking Corpse).” Paul demonstrated that he is easily one of the state’s most energetic frontmen as he handed hand percussion instruments out to audience members and then boldly stepped off stage to parade around the venue, serenading fans along the way. This set the tone for the group’s all-out energy the rest of the way, as Black Ridge – Paul G, guitarists Paul Cha and Joey Conner, bassist Cody Lemmon, saxophonist Tony Lassick, keyboardist Corey Carrozza and drummer Mike Conrad – delivered powerful original songs and amped-up hit songs from the 1960s through 80s. Black Ridge debuted their newest single, “Sweat,” and played many of their original songs such as “Blue Collar Blues,” “New Day,” “Rock Steady,” “Stick It Out” and “Raw Power.” They packed power and purpose into every cover song they played, including hits from Spencer Davis Group, Sammy Hagar, Mountain, Sam & Dave, Temptations, Rufus Thomas, Tommy James, Led Zeppelin and more. Black Ridge’s feverish delivery kept the house rocking for the duration; hopefully we’ll see more of this band in the neighborhood in the months to come.

“PA’s Pantera Tribute Band,” Penntera, brought their “vulgar display of” Pantera firepower back to McGarvey’s last month, with Grampian opening. This show was one of Penntera’s last to feature frontman Jason Robison, who stepped away at month’s end to devote more attention to his original band project endeavors. Backed by guitarist Pat Bowser, bassist Zack Arthur and drummer Eric “Space” Dengler, Jason displayed full fury and excitement – delivering the Phil Anselmo-flavored roars and howls, as well as feverish nonstop stage movement. (I was blown away by how Jason did flying leaps off the front of the stage and landed on his knees on the main floor. If I attempted that, I would need knee braces for life!) Penntera hammered out Pantera classics such as the set-opening “Cowboys From Hell,” “Strength Beyond Strength,” “Mouth Of War,” “Cemetery Gates,” “5 Minutes Alone,” “Drag the Waters,” “Message in Blood,” “13 Steps to Nowhere,” “A New Level” and the set-finisher “Walk.” When the amassed metalheads yelled for more, Penntera returned to slam the lid on the night with “Slaughtered” and “Revolution Is My Name.” Penntera held nothing back and brought Pantera’s music forth with all-out intensity, stirring up McGarvey’s crowd for the entirety of their show. “Far beyond driven,” Penntera unveils their new singer and continues with Pantera firepower this month.

Kiara Smith is a rising young talent on the area music scene, and she and her band brought a good-sized crowd to McGarvey’s in late February. Joined by her father, John Smith, on acoustic guitar and backing vocals; along with the Negan/Deny Your Maker support cast of lead guitarist Bob Gray, bassist Josh Yahner and drummer Mike Davis; Kiara showed a smooth, soulful and high-flying voice as she sang a variety of favorites from Amy Winehouse, the Beatles, Gloria Gaynor, Alannah Myles, Linda Ronstadt, Adele and others. Kiara and band also performed some of her catchy original songs, including “The Thief in the Night,” “No Regrets,” “Gamble On,” “I Wish I Knew” and more. Kiara will record her originals soon for a forthcoming release. The Kiara Smith Band is quickly growing a fan base as they play an increasingly busy schedule on stages throughout west-central PA.

The Zac Grace Band brought some fun country stompin’ to Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge last month. Zac on lead vocals, Brad Lego and guest John Miller on guitars, Eric Wertz on bass and Matthew Stevens on drums kept the dance floor churning with their mix of uptempo country favorites and several of Zac’s original songs. Zac introduced his latest single, “Bettin’ on Us,” and he and his band did country favorites from Morgan Wallen, Luke Bryan, John Michael Montgomery, George Jones, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Luke Combs and others. Some later highlights included the merger of Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” into Billy Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart,” and guest Jud Bussard stepping up to sing renditions of “Wagon Wheel,” Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The dance floor crowd stayed festive through all of it. Zac works between Nashville and central Pa; keep an eye out for his future return visits.

It’s not uncommon in my world for work and play to merge together…While completing last month’s PA Musician deliveries in downtown Bedford, I took a pause to catch the last set of solo artist Matt Burns as he entertained at Bella Terra Vineyards. Armed with his acoustic guitar, Matt sang a rapidfire variety of song favorites to a happy and appreciative audience – including birthday celebrant Julie and a group of her friends, who danced and grooved at various times during the set. Matt kept the song pace brisk, tight and continuous as he sang tunes from the Monkees, 3 Doors Down, Ed Sheeran, Elvis, Rick Springfield, Bryan Adams, the Beatles’ “Birthday” by request and more. Matt returns to Bella Terra Vineyards on April 21. 

Other performers I saw recently included Altoona ska rockers Tom Nevers Field during their performance last month at Levity Brewing Company’s downtown Altoona location…The double-bill of State College’s 90s rock specialists 91 Stitches and acoustic performer Big Red at the Happy Valley Brewing Company in late February, and a portion of singer and songwriter Braden McDannell’s latest performance at Molly’s Pub in Altoona last month.

And thanks to area duo Wasted Talent for inviting me to share my “wasted talent” on djembe during one of their recent weekly Thursday performances at the Roaring Spring VFW. Singer and guitarist Colton Fouse, doghouse bass player Dean “Elmer” Berkheimer and I had a blast entertaining folks with tunes from Dwight Yoakam, Grateful Dead, Dr. Hook, Allman Brothers, Eagles, Charlie Daniels and a sing-along version of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” to end the evening.

News and notes…The annual “Crazy Fest” Amateur Youth Talent Show” again takes place on April 28 at the Juniata Civic Center in Altoona; started in 1990 by local entertainer Dennie Huber, “Crazy Fest” provides a showcase for area youngsters (17 and under) to demonstrate their performing talents, from singing, dancing and playing instruments to doing magic and much more in front of a friendly and supportive audience…Pennsylvania’s longest running ukulele festival, the 11th annual Allegheny Ukulele Soiree, presented by the Allegheny Ukulele Kollective, happens on April 26 thru 28 at the Altoona Grand Hotel. Entertainers and presenters this year will include international performer Chrissy, Hawaii’s Neil Chin, Rachel Manke, Ray Cygrymus, Mim of Mim’s Ukes, Curt Sheller plus local and area ukulele performers and instructors. For more information and to register, visit the website…Following singer Erik Gronwall’s departure from Skid Row, Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale will take over singing duties during four of the group’s upcoming shows in May and early June…Images Of Eden announced that they will return to Europe later this year with their Pavement Entertainment labelmates SOiL, who will be performing their “Scars” album in its entirety; the upcoming European tour will be the group’s first set of shows with their new guitarist, Jeffrey Wilson…State College’s My Hero Zero released their brand new album last month, entitled “Echoes of an Open Heart”…The Centre County music scene mourned last month’s passing of Fred Curtdtz. Fred was the guitarist and manager of the popular State College-based country-rock band Tahoka Freeway during the late 1970s and early 80s, and also was a member of the 1970s Centre County group MorningSong. 

Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!