By: Jim Price
By the time you read this, the esteemed rodent in Punxsutawney will have indicated – via his ability or inability to see his shadow – whether we see six more weeks of winter or an early spring. Regardless of what Phil the groundhog says, I think I can easily forecast at least another six weeks of live music on area stages, and that I’ll be out and about to see lots of it!
Since last month’s writ, I got to enjoy some more 2022 holiday season musical cheer, including the annual holiday edition of Wednesday Jam Night at Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society (presented by the Live Music Preservation Society), which happened on the Wednesday night between Christmas and New Year’s Day. At least 26 musicians took the stage in various configurations through the course of the night to deliver continuous live music and rock’n’roll favorites to a joyful holiday audience. Lots of Wednesday Jam Night regulars partook in the jams – such as Craig Albright, Don Osborn, Bill Hunter, Charlie Hudson, Ron Clayton, jam emcee and coordinator Bill Hocherl, Joe DeGenarro, Chuck Knepper and others. Ron Bankert and Jim Bowser played saxophones, Adam D worked the keys, and a percussion-playing “Professor” got to slap on djembe, bongos and congas on a few songs! The night also saw sets from The Stiffs (John McKelvey, Lane Williamson, Craig Albright, Dave Ebersole and Rick Guyer) and Hot Wax (Mike Zerbee, Chris Myers and Mike Crocetti); Hot Wax also welcomed guest singer Chet Harker on a few songs, and bassist Chris Myers’ son Cullen sat in on drums during a version of “Wipe Out.” Lisa Bock stepped in to sing lead on a few numbers, and the house “Boardwalk Singers” joined in to sing on their namesake song – The Drifters’ “Under the Boardwalk” – toward night’s end. Highlights were numerous and smiles were plentiful – kudos to the Unter Uns and the Live Music Preservation Society for putting this together, Beth Wiesinger for preparing the dinner, all of the musicians who took part, and the music fans who cheered them on. Jam Night at the Unter Uns happens every Wednesday night starting at 7 p.m.
One of the final bands I saw in 2022 was Cambria County’s Wanderlost as they entertained at Excise Distillery near Prince Gallitzin State Park on New Year’s Eve’s eve (Dec. 30). This group brings something a little different to area stages, as – except for Mike Kokus’ bass – there are no guitars in this band. Singer Dustin Rainey leads on keys, with Dan Hutton on saxes, flute and synthesizer, and Jason Olear on drums. Wanderlost performed their colorful blend of jazzy-leaning rock and pop, doing many catchy original tunes and select covers before an appreciative audience. Several of the originals were from Dustin’s solo album “Foolish,” such as “Dorothy,” “Lost & Found,” “Friends & Enemies,” and the punchy “The Devil Just Drowns Them Out” with Mike’s driving bass groove leading the way. Wanderlost also did newer originals such as “Dance Like There Was No Yesterday,” “Gaslight,” “Something Beautiful,” “Eyes Open Wide,” the sing-along “Woah,” “Battle Scars” and “Outside The In Crowd.” Their covers included versions of Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out,” Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This,” Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” and their ‘Weezer on piano’ rendition of “Say It Ain’t So.” The blend of Dustin’s various piano and keyboard flavors with Dan’s sax, flute and synth fills and accents kept things interesting through the entire evening, and kept the crowd happy as well. Wanderlost offers a fresh sound well worth checking out – go see them when you get the opportunity to do so!
Once again, The Pennsoulvanians musically bridged my transition from old year 2022 into New Year 2023, delivering the music during another masquerade ball-themed New Year’s Eve gala at McGarvey’s. After a complementary dinner started the night, The Pennsoulvanians played two sets leading up to midnight; enhancing the audience’s celebratory mood with their grooving brand of original music. The fronting pair of emcee Mike Thomas and acoustic guitarist Chet Denny blended rhymes and lyrics (joined several times by guest Danny Rivera); backed by lead guitarist Nate Nagle, sax player Lyndsay Reilly, keyboardist Brett Fanelli, bassist Aaron Kenawell and drummer Randy Sciarrillo. The Pennsoulvanians mixed flavors of soul, hip-hop, folk, rock, reggae, funk and more through original song favorites such as their title tune “Pennsoulvania,” “Hustle Til the Morning,” “Strip You of Your Innocence,” “Crime to Be Curious,” “Round Here,” “Day Has Come,” “Bounce Back,” “Pilgrimage,” “40 Acres” and others, and closed the door on 2022 with their crowd-rousing rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” After crossing the threshold into 2023, The Pennsoulvanians ended strong with three more tunes – “Swagger,” “Third Time” and a new original tune, “Last Call.” This group’s stellar musicianship, captivating grooves, and Mike and Chet’s clever vocal choreography again kept the audience engaged, and provided an upbeat start to the New Year. The Pennsoulvanians issued a video for their live version of “Bounce Back” last month, and will entertain during the African American Heritage Festival Prom Night fundraiser at The Casino at Altoona’s Lakemont Park on Feb. 11.
The first show I attended in 2023 (beyond New Year’s Eve) also marked my first visit to the Philipsburg LaunchPad, a new showcase venue that spotlights live original music, theatre and other public events. During the first Saturday of each month this year, different bands and artists will be recording live albums on the LaunchPad stage. This night, Centre County acoustic trio The Extra Miles performed and was recorded live before a full room of jubilant music fans. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Andrea Miles, plus guitarists and singers Patty McKenna and Ruth Williamson, performed two sets of music; the first showcasing their original songs and the second letting the group cut loose on some fan favorite covers. The Extra Miles displayed thoughtful lyrics and great harmonies, and shared insights and inspirations about many of their original songs; their opener, “Found,” was the first song Andrea ever wrote; “Why Hurry” promotes taking time to enjoy every moment, “Stream Of Lies” concerns domestic violence, and “Can’t You Just Smile” encourages tolerance for those who are disadvantaged. During the second set, The Extra Miles made their cover song selection their own, presenting each tune in their own distinctive style with vocal harmonies, hand percussion, harmonica and more. Opening with Deep Blue Something’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” the group proceeded with songs from the Mamas & Papas, Chris Stapleton, Three Dog Night, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Guns N’Roses, the Beatles, Hootie & the Blowfish, a request for Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” and many more. Several of the songs recorded this night can now be heard on The Extra Miles’ Soundcloud page.
After seeing The Extra Miles’ performance, I traveled a few more extra miles to Café 210 West in State College to catch the last two sets of the J.R. Mangan Band with Veronica as they entertained an audience of Penn State students just arriving back on campus before the start of Spring Semester. Namesake J.R. on vocals and acoustic guitar, singer Veronica Auger, bassist and singer Jason Ebersole, lead guitarist Mark Toci, and drummer and singer John Lynch threw their welcoming party with an energetic mixture of rock and pop favorites. This group clearly had fun on the stage, with all except Mark sharing singing duties. Veronica showed a vibrant and bright singing style, and she put heart and enthusiasm into everything she sang this night – from 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy,” to the Jefferson Airplane double-shot of “Somebody to Love” into “White Rabbit,” to her boisterous display on The Runaways’ “Bad Reputation” and more. She and J.R. dueted on Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and J.R. fronted the group on Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” and the night-ending rendition of Semisonic’s “Closing Time.” Jason sang lead on songs by the Killers, Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World, and John sang from behind the drum kit on David Bowie’s “Young Americans” and Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Mark let his guitar do the singing throughout the night, as he fired off frequent precision lead solo work along the way. The J.R. Mangan Band kept the energy and enthusiasm high throughout the show, which kept folks happy and dancing in front of the stage. See the J.R. Mangan Band stir up the dance party most Saturdays at Café 210 West.
Clearfield County horror punk rockers Less Than Zero fittingly headlined a Friday the 13th triple-bill at McGarvey’s last month. Work duties delayed my arrival until during the last song of Hardtack’s opening set, but what I heard of these Clearfield-based hard rockers sounded good, and hopefully I’ll have another opportunity to catch a full set from them soon. The BSXpress brought their punk-rooted rock to the stage next. Brian Walker on guitar and vocals, and Dean Kepner on drums hammered out many of their original tunes and a few covers. Among their originals were some songs off their “Commuter” CD such as “Gas Station Chicken Salad” and “Crash Down,” and they introduced some newer tunes such as “Lobbyist.” Among The BSXpress’ covers was their spirited take on the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare.” The BSXpress have started working with a bass player since this night, and may be three members strong for their next scheduled McGarvey’s appearance on Feb. 25. Less Than Zero then slammed the night home with their feisty horror punk rock set. Again the roster of singer Eddie Benevich, rhythm guitarist and singer Davey Blowers, lead guitarist and singer Garrett Kyler, bassist Mindy Devil and drummer Jarod Gearheart; Less Than Zero fired through many numbers from their “Rotten” debut CD such as the title tune, “Asylum” (with Garrett’s timely maniacal laughter sealing the deal), “Blue Ball Bastard,” “Show Me Your Shadow,” “Heebie Jeebies,” “Sold Our Soul” and more. They also introduced one new song, “Devil’s Treat.” Less Than Zero continues to forge their relentless, hard-driving punk-driven style and all-out live show, executing full-tilt from start to end. Watch for their eventual return to McGarvey’s as well.
Glenn’s Place in Claysburg is again running live bands regularly, and I checked out Avenue Of Kings’ performance there last month. This group is back to five members strong after recently adding a new second guitarist, Joe Lybarger; who joins guitarist Chris Silva, lead singer Matt Stoyanoff, bassist Beau Cabassa and drummer Randy Wilson. Avenue Of Kings brought copious doses of classic 80s and 90s rock and metal to the stage; doing numbers from Ratt, Firehouse, Jackyl, Buckcherry, Twisted Sister, Poison, Scorpions, Ghost, Billy Idol, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Kix and more. Matt still delivers the vocal firepower with ample high range, and the rest of the band brings the instrumental firepower with pounding rhythms and guitar fireworks a-plenty. Avenue Of Kings kept the dance floor busy, especially when they arrived at their Motley Crue double-shot of “Wild Side” and “Same Old Situation.” And they brought metalheads to the floor to bang their heads at night’s end with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and “Master Of Puppets,” with Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight” sandwiched in between.
Since re-opening their recently-renovated downtown Altoona location late last year, Levity Brewing Co. has started hosting live music. With members from Cambria and Somerset Counties, Jeff Perigo & Friends visited last month to celebrate the music of Bob Dylan and The Band. This was a fun show, as Jeff on acoustic guitar and vocals was joined by “Friends” Dave Distefano on acoustic guitar, drums and vocals, bassist and singer Mike D’Arc and drummer, acoustic guitarist and singer Brad Barron. The group alternated between Dylan and Band classics for most of the show, sharing lead singing duties and swapping instruments. Local guest Jim “Juga” McConnell joined in on harmonica for Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women 12 & 35” and The Band’s version of “Who Do You Love.” The group also did such Dylan classics as “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Mighty Quinn,” “Just Like A Woman,” “Serve Somebody” and “Tangled Up in Blue.” They also broke out The Band classics like “Ophelia,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “King Harvest,” “The Weight,” “Up on Cripple Creek” and others. The musicianship was strong through it all, as all four of these players displayed ample skills on their instruments and meshed well together.
The Giants Of Science continue to be operational in 2023, and returned last month to bring their party to Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge. Still the reliable cast of singer and guitarist Mick, bassist and singer Johnny 5, keyboardist, keytarist and singer Scotty B, and drummer Steve; Giants Of Science kept the packed house happy and the dance floor full with their celebration of 1980s rock and pop hits. The music was nonstop as the Giants kept dancers busy with favorites from Soft Cell, Prince, Sublime, Rick Springfield, Bruce Springsteen, Chumbawamba, Violent Femmes, Killers, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Don Henley, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Bryan Adams, Journey and many more. The Giants Of Science continue to be everywhere in this part of the world, so be ready to party down when they visit your town!
Felix & the Hurricanes also continue to be busy in 2023; including their weekly Sunday night shindig at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern. When I stopped by early last month to see them, bass player Jeff Clapper had the night off to celebrate the completion of his latest orbit around the sun, so Pat McGinnis filled in on bass and vocals alongside lead Hurricane Felix Kos on guitar and Bob Watters on drums. As always, the Hurricanes brought their Sunday best with their fun mix of classic rock, blues, soul, country hits plus a few surprises. The group sank heart and spirit into their takes on tunes from Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, Allman Brothers, James Gang, Neil Young, Zac Brown Band and many more. Highlights included Shallow 9 drummer Todd Harshbarger sitting in on Delbert McClinton’s “Standing on Shaky Ground,” a surprise rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” with Bob getting in a drum solo workout, and the unpredictable medley of Marshall Tucker’s “Can’t You See” into a song about “Friday Fish” and then the theme song from “The Munsters” TV show! There’s always comic relief at these Sunday Hurricanes shows as well, as legendary Baltimore Orioles first baseman Boog Powell’s name became a catch phrase onstage throughout the night. Always a good time; watch for Felix & the Hurricanes everywhere, and wrap up your weekends with them Sundays at the Black & Gold Tavern.
I also witnessed a fun acoustic jam last month at Molly’s Pub in Altoona, where The Roof’s frontman, Frank Musaraca, visited and invited a few friends to make the music. Early on, Frank on guitar and vocals, Devin Pierce on bass and a percussionist (whose name I didn’t catch) did numbers from Tom Petty, The Band, Grateful Dead and a medley of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See” into CSNY’s “Ohio” and the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” Guest Phil McCaulley then joined in to lend his rich voice on versions of Rusted Root’s “Send Me On My Way,” Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” and the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun.” After a brief break, Derek Mrdjenovich of Walkney performed a few of his own original numbers and joined Frank on an acoustic rendition of The Proclaimers “(I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles.” Frank, Devin and the percussionist finished out the jam with a house sing-along version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” plus A-ha’s “Take On Me,” Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself,” Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” and Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” The music was casual and relaxed, and coupled with bartender Michelle’s birthday, made for a good time.
News and Notes…Pure Cane Sugar singer and guitarist Kate Twoey got to live her dream last month by getting to sing a duet with one of her idols; it happened while Kate attended the “Girls Just Wanna Weekend 4” concert vacation event in Riviera Maya, Mexico. This year’s event was hosted by Grammy award winner Brandi Carlile. After submitting a video audition to an Instagram contest, Kate won the opportunity to sing with Brandi during the event’s “Brandi-oke” feature. Kate joined Brandi onstage for a rendition of “A Beautiful Noise,” Brandi’s popular 2020 duet with Alicia Keys. Brandi praised Kate’s singing talents afterward. Numerous cameras captured the magic, and Kate edited together the footage and uploaded a video of the performance on YouTube…Images Of Eden will open for W.A.S.P.’s 40 Years Live World Tour during April and May; the tour includes concert dates in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria…Crazed Visions, the creative musical project of Matthew Cain, has expanded into a full band project and is now working on an album expected to be released on March 21…And sometimes the unexpected happens when musicians film videos for their songs – while the video for Matt Otis’ latest single, “Stars” (off Matt Otis & the Sound’s latest album “Here Not Here”) was being filmed at Pittsburgh’s Frick Park, a buck ran across the road directly behind Matt and his accomplices, singers Victoria Colonello and Terek Ritchie, while they were performing. The buck made the final cut of the video, which can be seen on YouTube (the deer makes its cameo appearance at around the 4:10 mark).
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!