The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – June 2024

Celebration time again…This month marks 37 years that I have been crafting monthly writs for PA Musician Magazine – more than half my life! This continues to be a joy, covering and writing about this area’s music scene and all the people who make it happen! Every month provides new musical adventures, people, occasions and settings that inspire me to write about, photograph and even generate pen sketch artwork about local music! As always, thanks much to publisher Josh Noll for allowing me to occupy space in this publication, all the musicians, bands, venues and show organizers for keeping the music alive in this part of the world, and all the readers for their support and kind words! 

I first became interested in Swedish metalheads Avatar nearly a decade ago after hearing a few of their songs on Lou Brutus’ “Hard Drive” national radio program, and knew I wanted to see this group live after viewing a YouTube video of their 2015 set at Germany’s Wacken Open Air Festival. So when I learned they were playing last month at Reverb in Reading, it was a no-brainer – I had to be there! The nearly three-hour road trip was well worth it. I arrived inside the venue in time to catch the last three songs of the concert openers, Michigan-based femme metal quintet Conquer Divide. The group utilized two singers as they blended melody-driven metal with hardcore intensity; they ended their set with a song from their new “Slow Burn” album, “welcome2paradise.” Next up was New York-based hip-hop/metal foursome Oxymorrons. Featuring two lead vocalists, a drummer and a guitarist-bassist, Oxymorrons fired up heavy beats and grooves, and mixed spoken word with melody as they did a number of songs off their just-issued album “Melanin Punk.” Some of their songs included the set-opener “Enemy,” “Graveyard Words” and the catchy “Moon Chasers.” Tolling bells soon signaled the arrival of Avatar to the stage, and the group stormed into their performance with the title track of their latest album, “Dance Devil Dance.” Mixing elements of melodic, groove, death and power metal with circus-like theatric elements, Avatar – painted clown-faced frontman Johannes Eckerstrom, guitarists Jonas Jarlsby and Tim Ohrstrom, bassist Hendrik Sandelin and drummer John Alfredsson – proceeded through a set mixing more songs from the new album with established original song favorites. After the Queen-toned favorite “The Eagle Has Landed,” Avatar triggered crowd-surfing with “Valley of Disease” and “Chimp Mosh Pit” from the new album, followed by “Paint Me Red,” the dark-toned “Bloody Angel” and “Make It Rain.” During “Puppet Show,” Johannes ventured through the crowd to the back of the room, where he inflated a balloon art creation before breaking out and playing a trombone. The group continued with “When the Snow Lies Red” and another song from the new album, “Do You Feel in Control,” leading to a dueling guitar exchange between Jonas and Tim. Johannes presented more balloons during “Black Waltz,” before taking up position behind a piano for a solo rendition of “Tower.” After “Colossus” from the new album, Avatar finished the main set with “Let It Burn” and “A Statue of the King” with Jonas donning a cape and crown. When the packed house demanded an encore, Avatar returned to do three more numbers: the single “The Dirt I’m Buried In” from the new album, followed by the longtime favorites “Smells Like a Freakshow” and “Hail the Apocalypse” to end the night. Avatar came, saw and conquered; Johannes took control of the Reverb audience with his flamboyant personality, and he and the band executed their songs with all-out purpose and intensity. The result was an elated, churning, crowd-surfing audience and an exhaustive, heavy-rocking good time.

One of the first spring festivals in this part of the world is the two-weekend Pennsylvania Maple Festival in Meyersdale (Somerset County) during late April, with live music happening at Festival Park. On the day I was able to attend, I was able to see the latter half of the Chris Blaney Band’s performance. This was actually the full band’s debut appearance; namesake Chris sang lead vocals and played guitar, flanked by lead guitarist Josh Lantz, bassist and singer Greg Barton and drummer Andrew Lenhart. The group entertained festival visitors with a mix of Chris’ original songs plus classic, southern rock and country favorites. Chris displayed a bold and commanding voice as he sang original numbers like “All American” and “Southern Fried Cowboy,” and he and his band sounded strong on country numbers from Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson as well as southern and classic rock favorites from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet and Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” Calling Hyndman (Bedford County) home, Chris performs throughout western PA, western Maryland, West Virginia and northern Virginia.

Despite a rainy start, the third annual Blair Creators Festival in late April filled downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza with live music, arts and creations, food, refreshments and fun. Sponsored by Penn State Altoona’s Sheetz Fellows Program, the festival featured eight area bands. Greeted by a steady rain, The Zuds set the music into motion with their sharp-sounding set of 90s rock favorites. Singer Luke Patterson, guitarist Eric Prindible, bassist Brad Bender and drummer Jared Middleton mixed up numbers from Seven Mary Three, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Eve 6, Greenday, Incubus, Pearl Jam and others. The Zuds sounded solid and sturdy through it all, and were well-received by the rain-braving onlookers. The rain began tapering off during the next performance by Clearfield-based power trio Hardtack. Featuring brothers Ethan and Eli Clark on guitar and drums respectively plus drummer Jake Stiles, Hardtack played a complete set of original hard-rocking numbers. All three members sang, and showed strong voices on such tunes as “Keep Me In Mind,” “Fortitude,” the ballad “Floating,” “Waiting on the Sun,” “I Know You Know,” “Different” and others. Altoona-based foursome Toy then followed, performing an eclectic mixture of original alternative numbers plus select punk and alternative covers. Formed out of previous projects The Nerves and Wilted, Toy – singer and guitarist Christian Douglas, guitarist Julian Saborio, bassist Tyler and drummer Braedon McCabe – played their own creations such as the first single “Chemical Burns,” “Waterfront” and “Number Two,” and also did numbers from Nirvana and a version of The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” Next was Hot Fudge Mondaes, who cut loose with several new original songs they have been working on, as well as their first single “Sorrow” and a version of the Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender.” Jake Mowery brought the vocal agitation, flanked by the hard-hitting tandem of guitarists Breydon Bremer and Micah Button, bassist Kevin Neely and drummer Justin Burket. Bad Luck Lover Boys then brought the punk and pop sounds, mixing original songs with a few select covers. Singer and guitarist Chris Diehl, guitarist and singer Matt Godissart, bassist and singer Adam Lingenfelter and drummer Brad Hengst introduced a couple of new songs, and did earlier original favorites like “She’s Why I Smile,” “Corey’s Hangover,” “London Fog,” “Movie Song” and more; they also did songs from Greenday, Killers and Weezer.” The Jaded Lips continued with their brand of rock’n’soul ‘lip service.’ This group recently added a fourth member with Greg Larrimore bringing more guitar edge into the mix, joining singer and guitarist Mike Wertz, bassist Hunter Karns and drummer David Applas. The Jaded Lips introduced a few new songs and did several from their “Lip Service” CD such as “Testify,” “Whiskey Breath” and “Shallow Woman”; they finished with their rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” With skies clearing and a good-sized crowd in front of the stage, The Pines then fired up their blend of original tunes, classic and vintage rock’n’roll. They did a few original rock-and-rollers such as “Want More,” “Shoot to Kill” and “That’s All Right,” and did favorites from the Romantics, Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Wild Cherry, Elvis Presley, the Allman Brothers, and their two-song Van Halen finale, with singer Daman Mills leaping high during “Jump.” Closing out the day was Sweet Desire, merging early 1970s-styled blues-rocking original songs with numbers from the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Guess Who and more. The Pines’ Alex Snyder joined in on keys during the latter stage of the set. In addition to the main stage entertainment, Blair Creators Festival also saw performances from the ARC of Blair County drummers and singers. The event brought many from the Altoona area community together – hats off to the Sheetz Fellows students for organizing and making this day another big success!

The Pines and Sweet Desire also joined forces late last month for a special show at McGarvey’s, dubbing their collective band entity Queen Tangerine. In the latter part of their opening set as I arrived, young Cresson-based rock trio Open Ends sounded strong with their set of 90’s rock, punk and alternative, along with several original songs. Singer and guitarist Tyler Bollman, drummer Gino Passanita and new bass player Noah Martin finished out the set with energetic versions of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” and Alice In Chains’ “Would?” with an original song, “Awaken,” sandwiched between. Then Queen Tangerine – featuring keyboardist Alex Snyder, guitarist Logan Warner and drummer Ben Brumbaugh from The Pines; and the Sweet Desire roster of singer Jordan McCaulley, guitarist Kenton Lewis, bassist Joshua Simpson and drummer Trey Boore – embarked on a fearless rock, blues and psychedelic jam free-for-all. The musicians opened with the Grateful Dead double-shot of “Casey Jones” and “Shakedown Street,” extending the latter into an improvisational jam. The group then launched into Faces’ “Stay With Me,” before a heavy-rocking take on “House of the Rising Sun” that accelerated and intensified in its latter stages. The musicians continued with songs from the Allman Brothers, the Doors, Guess Who, Steppenwolf, Humble Pie, Mountain, Santana and Free. As the set progressed, the musicians let the jam guide them so that their explorations and improvisations started connecting the songs into one nonstop free-form jam. The adventure continued with numbers from Rick Derringer, and Cactus leading to the night-ending merger of Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” into Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” It was exciting to witness this contingent of young musicians jamming for broke on songs that were created decades before any of them were born! This Queen Tangerine jam session excursion kept the McGarvey’s audience attentive and cheering from start to end; a Queen Tangerine sequel is being discussed.  

Mysterytrain has been readying for a busy outdoor festival season, already with numerous festival appearances on their upcoming schedule. The group hosted its own “Spring Campout” weekend in late April at a location near Tipton. I arrived shortly into Mysterytrain’s performance on the event’s second night. Singer, guitarist and group founder Dan Klock, bassist Gary McCloskey, keyboardist and singer Gina Misra, multi-percussion specialist and singer Jacob Misra and drummer Chuck Bailey dazzled onlookers with their wide variety of musical directions, instrumental improvisations, solo excursions and pleasant tones through it all. Mysterytrain mixed new and older original song creations during their two sets. Some of the newer songs they performed included “Let the Morning Come,” “Medicine Show” with its explorative midsection and the upbeat “One Foot Over the Line.” The group also broke out established older favorites such as “Sooner or Later” and “What Would It Take.” Musical flavors varied from Grateful Dead-rooted jam stylings to country, ragtime, funk, jazz, progressive and more. Instrumental highlights were frequent, including Jacob working out his vast percussion arsenal, Gina with her peppy key and piano arrangements, and – during “Overgrow” in the latter set – Chuck and Jacob engaging in a back-and-forth percussion jam interlude. The “Spring Campout” saw other performers as well. I missed Dee Maple, who played before I arrived. In between Mysterytrain’s sets, Jon Wittmer and Colin “The Didg Guy” Lennox put together a short Steam City Riders set, which included their original crazed funk-out “You Enjoy Myself” and their take on “I Know You Rider.” And after Mysterytrain’s performance, The Nick Miller Project – brainchild of Huntingdon-based musician Nick Miller – kept folks grooving through the overnight with his unique and exciting brand of music. Nick built his songs live before the audience using looping technology; first constructing his percussion rhythm with a djembe, then adding in rhythm guitar and bass tones, and then singing and slinging lead guitar along the backdrops he generated. Nick did original numbers such as “The Hand That Bites” and the hip-hop geared “Wake Up,” as well as mind-blowing renditions of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks,” Pink Floyd’s “Time,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile,” Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” to wrap up the music and more. The music, combined with friendly folks, a complimentary homespun food spread and relaxed setting made for a good time.

It was in 1990 that central PA-based entertainer Dennie Huber first started the “Crazy Fest” Amateur Youth Talent Show. As Dennie explained, there was a time when somebody game him his first opportunity to perform on a live stage, which encouraged him toward an entertainment career. “Crazy Fest” was Dennie’s way of ‘paying it forward’ as an event that gave area youngsters the opportunity to demonstrate their performing talents onstage – many for their first time ever – in front of an audience. After an initial 25-year run, Crazy Fest was suspended in 2016 after Dennie’s passing, but several past contestants and others involved in the event worked hard toward bringing back Crazy Fest, so new generations of area youngsters can display their talents and taste the limelight for the first time. After returning last year, the 2024 edition of the annual Crazy Fest Amateur Youth Talent Show took place in late April at the Juniata Civic Association in Altoona, as youngsters ages 17 and under displayed their talents to win a variety of prizes before a friendly and supportive audience. The top winners of the afternoon included singer Elizabeth Arthur in the ages 3 and under division, the baton-twirling duet of Amelia Yorks and Stella Dutil in the 4 to 6-year-old division, gymnastic dancer Eliana Smith in the age 7 to 9 division, singer Paisley Bouder in the age 10 to 12 division, baton twirler Ava Patterson in the 13 to 15 year old division, and singer Emily Pentland in the age 16 and 17 division. The singing duo of Emma Zearfoss and Delilah Laich won first place in the duo division, and the rock band Velvet Concord won in the band division. In other special awards, Bookworms Against Bullies-sponsored awards went to Emily Pentland, Rylee Bush and Eliana Smith; the Servello Family Studios Award went to Paisley Bouder; the Road to Nashville Award went to Emily Pentland; the Outstanding Musician trophy went to Velvet Concord; the Shining Star Award went to Emily Pentland, and the Most Innovative Duo Award went to Emma Zearfoss and Delilah Laich. And I thank the Crazy Fest folks for presenting me with the first-ever Crazy Fest Humanitarian Award; it was an honor to be selected.

Altoona’s newest art space, Rail City Cultural Center, staged its first live music event last month. Located in the 14th Street side of the former Gables Department Store building, the Center presented an international slate of performers, headlined by nationally-touring German-based power trio Lord Bishop Rocks. Opening the evening was Italian singer, songwriter and guitarist Saraya Artisti. Demonstrating a smooth and powerful voice, Saraya performed a variety of hits and favorites plus a couple of original songs. She did numbers from the Rolling Stones, CCR, Janis Joplin, Talking Heads and Depeche Mode. Her range of material included The Devil Makes Three’s “Old Number 7,” Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” during which production assistant Rick Ramsey chimed in on harmonica. Providing local support on the bill was Kevo Can’t Dance. Kevin “Kevo” Quinn started off with several of his acoustic original tunes, including “Candy Hearts and Razorblades,” “Friends with Fiction,” “Ghost Story,” Mediocre Gatsby” and “Pine Street.” Then joining Kevo was his partner in a previous band project called Pitbull Combat, solo performer ‘Jesse & the Ghost.’ The two performed some Pitfall Combat original tunes such as “Bruce Campbell’s Tunnel Of Love” and “Fred Savage.” Next up was German punk rock foursome Tender Loving Medication, who executed tight-slamming, melody-geared, old school punk originals. Their songs were anthemic and to the point, and their performance was charged and fired the audience up. Lord Bishop Rocks then capped the night with an explosive set of heavy, bluesy, groove-driven rock. The group’s namesake, Lord Bishop, is a towering presence who sings and scorches on guitar, flanked by a bass player and Duda the Bricklayer on drums. Lord Bishop Rocks played songs from their latest album, “Tear Down the Empire,” including “Find My Way Home,” “Darkness,” the AC/DC-rooted “Burn Down the House” and more. Lord Bishop showed ample skill on the six strings, delivering frequent solos and a bold stage presence. A highlight of this set was when Saraya Artisti stepped in and sang backing vocals on another song from the CD, “If I,” before singing lead and lighting up the house on a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” This night was a good opening chapter for the Rail City Cultural Center; the venue will stage its official grand opening event on June 8.    

Downtown Hollidaysburg celebrated spring’s arrival with their “Blossoms in the Burg” event early last month. Flowers, blooms and floral arrangements were the central focus here, but live music by The Evergreens served as a pleasant backdrop. The duo of Amanda on percussion and Laurel on vocals and guitar brought smiles from onlookers as they did a wide selection of pop and rock’n’roll hits spanning the 1960s to present. Both musicians served the songs and brought them to life in their own distinctive style; doing numbers from Dusty Springfield, Donovan, Fleetwood Mac, Shocking Blue, Tracy Chapman, 4 Non Blondes, Classics IV, Faces and more. I again enjoyed The Evergreens’ ‘less is more’ approach, as Amanda’s stripped-down rhythms supported and complemented Laurel’s vocals and guitar work. The Evergreens play throughout western and central PA.

 Ebensburg piano rock and pop quartet Wanderlost has issued their self-titled debut EP. Wanderlost celebrated the EP with a special release event last month at the Venue Of Merging Arts (VOMA) in Johnstown. A full house cheered on singer and keyboardist Dustin Rainey, bassist Mike Kokus, woodwind player Daniel Hutton and drummer Jason Olear as they mixed songs from the EP with other originals and select covers. The group demonstrated their brand of piano-driven rock and pop with EP songs such as “Bourbon Street,” the upbeat “Carolina,” “Sad Love Story,” “Sinners and Saints” and “The Devil Drowns Them Out” (an update of a song first introduced on Dustin’s 2019 solo album “Foolish”). Wanderlost did several of their other songs such as “Rudy” (dating back to Dustin’s previous band project Spoonchatter), “Friends and Enemies,” “Lost and Found,” “Outside the In Crowd,” “Gaslight” and more. And the group mixed in their own piano-geared takes on numbers from Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews Band, Led Zeppelin, Weezer, Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and – to close the night – the Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” Wanderlost’s presentation was bright and cheerful, and the group packed enthusiasm into their songs, gaining increasing cheers as the performance proceeded. 

As their area popularity grows, the Kiara Smith Band made their first visit to Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge last month. Flanked by her father John Smith on acoustic guitar plus the Negan contingent of lead guitarist Bob Gray, bassist Josh Yahner and drummer Mike Davis, Kiara displayed her excellent voice on a wide variety of popular music plus several original songs. She flexed her voice on favorites such as Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” and “You Oughta Know,” Alannah Myles’ “Black Velvet,” Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” and more. Her own songs were catchy as well; some of those this night included “Ballad of the Thief of the Night,” “No Regrets” and “Gamble On.” And Kiara and her group also sparked dance floor action with tunes from Van Morrison, the Beatles, Bruno Mars, Eddie Murphy’s “Party All the Time,” Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” and more. Having just won an online music competition (see “News and Notes” below), Kiara will shortly be recording her first single followed by a full-length album; catch this rising artist as she and her band play around the region.

The Jeremy Edge Project brought their blues rock back to the 4D’s Lounge early last month. With a number of Penn State Altoona commencement celebrants in the house, the power trio of Jeremy on lead vocals and guitar, bassist and singer John Delowery, and drummer Ray Gieda rocked with a mix of original numbers and classic blues-rocking favorites. The group did several songs off their “Saints and Sinners” twin album set such as “Move On,” “Liberation Song” and “Coral Castle,” and also did strong work on favorites from Led Zeppelin, Cream, Doors, Black Sabbath, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top and more. Jeremy again demonstrated his ample guitar skills and a sturdy voice up front, with John and Ray providing the rock solid rhythm section to power the songs.

While en route home from my aforementioned Avatar concert journey, I stopped off at the Phyrst in State College, where Ted McCloskey & the Hi-Fi’s presented their weekly Friday party. While attendance was lighter due to many students vacating town after the end of spring semester, Ted & the Hi-Fi’s fired up the musical festivities for those who did show up. Ted on lead vocals and guitar, Molly Countermine on lead vocals, Rene Witzke on bass and Chris McGuire on drums generated high energy musical fun on a variety of classic and new rock, pop, soul, funk and dance favorites. Their diverse setlist this night spanned Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” and Modest Mouse’s “Float On” to Earth Wind & Fire’s “September” and Abba’s “Dancing Queen,” plus tunes from The Killers, Stray Cats, Taylor Swift, AC/DC, Rolling Stones and more. Several guests joined Ted & the Hi-Fi’s this night; including soundman Roy Long singing Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” Veronica Auger singing on Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” and Sidewinder’s Bear Ketchum playing drums on the Black Crowes’ “Hard to Handle.”

Stormy brought good times once again during their monthly visit to Hollidaysburg’s Argonne Café in May. Stormy – singer and harmonica player Mark Montrella, singer Carole Fedeli, guitarist Brandon Stewart, keyboardist Charlie Leiden and drummer Ray Fedeli – always generate fun energy at this venue, and this night was no exception. As I arrived, Carole was fronting the group on a version of Carole King’s “It’s Too Late,” and dancers took to the floor as she and the group continued with Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop.” Stormy continued to keep the room happy and festive with favorites from Ringo Starr, Wilson Pickett, Joe Cocker, Eddie Money, Rolling Stones, Joe Walsh, Van Morrison and others. Highlights included the crowd cheering Brandon on as he growled out the lead voice on Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” and the group’s popular Beatles homestretch where audience members danced in a circle and sang along with renditions of “Let It Be” and “Lady Madonna” to close the night. Stormy will play a free concert outdoors on Aug. 11 at Hollidaysburg’s Canal Basin Park.

News and notes… It was a tough debut for Pantera tribute band Penntera’s new frontman, Chris Patrick; during his first show with the group at Lovedraft’s Brewing Company in Mechanicsburg in late April, Chris landed hard on his knee, tearing an ACL and meniscus, plus spraining his lateral ligament. He will be sidelined for two months…The annual Wam Bam Mountain Jam all-day music event will return to the mountains near Port Matilda on Saturday, July 6… Johnstown’s Flood City Music Festival announced three upcoming shows in the Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield Free Concert Series, all which will take place at People’s Natural Gas Park near downtown Johnstown; Williamsport bluesman Gabe Stillman and The Stone Bridge Blues Band play on June 29, Pittsburgh’s Billy Price Band and Miss Freddye’s Blues Band perform on July 6, and Habatat and Johnstown’s Flowerchild will play on August 16…Levity Brewing Company will present the annual Levity Summer Fest on June 15 at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza; performers include The Evergreens, The Jaded Lips and The PennSoulvanians, and artists and vendors will also take part…Indiana-based singer and songwriter Kiara Smith recently won the Axel Foundation’s charity music competition; one of five finalists in the online-voting “For the Love of Music Charity Competition,” Kiara wins a recording session for her first single courtesy at Orlando, Florida’s Ty Fy Studios, also the production of a music video sponsored by Kona Cam, and custom in-ear monitors courtesy of InEarz. Proceeds from the competition benefit high school music programs…Area musician and entertainer Zupe was inducted into the Akademia Music Awards Hall of Fame last month; the red carpet awards ceremony took place in Los Angeles.

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!