The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – March 2024

As I begin this month’s article, the weather is getting a jump on the popular seasonal folklore of “March comes in like a lion,” as thunderstorms bump a brief warm spell out of our area, and high winds and freezing temperatures make their return. At least I saw my first robin of late winter earlier in the day, so spring will soon arrive. And that means the outdoor live music season is not far off; a number of outdoor concerts, festivals and other events have already been announced for the upcoming season. 

Until then, indoors is where the music has been happening lately. The cooperative weather in recent weeks allowed me to make a couple of treks over the mountain to Johnstown for some live music, starting with singer and songwriter Jason Dewitt’s performance at Fetz’s Sports Pub in late January. Jason’s overall style and sound are 90s driven; his original songs display a 90s flavor, and his cover selection features a number of 90s-era favorites. He covered numbers from Pearl Jam, 3 Doors Down, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Goo Goo Dolls, Weezer, Alice In Chains, the Wallflowers and more. And he delivered crisp melodies and relatable lyrics on his original numbers such as “Good Enough,” “Late on a Tuesday,” “Both Of Us” and others. Jason’s voice was in good form, and his friendly demeanor kept the Fetz’s audience connected and paying attention. Jason frequently plays at Fetz’s; watch for his return there and on other Johnstown area stages.

I also made the trip to Woodside Bar & Grill in Johnstown last month to catch up with Undercover, who brought their musical party to a packed house. The roster of singer Jason Riek, guitarist and singer JJ Mason, bassist and singer Barron Shipley and drummer Dean Minerva kept the dance floor crowded with a variety of uptempo rock, pop, punk, funk and hip-hop favorites. As they did numbers from Good Charlotte, Bryan Adams, The Black Eyed Peas, Def Leppard, Prince, Nelly, Walk The Moon, DJ Snake & Lil Jon and others; Undercover handed tambourines and percussion instruments to folks in front of the stage and brought various fans and dancers up on the stage to be a part of the show. This group’s energy was continuous and infectious, and they gave the crowd no reason to want to sit back down. Along the way, Octane frontman Mike Prebehalla joined the group a couple of times; first to sing a three-song Guns N’Roses medley and second to belt out Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin.’” Undercover’s party stayed feverish clear until the end, and when the crowd demanded one more, the group responded with Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Night” to slam the lid on the night. If you have dance energy to spend, Undercover will keep you moving; watch for their return to Woodside on March 9, and watch for them on stages throughout western PA, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and western Maryland.

Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society celebrated Mardi-Gras in German style last month with their Fasching celebration, with western PA bluesmen The Mannish Boys providing the music. This group is now five members strong: Mark Ruston sings lead vocals, John McKelvey and Steve Mitchell play guitars, Kevin Mitchell plays bass and Mark Panek staffs the drum kit. Together they played a wide variety of blues and blues-driven rock, funk, soul and more. The Mannish Boys fired up the dance floor action a few times; including during a funky medley that fused together tunes from Kiss, Sly & the Family Stone, Wild Cherry and The Gap Band and a five-song Rolling Stones medley. They also played one of John’s original songs, “Firetower Road.” When the Unter Uns crowd called for one more song at night’s end, The Mannish Boys answered with the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” to finish the night. The Mannish Boys perform throughout western Pennsylvania.  

McGarvey’s in Altoona served up several good shows in recent weeks, including Clearfield-based classic metal rockers Hell Bent, who made their first visit to McGarvey’s last month as part of a triple-bill with Johnstown’s fAIL and Northern Cambria’s Negan. Work duties prevented me from arriving in time to see the first two bands, but I did arrive in time to witness Hell Bent as they thundered with metal and rock favorites from the 1980s and 90s. Lead singer Chris Shaffer, lead guitarist Chuck Bungo, rhythm guitarist Richie Shaffer, bassist Matt Hertlein and drummer Clayton Condon slammed down some classic metal from such names as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and more. They also broke out some surprises, such as two interesting mash-ups – the first melded together Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” with Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True,” while the second sandwiched Toto’s “Africa” amidst a stew of tunes from Metallica, Quiet Riot, Pantera and Diamond Head. Chris displayed a powerful voice and stage presence up front, while Chuck fired off impressive searing guitar leads along the way. Hell Bent sank total energy and purpose into their presentation, and were rewarded with a new legion of McGarvey’s fans as a result. And you’ve got to like a band that rolls into town in a repurposed Hearse! Hell Bent plays their metal music throughout a large chunk of north-central PA.

I caught the latter portion of Autumn Rising’s visit to McGarvey’s in late January with their special “80s Rising” show. A packed house was on hand as lead singer and namesake Autumn Shiffler, guitarists Scott Imler and Kirk Robison, bassist PJ Kelly and drummer Shawn Gioiosa kept the gathered masses happy and festive with lots of 80s-era hits; including numbers from Pat Benatar, Georgia Satellites, Blondie and more. Autumn poured heart and soul into all of it with her strong and soaring voice, backed by her bandmates’ tight playing and enthusiasm. When the crowd demanded more at the end of the night, Autumn Rising fired them up one more time with Shania Twain’s “Man I Feel Like A Woman.” Catch Autumn Rising’s fun show on stages throughout the region.

I caught latter portions of several multi-band bills at McGarvey’s, witnessing Grampian as they closed out a four-band bill in late January that also featured Up Your Arsenal, Semi-Civil and GoatSmoker. Five members strong, Grampian’s set delivered firepower and intensity as they ignited the audience with strong and elaborate metal originals. They mixed numbers off their “The Ballad of the Black Wolf” EP with newer creations. Grampian will open for “PA’s Pantera Tribute Band” Penntera at McGarvey’s on March 2…I also saw part of A Starlite Gray’s set as they closed out a hard-hitting triple-bill at McGarvey’s last month. Return To Flame, a new project featuring former members of Embers Fall, and Fyre both performed prior to my arrival. What I witnessed of A Starlite Gray – vocalist Shane Ross, guitarists Joe Neary and Breydon Bremer, bassist Kevin Bem and drummer Andy Melusky – sounded menacing and powerful. The group mixed tunes from their debut EP “From Here to Eternity” with new numbers from their forthcoming next recording.

McGarvey’s also presented a solo artist showcase last month, where I got to see rising local hip-hop artist No-Label. Kevo Can’t Dance and Mo$$ performed before my arrival, but No-Label – the hip-hop incarnation of former Hot Fudge Mondaes drummer Christian Wesner – had just started as I entered the venue. His soul/groove-based numbers mixed sung passages and spoken word, with many of the songs centering around themes of growth, determination and hope. No-Label received good response as he did such numbers as “Who Asked You” and “Glow Up,” and introduced other newer songs. 

Molly’s Pub in Altoona has been staying busy with live music as well. I caught my first look at The American Mood there early last month. Both Altoona natives, the husband-and-wife duo of Julius and Paula Galui played around the Nashville area for 29 years before returning to Altoona in 2021. With Paula on vocals and Julius on acoustic guitar and vocals, The American Mood entertained a packed house with a wide variety of favorites spanning the 1960s to 2000s over their three sets. They sounded strong on all of it, spanning the Commodores’ “I’m Easy” to the Human Beinz’s “Nobody But Me” to tunes from John Mellencamp, Grand Funk Railroad, Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Hootie & the Blowfish, Three Doors Down and many more. Both performers displayed strong voices and harmonies, and kept the music continuous. They honored requests along the way with versions of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel” and two performances of “Tennessee Whiskey.” The American Mood have become favorites at Molly’s Pub, and perform there the first Friday of each month.

Carrolltown-based singer and songwriter Matt Smolko also performed at Molly’s last month. Armed with acoustic guitar, Matt displayed a bold and hearty voice as he performed a mixture of country, pop and rock’n’roll favorites plus a few of his original songs. Matt played favorites from Hank Williams, John Michael Montgomery, Tim McGraw, a Tom Petty medley, George Strait, Melissa Etheridge, David Lee Murphy, Johnny Cash and many more. Matt’s own songs were catchy as well, including “On The Run,” “Let’s Go Float,” “Trailer on the Hill,” “Kickin’ Up Dust” and “The Water’s Edge.” Matt performed all of it with smiles and enthusiasm, and his friendly connection with the audience kept folks attentive and cheering along the way. Matt returns to Molly’s on March 2.

And an arriving snowfall last month didn’t thwart me from catching up with Altoona-based singer and songwriter Conner Gilbert at Molly’s. Strumming his acoustic guitar, Conner mixed up a variety of covers with an emphasis on the 1990s – applying his energetic style to numbers from Dishwalla, Tears For Fears, Chris Isaac, Gin Blossoms, R.E.M., Tracy Chapman, the Animals, Monkees, Mumford & Son, Green Day, Matchbox 20 and many more. Conner broke out one of his own songs, “Tonight.” More folks sang along, cheered and whistled as Conner’s show continued, and the crowd went into a Penn State chant during Conner’s version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Conner is working up new songs and may visit a recording studio soon. Conner Gilbert regularly performs at Molly’s Pub, and will return there on March 15.

Bedford’s Bad Luck Lover Boys executed their latest “pop-punk takeover” of Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge during Super Bowl weekend last month. Singers and guitarists Chris Diehl and Matt Godissart, bassist and singer Adam Lingenfelter and drummer Brad Hengst mixed their original tunes with pop-punk favorites, attracting more folks onto the dance floor as they went along. Bad Luck Lover Boys did several songs from their most recent album, “Letters to Emily,” such as “Anything At All,” the Adam-fronted “Internal Monologue” and others. They also did favorited from Violent Femmes, Weezer, Blink-182, Green Day, Fountains of Wayne, Lit, Fallout Boy and more. They also did a torrid take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” as well as Motorhead’s “Ace Of Spades.”

The 4D’s Lounge also hosted an anti-Valentine’s-themed Altoona Arts Untied event last month. The Dees became an art gallery, with paintings and other artistic creations adorning the walls, art vendor tables and live music. I arrived in time to see part of Walkney frontman Derek Mrdjenovich’s solo performance, followed by electronica, dubstep and EDM performer Matthew Rodriguez. Also performing this night were Aidia Rivera & Manny Moss. The next Altoona Arts Untied event at the 4D’s Lounge will take place on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

Sad news rocked the area music scene last month with the unexpected passing of popular longtime musician John McKnight on February 15; he was 58. (See my tribute to John elsewhere in this issue.) Prior to his relocation to Atlanta in 1998 to further his music career, John played with several area bands, notably Spectrum, the Vicksburg Quartet, Slammer, the U.S. Hotel House Band and Felix & the Hurricanes. Following the news of his passing, the Hurricanes hosted a special jam session in John’s memory during one of their weekly Sunday night performances at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern. A number of John’s musical friends attended to celebrate John’s memory in the best way they could – by making music. Participating throughout the night were Lauren & Joe, Steve Oswalt, Randy Rutherford, Randy Servello, Kevin Siegel, Rick Guyer, Chuck Knepper, Fran Hite, Don Osborn, John Shimko and others; joining singer and guitarist Felix Kos, drummer Bob Watters, Sunday night bassist Pat McGinnis and guest keyboardist Dave Villani. Highlights were frequent; including John Shimko’s throaty growl on the Hurricanes’ version of the Allman Brothers/Molly Hatchet’s “Dreams I’ll Never See,” Steve Oswalt going full tilt on the Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues,” a rousing version of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” and more.

Besides John McKnight’s passing, the area and regional music scene lost two other members in recent weeks…Cambria County-based singer and musician Joel Stiles passed away on February 16. Displaying a soaring vocal style, Joel had sung with several bands and recording projects over the years, including the early 1990s group 7 Wishes, recordings with guitarist Tom Brown’s heavy metal project Pensive Fear, and he sang and played keys for the Cambria County-based recording project Right Side Thief in the early 2000s. Joel was 54…And Mifflin County-based singer and musician Patrick Naylor passed away on February 24 after recent health issues; he was 77. Patrick had been a member of several prominent bands during the past five decades; including earlier groups such as the Starlighters, Jokers Wild and Fantasy; also as a co-founder, bass player and singer for popular 1990s country group Crossover and later Blackwater; and more recently with the group Swamp Root. Patrick had also previously worked as a 5th and 6th grade school teacher.

News and notes…Windber-based singer and songwriter Dan Stonerook heads to Brooklyn, New York later this month to record more vinyl; Dan will record several of his original songs on March 24 as personalized one-copy vinyl seven-inch singles at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings’ Direct-To-Vinyl Live Sessions in Brooklyn…After the recent addition of new bass player Jon Henry, the Emmy & the Geriatrics have changed their name to Era-X…Full Kilt and the Giants Of Science will again provide the musical entertainment during Dauber’s 14th St. Patrick’s Day Party, happening Saturday, March 16 at the Gallitzin American Legion’s Oriental Ballroom; proceeds from the event benefit the Gallitzin Fire Company and the American Legion… And I look forward to networking and finding out who wins the awards later this month during the 5th annual Central Pennsylvania Music Awards (CPMA’s) and Central Pennsylvania Music Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony, happening March 28 at the Hershey Theater!

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!