By: Jim Price
We are living in very strange times during this COVID-19 mess…You might think that under quarantine, I’d see less musicians and events during a single month; but thanks to live streaming, I checked out some 52 events and more than 100 performers since last deadline – and I didn’t have to leave my abode or spend a cent on gasoline!
More than 50 of those performers I observed as they donated their talents to help out fellow artists and members of the service industries during two benefit live stream events from the Pittsburgh area. Pittsburgh’s Oaks Theater presented the “Emergency Fund for Artists Web-a-Thon” benefit early last month, which raised more than $23,000 in donations for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and its Emergency Fund for Artists, providing financial assistance to impacted artists. Hosted by local indie jazz artist Phat Man Dee (who also sang a few times during the event), the benefit featured live and prerecorded performances from a variety of entertainers from throughout the Pittsburgh area. Some of the performers I witnessed included family rock band Sons Of Margaret, who kicked things off; along with flamenco performers Carolina Loyola-Garcia and Jon Bañuelos, gospel performer Deryck Tines, former 2018 “American Idol” contestant Aubrey Burchell (accompanied by her father, Russell, on guitar) and popular singer and songwriter Bill Deasy. Also appearing were actress and speaker Tracey Turner, dancer Christine Andrews, magician Tim Kutch, singer and songwriter Adeniji Jemiriye, and entertainer Alora Chateaux.
Two weeks later, more than 60 different bands and performers participated in the 12-hour-plus Pittsburgh Service Staff AID live stream benefit, raising more than $25,000 to help out the United Way’s Basic Needs Fund for hospitality workers. Some of Pittsburgh’s biggest names were among the performers: Donnie Iris, Joe Grushecky, Norman Nardini, John Vento with David Granati, Chris Higbee and Bill Deasy. I saw many of the performers as they streamed live from their own living rooms or shared prerecorded performances; including Matt Barranti, The Rust Project, Steven Vance, Self Preservation, Brian Belonzi, David Mnemo, Donna O, Rocket Loves Blue, Michael Taco Evans, Jason Joseph, Gary and Libby of The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, Deborah Starling of the Flow Band, Todd Jones, The String Theory, Cathy Stewart, Miss Freddye, Gone South, Leaping the Bull, Acoustic Fingers, Justin Wade, Slam Band and Sam, Anger the Ant, Royce, Pierce Dipner, Dave Wilson, Lost in the Mutiny, Bethany James, Devon Johnson, Blended Reality, Jimbo Jackson, Junior Guthrie, Aubrey and Russell Burchell, the Borstal Boys, Frank Vieira, Tina Daniels & Tom Lagi, Katie Simone, Gallo Locknez, Heather Potts, Billy Evanochko of Billy the Kid & the Regulators, Royal Honey, Cherylann Hawk, Totally 80s and Dave & Andrea Iglar.
I also caught two of Norman Nardini’s live stream performances in recent weeks. Norman has made his online events into something special, as he not just plays music, but shares memories, perspectives and humor with the audience. During the two presentations I witnessed, he shared stories of his musical past with his prior bands, Diamond Reo and Norman Nardini & the Tigers. He also shared memories of his parents and his childhood. During his first live stream, he did a “show and tell” segment featuring several of the guitars and other gear he has used during his career – such as the “Bastard Normanstein” guitar, done up in a greenish motif based on his 1995 album “It’s Alive,” also his tiger-stripe guitars, his current favorite Anderson “Old Red” guitar and more. And he shared perspectives about his creative process, how he comes up with his songs, and his approaches to songwriting, such as telling stories and creating characters through his lyrics. He demonstrated the power of good storytelling by emphatically reciting the lyrics from several of his tunes, including “Cornbread,” “Messin’ with the Law,” “Kingfish” and more. And he played songs from throughout his career – such as “Over Said and Done,” “Love Dog,” “Dust Pan Annie,” “Ready Freddy,” “Dance a Little Closer to Me” (about his parents), “At the Get Down,” “Pittsburgh, PA,” “Three River Rock,” newer songs such as “Clown,” “I Was Good at Being Young,” “Mazeroski Way,” “Let’s Find a Way” and “All She Wants to Hear is the Blues.” He honored a few requests, such as “I Hate a Nickel” (he got the title idea from Bon Jovi’s David Bryan), and he even did a few numbers on keys, including a take on “Over the Rainbow.” Norman’s live-stream performances and presentations were personal, insightful and straight from the heart, and very much connected with the folks who tuned in.
Members of The Clarks have been performing live streaming shows, including singer and guitarist Scott Blasey, who presents his “Live from the Blasement” each Saturday night. During one edition I caught in late March, Scott played a number of Clarks numbers and shared the inspirations and stories behind them. “Penny on the Floor” was inspired by penny that fell off a dresser and rolled on the floor following a breakup. “In Blood” was written after a horrific traffic accident near Scott’s house. Scott welcomed a special guest, his daughter Ava, to help sing backing vocals on “Roses.” He also honored some requests, including “Fast Moving Cars” and “Born Too Late,” and mixed in several cover selections, including John Lennon’s “Nobody Told Me,” Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” into “Hit the Road Jack,” and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Scott also fielded questions from the online audience; including his tattoos, and the shirt he was wearing this night (from an artist who designed the shirt following the 2018 Tree Of Life Synagogue shooting). The whole presentation was cordial and friendly, and it gave the online audience a deeper appreciation of Scott and his life, as well as The Clarks and their music. Scott’s bandmates, Rob James and Greg Joseph, have each hosted live stream performances as well. And Scott has been using the “Live in the Blasement” performances to raise donations toward local food banks and community organizations.
Another Pittsburgh artist I caught via live stream recently was Bill Toms. The former lead guitarist for Joe Grushecky & the Houserockers and now leading his band Hard Rain, Bill’s late March live stream performance was personable and heartfelt, as he took the online audience on a journey through many of his older songs, including numbers he hadn’t visited in a long time. He shared his insights and inspirations behind many of the songs; his 1997 song “Walls and Bridges” was inspired by the tragic “Romeo and Juliet”-styled true story of a couple gunned down on a bridge in Sarajevo in 1993 during the Bosnian war. Bill also performed numbers such as “Chasing a Dream,” “Your Love Is Good for My Soul,” “A Girl Like You,” “4th of July,” “Fisherman’s Blues” and more. Bill delivered his songs with a hearty, soulful style as he sang, played guitar and some harmonica.
The first weekend in April afforded me a unique opportunity to catch four former area musicians now living in other parts of the country as they performed live streaming shows. The first was former Altoona musician John McKnight as he sang and strummed acoustic guitar from his Atlanta area home base. I arrived on the feed just as John was singing one of his popular original tunes, “Way Behind” (a favorite when he was a member of Felix & the Hurricanes in the 1990s). John did a variety of classic rock favorites, delivered with his hearty and soulful voice. His takes on Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” Men At Work’s “Overkill,” the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Grand Funk Railroad’s “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home)” all sounded great, and the presence of many of John’s PA music colleagues in the chat room made this a nice little local music community gathering as well…I then did the cyber jump from Atlanta to the Florida Keys, where another former area musician, John Solinski, was live streaming. This was a party! John and his production crew at Hideaway Studios pulled all the stops to make this presentation sizzle, with several different camera angles of John as he performed (including the mobile “Spider Cam,” as a crew member ran onto the stage and provided a panning camera view of John from all sides), plus digital screen graphics synchronized with John’s performance and more. John did what he does best, singing songs and acting crazy. He brought his Key West stage show to the online realm, and had fun with it…One highlight was when John threatened to start into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird,” declaring he would do the 45-minute version unless somebody donated to his virtual tip jar. It took mere seconds for a tip to show up and save the day. Other highlights included online “Happy Birthday” recitals, raised-glass toasts, and John’s attempted rowdy sing-along rendition of Smokie’s “Living Next Door to Alice” (“Alice! Alice! Who the %$#& is Alice?”). John also attempted to establish a Skype virtual meeting room for fans to hang out and ask him questions. This turned into hilarious, drunken video-conferencing, as folks wouldn’t turn down their computer audio, leading to a chaotic cacophony of feedback as John tried to get things organized – an act in futility.
Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, former Altoona musician Scott Quay did a live stream performance that same weekend. The former frontman of Altoona hardcore punk rockers Necracedia three decades ago, Scott now sings and plays guitar for the Bay area group Spider Garage. During this live stream, Scott strummed acoustic guitar and sang a number of Spider Garage original songs, displaying an edgy, roots rock style. Some of his numbers this night included “Tears By the Pail” and “Sleepytown.”
And now working in the Austin, Texas vicinity, former Altoona area drummer Lisa Fazenbaker – the drummer for area bands Spirit Lost and Pneumatic – is providing drumbeats with Austin-based singer and songwriter Hanna Barakat. I caught the last few songs of their live stream performance, as they did several of Hanna’s original songs. Singing and playing guitar, Hanna blended rock, pop and a slight Middle Eastern vibe into her original music; she and Lisa did music from her “Siren” album such as “Wildfire,” along with other originals and a version of One Republic’s “Love Runs Out.”
I checked in Jack and Barb Servello as they live-streamed last month from Leesburg United Methodist Parsonage in Shippensburg. They performed classic hits and oldies, including a number of songs I have not heard in a long time. They broke out versions of the Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods 1970s hit “Billy Don’t Be a Hero,” the Beach Boys’ “In My Room,” “On the Way to Cape May” (a New Jersey beach song I hadn’t heard since the days when Altoona radio icon Sean McKay used to play it on his morning show!), America’s “You Can Do Magic” and the Benny Bell novelty hit “Shaving Cream.” Jack and Barb also sang tunes from CCR, Carl Perkins, Bobby Vinton, Louis Armstrong (I liked Jack’s “Satchmo” growl on “What a Wonderful World”), Tony Orlando & Dawn, John Denver (they did “Take Me Home Country Roads” followed by the Pennsylvania adaptation, “Take Me Home Bumpy Roads”) and more. Their presentation was pleasant and jovial, and Jack dropped a few of his trademark jokes in along the way. Originally from Altoona, Jack and Barb plan to relocate to Huntingdon next month.
Some bands and artists are doing weekly themed live stream performances, including Johnstown indie-folk duo The Evergreens. I caught part of their “Breakfast with the Beatles” live stream performance in late March. Laurel Harrison and Amanda Alt did selections from throughout the Beatles catalog, including “Yesterday,” “Oh Darling,” “In My Life,” “Something,” “8 Days a Week,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Yellow Submarine” and more. Singing lead vocals, Laurel mixed it up on instruments, playing guitar, keys and ukulele along the way, while Amanda kept the beat behind the kit. The Evergreens have also done 1970s, 1980s and female-fronted themed live streams in recent weeks; keep eyes and ears open for their next one!
Mycenea Worley has been staging some “Live from the Lockdown Lounge” live stream performances lately. I caught two of them; strumming her 12-string acoustic guitar, Mycenea sounded great as she played many of her original songs plus select covers during both performances. She played songs from her “Siren” EP such as the title track, “Low,” “That Is All (The Leaf Song)” and “9 Lives,” and also performed newer songs such as “Memphis” and “Blessed.” She also lent her expressive singing style to renditions of the Black Crowes’ “She Talks to Angels,” Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and more. Mycenea presented her songs with her signature effervescent personality and sense of humor. Helping her in the humor department was her resident feline Nigel, who showed a knack for lying on the floor, lifting his paw and hooking it on the couch. (To borrow a Mycenea expression, “Schnikeys!”) More “Lockdown Lounge” performances are likely; watch for them and check one out!
For an Easter Sunday musical treat, Altoona’s Pat McGinnis and Eric McCrum teamed up for a live stream performance. It was cool to see these two making music together, as they blended a wide variety of tunes old and new, as well as original songs and some songs off the beaten path. They did a few favorites such as the Beatles’ “Come Together,” The Band’s “The Weight,” Marshall Tucker Band’s “Heard It in a Love Song” and a request for the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel.” They also did a few we don’t often hear, such as Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” The Wood Brothers’ “Luckiest Man” and Little Feat’s “Willin.’” With American folk music great John Prine passing earlier in the week, the two did some of his songs, including “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round” and others. And both Pat and Eric did original songs from their respective libraries; Eric sang one from his band, The Hope Fallacy’s collection, doing “Up All Night” – this was a nice, folksy arrangement of the song, with Pat accompanying on harmonica. And they did some of Pat’s originals as well, such as “Shades of Grey,” “Walking My Dog” and “I’ve Just Killed the Bottle” off Pat’s self-titled 2014 CD. The mood was laid back and friendly, as the two musicians enjoyed blending their talents and entertaining the online world plus some family members in the room. Pat and Eric are hooking up for another live stream performance on May 3.
One recent live stream performance took me pleasantly by surprise…As I was checking in on Facebook one last time before 2 a.m. on a recent Monday morning, I discovered that Rick Ramsey had just STARTED a live stream performance. Not under the bar and liquor law restraints of ending the performance at 2 a.m., Rick proceeded to play for more than two hours straight. And several online insomniac night owls and yours truly stuck around to enjoy all of it! A special moment happened early on…After doing some songs from Led Zeppelin, Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd, Rick introduced a brand new song written about his friend, the late Bryan Haluska, known to many locally as green-caped and masked superhero “Cambria Green Man,” who showed up and donated his time at local charitable events, helping out because it was “the right thing to do.” Rick’s heartfelt song tribute was called “Ballad of the Green Man,” and was a very nice and fitting tribute to Bryan; Rick performed the tune under solely green lighting. Rick proceeded to play nonstop and touched on a wide variety of tunes, including numbers from the Eagles, Beatles, Stone Temple Pilots, Fuel, Creed, Pink Floyd, Randy Travis, Social Distortion, Men At Work, Bon Jovi, Jimmy Webb, Kenny Rogers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, CCR, Tracy Chapman and many more. He also broke out an original song from his Stix and Stones past, doing “Call on Me.”
Another fun online performance last month came from brothers Dan and Chris Myers as they live streamed one of their “Corona Daze Quarantunes” performances. With Dan on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, and Chris on bass and backing vocals (and occasional lead vocals), these two jammed well over two hours, mixing up a variety of favorites, original songs and more. They honored requests from online viewers plus a few folks in the room looking on. They did tunes from Don Henley, Tom Petty, Chris Stapleton, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, the Animals, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, Outlaws, CCR, Kenny Rogers, U2, Lynyrd Skynyrd and more. Some highlights included Dan’s version of Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band,” original songs such as “Rain” and “Lady Liberty” (the latter which Dan recorded with Felix & the Hurricanes on their “Travelers Not Forgotten” CD), Jimmy MacCarthy/Celtic Thunder’s “Ride On” (which Chris performs with his Celtic-rocking bandmates Full Kilt), Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats’ “SOB,” and the night-ending Lynyrd Skynyrd double-shot of “Ballad of Curtis Loew” and “Tuesday’s Gone.” Dan’s voice sounded great, and both brothers kept the mood upbeat and fun.
The Biscuit Jam contingent of Kelly Countermine and Mark Hill fired up a fun live streaming party last month. These two sounded very good; Kelly on acoustic guitar and vocals, and Mark on acoustic guitar, mandolin and vocals played a nice mixture of numbers. During the time I was tuned in, they saluted the late John Prine with renditions of “Angel from Montgomery” and “That’s the Way The World Goes Round,” and did renditions of Johnny Cash & June Carter’s “Jackson,” Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Hootie & the Blowfish’s “Hold My Hand,” REM’s “Superman,” their performance-closing rendition of Steve Earle’s “Copperhead Road” (with Mark on mandolin) and more. Their vocals blended well, and both Kelly and Mark were clearly having fun making their music this night.
Live streaming has enabled me to witness several artists live for the first time. Among those was York’s Callie Tomblin. I have heard both of her CD’s, but hadn’t had an opportunity to witness Callie’s live performance until I saw her recent live stream presentation – hosted by “Busking Down the House,” an online group that organizes live stream and video presentations by a wide assortment of performers. Callie displayed her expressive, emotion-packed singing style as she mixed original songs with her takes on a variety of covers. She gave her own folksy read on Abba’s “Dancing Queen” as I encountered her live stream, and she also did classics from Bill Withers (doing “Ain’t No Sunshine” following his recent passing), Melissa Etheridge, Bad Company, Dolly Parton, Matchbox 20, a very unique spin on Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner” and more. Just like on her CD’s, Callie sang with a hearty voice, cadence and clarity, and her folksy, bluesy style shined throughout…I also discovered Harrisburg-based brotherly duo Dandy during an April live stream performance, presented by the Central PA Music Hall Of Fame. Brothers Cory and Jordan Dandy sang and played acoustic guitars on a mix of original songs and select covers. I liked this duo’s harmonies as they played their set; one of their originals was “Honey,” and they also did their own unique take on Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” (their slower and dreamy close to this hit was unique and fresh-sounding), Blackstreet’s “I Like the Way You Work It” and more…Also courtesy of the Central PA Music Hall Of Fame, I discovered Cody Tyler during a live stream performance last month. Strumming acoustic guitar and singing, Cody displayed a strong, hearty voice as he performed a mix of country and folk-geared original songs and select covers. His original songs contained solid melodies, relatable words and stories; some of them included “A Blessed Life,” “Still That Never Goes Dry,” the rowdy “Ramblin’ in the Hills” and the darker “Let the Rain Come Down.” Among his cover selection were versions of Tyler Childers’ “Shake the Frost” and Charlie Daniels’ “Long Haired Country Boy.”…And I saw Ed Varner for the first time in late March as he live streamed “NOT at the Short Bus Brew House” in Burnham. Instead streaming from another domicile, Ed worked his acoustic guitar and sang a wide variety of hits and favorites in his own energetic style. Ed’s presentation was enthusiastic and witty as he jumped between numbers from Kenny Rogers, The Turtles, The Cars, Ben E. King, Phil Collins, Collective Soul, Nancy Sinatra, Queen, Van Halen, Dion and more. He honored online audience requests for the ever-popular “Wagon Wheel,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin,’” and he broke out a kazoo on his performance of Europe’s 1980s classic “The Final Countdown.”
Tuesdays usually seem to be a busy night for live stream performances. One busy Tuesday evening in late March enabled me to see four online performers, starting with Matt Otis. Matt was blending new and older original songs with select covers and requests. Singing and playing mostly acoustic guitar, Matt did a few songs from his forthcoming new CD, expected out in June, including “Life Ain’t Gonna Wait” (which he performed on keyboard) and “Seasons.” He also honored a request for Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” and did his own unique takes on Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin,’” Dave Matthews’ “Crash Into Me,” Bush’s “Glycerine” and Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.”…I then stumbled onto Joe Craig’s live stream performance. Jamming on guitar and singing, the Scranton area singer and songwriter did good work on renditions of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” before the cat took over. Joe’s feline kept climbing over his shoulder as he attempted to play his next song, prompting him to close the performance a little early…I then saw Six Bar Break frontman and guitarist Ben Bollinger’s solo live stream performance. Playing electric guitar and singing, Ben played a number of original songs, including rock-driven tracks from Six Bar Break’s CD’s plus some new songs expected to be on the group’s next release. Some of the songs included the new “Saving,” as well as “Soldier’s Call,” “Down to the River” and “The Long Road.” The new songs were in the similar style that Six Bar Break has established so far, a mix of hard-edged, roots-based rock and elements of 1990s grunge…And although it was just one song, I was glad to witness Altoona’s Chet “Che” Denny finish off his live stream performance with his soulful original “Fortunate.”
A more recent busy Tuesday night of live stream surfing enabled me to see more performers…I first came across a performance by Dani Hoy. A Baltimore native and former PA musician now living in Key West, Dani performed a number of her beach and tropical-flavored original songs and a few select covers. Strumming acoustic guitar and singing. Dani sang such catchy numbers as “Walking in the Rain in New Orleans,” “Meet Me on the Boardwalk,” “Drunk on Mallory Square,” “I Like It Hot” and “Drivin’ Slow.” She also did her own take on Janis Joplin’s classic “Me and Bobby McGee.”…Next was Johnstown’s Dany Vavrek, who did a half-hour set featuring his distinctive takes on classic cover material. Playing guitar and singing, The former Yum frontman did versions of the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong,” Simple Minds’ “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” and more. Dany sounded good on all of it, and he does live stream performances at least twice a week…I then landed on Craig Fitzpatrick’s live stream performance. Patton’s resident musical ‘timelord’ did a wide variety of cover material, displaying a good-sounding voice through it all. Armed with both 12-string and 6-string acoustic guitars, Craig did material from Del Shannon, U2, Santo & Johnny, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac and more. Craig threw in a few surprises, including his takes on John Denver’s “Annie’s Song” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” He also broke out a Jethro Tull medley near the end of his performance, stringing together portions of “Aqualung,” “A Passion Play” and “Thick As a Brick.”
Other live streaming performers I saw included renowned ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro (who live streams from Hawaii every Friday night), Whey Jennings (grandson of the legendary Waylon Jennings), John “JT” Thompson, the Hillbilly Gypsies (I also caught an online painting class by the Gypsies’ Levi Houston Sanders), Alyssa Hankey, The Corner Brothers, Chip & the Charge Ups, Mad Acoustics, Nate Myers, Drew Bentley, David Mantz, Phil Firetog, Aeb Byrne, Darien Lux of The Holy Gift (doing a guitar performance of Tool’s “Aenima” CD), the Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, Chelsea Takami, Jeff Renner, Jason O (of My Hero Zero) and Lux & Co.
News and notes…Numerous regional music-related events have been cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19; cancelled events include the Central PA 4th Fest and Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College; Boalsburg Memorial Day events and People’s Choice Festival of Pennsylvania Arts & Crafts in Boalsburg; Philipsburg Heritage Days; PolkaFest, Thunder in the Valley and AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown; the Westsylvania Jazz & Blues Festival in Indiana; the Huntingdon County Arts Council’s annual Folk College at Juniata College in Huntingdon; the Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival at Quiet Oaks Campground near Cross Fork; and the Deutschtown Music Festival and Three Rivers Arts Festival in Pittsburgh…Pittsburgh’s Millvale Music Festival has been postponed until August 8…Felix & the Hurricanes have issued a limited-edition live CD called “All Roads Lead to Cresson”…Western PA progressive rockers We Came From Space have issued a new EP entitled “Reasons in the Rhyme”…A well-known musician of the northeastern PA music scene, Jerry Hludzik, passed away on April 12 at age 68. Jerry played guitar and sang with The Buoys, who scored the 1971 Billboard Top 20 hit “Timothy,” and he later was a member of national recording group Dakota, who issued two major label albums and opened for Queen during their “The Game” tour in 1980…And Altoona area musician Jeff Guyer passed away on April 9 at age 64 following an extended illness. Jeff sang and played guitar with a number of area bands, including Take 5, Freebird, Pass Time and The Fabulous Flashbacks. We at PA Musician extend our condolences to the families, friends and musical associates of both musicians.
Please send correspondence and recordings to: Jim Price, 1104 S. Catherine St., Altoona, PA 16602. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re into social networking, look me up on Facebook. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!