The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – May 2024

The outdoor season is upon us! The early season festivals have and are taking place, and more will arrive as the temperature continues to heat up. I already have several outdoor festivals and events circled on my calendar, and I’m looking forward to those and more in the coming months! 

Outdoor and indoor events both provided highlights in recent weeks. It was a very good night for Blair County in late March during the 5th annual Central Pennsylvania Music Awards (CPMA’s) and Central Pennsylvania Music Hall Of Fame induction ceremonies, both taking place at the Hershey Theatre in Hershey. Early during the event, Tyrone native Fred Waring – known as “America’s Singing Master” and “The Man Who Taught America How to Sing,” plus popular bandleader who led his singing group The Pennsylvanians through much of the 1900s – was inducted into the Hall Of Fame, with his grandson Fred Waring III accepting the award. Then later, Altoona favorites The PennSoulvanians – with two members who attended school in Tyrone – won the award for the R&B/Soul category. Multiple award winners during the CPMA’s included Lancaster’s Jess Zimmerman and her band, who captured awards for Best Female Vocalist and Best Country Band; Harrisburg metal rockers Gun Metal Gray for Metal Band and whose singer, David Damone, won the Best Male Vocalist award; York area singer and songwriter Sarah Beth Fiore for both the Female Solo Artist and Songwriter awards, Hunter Root for Male Solo Artist and Song Of The Year for his song “Town Rat Heathen”; and Harrisburg pop duo Dandy for Best Pop artists and the Album/EP Release award for their album “Eden.” Besides Fred Waring, other inductees into the Central Pennsylvania Music Hall Of Fame this year included Fuel, Hybrid Ice, Blitz Dynette and Vince DiCola. And longtime country artist and radio show host Al Shade received this year’s Whitey Noll Lifetime Achievement Award. For a list of all the award winners, visit the website

Following the CPMA’s was the CPMA’s After Party, which took place nearby at The Englewood. It was again fun to chat and network with musician friends I don’t often see, and make some new ones along the way…And although I’m not a fancier of karaoke, I totally enjoyed this one, as almost all of the singers were musicians from the CPMA’s, and all of them sounded tremendous! I was blown away hearing country frontman Cody Tyler OWN Alice In Chains’ “Rooster!” The last lady on the stage was Fuel frontman Bret Scallions’ wife, Abby, sounding great on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love! A great ending to an excellent night!

Besides the CPMA’s, I hit the road a few more times in recent weeks to witness some high-profile concerts. The first was in late March when I journeyed to Jergel’s Rhythm Grill in Warrendale (north of Pittsburgh) to see southern rockers Molly Hatchet. Providing the local support were the Jukehouse Bombers and Lone Crow Rebellion, and both bands represented well. The Jukehouse Bombers led off with a scorching set of their blues-rocking original songs. Singer guitarist and harmonica man Jimmy Roach, Joe Roach on guitar and vocals, guitarist Kirsch, bassist Troy Laney and new man behind the drum kit Harry Rainey performed original songs off their initial CD’s, plus a few newer creations. Some of their songs included “Mountain Water,” “Soul Revival,” “When The Rooster Gets to Crowin’” (with a Led Zeppelin “When the Levee Breaks” midsection) and “Winding My Way Back Home.” Lone Crow Rebellion followed with a strong set of their original blues rock numbers. Lead singer and guitarist Greg Long, bassist and singer Pete Horm, keyboardist and singer John Samanka and drummer and singer Jason Sopic delivered smooth, steady hard-grooving numbers such as “No Shame,” “Orphan Boy Blues,” the title track from their new album “Coal Train Blues,” the hard-boogeying “The River,” “Sneakin’ Out,” a feisty take on Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” and “High Road Blues.” The current incarnation of Molly Hatchet then lit up the house with a fiery and inspired set featuring many of the group’s essential classics. With all of the group’s original members deceased as of 2020, the current lineup of keyboardist John Galvin (the longest-tenured, joining the group in 1983), guitarist Bobby Ingram (who joined in 1987), bassist Tim Lindsey, drummer Shawn Beamer and singer Parker Lee stormed out the gate strong with early Molly Hatchet favorites like “Whiskey Man,” “Bounty Hunter,” “Gator Country” and “One Man’s Pleasure,” before breaking out the title track to the 1996 album “Devil’s Canyon,” culminating in Shawn’s blistering drum solo. The group continued with “Beatin’ the Odds,” the 2010 number “I’m Gonna Live ‘Til I Die” and their new single “Firing Line,” which was dedicated to veterans and first responders. Their rendition of “Fall of the Peacemakers,” an instrumental take on Derek & the Dominoes’ “Layla” and their reworking of the Allman Brothers’ “Dreams I’ll Never See” provided the homestretch of the set, before the crowd demanded the encore – “Flirtin’ with Disaster.” Sounding gritty and fiery on the Molly Hatchet catalog, young singer Parker Lee provided a highlight moment when he told the crowd about his father playing Molly Hatchet albums in his truck when Parker was a kid. And now years later, he gets to front the group. Parker told the parents in the crowd to support their kids in their creative endeavors, because – as in his case – “Dreams still happen.”

I caught a lot of music in Johnstown over the past month…It wasn’t an April Fool’s joke on April 1, but I finally got to experience acclaimed British Pink Floyd tribute group Brit Floyd for my first time at 1st Summit Arena at Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial. I was hooked right away when the group opened the night with “Astronomy Domine.” Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s 1994 album “The Division Bell,” Brit Floyd did several songs from that album such as “High Hopes,” “Coming Back to Life” and “Take It Back.” They then ended their first set with two songs from the 1977 “Animals” album, “Pigs on the Wing” and the expansive classic “Dogs.” The group reconvened out of the intermission with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” and mixed up various canons from the Pink Floyd catalog such as “Time” into “Great Gig in the Sky” (with Eva Avila providing the stunning vocalizations), “Wish You Were Here,” “One Of These Days,” “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Us and Them,” “Money” and “Comfortably Numb.” When the audience called for more, Brit Floyd returned to close out the night with “Run Like Hell.” Brit Floyd provided it all, including musical precision that convincingly captured the mood and feel of the original songs; including singer, guitarist and musical director Damian Darlington’s ability to sing both the Roger Waters and David Gilmour vocal roles. The backdrops, lighting, lazers and animations all contributed to bring the look, energy and spectacle of the “Pulse” tour. Like many others this night, I left the arena mesmerized by Brit Floyd’s performance, and I will be back for more. 

After spending much of one Saturday last month appeasing the taxation gods, I was in a slammin’ mood, and thus headed to Slammin Sam’s in Johnstown for their multi-performer “Slam Into Spring” shindig. I missed some of the earlier performers such as Ian Jeffreys, Jason Dewitt, Rust and Blood Union, but arrived as Swipe Right was ending their set with The Clarks’ “Shimmy Low.” From The Top then took the stage to perform their variety mix of classics. Singer and bassist Elyssa “Liddy” Nagy quickly woke up the crowd with her potent voice as she sang out numbers from Sheryl Crow, AC/DC, Gretchen Wilson, Joan Jett and requests for Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece Of My Heart,” with her dad, guitarist and singer Lou Nagy, and drummer Doug Lohr providing sturdy accompaniment. Next was Uncle Mark & the Chunky Bunch. This group – namesake, drummer and singer Mark Vatavuk, lead singer and guitarist Brad Cobaugh, and Mark’s nephew Zach Forgas on bass (thus the name ‘Uncle Mark’) – endeared themselves early on by giving away snacks and tossing Ding-Dongs to the crowd. They then fired up that crowd with 80s and 90s rock, punk and alternative favorites from Lit, Seven Mary Three, Bloodhound Gang, Foster The People, Run DMC and more. From there, Now ‘Til Never powered up the heavier rock with tunes from Velvet Revolver, Volbeat, Godsmack, The Cult, Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne and more. Singer Eric Voeghtly, guitar shredder Jeff Bassett, bassist Skinny and drummer Danny Mayhem went for broke and delivered their songs with firepower and force. Making their first visit to Johnstown, Pittsburgh favorites Chip and the Charge Ups escalated the party with their high-powered set. Singer and guitarist Chip Dominick, his daughter Maleena on bass and vocals, and drummer Nolan Allen delivered constant energy, movement, swagger and thrills as they fired off original punk-fueled rock. They did several songs off their latest album “What Happened to the Boy Next Door?” such as “Ultra-Legendary,” “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” “Paying Back the Devil” and more. Their tempo was feverish, and Chip and the Charge Ups successfully fired up the crowd. Closing out the show was Johnstown rock force Inside Out. Recently marking 30 years of rocking western PA audiences, Inside Out powered out classic and modern rock/metal favorites, welcoming guests along the way. Singer, guitarist and ringleader Tim Frick welcomed his song Patrick up to the stage to play guitar on songs from Breaking Benjamin and Disturbed, and Chip Dominick jumped up on stage to help sing on a few songs as well. Inside Out also played original songs such as “Burn” and “Get Up,” and they finished the night with Firehouse’s “All She Wrote” in honor of that group’s singer CJ Snare, who passed away earlier in the week. 

Johnstown’s Venue Of Merging Arts (VOMA) got its groove on early last month with the double-bill of The Platelets and Wild Blue Yonder. From Pittsburgh, Wild Blue Yonder started things off with groove-geared original songs and dazzling musicianship. Featuring guitarist and singer Eli Alfieri, bassist, guitarist and singer Dan Sawyer, keyboardist Jason Kuehnle and drummer Mark Riggio, Wild Blue Yonder crafted grooves that breathed and escalated into full force jams where the group could improvise and play off one another. The group worked jazzy interludes into several of their numbers, and their musicianship captivated the VOMA audience. The Platelets followed suit with their own funky grooves and eclectic original songs. Singer and guitarist Clint Sparling, lead guitarist Nate Jackson, bassist Ron Jezeskie and drummer Dylan Jackson introduced a few numbers and played original song favorites such as “Money Jazz” and “Half Full,” and also worked in their own feisty jam take on the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You” with the spotlight on Ron’s bass mastery, and the night-ending version of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick,” where Dylan got in a good drum solo workout. The Platelets were fun, and drew increasing amounts of applause from the VOMA crowd as their set proceeded along. 

I returned to the Venue Of Merging Arts two weeks later to enjoy some jazz music, as VOMA Jazz presented the monthly visit of Pittsburgh’s Don Aliquo Quartet. Now 94 years young, Don Aliquo Sr. grew up in Johnstown and has enjoyed a remarkable career that included performing for President Harry Truman with the Walter Reed Army Band; performing on stage with Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Lena Horne and Johnny Mathis; and performing in numerous jazz festivals in Pittsburgh and beyond. As this night’s VOMA performance showed, Don still has the enthusiasm and skills on saxophone, as he and his band – pianist Kevin Moore, stand-up bass player Mark Perna and drummer John Schmidt – dazzled on a number of traditional jazz numbers. As the group performed numbers from Randy Weston, Miles Davis, Henry Mancini, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and others, each song turned into a playground where the musicians could play and explore. All four musicians displayed their individual skills during each number, with Don providing some trivia about each song. Don praised his bandmates at one point, saying “They cover up all my mistakes…that’s why I keep them.” In between sets, Don eagerly walked about the room to greet and thank every person in attendance. Providing a pleasant jazz experience, the Don Aliquo Quartet returns to VOMA on May 18.

Earth Day and the April 20 “holiday” provided the settings for some live music events. The Blair County Conservation District presented their Earth Day Festival at the Hollidaysburg Area High School auditorium last month, which featured a variety of earthen crafts, environmental displays, children’s activities and live music. Singer and guitarist Bill Wandersee kicked off the music with his set of 1960s and 70s era favorites. Bill displayed a strong and clear singing voice as he did numbers such as Jim Croce’s “I Got A Name” and Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.” The Backyard Rockers – singer and guitarist Rich Dasch and yours truly on djembe, kazoo and backing vocals – played our first public set in eight months, doing classic favorites from Rod Stewart, The Band, Steve Earle, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Green Day and Elton John. Singer and songwriter James Grove then closed out the music with his blend of original folk songs plus classic folk, country and other favorites. James introduced original songs such as “Do the Best You Can” and “Fireball,” plus numbers from Tyler Childers, John Prine, Marty Robbins, Buck Owens, Kenny Rogers, Roger Miller, Hank Williams and more.

Meanwhile, the third annual Cann-a-Toona Festival took place outside Tru Healing Concepts wellness shop in downtown Altoona, featuring lots of wellness and craft vendors, food, beverages and live music. RSB Piranha and Lucid Yooth & the Cubensis Lenses performed prior to my arrival, and Walkney took the stage as I arrived. Walkney introduced its new incarnation, as founding member and singer Derek Mrdjenovich was flanked by guitarist Jaxon Pugh, bassist Nik Mik and drummer Jake Hicks (from Abstentious). Derek mixed several new songs with his earlier material and generated lively energy that roused the onlookers. Hot Fudge Mondaes then brought their high-powered modern rock to the stage. Singer Jake Mowery, guitarists Micah Button and Breydon Bremer, bassist Kevin Neely and new drummer Justin Burket fired off several new original songs plus numbers from Weezer, Foo Fighters and more. And The PennSoulvanians closed out the music with their grooving and soulful vibes. Introduced by Tru Healing Concepts proprietor Danny Rivera, the group and Danny joined forces on the PennSoulvanians’ anthem “Bounce Back” to set the vibrant tone of the performance. The group continued with more of their original songs, including “Pilgrimage,” “40 Acres,” “Day Has Come,” “Hustle Til the Morning,” “Third Time,” “Crime to Be Curious” and – with Danny again joining them – the closer “Swagger.” Adding to the energy were the Flow N’At fire twirlers, who worked hula hoops and other flame-twirling apparatus to add some creative heat to the mix.

I took in some live musical dinner-theatre last month as McGarvey’s “Theatre” hosted 39 Tigers’ presentation of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Directed by McGarvey’s main man Richard McGarvey and Tony Malvoisin, this production presented the rock opera about the Passion with a contemporary and modern flavor. The cast included Caleb Marasco as Jesus, Tony Malvoisin as Judas, Quinn Allen as Mary, Mike Merschiltz as Herod, Rich Volpe as Pilate, Nick Baron as Simon, Mike Manfred as Peter, along with numerous other cast members. Live music accompanied the story, with the band featuring keyboardists Jessica Heckman and Annette Nagle, Nate Nagle on guitar, Aaron Kenawell on bass and Michael Vatavuk on drums. This was an excellent production, and the intimacy of the McGarvey’s setting enabled the audience to be close to the performance, adding emotional charge to the production. McGarvey’s plans more theatrical productions; including “It’s Just Sex” by Jeff Gould in July, “Pontypool” by Tony Burgess in October, and “Full Monty” by Terrance McNally in December. 

Maryland metalheads Offensive celebrated the release of their new album “Medusa” with a several-stop tour that landed at McGarvey’s in late March. Five bands played this night; Ametropia performed before my arrival, but Another Dark Fall was under way as I entered the building. Featuring former members of Clearfield’s San Francisco Sex Toys, this group did heavy, mostly instrumental heavy metal numbers. I caught the title of their closing number, “Abduction.” Offensive took the stage next, presenting their current roster of lead singer Nick Courtney, guitarist and singer (and founding member) Leon Sohail, guitarists Blake Shannon and Rane Garmon, bassist Chris Coleman-Bey and drummer Ashley Maccabee. This edition of Offensive unleashed full-bodied classic power metal, defined by Nick’s powerhouse voice up front and a wall of guitar sound, as the group did songs from the ”Medusa” album such as “Divine Enchantress,” “Your Devotion, Your Demise” and others. Altoona’s BSXpress followed with their set of high-velocity, short and sweet punk rants. Singer and guitarist Brian Walker, bassist Nick Bayer and drummer Dean Kepner introduced several new songs from their forthcoming next album including “Theology/Hypocrisy,” “This Is Your Life,” “When the Free World…,” “Hometown Dirt” and more. And Clearfield horror punk rockers Less Than Zero ended with their scorching set of original rock. The group introduced their new bass player, Wes Shriner, who joins singer Eddie Benevich, rhythm guitarist Davey Blowers, lead guitarist Garrett Kyler and drummer Jarod Gearheart. Less Than Zero generated their fury with such numbers as “Camp Blood,” “This Way to Hell,” “World of Darkness,” “438,” “Judas,” “Asylum,” “Devil’s Tree” and more.

Morgantown, West Virginia-based singer, songwriter and former American Idol contestant Cody Clayton Eagle paid his first visit to Levity Brewing Company’s Altoona location last month. Cody displayed a smooth, sturdy voice with good range as he performed a variety of country and folk originals, plus a few cover selections. He did several songs from his just-issued 5-song EP “American Dream,” including the title song and “Workin’ Man.” He also performed numbers from Zac Brown Band, Luke Combs, Aaron Lewis, Toby Keith, a request for John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads,” and even a version of Creed’s “One Last Breath.”

Other performers I got to witness in recent weeks included Fail as they brought the heavy side of modern rock to a crowded Woodside Bar & Grill last month…Pittsburgh’s Legendary Hucklebucks as they brought their lively roots rock ruckus to McGarvey’s in late March…The all-ages punk bill featuring Passed Tense, Two For Flinchin,’ Take The Hit and Meanderthal at the ArtsAltoona Center’s Grotto in late March…Huntingdon’s Backlash at Altoona’s 4D’s Lounge in late March…The “Music Man,” Ron Balestino, as he entertained a Friday night crowd with song favorites last month at Molly’s Pub in Altoona…And I again got to sit in with Wasted Talent during one of their weekly Thursday sessions at the Roaring Spring VFW – good times!

News and notes…The next installment of Johnstown’s Classic Vinyl Concert Series will take place on May 31 and June 1 at the State Theater of Johnstown, as the Classic Vinyl Concert Band will celebrate the music of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen The future of the concert series is up in the air, as an evolving legal matter may prevent the State Theater of Johnstown to continue with its planned renovations and improvements…After not happening last year, the Route 22 Rock and Blues Festival is returning this summer; the two-day festival will happen on July 12-13 at the Lincoln Caverns Campground along Route 22 near Huntingdon. The festival’s band and performer lineup will be announced soon…The Pennsylvania Heritage Songwriting Contest continues to accept entries for its 2024 edition. Songs must have a Pennsylvania namesake, theme or reference, and can be about a location, person, event or story tied to Pennsylvania. Deadline for entries is May 15; winners for the top three songs will receive cash prizes plus the opportunity to perform their songs during the 2024 Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival in June. For more information, visit…“PA’s Pantera Tribute Band,” Penntera, introduced their new frontman last month, as Chris Patrick took over the lead mic helm, replacing Jason Robison, who stepped away from the group to devote more attention to his original music endeavors…Altoona’s Infused is working on their next album; titled “Feedback Sadness,” the album should be available later this year.

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!