By Jim Price
Although there was a point earlier this year when its future was not certain, Pennsylvania Musician Magazine has survived to reach another anniversary! Hats off to Josh Noll for picking up the reins and continuing this publication’s legacy of serving the state’s music industry and community, as well as the magazine’s founding couple, Whitey and Robin Noll!
A succession of annual fairs and fall festivals brought the curtain down on the outdoor live music season through late September and last month. The annual Harmony Grange Fair near Westover featured nightly live music for most of its weeklong festivities. I took in part of Friday’s entertainment, Pittsburgh-based country recording artist Justin Fabus and his band. Having recently issued his full-length debut album, Remedy, Justin did songs off the album, along with select country and classic rock favorites. He opened the performance with the album’s leadoff track “Pick Me Up,” and he also did the single “Come Around” plus several more. Citing Bruce Springsteen as an inspiration, Justin and his band did a version of “Hungry Heart,” and also offered their own takes on such numbers as “Six Days on the Road,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps,” Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” and more. Justin offered a sturdy voice and outgoing personality up front, and his band sounded tight and energetic behind him. An arriving thunderstorm cut his initial set short. At press time, Justin had been invited to attend the 52nd annual Country Music Association (CMA) Awards in Nashville on Nov. 14.
Two ethnic-flavored festivals took place in late September. The fourth annual Johnstown Slavic Festival took place at Johnstown’s Heritage Discovery Center, and featured a day of Slavic and Hungarian food, arts and crafts, cooking demonstrations, a Hungarian nut roll contest, and music and dance performances. I arrived in time to witness the last two musical acts, Harmonia and the West Philadelphia Orchestra. Cleveland’s Harmonia was on stage as I arrived. Six members strong, Harmonia performed a variety of Hungarian, Bulgarian, Slavic and Romanian folk and gypsy numbers with their distinctive blend of instrumentation, which included accordion, cimbalom (Hungarian dulcimer), violin, upright bass, percussion, various woodwinds and more. Harmonia’s performance triggered dancing through much of their set. Closing out the day was the West Philadelphia Orchestra, who brought an energetic blend of Balkan and jazz sounds, powered with a punk furor. Nine members strong this night including trumpet, saxophone, baritone, sousaphone, clarinet, percussion and vocals, West Philadelphia Orchestra kept it lively and fun from start to end, prompting dancing along the way. For their finale, the group stepped off the stage and ventured out into the crowd, delivering just as much brassy volume without amplification. The music, coupled with the variety of food, art and celebration of Slavic heritage, made the Johnstown Slavic Festival an enjoyable, educational event.
The following day, Delgrosso’s Amusement Park in Tipton presented their 29th annual Italian Food & Heritage Festival. Italian food and music took the spotlight; this year’s headlining performers were New York’s Micheal Castaldo and his band. During the second of two performances, Micheal shined with his prominent voice and showmanship, leading his band on a wide variety of sounds ranging from pop and rock’n’roll standards (some sung in Italian) to Italian song favorites, jazz and more. Some of the bigger surprises included Italian language takes on the Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’” and The Turtles’ “Elenore” (“Scende la pioggia,” a cover done by Gianni Morandi). They also did versions of Henry Mancini’s “Peter Gunn Theme,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” (sung by the group’s drummer), plus Italian standards like “O Sole Mio,” “Funiculi Funicula” and others. Also capturing attention this day was
6-year-old western PA-based opera singer Victory Brinker. This youngster not only showed an incredible, operatic voice, but sang and enunciated clearly in Italian as well. She presented her song selections with enthusiasm and no fear; one can only imagine the heights this young lady may achieve as she continues on her musical path. And the strolling western PA-based father-and-son duo of Ben and Matt Faiella played guitar and mandolin respectively, serenading audiences and passers-by with traditional Italian folk instrumentals.
During their season-closing Harvestfest the following weekend, Delgrosso’s Amusement Park featured entertainment from the Martin Family Circus. Based in Nashville, this unique family band features Paul Martin, former singer and guitarist for national recording group Exile; his wife, Jamie, the daughter of Oak Ridge Boys singer Duane Allen; and their four children – 20-year-old March on vocals and guitar, 17-year-old Kell on keys and vocals, 12-year-old Texas behind the drum kit, and 11-year-old Tallant on vocals, tambourine and acoustic guitar. The Martin Family Circus – who recently changed their name to Rockland Road – mixed up a broad spectrum of rock’n’roll, pop, country favorites and original songs. Selections included the Kell-fronted version of Don Henley’s “In a New York Minute,” Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis,” Chicago’s “Wishing You Were Here,” the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing.” They tapped the Exile library for “I Got Love (Super Duper Love)” and the Oak Ridge Boys’ mega-hit “Elvira,” brought youngsters from the audience onstage to help sing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” and spotlighted Texas’ drumming talents during The Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” The group will issue their first EP as Rockland Road soon.
Altoona’s zombie apocalypse returned early last month with the third annual Zombietown USA festival. The two-day event commenced with the Friday evening “Dead” at Five kickoff concert at Altoona’s Railroaders Museum. Local Black Sabbath tribute group Hand Of Doom opened with an impressive performance of early Black Sabbath favorites. Singer Mark Oswalt, guitarist Matt Wineland, bassist Todd Batzel and drummer Dan McConnell fired up zombies and the uninfected alike with powerful takes on “The Wizard,” “N.I.B.,” “Iron Man,” “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Sweet Leaf,” “Symptom of the Universe” into “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” their title tune “Hand of Doom” and more. Agent Smith then reprised their ‘Agent In Chains’ tribute to Alice In Chains to finish the night. Singer Steve Oswalt, singer/guitarist Phil “Philly Grooves” Wagner, guitarist Kirk Robison, bassist Rich Johnson and drummer Shawn Gioiosa did stunning work over two sets on numbers from throughout the Layne Staley era of Alice In Chains. Agent In Chains accurately captured the firepower and vocal harmonies on numbers such as “We Die Young,” “Them Bones,” “Dam That River,” “Down in a Hole,” “Sea of Sorrow,” “It Ain’t Like That,” “No Excuses,” “Got Me Wrong,” “Heaven Beside You,” “Would?” and more. Steve dedicated “Rooster” to his late father; and after the group closed their tribute with “Man in the Box,” reverted back to Agent Smith to do numbers from Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, The Cult, and Iron Maiden’s “Two Minutes to Midnight.”
Zombietown USA resumed on Saturday at downtown Altoona’s Heritage Plaza (across the railroad tracks from the Railroaders Museum) with a daytime festival featuring various food and craft vendors, zombie-themed games and activities, a meet-and-greet with celebrities from the zombie film Dawn of the Dead, a Halloween parade and live music. Off-and-on rains did not dampen crowd or spirits, as onlookers took in performances from The Backyard Rockers, Elaini Arthur, Lillian Avenue (the newly-christened duo of singer/guitarist Jae Smith and drummer Tyke Dodson), Downshift, One Adam 12, Post Traumatik and Hair Force One.
Heritage Plaza also played host to the inaugural Cre814 Fest in late September, which brought musicians and other artists together to share their creations. Local artisans, businesses and food vendors represented their wares and creations throughout the plaza, and children were given opportunities to create sidewalk chalk art and other endeavors. Music happened on three stages; I was able to catch parts of performances from the Nag Champions Mystery Band, Eric Delozier, Well Traveled Music and Jason Gamble. Cre814 Fest was well-attended and a big success, and is likely to return next year.
Ebensburg celebrated the spud at their 27th annual Potatofest in late September. This festivus of potato-based foods, arts and crafts featured four different stages of musical entertainment at various points around downtown Ebensburg. As I first arrived and started making my tour of potato-based edibles, I first encountered Johnstown’s Jeff Perigo and Friends, performing at the gazebo at Penn Eben Park. Jeff on lead vocals and guitar, Andy Jenkins on guitar and vocals, Scott Jeffreys on bass and Seth Shumaker on mandolin played a blend of classic rock and folk songs. Some of their selection included versions of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Snake Farm,” Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” traditional numbers such as “Old Dan Tucker” and “I Know You Rider,” and more. As I was first walking uphill toward the festival, I could hear the unmistakable sound of “Miss Melanie” Morrison Zeigler’s high-flying voice from several blocks away, so my next musical destination at Potatofest was seeing Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats as they completed their performance at the Main Tent at the intersection of Center and High Streets. Melanie, guitar master Mark Ross, keyboardist Rev. James Harton and drummer Chris Coyne mixed up hearty blues and soul, including songs from their upcoming new album, established favorites and more. It was fun to observe the reactions of first-time onlookers as they discovered Miss Melanie’s passionate and soulful voice reaching for the heavens, as well as the Valley Rats’ instrumental tightness, taste and precision. I next caught my first look at Johnstown-based indie folk duo The Evergreens as they entertained at the Memorial Park Tent. Singer/guitarist Laurel Harrison and drummer Amanda Alt performed fresh takes on a variety of classics, including a few surprises I wasn’t expecting – such as their take on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and creative versions of Blind Melon’s “No Rain,” Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher,” Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight,” Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and more. A local Cambria County-based rock band named Fuse has played this event in recent years, but a Pittsburgh-based Fuse made their Potatofest debut this year at the Penn Eben gazebo. This family-based group features bassist, singer and dad Joe Hazy, his son Cory on lead vocals and guitar, daughter Mikayla on vocals and tambourine, Mark Spimak on keys and Greg Cortese on drums. Classic rock is this group’s forte, as they lit the ‘fuse’ on numbers from The Who, Tom Petty, the Doors, Stevie Nicks, Cream, Queen and more. I next stepped away from the main festival briefly, strolling downhill on High Street to local craft brewers Coal Country Brewing to enjoy a pumpkin ale and Dan Stonerook, as he strummed and sang his mix of folk, country, rock classics and original songs. I then returned to Potatofest to catch the tail end of Flood City Brass’ feisty, horn-driven performance at the Main Tent, before returning to the Memorial Park Tent stage to see Koz. Namesake Matt “Koz” Kozlovac on vocals and guitar, guitarist/singer Tom Ondek, bassist Matt Peterson and drummer Andrew Baumann played classic rock favorites from Steve Miller Band, Eric Clapton, Eagles, Allman Brothers and more.
I ventured across state lines early last month to visit Berkeley Springs, West Virginia’s 45th annual Apple Butter Festival, and took in the performance of local folk and bluegrass favorites Marv Ashby & High Octane. Namesake Marv on acoustic guitar, banjo player Jack VanOrden, fiddler Larry Crawford and Tom Gray on upright bass (filling in for the group’s regular bass player, ‘Beardie,’ who is on the mend from health issues) performed a mixture of bluegrass, string music, folk and early country sounds. The group took a casual approach to this performance, having fun as they mixed vocal numbers and instrumental workouts. Their instrumental skills were constantly on display, with each band member given the spotlight to show their talents. Some highlights included a “Dueling Banjos”-rooted jam, Jack displaying his calm baritone voice on Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm” and Flatt & Scruggs’ “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” versions of Ralph Stanley’s “How Mountain Girls Can Love,” the depression-era “Breadline Blues” and more.
Alexandria in Huntingdon County hosted its 43rd annual Hartslog Day Heritage Festival last month. Off-and-on raindrops didn’t thwart multitudes from enjoying multiple arts, crafts and food vendors, children’s activities, tours of the Hartslog Museum, and live musical entertainment. With my own band, the Backyard Rockers, scheduled to close out the festival’s live music slate, I arrived early to take in several of the other performers. Local favorite Anita Roseborough was performing as I arrived, singing and strumming acoustic guitar on a mixture of pop, folk and gospel numbers, and welcoming family and friends to join her. Her sister, Regina Miller, joined her on a rendition of Kenny Loggins’ “House at Pooh Corner, while a guest named Carol helped sing on John Denver’s “Wild Montana Skies,” and another guest, Peggy, sang on the set-closing gospel number “In This Very Room.” The Unusual Suspects String Band followed with their blend of string music, bluegrass and folk sounds. Led by the husband and wife core of R.B. Powell on banjo and Bridget Allen on acoustic guitar, the Unusual Suspects did numbers such as Buck Owens’ “Stony Mountain West Virginia,” Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Rocky Top” and more. Next was Silver Creek, who performed a mix of country and rock favorites. Lead singer David Beck, guitarist Brett Rodkey, bassist Ed Ward and a 14-year-old drummer named Jake did strong work on tunes from Hank Williams Jr., Kenny Chesney, Poison, The Cult and more.
I caught entertainment on the final day of last month’s two-weekend Bedford Fall Foliage Festival in downtown Bedford. I first encountered The Evergreens again – this time as strolling performers – as they played near Fort Bedford Museum and the Juniata River. After catching their takes on favorites from Billy Joel, Tom Petty and The Shirelles, I then headed to the River Stage to catch the tail end of the Jeff Fetterman Band. From Erie, this trio – namesake Jeff on lead vocals and guitar, Ralph Reitinger III on bass and John McGuire on drums – scorched blues-rock originals and covers. I witnessed as they finished their performance with a Pink Floyd “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”-based jam and a fiery read on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” Earlier this year, the Jeff Fetterman Band represented the Blues Society of Western PA and made it to the semifinals of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. I next proceeded to the downtown Gazebo stage for the annual appearance by 1960s hitmaker Chuck Blasko and The Vogues. One of The Vogues’ founding members, Chuck led the group on Vogues hits and a variety of pop, rock and soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s. Supported by a backing band, Chuck, Sean Moran and Tim Scott blended for strong two and three-part harmonies as they sang Vogues hits such as “You’re the One” and “Turn Around, Look at Me,” as well as favorites from the Four Seasons, The Rascals, The Miracles, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and their rousing, show-closing take on Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling.” Chuck announced that he and The Vogues will be back for next year’s Fall Foliage Festival.
Indoors, McGarvey’s hosted the returns of two popular touring roots-based acts in recent weeks. Virginia’s Hackensaw Boys returned in late September, performing their upbeat brand of bluegrass and string music. Singer/guitarist David Sickmen guided the party, rallying the dance floor and sharing quips and humor along the way. Ferd Moyse showed some amazing fiddle work along the way. And this is the group with the “charismo,” the makeshift percussion instrument made from tin cans and other household items that can generate a percussion sound. ‘Bo’ was jangling the charismo while working a kick drum to provide the rhythm. The Hackensaw Boys did tunes from throughout their catalog, and kept the crowd lively from start to end. Then when they reached the end of their onstage performance, the group took a quick break before returning to the dance floor to do a couple of songs in the middle of the crowd without amplification. Local bluegrass favorites Mama Corn opened the evening.
And Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band returned to McGarvey’s in late September with their boisterous brand of roots-flavored blues. After local roots punk group Black Ridge PABG and Shane Speal & the Snakes opened the night, the Hoosier state trio of Rev. Peyton on various guitars, his wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton on washboard and bass drum, and Max Senteney on drums (including an inverted 5-gallon maple syrup bucket) played a wild mix of original songs, rooted in early Mississippi delta blues. Rev. Peyton delivered a big, bold growl up front plus amazing slide guitarwork, and the group delivered a raw, uninhibited sound on songs off their new Poor Until Payday album such as the punchy title track, “You Can’t Steal My Shine,” “Dirty Swerve,” “Get the Family Together” and “It Is or It Ain’t.” Rev. Peyton borrowed a cigar box guitar from Shane Speal for a rendition of “Boll Weevil,” and when the house demanded an encore, he and the group responded with the songs “Two Bottles of Wine” and “We Deserve a Happy Ending.”
The Hungry Duck Eatery in Roaring Spring recently has begun to host live music, and I caught up with The Lawn Darts there in late September. Providing music that “sticks in your ear,” The Lawn Darts mixed a wide variety of classic rock’n’roll during their three sets. Their music was sharp and on point; Mark Snyder on vocals, keys and guitar, Kim Metzgar on bass and vocals, Marvin Walter on guitar and vocals, Perry Conrad on percussion and Chris Conrad on drums (filling in for Greg Williams, who is recovering from rotator cuff surgery) played numbers from the Lovin’ Spoonful, Eddie Rabbitt, Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Eric Clapton, the Hollies, Doobie Brothers, BTO, Tom Petty, Stone Temple Pilots and many more. The group threw in a few surprises, such as Otis Rush’s “Homework,” Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right,” Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman” and the Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus Is Just Alright.” Mark, Marvin, Kim and Chris all shared singing duties; all sounded fine on the vocal front, and The Lawn Darts executed like a well-oiled machine on their respective instruments. The Hungry Duck crowd enjoyed the show, and a number of folks were up and dancing throughout the night.
I checked out Johnstown area rockers Orange Fire last month as they lit the flame to some rock’n’roll at Slammin’ Sam’s in Johnstown. Singers Ginger Pollock and Nathan Zehner, lead guitarist Ed Bubner Sr., his wife Marge Bubner on rhythm guitar and keys, bassist Elias Bersamina and drummer Ron Stepien generated the rock’n’roll party with favorites from Journey, ZZ Top, Stray Cats, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Melissa Etheridge, Doobie Brothers, BTO and more. Both Ginger and Nathan showed fine voices up front, and did a nice duet on Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Ginger also did great work on Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and the night-ending version of Scandal’s “Goodbye to You.” The big surprise for me, though, was when Orange Fire broke out a forgotten gem from the 1980s, Fastway’s “Say What You Will!” Orange Fire drew some dancers onto the floor and brought the good time; they return to Slammin’ Sam’s on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 21.
And Johnstown’s Black Cat Moan brought their brand of “new vintage blues” to the Altoona Grand Hotel in late September. Singer/harmonica player T.K. Mundok, guitarist George Byich and drummer Rob Bonsell applied their distinctive jazz-meets-blues approach to original songs, blues and classic rock favorites. The group did various selections off their CD The Saint, The Munk and The Moan, as well as songs from Muddy Waters, CCR, Allman Brothers, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson, and even a bluesy slant on Tommy James & the Shondells’ “Hanky Panky!” T.K. offered some greasy licks on the harp, George displayed mastery on his resonator guitar, and Rob’s beats were tasteful and in the pocket. A large crowd appreciated Black Cat Moan’s performance; this group spreads their bluesy sounds from Altoona to Pittsburgh; give them a listen!
Other performers I have seen in recent weeks include From Down the Road, Nag Champions and Shallow 9’s acoustic trio at McGarvey’s, Maryland-based party rockers Drunk After Midnight at Altoona’s Four Dees Lounge, Felix & the Hurricanes during one of their weekly Sunday shindigs at Altoona’s Black & Gold Tavern, acoustic duo Lauren (Johnson) & Joe (George) at the Village Tavern in Mill Creek, Dylan E. Miller and New Jersey singer/songwriter Anna Oh at Boxer’s Café in Huntingdon, and plentiful musicians at the weekly Wednesday Open Mic Night at Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society.
News and notes…The eighth annual Patched Together: A Day of Music to Benefit the Healing Patch will take place on Nov. 17 at Altoona’s Bavarian Aid Society, raising funds and awareness for Home Nursing Agency’s Healing Patch program; performers at this year’s event include Matt Otis & the Sound, Jim Donovan & the Sun King Warriors, 80 Degreez, Negan, Railtowne, Time with Donny Burns, Greg Burley and The Chrome Hearts…Popular 1990s area rockers Heaven Tonite will reunite for a 25th anniversary performance at 120 Pub & Grub in Clearfield on Thanksgiving weekend, November 23 and 24; proceeds from the Nov. 24 performance will benefit the Bob E. Day Memorial Scholarship Fund. The father of Heaven Tonite (and current Rattletrap Jack) guitarist Matt Day, Bob E. Day was a longtime popular radio personality in Clearfield County who passed away last month…Altoona area classic rock specialists The Syrins have decided to part ways after a 14-year run on area stages to focus on families and other career opportunities…Area Irish folk-rock favorites Full Kilt have a new drummer, as Jake Yarnish replaces the retiring Pat Boland…Western PA/eastern Ohio heavy rockers Doctor Smoke have a new bass player, as Jeff Young replaces Kathryn Flesher.
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 or Google+. SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!