The Professor’s “Live Reviews” – September 2023

Live music has kept me very busy in recent weeks, as the cavalcade of outdoor music festivals, concerts, county fairs, carnivals and other events reach their peak before the summer season starts winding down this month. You might feel exhausted after reading how crazy the past several weeks have been for me!

County fair season arrived in recent weeks, and several local fairs featured live music. The 162nd Clearfield County Fair in early August featured several national recording artists, including Granger Smith, Cooper Alan, Ted Nugent, and the concert I attended: Tesla. The current lineup of founding members Brian Wheat on bass, Frank Hannon on guitar and Jeff Keith on vocals; plus Dave Rude on guitar and Steve Brown on drums did songs from throughout Tesla’s catalog; including FM radio staples like “Modern Day Cowboy,” “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out),” “What You Give,” “Love Song” and “Little Suzi.” The group also did deeper cuts such as the set-opener “Lady Luck,” “Hang Tough,” “Time to Rock,” “Changes,” “Love Me” and more. Highlights included their song “Private Ledbetter,” which was dedicated to veterans; the group played the song while footage of soldiers were shown on the backdrops, and Frank ended the song with a guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” During the song “Edison’s Medicine” (about Nikola Tesla’s rivalry with Thomas Edison), Frank worked a theremin to add to the song’s effect and theme. And when the large crowd called for the encore, Tesla responded with their Top 10 hit remake of Five Man Electrical Band’s “Signs” to close out the night. Jeff’s voice was in good form throughout the show, and the rest of the group brought the instrumental firepower.  

The 149th annual Bedford County Fair in late July featured live entertainment each night. I attended on Monday of fair week, first checking out the third annual “Voices on the Grandstand” amateur talent contest, hosted by Galla (of Dan & Galla). Contestants sang and performed songs in three age groups, with cash prizes awarded to the winners. Afterward, I saw West Virginia-based performers JEDD Nation under the midway pavilion. This group has grown by a member since I last saw them in October, with drummer Duke Dalmer joining guitarist and singer Joe Crites, lead singer and guitarist Donnie Carman and bassist Eric Houdersheldt. JEDD Nation did a nice blend of classic rock, pop and country hits with a few surprises, including versions of Flock Of Seagulls’ “I Ran” and Tommy Roe’s “Sweet Pea.” The group’s solid performance, tight harmonies and pleasant vibes were a hit with the audience, and they received a good response.

I braved the stormy forecast to attend last month’s annual Huntingdon County Fair. Like the Bedford fair, I went on a Monday night, and checked out Stephanie & the Wild Hearts. This group recently introduced a new drummer, as Les Beatty now works the drum kit; joining singer Stephanie Onkst, guitarist and singer Bob Onkst, lead guitarist Chad Morral and bassist Jake Naugle. Stephanie & the Wild Hearts continue to perform rebel country and rock’n’roll; mixing numbers from the Eagles, Johnny and June Carter Cash, CCR, Dwight Yoakam, John Mellencamp, Miranda Lambert, Elvis Presley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gretchen Wilson, Jeannie C. Riley, original songs like “Jealous of You” and “Shake It Just a Little More” and others. Highlights included a mom-and-daughter moment as young Bobbie Mae Onkst joined mom Stephanie to help sing Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots. Another highlight was Chad cutting loose on guitar during a rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy,” and an unexpected curveball as the group finished the night with a strong version of Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4.” Stephanie & the Wild Hearts’ energy and enthusiasm easily won over the Huntingdon fair audience.

Music festivals also kept me busy, as I attended the Saturday half of last month’s annual AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival, held in and around People’s Natural Gas Park in Johnstown. Eight bands played on three stages this day, kicking off with my first look at rising young Johnstown foursome The Platelets. Featuring lead singer and guitarist Clint Sparling, lead guitarist Nate Jackson, bassist Ron Jezeskie and drummer Dylan Jackson, The Platelets introduced a unique blend of indie-flavored rock, funk, infectious grooves and more. The group mixed original songs and covers, including numbers from their debut album “Steelworker’s Soul” such as “Money Jazz” and “Beach Girls,” plus inventive takes on King Harvest’s “Dancing in the Moonlight,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” and more. Ron did some amazing things on bass throughout the set, and drummer Dylan displayed his skills on the group’s set-ending rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick.” Next was Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys, making their first visit back to Johnstown since this festival’s predecessor, the AmeriServ FolkFest, in 2004. Four members strong including namesake Big Sandy on vocals and guitar, this group had the crowd moving from the get-go, dancing to their blend of roots sounds spanning rockabilly, surf, vintage country, Tex-Mex flavors and more. The group did songs from country legend Faron Young, the “King of Western Swing” Bob Wills, and paid homage to Tejano singer and songwriter Freddy Fender; plus performed many of their own original songs. Six members strong, New York City’s Melt melded together modern funk, rock, pop, jazz and soul flavors into a bright mix of their own. Melt triggered plenty of dance floor activity with a number of their original songs, plus mixed in versions of Tina Turner’s “The Best” and a rocking take on Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon.” I caught a good portion of Johnstown indie-folk duo The Evergreens’ performance. Comprised of Laurel on vocals and guitar, and Amanda on drums, The Evergreens played a wide selection of popular numbers spanning the 1960s to 1990s; performing each in their own distinctive flavor. There’s a beauty to the simplicity of The Evergreens’ presentation, as Amanda’s drumming and percussion nuances perfectly complement Laurel’s delicate singing style and guitar work. Their song selection included numbers from Dusty Springfield, The Band, Janis Joplin, Everclear, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Donovan, original numbers and more. I next checked out the latter half of Trouble No More’s performance, and was blown away by this Memphis group’s powerful presentation of Allman Brothers music. Guest Kanika Moore from Doom Flamingo (who played the previous day) provided the vocal firepower, and Trouble No More delivered the instrumental fireworks. Their 20-minute-plus workout on “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” was mesmerizing and amazing; especially witnessing the guitar tandem of Brandon “Taz” Niederaurer and Daniel Donato blend and match wits with each other. They then followed with one of the most intense renderings of “Whipping Post” I have witnessed outside of the Allman Brothers themselves! I next saw Pittsburgh’s Chalk Dinosaur, who crafted mostly instrumental soundscapes blending elements of electronica, psychedelic rock and funk. They established an almost nonstop flowing groove of driving beats that quickly got the audience up in front of the stage and dancing, and the grooves set the backdrop for the group to experiment and explore, introducing their melodies along the way. Next was this day’s headliners, Los Lobos, marking their 50th anniversary as a band this year. Returning to this festival after their first headlining appearance in 2010, Los Lobos introduced a wide mix of flavors, spanning rock to Tejano and mariachi music, blues, boogie, jam, touches of punk rock and more. Los Lobos generated the energy with many songs from throughout their career; some included “Will the Wolf Survive,” “Love Special Delivery,” “Georgia Slop,” “Lose My Mind” and “I Got Loaded.” They also broke out a version of Ritchie Valens’ “Come On, Let’s Go” and a hard-rocking take on the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha” to close out their main set. But when the huge crowd called for the encore, Los Lobos responded with their 1987 chart-topping version of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba,” which turned into a mash-up with The Rascals’ “Good Lovin.’” The festival closed out with New Jersey-based jam band performers Dogs In A Pile. Five members strong, Dogs In A Pile established a central, almost nonstop groove that set the foundation for the group to explore and improvise, landing on various song locations along the way. The group had a large crowd dancing and grooving in front of the stage for the duration of their performance. Flood City Music Festival again delivered top notch music from start to end this day; next year’s edition happens on July 26-27, 2024. 

Nine days after attending the Tesla concert there, I returned to the Clearfield County fairgrounds to check out the first night of this year’s Upstage Music Fest. Hardcore, punk, metalcore and power metal were the prominent flavors of this year’s fest as 37 different bands played on two stages during the event’s two days. I arrived in time to witness Philipsburg-based Assault On 5th as they delivered brute-force metalcore that quickly got the stage-front crowd churning. Featuring vocalist Corey Read, drummer Kenny Bish, guitarist Axl Cummings and bassist Julian Yeager, Assault On 5th unleashed the fury with original tunes, including numbers off their new album, “Inner Mechanics of a Fragile Mind.” Local rockers Treaties followed with their punk-driven brand of original rock. Singer and guitarist Brandon Kane, bassist Brad Davis and drummer Toby Hunter played high-octane numbers, including tunes off their just-released album “Parting Gifts.” Lansing, Michigan’s Heartsick then lit up the house with their volatile mix of nu-metal and metalcore. Mixing elements of melody and aggression, Heartsick delivered their song creations with fury and attitude, stirring up the turbulent crowd in front of the stage. Next up was Buffalo, New York’s Debrained, who grinded out their brand of murky-toned death metal and grindcore. Northern Virginia’s Age Of Ruin then brought the thrash with their variation of metal and metalcore. This group delivered intense melodies with relentless aggression, and also succeeded in stirring up folks in front of the stage. Pittsburgh’s Cemented In Fear fired up the pit with their brutal hardcore beatdown; defined by all-out rage backed with a full wall of full-force power chords and hammering rhythms. Finishing the night was New Jersey’s Prevailer with another demonstration of full-force metalcore. Their stage aggression was volatile and nonstop, and they also successfully fired up the remaining crowd. The Upstage Music Fest featured two nationally-known names on the following day’s slate, Sick Of It All and Life Of Agony. 

I took in some of the Saturday half of this year’s Mass N Tha Grass Music & Arts Retreat, which took place at the Sinking Valley Fairgrounds in Skelp (between Tyrone and Altoona). This festival’s atmosphere was a bit more laid back and tranquil, and a diverse musical mix kept this festival’s audience entertained over two days. I caught a few of the afternoon acts; Altoona-based indie singer and songwriter Nik Mik was performing as I arrived. Nik introduced various songs from his original song catalog, mixed with his musings about how his songs came about. The music then shifted in a much heavier direction as A Starlite Gray introduced their brand of progressive-leaning metalcore. Having just played the Upstage Music Fest the day before, A Starlite Gray introduced a different audience to their mix of volatile vocals, wall-of-sound guitars and intense, pulsing rhythms. The group did several of their original songs, including “Halos,” “A Starlite Gray,” “Love Remains,” “From Here to Eternity” and more. The music then shifted back to acoustic, as the PennSoulvanians duo of singer and guitarist Chet Denny plus singer and poet Michael “DuVille” Thomas played a set mixing several of their original song creations with select covers. The pair did some of their PennSoulvanians song creations such as “Hustle Til the Morning” and “Pilgrimage,” and also lent their own distinctive flavor to numbers by Prince, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Chris Stapleton and others. And I caught the Bomb Cyclones’ set as they mixed rock and soul. With Doug Cruse playing rhythm guitar this day, the Bomb Cyclones entertained onlookers with numbers from Amy Winehouse, Collective Soul, Pat Benatar, Heart, Tracy Chapman and more. They also did a version of Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies’ “Shakin’ the Blues.” 

Area musicians and the community came together in support of area veterans during last month’s annual Vets Fest at Altoona’s Unter Uns Musical & Entertainment Society. Five bands donated their talents at this year’s event, kicking off with the Backyard Rockers. Rich Dasch on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, and yours truly on hand percussion and backing vocals, welcomed several musical guests during our set, including DJ Gates and Kip Woodring from Bone Jacked, and guitarists Craig Albright and John McKelvey from The Stiffs. It turned into a fun, jamming set to open the afternoon, as we did numbers from Rod Stewart, The Band, Lone Crow Medicine Show, Tom Petty, Marshall Tucker Band and more. Bone Jacked then played hearty classic rock’n’roll, including numbers from CCR, Tom Petty, T. Rex, Charlie Daniels, Stray Cats, Pink Floyd and more. The Stiffs mixed original songs with tunes from The Smithereens, Eric Clapton, Spirit, Stealer’s Wheel and others, triggering some of the first dance floor activity of the day. Added to the bill late to fill in for another band who needed to bow out, Hot Wax entertained with their mixture of rock’n’roll hits, spanning Pure Prairie League to Queen to the Beatles, Van Morrison and more. And as two members of Hot Wax – singer and guitarist Mike Zerbee and bassist Chris Myers – are also members of Full Kilt, they welcomed Kilt drummer Jake Yarnish up to sit in on several Irish-toned numbers, plus guest singer Chet Harker to sing on a Johnny Cash song. And XM finished the event on an upbeat note, performing their mix of rock and dance numbers. With Don Osborn filling in for Randy Rutherford on guitar, XM triggered dance floor action with tunes from Pink, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Eat World, Shania Twain, Blondie and more. This day also saw a visit from the Legion Riders of Bellwood to show their support to area veterans, along with a basket raffle and 50/50 drawings. Altogether, this year’s Vets Fest raised more than $4,000 to help out local veterans via the Vietnam Veterans of America Blair County Chapter 967.  

The “Power of a Wish” was on full display, and bluegrass music filled the air at the Cresson Sportsmen’s Association last month as the 9th annual Pickin’ for Wishes Bluegrass Festival raised funds to help make wishes come true for children battling illnesses and life-challenging situations via the Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. So far, this event has raised more than $271,000, enabling 55 wishes to be granted. The day featured four bluegrass bands – youthful Keyser, West Virginia bluegrassers Center Fire Bluegrass; the Hickory Bottom Band with members from Bedford and Somerset Counties; Morgantown, West Virginia favorites The Hillbilly Biscuits and Altoona’s Mama Corn – performing in rotation and doing two sets each during the event. In between groups, several “Wish Kids” past and present were brought to the stage area to share their stories – including young Eva, who was informed that her wish of a trip to Disneyland has been granted…also Todd, born with cerebral palsy and wheelchair-bound, who received his initial wish 25 years ago of getting to tour the Caterpillar manufacturing plant in Peoria, Illinois. His father explained that ever since, Caterpillar has bent over backwards to grant more special things for Todd; the latest being an internship with Caterpillar followed by his hiring as part of the visitor’s relations department of Caterpillar! The blend of music, wish stories and the entire sense of community made this a special day that earned plentiful donations to make more wishes happen.  

I saw several tribute bands via various events in recent weeks…The late July installment of the PA Roundhouse Rally at Roundhouse Harley-Davidson near Duncansville featured two headlining tribute acts; Charleston, South Carolina-based Blink-182 tribute group Blank 281 (seen on Jimmy Fallon’s “Clash of the Cover Bands” on E! Network) and Florida-based Foreigner’s Journey, covering the music of Foreigner and Journey. Donny Burns & the 3rd Degree, The Pines and Half Tempted also performed during the Roundhouse Rally…The early August edition of the Rockin’ the Yard concert series at Altoona’s Jaffa Shrine upper lot presented Ohio-based Fleetwood Mac tribute group Fleetwood Gold, whose roster includes singer, guitarist and flute player Chris Shutters, who recently became the new singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears. Bone Jacked opened that event…And San Diego, California-based Foo Fighters tribute the Fooz Fighters – who won Jimmy Fallon’s “Clash of the Cover Bands” on E! Network – entertained a huge crowd of wing-eating music enthusiasts during a late July edition of WingFest at Tussey Mountain Amphitheater near Boalsburg; Eric Ian Farmer and friends opened that event. 

Another highlight for me in recent weeks was seeing the man who taught me to play accordion in my youth – Mario Crocetti – as he and his group entertained during the St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church Festival in Carrolltown in late July. This was a pleasant and fun performance as Mario and his singer, Jack Dominick – both well into their 90s – along with Mario’s son, Mike Crocetti on drums and Brian Regala on saxophone entertained a good-sized crowd of onlookers. They did a wide variety of pop favorites and standards – including hits from Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Prima, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Bobby Darin and more. They also did Italian-themed hits such as Lou Monte’s “Pepino the Italian Mouse” and Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore,” and several polkas such as the “Beer Barrel Polka,” “Tick Tock Polka,” “Julida Polka” and others. Jack – whose career included performing with local group The Chordettes for more than 40 years – displayed a hearty voice and lots of gusto as he made his cane his “dancing partner,” and even prompted a toddler to dance while he sang Elvis’ “Don’t Be Cruel.” The group closed out their performance with a musical salute to the military, performing a medley of songs that saluted the Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, Navy and Army while asking veterans of those armed forces to stand and be recognized. It was heartening to see these musicians having fun and still doing what they do. Performing after Mario and his group were area country-geared acoustic duo Rob Sottile and Ken Gray.

I saw a couple of bands for the first time in recent weeks…I caught one of the first shows by new Bedford/Cumberland-based foursome Rock Hazel, as they entertained at “Rock the River” along the Juniata River near Fort Bedford Museum in downtown Bedford. Featuring the husband-and-wife duo of guitarist Travis Ickes and singer Cherrichah, plus bassist Jim Robinette and drummer Bill Taylor, Rock Hazel kept the audience happy and dancing with their mixture of classic rock and dance favorites from Bryan Adams, Joan Jett, 4 Non Blondes, Pat Benatar, Toni Basil, GoGo’s, Beastie Boys and more…And I caught my first look at Johnstown-based foursome The Rusty Shackles last month as they performed at the Windber Hotel. Including singer and acoustic guitarist Ed Locher IV, lead guitarist Adam Milkovich, bassist Chris Verbano and drummer Luke Harrison, The Rusty Shackles performed an interesting blend of alt-country, edgy Americana and classic rock. Their set this night included a diverse range of artists such as Shooter Jennings, Rolling Stones, Social Distortion, Todd Snider, Neil Young, George Jones, Jason Isbell, Lou Reed and others; and the group did songs off their debut CD, “Joyland.”

I saw local rock’n’rollers Freedom Rocks in action in late July at the annual Cresson Community Carnival, held at the Cresson Volunteer Fire Company. The husband-and-wife duo of drummer Mike and singer Jo Ann Nardelli plus guitarist Vic Sabo triggered some street dancing with their blend of classic and vintage rock hits. They did favorites from CCR, AC/DC, Roy Orbison, Fleetwood Mac, The Ventures, Joan Jett, 4 Non Blondes, Steppenwolf, ZZ Top, Bonnie Tyler, Bob Seger and many more.

Other performers I saw recently included Austin, Texas’ Hanna Barakat (with Altoona’s Lisa Fazenbaker on percussion) as part of the Altoona Curve baseball team’s “Curve Concert Series” at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field prior to the Curve’s game against the Reading Fightin’ Phils…The return of Lancaster-based theatrical metal rockers Illusions Of Grandeur at McGarvey’s in Altoona in late July…The four-band metal, punk and metalcore “F**k Work Show” last month at McGarvey’s featuring Grimm & the Reapers, The BSXpress, Seethe (a solo creative endeavor by Pittsburgh’s Patrick McElravy) and Altoona’s SamarA…Also the three-band punk rock banger at McGarvey’s featuring Pittsburgh’s President Bomber (featuring the band members dressed up as U.S. Presidents, complete with headgear), Frostburg’s The Downstrokes and longtime Pittsburgh punk force the Mud City Manglers…and The “Acoustic Machine” showcase at McGarvey’s, featuring performances by Brian Middleton, Kylor Westbrook, Nik Mik and Kevo Can’t Dance…***Whew!***

The area music scene was saddened by the passing of several musicians in recent weeks… Longtime area musician Tim Homerski passed away Aug. 8 at age 65. Tim was a multi-talented instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, and was involved in numerous area rock bands since the 1970s; including Fantasy Airlift, Homer’s Army, and more recently, Acoustic Stew and Nag Champions Mystery Band. A Celebration of Life to honor Tim will take place on Saturday, September 9 at 2 p.m. at the pavilion at Hastings Park…A former Altoona area musician that moved to Florida, David Tornatore passed away on Aug. 6 at age 78. Dave sang and played guitar for more than 60 years, and was a member of such bands as The Hallucinations, Spectrum and the Fabulous Flashbacks, plus a band he was involved with after moving to Florida, Bad Kitty…Paul Caracciolo Sr. passed away on Aug. 8 at age 80. An active musician of the Altoona area music scene going back to the 1950s, Paul was a member of such groups as Paul & the HiFi’s, the Dreamliners, the Stereos, the Ron Sassano Trio and the Prime Time Band. Paul was the father of current Bomb Cyclones and former Flight 19 drummer Paul Caracciolo II…And Dave Moses passed away unexpectedly on August 20 at age 61. Dave fronted the heavy metal groups One Gun Salute and Frayed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and had performed as an acoustic artist in more recent years. Also involved in local theater, Dave played the role of “Uncle Ernie” during P&J Productions’ presentation of the rock opera “Tommy” last October at Altoona’s historic Mishler Theatre. In addition, Dave was the father of Chelsea and Stevie Moses, both who performed together in the youth rock band EVK. And he was the founder of his technology business, Dave Moses Technology Services, Inc…Our heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends of all four men. 

News and notes…The 4th annual Homegrown Music & Community Festival happens Sept. 9 at the 1st Summit Arena at Johnstown’s Cambria County War Memorial, with proceeds benefiting three Johnstown area charities. Performing will be The Panels, Even Toe Odds, Stars of the West Hills and Shades Of June…The 11th annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival takes place Sept. 7-9 in downtown Indiana, with live music happening all three days…The annual Cre814 Music, Art and Makers Festival happens Sept. 23 at the Blue Knob Clubhouse at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort; featuring art and craft vendors, food trucks and live music on two stages…Young Altoona rockers Sweet Desire enjoyed a special experience last month when they got to open for the Steve Miller Band at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan (outside Detroit)…The Brewery live music venue and the Music Mart music store in State College faced a scare last month when the city’s borough council voted to initiate the process of using eminent domain to take over the building housing both businesses so that a new parking garage would be built in its place. But public pressure and outcry prompted the council to repeal the eminent domain resolution two weeks later…Lead guitarist Steve Lehocky is parting ways with Eastern Ohio-based metal rockers Doctor Smoke after a ten-year run to pursue other endeavors.

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. Continue to SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!  Photos by Jim Price