The Professor's "Live Reviews" - April 2020
By: Jim Price
What a difference one month makes…30 days ago, few of us could have predicted that the United States and the world would be brought to a near standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everybody’s reality has changed…For my day job, I am now teaching college students from a laptop computer in my bedroom rather than face-to-face in a classroom. Businesses far and wide have had to curtail their public operations or close shop indefinitely, and social distancing has become the recommended – and in many places, enforced – norm. Live music and other entertainment in public spaces has ground to a halt as bars, restaurants and performance venues have been told to shut down; and for the first time in its history, PA Musician did not go to print for this month’s issue, and is solely an online publication until further notice.
But in these trying times, we again are reminded of the healing power of music. With live music venues closed down across the country, many musicians have taken their live shows to the internet, streaming live performances from their studios, facilities and even their living spaces. The value of this was realized on St. Patrick’s Day, when popular Boston area Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys – forced to postpone their annual St. Patrick’s shows until September – staged a special free live streaming concert, dubbed “Streaming Up From Boston.” The performance itself was great, as the Dropkick Murphys poured heart, soul, enthusiasm and energy before a global audience of more than 130,000 on Facebook and more than a million views on YouTube. It was heartening to see the global response to the concert on Facebook, as fans from throughout the United States – plus Australia, Italy, Germany, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and other parts of the globe – commented and thanked the band throughout concert. Photos and videos were posted of families and small children dancing in front of computers and televisions as the group performed. Opening with their version of “Irish Rover,” The Dropkick Murphys mixed favorites and new tunes – introducing new numbers such as “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding,” “Queen of Suffolk County” and “Burn It to the Ground,” playing their current single “Smash Sh*t Up,” and doing familiar favorites such as “Rose Tattoo” and – for the show closer – their ever-popular “I’m Shipping Up to Boston.” At a time when the world needed a morale boost over the present situation, this concert lifted spirits and demonstrated the power of music to provide emotional relief, and unite a global community of music fans together.
After that concert ended on St. Patrick’s night, I found another online performance closer to home, as John “JT Blues” Thompson played a two-set show at his home – dubbed “Phydeau’s Place” – in Bellefonte. John kept spirits high with his St. Patrick’s-meets-Mardi Gras blues and boogie party, as he happily entertained the cyber audience; singing and tickling the ivories on his mixture of Louisiana blues, boogie and funk, plus his Big Easy-styled takes on popular hits, classics and requests. Dr. John was popular this day, as JT played his unique take on “Right Place Wrong Time” twice to honor a request. He also did tunes from Warren Zevon, Grand Funk Railroad (a fresh New Orleans-styled take on “Some Kind of Wonderful”), Bob Seger, The Drifters, Little Feat, Billy Preston, Stevie Wonder, and at least one Irish artist – doing Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” John also did a few of his own, including “Cab Ride Boogie” (as he remembered State College guitar great Mark Ross, who passed on March 11), and “Dance Little Sister Dance” to end the set.
I also saw “JT Blues” in action during another online performance the following weekend, as he and the Triple A Blues Band live-streamed from the location where it all began for them, the Music Mart in downtown State College. This performance was excellent, as the Triple A roster of Andy Tolins on guitars and vocals, Tom “Muggsy” Gallagher on saxophone, “JT” on keys and vocals, Justin Dorsey on bass and Stubby Stubbs on drums had fun groovin’ the blues, mixing blues and soul numbers. Their performance included songs from Robert Johnson, Little Walter, Freddie King, Clarence Carter, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson and more. The musicianship was great, as all of these musicians dazzled on their solo skills and blended well, and the mood was happy.
That performance kicked off a Friday night of “live-stream surfing” for me, as I took in parts of four other online performances by regional musicians. I next joined in progress a performance by Dubois-based hard rockers Easy Tiger. I caught several songs toward the end of their performance, as they did hard-hitting rock that recalled early 1970s-era heavy rock as well as more recent names like Mastodon and Clutch. Singer/guitarist Andy Wyant, guitarist Andrew Bailley, bassist Karl Hoffman and drummer Ian Aughinbaugh brought it full fury on the three or four original tunes I heard from them.
I next happened upon the Hillbilly Gypsies’ first couple, Trae and Jamie Lynn Buckner, who decided to do an impromptu online session that turned into a two-hour plus casual performance from their couch! This was fun, as both Trae and Jamie Lynn shared happiness with online visitors, joined along the way by their happy “chipit” (half pitbull/half chihuahua) canine pal Slim. The pair did plenty of songs along the way, spanning folk, bluegrass, country, original songs and even some rock and roll. Although recovering from a cold, Jamie Lynn still sounded great on voice, sinking heart and soul into every note, and Trae belted his hearty voice and strummed guitar. They did songs from John Prine, Merle Haggard, the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Willie Nelson, Jimmie Rodgers, Wayne Hancock, Hazel Dickens, traditional numbers, and even a song Trae confessed that – as a West Virginian – he usually avoids doing, John Denver’s ever-popular “Take Me Home Country Roads.” Trae and Jamie Lynn clearly connected with the online audience, as many folks thanked the duo for helping them forget about the stress of the current situation for a while. Jamie Lynn said this was therapeutic for them as well, as performing is their livelihood and connecting with audiences and sharing their love of music is what they do. She encouraged everyone to continue to share their love out to the planet during this challenging time. You could feel the love between performers and audience, and this turned into a heartfelt, special experience.
Following their performance, I surfed a little more and came upon a live stream performance by Cumberland, Maryland-based party rock foursome Drunk After Midnight. I caught a few of their songs, as they partied down with numbers from My Chemical Romance, Fountains of Wayne, Kings Of Leon, and a pop song medley fusing together numbers from Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera and more
I finished my stream-searching journey that night with York’s Y2Kids as they did their “2000s Party” live-stream. Originally scheduled to play at The Arena in State College this night, Y2Kids mixed rocking 2000s and other favorites from My Chemical Romance, Harvey Danger, Bowling for Soup, Fuel, The Darkness and more.
I continued my online live music surfing the following Saturday night to see two more performances, starting with Kristi Jean & Her Ne’er Do Wells – actually, one Ne’er Do Well this night, as Kristi Jean and Steve Branstetter made the music. Steve provided the guitar backdrops as Kristi sang numbers spanning early country and rockabilly to folk and honky tonk. They did songs from Charline Arthur, Imelda May, Bobbie Gentry, Mary Chapin Carpenter and others. Despite some streaming issues, this was still an enjoyable set, and Kristi Jean and Steve indicated that more live streaming will happen soon.
I then happened upon Shades Of June frontman Ryan Krinjeck hosting his own live streaming watch party. Armed with acoustic guitar, Ryan played a variety of rock and pop favorites, taking online audience requests along the way. Brandishing a smile through it all, you could tell Ryan was clearly enjoying the experience, as he did songs from Foo Fighters, the Beatles, Matchbox 20, Toto, Elton John, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Men at Work, Oasis, the Proclaimers and more. He paid his respects to Kenny Rogers (who passed away a day earlier at age 81) with his version of “The Gambler,” and fired up the online crowd with his take on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”
And just before St. Patrick’s Day, I saw the Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers present their live-streaming “Straggle in the Living Room,” as the roster of singer and guitarist Gary Antol, fiddler and singer Libby Eddy, mandolinist and fiddler Ray Bruckman and upright bassist Niko Kreider threw a two-set folk and bluegrass party from the comforts of a living room. The group had fun as they performed many of their Appalachian-flavored original songs and honored online audience requests. They did several numbers off their latest studio CD, “Poison River” (see the CD review elsewhere in this month’s issue), such as the tranquil “Things Take Time,” “You Never Even Knew My Name,” the instrumental “Hesper’s Waltz,” “St. Anne’s Prayer,” “Where the Red Bud Blooms,” “Moonlight Gown” and more. Libby led the group on a version of Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” and Ray performed “Maverick of a Higher Creed,” a number from his first solo CD from last year, “Foundations.”
Thanks to all bands and performers who are bringing their performances online during the COVID-19 situation. Know that you are providing something bigger than just music – you are providing solace and relief to many folks who are impacted by what is going on. Your performances take minds off the stress of missed paychecks, cabin fever and shutdowns, toilet paper shortages and more. Thanks for giving us bright moments and relief, and for bringing folks together in a different way during a time where we have to maintain “social distance!”
Given the events of recent weeks, the 24th annual Millennium Music Conference (MMC) in Harrisburg now seems so long ago...But musicians and music industry people again converged on Harrisburg in late February for this year’s conference, which took place at the Hilton Harrisburg Hotel & Conference Center. MMC again featured informative panels about many aspects of the music industry, including recording, booking strategies, marketing, social media, monetizing music, music careers, songwriting workshops and more. For this year’s keynote, Chris Kurtz and Aimee Lankford presented “The Mediatwist Workshop – Building Your Black Book,” which instructed attendees on strategies for generating audiences and fan bases using social media. MMC also presented a trade show, and a multitude of bands and performers showcased their music throughout the Harrisburg area.
I arrived in time to catch much of the conference’s Thursday night kickoff party at the Hilton’s Ad Lib Craft Kitchen & Bar. On the stage as I arrived was upstate New York folk and bluegrass duo Northern Borne; singer and guitarist Sarah Babushkin and dobro player John Wensley performed several of their original songs, generating a casual, rustic vibe. Derek Henry, singer and guitarist of local Harrisburg rockers Observe the 93rd, followed with a mix of some of his original songs with a few choice covers, including tunes from CCR, Third Eye Blind, Chris Stapleton, Nirvana and more. Derek's original songs were solid and showed good hooks, and he made his cover selections his own with his unique arrangements on each number. Raleigh, North Carolina’s Jason Damico then finished the night with his set, blending his own blues-rooted original songs with his distinctive takes on a variety of classics. Displaying a bold voice and singing style, Jason did originals such as “22” and “No More Tears,” and also covered tunes from Stevie Ray Vaughan, R.E.M., Cream, and a creative spin on the Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.”
I spent the first full night of MMC showcases, Friday, at the Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center (HMAC), where music was happening on three different stages. I bounced around between the three stages, starting at the Green Room stage, where Charlotte, NC-based singer and guitarist Todd Murray – stage alias Sincerely, Iris – played traditional and delta-styled blues originals and adaptations using a unique-looking Ohio license plate box-shaped guitar. Among his songs was a delta-blues treatment of AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.” Next was New York City-based singer, songwriter and Alex Cano. Accompanied by Kevin Myers on cajon, Alex sang several original songs from his latest CD, “Every Rise of the Sun.” including “The Bridge,” “Two Steps on the Train” and “Back Against the Wall.” Alex displayed a hearty, soulful voice, and he and Kevin propelled each song to emotion-packed highs. Later on at the Green Room stage I caught part of Harrisburg-based singer and songwriter Peter Stone’s set, as he did electric folk rock-geared original songs celebrating the outdoors. Some of his songs included “Alpine,” “The Dam,” “Pacific” and Susquehanna.” And I caught several songs from New York’s The Foxfires, who closed out the Green Room stage. Three members strong this night, the group blended psychedelic, folk and rock flavors on original songs such as “Matchless Part II,” “Slowdive,” the new “Wanderlust” and more.
I saw a couple of acts at HMAC’s Stage on Herr – including one of the more intriguing performers I experienced during this year’s conference, Iceland’s Possimiste, who crafted her own electronic song backdrops and visual settings to sing and perform mystic, pop-geared and poetic numbers about love, heartbreak, space spirits, temptation and more. Visually, she created an imaginative stage setting with Nordic-styled imagery, pink and purple hues, and her own creative costuming. Some of Possimiste’s songs were slower and dreamy, others were uptempo and danceable. Possimiste got the audience involved early, and encouraged sing-alongs and even left the stage to step out into the audience. Her set was fascinating and different, as she indulged her own vision and created her own audio-visual world to sing and play in on the stage. Later at Stage on Herr, I witnessed Houston, Texas-based electronica duo The Radio Broadcast. Blending elements of electronic dance and synth pop, Michael and Kristin Heilman mixed beats, digital soundscapes, vivid lighting and soaring vocals into a captivating presentation as they performed original songs plus a unique take on Robert Smith of The Cure’s “Not in Love.”
And I caught three performers at HMAC’s upstairs Capital Room stage, starting with Harrisburg’s Madison Ryan and her band. Madison displayed a crisp singing voice, abundant energy and poise as she led her band on a selection of upbeat pop-meets-rock original songs, with a cheering crowd of fans looking on. Among her songs were “Paranoid” and “Best of Me.” I later caught the last two bands on the Capital Room stage, This Is Huxley and Eternal Frequency. From southern New Jersey, This Is Huxley exploded onto the stage with a rowdy set of hard-hitting modern rock. Decked in suits and vests, the five members of Huxley blasted original tunes, including “Evol” and “Regression” from their 5-song EP, plus high-powered takes on tunes from Jet and Linkin Park. They successfully fired up the crowd, and triggered a unique rolling chair mosh derby in the middle of the floor! Harrisburg’s Eternal Frequency then closed the night with their powerful set of melody-rooted, hard-hitting rock. Singer Emelle brought the charged, high-flying voice up front, flanked by guitarists Justin and AJ, bassist Tyler and Dane behind the drum kit. Eternal Frequency provided constant movement and energy as they did original songs from their “Transcendence” EP such as “Temptations,” “Fire” and more.
While Rock Mill Industries’ open stage at the MMC trade show remained unused during Friday, the stage came to life on Saturday as numerous musicians played mini-sets throughout the afternoon. I got to see most of them; including New Jersey’s Dan Barry, aforementioned New York folk rocker Alex Cano, New York City-based singer and songwriter Sara Ontaneda (doing Latin-toned folk and pop sounds), Sunbury-based blues howler Kevin Roy Correll, members of Massachusetts blues performers The Wildcat O’Halloran Band, Middletown’s Evy Zee, members of Williamsport’s Half Tempted, Williamsport punk rockers The Unfortunatez, Harrisburg’s III Of A Kind, New York roots/bluegrass duo Northern Borne, Florida’s Bill Hartmann, and a suddenly-assembled group of three musicians – a sax player, guitarist and a spiral didgeridoo player – who converged on the stage toward day’s end to generate a captivating, percussive free-for-all instrumental jam.
I split my time between two venues during Saturday’s final night of MMC showcases. I first caught some music action at Harrisburg’s River City Blues Club, beginning with Scranton area punk-rocking trio Blind Choice. Singer and guitarist Dylan Pysher, bassist and singer Matt Habrial and drummer Tanner Snyder set the tone early with fast-firing, melody-geared original songs and a few select covers. They did some tunes off their “Mental Scars” EP such as “I Don’t Exist,” “Balance on the Floor” and “Stormy Night of Stray,” also the original tunes “Firing Squad,” the new number “The Mistake” and more. They also did high-powered numbers from Imagine Dragons, Linkin Park, Green Day’s “Basketcase” (as the group donned blindfolds) and Pearl Jam. Blind Choice kept it high-octane from start to finish, with lively stage movement and a friendly stage personality that kept the audience in the show and cheering. Next was Johnstown’s Silver Screen, sounding strong as they did their set of hard-hitting, grunge-inspired originals. Singer and guitarist Stephen Platt, lead guitarist Ben Ressler, bassist Robbi Rummell and drummer Austin Danel introduced several new tunes that will be on their soon-to-be-released second CD, plus songs from their “Inertia” EP, as well as their own take on Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason.” Silver Screen received a great response, and even drew some dancers on the floor during their new original “Drugs.” One of the talked-about groups showcasing this year at MMC – New York City’s Jackknife Stiletto – then delivered their punk-fueled set to the large crowd. Signed to Joan Jett’s Blackheart Records label, the all-female roster of singer and guitarist Annie Stoic, bassist Mel Funk and drummer Foxy Roxy fired off songs from the group’s two EP’s, blending catchy melodies with no-holds-barred, fast-firing set and earning strong cheers from the crowd.
I then headed up Cameron Street to the Appalachian Brewing Co.’s Abbey Bar for two more bands to end my MMC experience. I arrived as New York City’s Kevin Daniel & the Bottom Line was into their last couple of songs. They blended country, folk and blues flavors, with namesake Kevin Daniel delivering a strong voice and personality in the frontman role. The final band I saw during Millennium weekend was Pittsburgh’s Derek Woods Band, who performed their brand of acoustic-edged, groove-driven music. Derek on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Joe Scheller on saxophone, Joshua Carns on lead guitar, Chris Schaney on bass and Chris Belin on drums performed a number of original songs, including numbers from their latest EP “The Question” such as “Unforgiving Tree,” the soulful title song “The Question” and their punchy take on Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.” The group did one other cover, their upbeat adaptation of the Doobie Brothers’ “Listen to the Music,” along with several other original tunes. They mixed fluid grooves with solid musicianship, highlighted by Joe’s prominent sax work and Joshua’s tasteful guitar leads. Derek’s voice was straightforward and steady, and the band worked well as a unit, drawing audience members out of their seats to dance and groove in front of the stage.
The final band I saw in a public space before everything had to shut down was Chris Rattie & the New Rebels, as they performed at Boxer’s Cafe in Huntingdon. Chris on vocals, drums, harmonica and guitars, plus multi-instrumentalist Nathan Cutshall and bassist Jeff Downing played a variety of Americana and roots-based original tunes and a few select covers. Delivering hearty and gritty voice, Chris belted out new dark-toned, blue-collar anthems such as the new single “Chaos & Stardust,” the bluesy and dark “Anxiety” and “My Devils.” He also broke out an older original he wrote years ago about paranoia, “This Old World.” The group did several songs from their “Porch” album including the hard-driving “Country Boy,” “My Mountain” and “Heading into Darkness,” as well as “Burn ‘Em Down” off Chris’ 2013 “All These Things” set. Among the covers performed were Nate singing lead on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” and a rendition of NQ Arbuckle’s “Cheap Town.” Chris and the New Rebels kept the audience riveted with their dynamic of raw, heartfelt vocals and musicianship, plus quiet nuances that piqued attention. Chris commented that Boxer’s is one of the group’s favorite rooms to play, and this night showed why – this is a great listening room, and folks were here to enjoy the music.
Washington, D.C.’s daMOOD paid their first visit to McGarvey’s early last month, headlining a triple-bill with DoubleMotorcycle and Lloyd. Six members strong, daMOOD merged rock, funk and hip-hop elements into a freewheeling, energetic and original sound. Keyboardist April Reardon, guitarist Chris Smith, bassist Dan Zboyen and drummer Beau Bailey provided groove-laden backdrops for frontman Ricole Barnes’ exciting blend of raps, soulful voice and swagger. The group did original songs, including numbers from their forthcoming new CD, “In the Red,” due out later this year. Some of their tunes included “Ra Sunshine,” their NPR Tiny Desk Contest track “Travel,” “Cupid Bang Bang,” “Hot Chocolate,” the rowdy “Do It,” “Kick” and more. Their grooves were infectious, and daMOOD quickly drew much of the McGarvey’s audience in front of the stage for a closer look. COVID-19 situation pending, daMOOD is scheduled to return to McGarvey’s April 17 with the PennSoulvanians,
Johnstown-based Irish punk rockers Lucky Lad Green recently returned to action with an updated roster. As St. Patrick’s Day approached last month, I saw the new edition of the group at the Windber Hotel in Windber. Joining founding members Ryan McDonald on bass and Jim Berkin on guitar are new vocalist Andrew Roberts, drummer Shane Boyer and accordionist Jim Vizzini. After Black Guy Fawkes opened the night, Lucky Lad Green played a set mixing older and newer song material. They reprised previous rowdy Irish punk-flavored anthems like “Irish Pride,” “Lead Sled” and “Bar Fight,” plus introduced several new songs that will appear on the group’s forthcoming EP. The new songs retain the group’s punk-flavored energy and rowdiness, but mix more of a traditional edge, largely courtesy of Jim’s accordion and Andrew’s smoother vocal delivery. The reaction was favorable for Lucky Lad Green’s new incarnation; watch for more shows once live music returns to area stages.
And before COVID-19 delayed the start of baseball season, the Matt Pletcher Trio provided live musical entertainment during the Altoona Curve’s annual Curve Fest early last month at People’s Natural Gas Field. As visitors purchased advance tickets for the Curve’s 2020 season and enjoyed complimentary hot chocolate and pulled pork sandwiches, the Matt Pletcher Trio – Matt on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Randy Servello on drums and vocals, and Ben Eberhart on lead guitar and vocals – played a selection of Matt’s original songs, rock and country favorites. They played the title track to Matt’s debut album “Sure Thing,” along with tunes from Chris Stapleton, Georgia Satellites, Dion, Social Distortion, Chris Janson and more.
Two icons of the State College area music scene passed away in recent weeks…Arthur Goldstein passed away on February 27 at age 75. Arthur was a popular musician and educator. As an educator, he taught jazz and classical performance art and history, and offered personal piano instruction through the Music Academy. As a musician, he performed with a number of bands and projects dating back to the 1960s; including jazz projects such as Silent Way, the Arthur Goldstein Trio and Arthur Goldstein Quartet, the rock bands Marley and Round 2, and his popular R&B-based group and alter ego, Archie Blue, which released two albums in 1981 and 2016…And guitar great Mark Ross passed away on March 11 at age 59, following a brief battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. For the past four decades, Mark became known and beloved as a guitarist, educator, producer and music store proprietor. Mark formed Queen Bee & the Blue Hornet Band in 1985 after first meeting singer Tonya Browne as she tended bar at the Brickhouse Tavern in State College. The group separated after 14 years of national and international touring plus several studio and live albums. Mark subsequently joined singer Dawn Kinnard to form the country blues project Dusk Til Dawn, and performed with Tyne Palazzi in the Americana project Tyne & the Fastlyne. After meeting singer Melanie Morrison Zeigler, Mark played guitar with Miss Melanie & the Valley Rats from 2011 until last fall. Mark also owned and operated Alley Cat Music in State College, and authored a children’s audio book called “Mixed Up Morning Blues” in 2010…We at PA Musician express our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of both men.
News and notes…Due to COVID-19, The Front’s final farewell show, scheduled for later this month, has been moved back to October…The annual Allegheny Ukulele Soiree, scheduled for this month, was cancelled due to COVID-19…The Snipped has announced their new bass player, Frank Conrad, who replaces Rik Golden…And Scott Jeffreys has taken over bass duties with Johnstown funk performers Afro N’at…Faded Flowers has released their debut EP, “The Side Effects of Living,” online last month.
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!