When the band Boston plays a summer tour, it’s easy to lose yourself in a familiar song, close your eyes and slip away.
The “More Than A Feeling” rockers bring their Hyper Space Tour featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Joan Jett & the Blackhearts to the Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Tuesday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.
During a recent phone interview from the road in Canada, Boston guitarist Gary Pihl admitted that playing outdoor venues gives the band a thrill and changes the live experience for both the musicians and the audience.
“You never know what you’re going to get, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a perfect night, either. We’ve played when it’s really hot or cold or rainy — we’ve had challenging weather,” Pihl said. “It all goes to the vibe of the whole thing. It makes it more memorable, even. It makes it all part of the experience. When you can see the moon or stars when you’re playing, that’s really special.”
With charted hits like “Don’t Look Back” and “Long Time,” Boston promises a night of beloved songs that lets the crowd connect with the band during the performance and show them they’re having a good time.
“The biggest indicator for us is when people start singing along. That’s what makes a live performance so special for me, at least, is standing up onstage and hearing them,” Pihl said. “People ask if we get sick of playing the same songs over and over again, but looking out at people smiling and singing along, there’s that connection. I get choked up sometimes.”
This holds true for the reception he hears the audience grant to Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, whom he often listens to from backstage each night that they share the bill.
“Every night I get to hear Joan sing about how she loves rock and roll, and same thing — the audience sings along,” Pihl said.
With a catalogue that spans more than 40 years and a half-dozen studio albums, Boston’s music tends to cover multiple genres and styles, from hard rock to progressive rock and many finer layers of distinction in between.
“Some songs you might say are simpler, like ‘Smokin’ with that boogie beat and 4 chords in the whole song,” Pihl said. “But then songs like ‘Foreplay,’ with the organ and that three-four time that sounds very classical, Bach could have written that part.”
For the Hyper Space Tour stop in Scranton, the band plans to play all the recognizable hits people know from the radio as well as songs off Boston’s 2013 record, “Life Love & Hope,” not to mention some deep cuts that even longtime devotees haven’t heard in a while.
“(Band founder) Tom (Scholz) invented some new visual effects just for this tour, and it’s pretty spectacular,” Pihl said. “And he’s written some new music, too, so people will hear and see something they’re never experienced before.
“We’re just thrilled to be there and having a good time doing it. It’s infectious what we get from the audience and give back, hopefully,” he added. “Be prepared to sing along, with Joan and with us. People just can’t help themselves.”
— patrice wilding
Following a wildly partisan presidential campaign and election, civil discourse between friends, family and colleagues seemed to all but disappear.
Instead, heated arguments, social media blocking and namecalling became a shockingly pervasive trend.
Yet a solution, or at least a conversation about finding the solution, looms on Northeast Pennsylvania’s horizon. The Gathering, a three-day, annual symposium now in its 11th year, is set for Friday, July 14, through Sunday, July 16, at Keystone College, La Plume, with a theme aimed at improving relations between people who disagree.
“Finding the Better Angels of Our Nature” relies on a weekend of lectures, discussions and workshops that will look for paths to common ground among bitter rivals. For this year’s event, The Gathering brings in a trio of speakers fluent in political rhetoric and dissection, including journalist Mara Liasson, the political correspondent for National Public Radio and a contributor to Fox News; poet, historian, essayist and commentator Jennifer Michael Hecht and author Steve McIntosh, who also is president of the Institute for Cultural Evolution.
Liasson has covered seven presidential elections during her career and appears regularly on NPR programs “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition,” for which she analyzes trends across the country and policies coming out of the White House and Capitol Hill.
During a recent phone interview, Liasson admitted that the most recent election was unlike any she had ever seen, and that many are still trying to find their footing following a highly divisive race for the new term of office.
“It was completely different. It broke all the rules, and everything we thought we knew was wrong,” she said. “All the things Donald Trump did and said, according to what we know about politics, were supposed to disqualify him, and they didn’t.
“I’ll talk about what’s going on in politics at the moment — because that’s what I do, that’s what I cover — then I’ll also talk about the kind of challenges to democracy, the democratic norms and why all those norms are important to uphold,” Liasson continued. “If you don’t (uphold them), then you can’t have civil disagreement, and then our democratic institutions fray and disappear and you don’t have democracy anymore.”
During her appearance at The Gathering, Liasson plans to offer real-world solutions — plus a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions — to those in attendance on how to re-establish patience, respect and peaceful conversations in their own lives.
“I actually have five or six practical things to suggest. I have a whole bunch of specific things,” she promised.
Tapping into empathy and rediscovering ways to study politics and the news without turning to anger is necessary for everyone, regardless of whether they have interest in those topics or not, Liasson explained. As Americans, it’s the only way to ensure continued freedoms.
“We’re at a point where Western democracy, globally, in general, is under threat. Ideals that we hold like reason and science are also under threat,” Liasson said. “It’s a very scary, consequential time to be a citizen let alone journalist. It’s certainly more fraught. Politics are more tribal. That means there’s less reasoned debate. There’s a lot of apocalyptic thinking: “If the other guy gets elected, it’ll be the end of the world.
“I think it’s been a kind of steady deterioration in that direction, for a lot of different reasons, and I guess I’ll be talking about some them when I go to (The Gathering),” she said.
— patrice wilding
Mara Liasson’s insights about President Trump
“When I started (covering him) in January (following the inauguration), the way I thought about it was, is Donald Trump different in degree or kind? In other words, is he just rougher, ruder and cruder than other presidents, or is he really something completely different? And I thought he was a stress test for democratic institutions, and so I’ve been watching to see how they hold up — the judiciary, press, Congress, federal bureaucracy, citizens, etc.
“I would say at first he was maybe certainly more hostile to the press in certain ways, in scary ways — the violent rhetoric at his rallies. But when he got to the White House, he didn’t kick journalists out of the West Wing. He continued to have briefings. He was actually, in a kind of weird way, the most accessible president we’ve ever had, because we know what he’s thinking the minute he thinks it — because he tweets it without any filter. His psyche is incredibly accessible, even though his administration operates in incredible secrecy in many other aspects.
“Lately they’ve been toying with the briefings, which we’ll be watching very carefully. This White House is also super leaky, in a chaotic way. Those are all things that we’re dealing with as journalists. We’re just trying to do our job. The hostility that he directs toward us and encourages his supporters to feel is extreme. The partisan outrage machine has gone too far — how do we reign it in?”
If you go
What: The Gathering featuring journalist Mara Liasson and others
When: Friday, July 14 through Sunday, July 16; panel times vary
Where: Evans Hall, Hibbard Campus Center, Keystone College, La Plume
Details: For a complete list of speakers and schedule of events or to register, visit www.the gatheringatkeystone.org or call 570-945-8510.
Since 1984, shock rock band GWAR has terrorized the world to the delight of its minions, who relish the ferocious ontage antics that leave none within spitting distance safe.
This summer, GWAR serves as one of the headlining acts of Vans Warped Tour, which stops at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton on Monday, July 10. After the untimely death of its frontman and founding member Oderus Urungus, the band found new leadership under lead singer Blothar, the berserker. The mighty vocalist recently spoke with a reporter by phone to detail what fans (and GWAR newcomers) can expect from the live show.
Q: Tell us a little about the history of the band.
A: GWAR is a rock band … originally we are all from outer space. We are members of an elite fighting force called Scumdogs of the Universe who were banned to the planet Earth after we made some pretty serious mistakes. So Earth is pretty much a prison planet for GWAR. Once we got here, we met an unscrupulous manager named Sleazy P. Martini, who figured that if he could teach us how to speak the language, he was like, ‘These guys don’t have much of a skill set, but they are really stupid so they can probably handle playing rock music.’ And that’s what we wound up doing, was picking up instruments and learning how to kick ass on them and then take over your planet.
Q: We have a new president in the United States this year. Will he factor into your stage show at all?
A: We’re probably going to slap around his son onstage a little bit, I don’t know. This guy is a clown and when he comes up onstage, which he will — he has been every night — Trump shows up at the last minute with his Murdercade and he’s trying to wave to the people and just generally get attention and we cut his stomach up and rip his guts out and feed them to him and then, somehow, he shows up the next night again. He’s indestructible, like a cockroach.
Q: What can the audience expect at your performance?
A: For the uninitiated who come to see GWAR, you can expect to see the greatest rock ‘n’ roll spectacle in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. You can see a group of space aliens onstage who are under continuous attack as they try to play really great metal-rock, punk-rock — the music that GWAR plays. It’s a rock concert, but at the same time, there’s a steady parade of deplorables who attack us and we do battle with them. And you get to see all of the spectacular action and gore that’s associated with these fights. There’s blood spraying everywhere, all kinds of bodily fluids shooting out of all kinds of hideous alien orifices. It’s a good time had by all. The kids go away covered and soaked in the blood, they walk into a Convenient store and trying to buy Big Gulps and people stare at them and policemen ask them what they’ve been doing. That’s how a GWAR show goes.
Q: Will your set list focus on any specific albums?
A: We do have one song from our new album called “F*** This Place” … there’s that to look forward to. Other than that, it’s just old, classic GWAR songs. GWAR has a long history. We’ve got a lot of albums to choose from when writing a set list. We only have a half-hour or so, so it’s packed with some good tunes. Then, after that, I think you can look forward to an AC/DC cover, and what it is will be a surprise, but people who are in the know can probably figure it out: What would be the ultimate AC/DC song for GWAR to do?
Q: What can you share about your forthcoming album, “Blood of Gods”?
A: “Blood of Gods” is awesome. It’s destined to become a classic. It’s certainly a turning point for the band, musically. It’s the first album without Oderus Urungus, our fallen lead singer. The record is dedicated to him. In his absence, GWAR soldiered on, as he would have wanted, and I think this is a record that will speak for itself when they hear it. I think people are going to be amazed by this record, both GWAR and non-GWAR fans, probably mostly non-GWAR fans. As they were when they came to see GWAR, and, lo and behold, it was still a GWAR show despite all of the loss and tragedy that the band had experienced. It’s still the greatest, most exciting rock band to take the stage. You’re not going to go and watch four dudes trying to be as cute as possible, trying to stare at their shoes. That’s not what GWAR is. We give the people what they want, and what they want is nonstop death and mayhem. And that’s what this record is. It’s a great hard rock album. I think people will hear it and they’ll understand that GWAR is a force to be reckoned with, musically. GWAR is a band that has been run down by critics, repeatedly. I have never seen a positive critical review of a GWAR album, just as there was never a positive critical review of a KISS album. And rarely of Alice Cooper albums. Because people have their nose stuck in the air, and we’re going to rub those noses in a pile of (expletive) with this album.
Q: Any parting words for the masses?
A: Can I have a hug?
Q: Thanks for your time today. Safe travels to Scranton.
A: Thank you. Fare thee well.
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: Vans Warped Tour featuring GWAR on the Mutant South stage
When: Monday, July 10; doors open at 12:30 p.m., set times posted day of show
Where: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, 1000 Montage Mountain Road, Scranton
Details: Tickets start at $43.50 and are available through the box office or livenation.com.
Paul Praino began his career in pizza at the tender age of 12.
The Blakely native used to walk to Duke’s sports bar and pizza parlor at its former location in Peckville every day when he got out of school at Valley View, where he would work as a stockboy and kitchen prep cook for his uncle, Andy Venosh, who owned the business with a couple friends. From the start, the Midvalley establishment was known for its square trays, hot and cold hoagies, crisp salads and tasty wings.
But the standout on the menu became the Steak and Cheese Pizza, which was borne from a request by one of the bar’s best customers.
“It blew up, and it’s the reason we’re still here,” said Praino.
By 16 years old, Praino became a partial owner in the business. When his uncle fell ill and passed away, his other uncle, Bobby Venosh, took over and encouraged Praino to step in authority with Duke’s. They eventually opened a second location at 620 S. Blakely St., Dunmore, in April 2016, where Praino took the lead while Venosh stayed behind to manage the Peckville joint.
Praino long desired getting out of the bar business, though, so when Venosh died unexpectedly shortly after in May, Praino decided to leave the original Duke’s behind to build up the Dunmore carry-out spot.
With less than 10 seats around a handful of small tables, the space lends itself to more of a grab-and-go style, which suits Praino’s ideal business model. By eliminating waiting on people, he’s able to focus on the product, and making it the best it’s been in years.
He serves all square pizza, from the traditional red to the Polish pierogi-style Pagash to the Fresh Tomato, Basil and Garlic. The famous steak-and-cheese pies come double-crusted and can be customized with onion, peppers or mushrooms.
Praino also perfected his own wing sauce, the Peno, which is a sort of hot honey garlic flavor, and serves it up hot to order on the regular wings or boneless, which can be made baked for a healthier option.
The 12-inch hoagies come in all the standard varieties, while his homemade pierogies are rolled fresh in numerous combinations, like Potato and Cheese, Buffalo Chicken, Steak and Cheese and Jalapeno.
His newest addition to the menu is the invention of Duke’s Snackatizer, which is a sort of appetizer sampler pizza. It pairs cheese and a double-crust with onion rings, French fries and fried mozzarella and comes with a choice of dipping sauces.
“Some people do that with sandwiches and I thought, ‘Man, this could be good in a pizza. You could say the customers also helped with the idea.”
For help, Praino leans on his mother, Julia Venosh, and longtime pizza-making partner Gary Frisbie, who worked at the original Duke’s for 15 years and has known Praino’s family for more than two decades. They offer delivery during lunch to schools and local businesses, and do their best to stay active with local community groups, which was standard practice at the old Duke’s.
They’ve offered athletic scholarships and served pizza at games for years, and regularly help dance academies, kids’ groups and more with fundraisers. They donate pizzas often, and have been a popular presence at the annual St. Ubaldo festivities.
“Duke’s has always been heavily involved with the community. Very close-knit with the neighbors,” Praino said.
He also offers weeknight specials Mondays through Thursdays so that customers can try the food and various specials at discounted rates.
His greatest obstacle in the past year has been spreading the word about where he is now, but he credits his longtime faithful customers and the welcoming new faces he sees with making the business a continued success.
“The biggest challenge is being in one location for 27 years, and now people don’t realize we’re here,” Praino said. “But I want to thank all the loyal people who stuck with us, and the new Dunmore/Scranton customers who have given us a shot.”
— patrice wilding
Address: 620 S. Blakely St., Dunmore
Owner: Paul Praino
Cuisine: Pizza, hoagies, wings and salads
Hours: Mondays, 2 to 8 p.m.; Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 9 p.m.
Online: Follow the Duke’s Pizza Dunmore page on Facebook.
Donovan Leitch racked up plenty of honors over his career that indicate the power of his pop music, which listeners could describe as trippy, catchy, folky, poetic and transcendental all at once.
Among the Scottish-born singer/songwriter/guitarist’s credits are spots in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Mojo Maverick Award, the Ivor Novella Award and LifeTime BBCFolk Award, not to mention his numerous Top 20 hit songs, including “Sunshine Superman” and the follow-up, “Mellow Yellow.”
On Sunday, Donovan brings his 50th Anniversary Celebration tour to Wilkes-Barre for an intimate show at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. He recently spoke with electric city by email about some of the events and inspirations that shaped his storied musical catalog from the last five decades.
Q: Your tour celebrates 50 years. Tell us about how it feels to watch your music endure through every fad, emerging style or major culture shift of the last half-century. Why do you think it has survived the tests of time and taste?
A: The human journey remains the same from ancient times to now. My songs are of the same human journey. The ways to distribute music, art, literature and films have new platforms, but one thing never changes: the need for live music and the need of artists to create. Age has nothing to do with it, really; my songs are timeless.
Q: What design and vibe do you have in mind for this tour as far as the live performance planned?
A: Solo; cross-legged on my sheepskins; acoustic. Most all of the great songs are written on one instrument we songwriters all sat in parties on the floor playing. I know, as I asked Jimmy Page and all my other song pals. So, I decided to do my 50th (anniversary shows) as if you are sitting with me, at ease. The essence of the songs and some stories, too, that my best pal, Gypsy Dave (Mills), said, “No one will believe them. But then, truth is always stranger than fiction.”
Q: Tell us something about your days spent with John Lennon and other musical contemporaries and luminaries, and what it’s like to hear the influence of your music, your style and your presence incorporated into others’ work.
A: The Beatles and I know we come from the ancient Gaelic past: the Irish-Scots-Welsh. This heady Gaelic mix powers popular songs over the centuries. Gaelic poetry, music, theatrical and radical skills are evident on both sides of the Atlantic. It was obvious we five would be on the same path and invade popular culture with the Bohemian manifesto. Don’t be fooled by folk songs and pop suits and haircuts — there is a deeper flux that is loosely called the “British Sixties,” and it is Gaelic energy that has been preserved, as the Romans did not invade Ireland or Western Scotland. We five read the same books of the mysteries and sought out a guru to show us how to enter the Fourth Level of Consciousness within us all, to check what all the Vedic and mythic teachers reveal and open the Third Eye, to view the true reality with what is called (in the Indian Upanishads) Transcendental Super Conscious Vision.
In the Gaelic Mysteries, the invisible true reality within is called Avalon and the Living Crystal Faery Realm. We are poets in service to the tribes of man. We know that all change begins within. And we place in our songs guiding sounds to awaken the millions who have reincarnated into the planet to be done with the Lower Consciousness and be awake to and aware of the future: preservation of all life. Most humans live on three levels of consciousness: Waking, Dreaming and Dreamless Sleep. The Fourth Level is our natural Evolution of Consciousness unfolding, and we five — and many others — are involved in enlivening it sooner than later, for obvious reasons. For, to realize we are all the Unified Field within, dispels duality, and we see we are all the one indivisible wholistic event. I knew when I was making the “Sunshine Superman” album, it was the benchmark for all that would follow in folk, Celtic, jazz, psychedelia, rock, poetic, mythic and meditational music. All were announced on “Sunshine Superman,” I the herald of things to come. And my muse and wife, Linda, by my side, we two destined to meet again this life and continue the Great Work.
I was brought up by my Scots-Irish father reading me poetry of noble thought: Burns, Shelley, Wordsworth, Keats, Yeats, and the rambling poets, Service and Davies. And I listened to the songs of my family, songs handed down. I am aware of the immense influence of our Gaelic tradition. And I intuitively know that the poet’s role is to reunite the tribe with the source. It is always the shaman poet’s role to heal the invisible wounds. The teachings of the Northwestern shores of Europe — Scotland, Ireland Wales, Cornwall and Brittany — are well-known throughout history, and reincarnation a reality. And so my influence on others is because I incorporate and fuse the traditions of the Gaelic teachings. My students know they are receiving the real thing from the source. At the age of 14, I remembered who I had been in the previous life, and saw clearly I am a teacher of the future fusion of the world of spirit, art and culture.
Q: Is there a certain moment during a show you strive for each time? When you know you’ve officially connected with your audience?
A: When I walk onstage, it is a reconnection that happens. Not because they know the songs, moreso because the solo poet sings to the Inner Consciousness of the audience. And with the sounds of my mellifluous voice and moving vibrations of the guitar, it harmonizes all of us and heals any imbalances, which is why I like to go out in concert, because I need this as much as my audience. This means the audience and I, we balance each other. It’s symbiotic. And really should be — the true effect of art on us all.
Q: Will you share some of your favorite moments, anecdotes or memories from the last 50 years?
A: 1968: Twenty-thousand people in Madison Square Garden, just back from India, dressed in my Ashram gear. I walk onstage solo, and a wave of attention moves me like a strong wind, and I need to immediately sit cross-legged in case I fall over. I sing my softest song I know, “Isle of Islay.” Very rare New Yorker silence, and the audience are in awe. That night, I “broke the gate” at the Garden, earning more than any other solo artist in the Garden’s history (at the time). Before the concert, my New York Irish cops drove me through the traffic jam around the Garden. Later, one cop backstage told me, “(Ronald) Reagan was in his limo in the traffic jam on his campaign for California governor, and Reagan thought the traffic jam was for him.” My 10 Irish cops backstage all laughed.
Q: What would you like to say to your most faithful listeners and fans of the last 50 years? To your newest and youngest?
A: I thank all my friends who have followed me, and say welcome to my new, younger friends who have just discovered my poetic music. Many times I am thanked for helping, with my music and poetry, those difficult times on the journey through one’s present life. The ancient book of changes, the “I Ching,” says, “Music releases the obscure emotions of the heart.” If you come to my concert, you can experience it in person.
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: Donovan in Concert: 50th Anniversary Celebration
When: Sunday, June 4, 7 p.m.
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Details: Tickets are $25, $35 and $45, plus fees, and are available through the box office, online at kirbycenter.org or by calling 570-826-1100.
As the weather turns more moderate and the valley begins to bloom, the summer concert lineup for the Pavilion at Montage Mountain gears up to deliver months of music that spans numerous genres.
The 2017 season gets underway on Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, with the fifth locally-produced Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival, which spotlights local band Cabinet along with several other folk, bluegrass, Americana and alt-rock outfits. Additional acts slated include Keller Williams (who will sit in for a set with Cabinet), Greensky Bluegrass, the Wood Brothers, Billy Strings and fellow Northeast Pennsylvania groups And the Moneynotes, the Dishonest Fiddlers and Graham Mazer, among others.
As in the past, Susquehanna Breakdown offers two days of camping and vendors along with the music played over multiple stages. Festival director and co-promoter Bill Orner anticipates the biggest edition yet, judging by presale tickets, with the final count poised to hit almost 4,000, making it a sellout event.
“Overall, we’ve just grown with the ability to bring in some of the larger acts that are in Cabinet’s particular genre. The festival has grown to have a stature that (shows) we’re established,” Orner said. “We have more acts and agents coming to us, so our headliners increase in notoriety and marquee value.”
To maximize the guest experience, sets will not overlap, giving concert-goers the chance to travel between setups to see each act play. VIP music experiences will be available for upgraded purchase, and a vending village featuring a large variety of artisan foods, goods and crafts will remain open throughout the festival.
“What you’ll see is our local little flair, every kind of vendor you can imagine,” Orner said, which will include concert photography, a poster art gallery and other Breakdown-themed merchandise.
The festival is a family-friendly event, he added,
so music-lovers of all ages can enjoy the show and its
“There’s a little bit of food, shopping, art … It’s music, family and community, simply put,” Orner said. “It’s technically a festival, but the focus is on the music. We try to jam-pack it full and let the music do the talking.”
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival featuring Cabinet, Keller Williams, Greensky Bluegrass and more
When: Friday, May 19, gates open at 4 p.m.; and Saturday, May 20, gates open at 10 a.m.
Where: The Pavilion at Montage Mountain, 1000 Montage Mountain Road, Scranton
Details: Admission per person ranges from $50 for standing, two-day pass to $145 for VIP/camping, two-day pass. For tickets, visit the box office,
ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-3000.
For more information on the festival, visit susquehannabreakdown.com.
Susquehanna Breakdown Schedule
Friday, May 19
6:30 p.m. — Dishonest Fiddlers
8 p.m. — Keller Williams
9:30 p.m. — Keller & Cabinet
10:45 p.m. — Cabinet
12:15 a.m. — Organ Freeman
Saturday, May 20
11:30 a.m. — Serene Green
1:30 p.m. — Graham Mazer Duo
3 p.m. — Kitchen Dwellers
5:30 p.m. — And the Moneynotes
8 p.m. — Billy Strings
11 p.m. — Tom Hamilton’s
Breakdown All Stars
12:30 p.m. — Driftwood
2:15 p.m. — Cabinet (acoustic)
4 p.m. — The Wood Brothers
6:30 p.m. — Cabinet
9 p.m. — Greensky Bluegrass
12 a.m. — Turkuaz
2017 Concert Season
Friday, June 9
Impractical Jokers with the Tenderloins
Saturday, June 10
Dierks Bentley, Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi
Sunday, July 9
Lady Antebellum, Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young
Monday, July 10
Vans Warped Tour
Thursday, July 13 through Saturday, July 15
Camp Bisco featuring the Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar and more
Tuesday, July 25
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and Boston
Wednesday, July 26
OneRepublic, Fitz and the Tantrums and James Arthur
Thursday, Aug. 10 through Sunday, Aug. 13
Peach Music Festival featuring Widespread Panic, My Morning Jacket and more
Wednesday, Sept. 6
Luke Bryan and Brett Eldredge
The inspiration for Anne Griffiths’ military-themed restaurant, the Mess Hall, stemmed from the love within her own family.
The mom of two soldiers — Christopher, 28, in the Navy, and Chase, 20, with the Army — had her children in mind when she opened the American-cuisine eatery in April.
The space at 1064 Drinker Turnpike, Covington Twp., celebrates the accomplishments, bravery and dedication of the members of the Armed Forces in everything from the decor to the 15 percent discount offered to all on active duty or with veteran status.
Griffiths, a Gouldsboro resident, brought years of waitressing and managing experience to the business, but maintained a specific vision for what she wanted when she opened her own place.
“People thought I was nuts naming it the Mess Hall,” she said. “I think we’re all so busy in our own lives, we forget about the men and women serving and why we have our freedoms. I wanted them to think about it.
“When you eat here, you’re giving back, and you don’t even know it.”
Griffiths founded To Help a Friend Foundation, which gives back to military families in a variety of ways, whether it’s helping out spouses and kids who run into obstacles while a family member is deployed or making sure homeless vets have a place to stay and a hot meal to eat.
A collection box in the front of the restaurant collects donations, while a portion of the weekly food profits go to the fund. The Mess Hall gives back in sentimental ways, too, like the donated T-shirts and the small plastic toy soldiers that are free for the taking to remind customers to pray for those serving. So far, more than 1,500 tokens have been given away.
The atmosphere in the Mess Hall is undeniably patriotic, from the giant American flag draped across the front of the dining room to the large murals painted on the walls, one of which was drawn by a formerly homeless vet who lived in the restaurant for five months to work on it before it opened.
In one corner, a replica bunker was built, and one table set for two remains ever empty as a nod to those who remain missing-in-action. The walls have begun to fill up with framed photos of military personnel donated by diners as well as historic pictures of platoons and units. All manner of relics can be found scattered throughout, from MREs to used helmets to a jar of sand from Normandy beach.
On the menu, diners find an eclectic mix of breakfasts, lunches and dinners served six days a week. Saturdays and Sundays offer a made-to-order breakfast buffet (and chocolate fountain) manned by head chef Mario Santos and his fellow chef Joel Allman. Heartier dishes available for later meals include seafood platters like the Fra Diavolo, seafood bread bowl and loaded French fries and more than half a dozen gourmet varieties of foot-long hot dogs.
The restaurant is BYOB with seating for up to 30 at a time, though a new outdoor deck currently under construction will open this summer to add more room. The Mess Hall also offers catering and delivery within a 10-mile radius. Each day after 3 p.m., linens and seat covers adorn each table on site to transition into a more fine dining experience. The wait times occasionally run long, but Griffiths promises patience pays off.
“Nothing is frozen. It’s all made to order, so it takes longer, but it’s fresh,” she said.
Even more than the friendly service, bolstered in part by Griffiths’ own daughters, Destiny and Brittany, and the reasonably priced food, the camaraderie found within the Mess Hall draws a crowd.
“It’s like social hour in here,” Griffiths said. “This table asks that one, ‘When did you serve?’ They make friends, they take pictures by the mural and stay in touch.”
She also leaves her own impression her guests, choosing one (or sometimes several) veterans to honor each day with a meal on the house. She signs their check with the same note: “Thank you for your service. You’re my hero of the day.” It’s a gesture that’s earned heartfelt gratitude and occasionally tears from the recipients. And for Mother’s Day, she also has something special planned for her fellow military moms.
To Griffiths, it’s one more way to underscore the Mess Hall’s motto: “A place where memories are made.” And it’s another reason she said her sons are proud, even though they’ve only been able to see it in pictures while they’re away on duty.
“They think it’s awesome. They think we forget about them while they’re gone, but this shows them we’re always thinking of them,” Griffiths said.
— patrice wilding
The Mess Hall
Address: 1064 Drinker Turnpike, Covington Twp.
Established: April 8, 2017
Owner: Anne Griffiths
Hours: Tuesdays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Online: Visit the restaurant Facebook page.
Chicken florentine from The Mess Hall. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer
Seafood Fra Diavolo with shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops from The Mess Hall. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff photographer
The Mess Hall owner Anne Griffiths with Executive Chef Mario Santos at The Mess Hall. Jake Danna Stevens / Staff photographer
Like most women juggling work, relationships and social activities, VanEssa Sites runs in circles.
Except most of the time, she does so literally — on skates, around a roller derby track, where she’s found friendship, sport and even celebrity.
The 32-year-old Dickson City resident has earned a fan base over the last eight years since she revealed her alter ego, “V-Diva,” to be a winning force in various leagues across the United States and abroad.
These days, Sites also coaches, which allows her to pass on the lessons she’s learned in life and the game to a whole new crop of fierce women.
“I didn’t have a lot growing up, and this is something I’m good at,” she said. “If diva means giving your best, then yes, I guess I am a diva.”
An Ocala, Florida, native, Sites moved to Northeast Pennsylvania at 15 years old, graduating from Towanda Area High School. She went on to earn an associate degree in architecture from Johnson College and studied education at Keystone College before returning to Florida, where she attended Disney University and performed in the theme park as a Main Street USA dancer.
Sites returned to NEPA again in 2008, just before she took up interest in roller derby. Intrigue struck her one night in a local bar when a group of players walked in “looking tough in fishnets,” Sites said.
She remembered watching roller derby on television and was a “rink-rat” when she was younger, so when the team invited her to a practice, Sites took them up on it. She earned her derby name when the coach called her a diva upon seeing the blue jeans and lip gloss she showed up wearing.
Sites joined the Coal City Rollers, where the sisterhood, friendships and even the brute physicality kept her hooked.
“If we’re having a bad day, we come in and hit each other and get our stress out,” Sites said with a shrug.
As she progressed, her natural talent became clear. Sites transferred to teams further and further away to work her way up in divisions and skill, and ended up with Philly Roller Derby by 2012. Over four seasons with the team, Sites took on leadership roles and joined the board of directors, but the responsibilities meant she lost the fun.
Knowing that her tenure in roller derby could only last so long (as with any contact sport), Sites decided to focus on joining a Division-I team to advance the ranks. She earned a spot with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, a New York City-based, five-time champion team with the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. Sites switched from a jammer (scoring points) to a pivot (blocker), and uncovered great success in the sport, traveling to 19 countries and racking up numerous titles and trophies over her career.
Through the years on the track, Sites has played for the national team under USA Roller Derby, most recently playing the World Cup in England in February, and also cofounded the Pennsylvania All-Star team, which pulls together the most elite skaters, and organized the Battle of the All-Stars, an interstate tournament. She’s been profiled by ESPN and has a strong fan following on social media and in real life from the crowds of thousands who come to her matches.
“I’ve learned so much. It’s not about the money, you do it for the love and passion of the sport,” Sites said. “I was a Bambi (the deer) on skates, and now look at me, wearing the Team USA jersey.”
Her regular commutes to practices in New York cost her about $13,000 annually, but her commitment to roller derby takes precedence over any of life’s other luxuries. She helps subsidize her lifestyle by working in direct care with the elderly at Wesley Village in Pittston, and also coaches the local Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roller Radicals team. Working with new players helps her sharpen her own skills and strategies, but it also keeps her grounded, she said.
“I like helping people, seeing where their progress is. They’re building new muscles, learning to communicate,” Sites explained. “It’s a diverse, powerful women’s sport. And for people who don’t have sisters and families, this is a family.
“I know where I came from and want to keep that alive. That’s why I coach in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.”
And while picking up a new sport teaches plenty of lessons in itself, Sites also learned more about using her own voice as a tool of advocacy. A trans woman who transitioned more than 10 years ago through hormone therapy and surgeries, Sites only recently opened up about her personal life to her roller derby family — long after she had proven herself, she noted.
“I needed to find who I was, and I did. Now I help others. But I wanted it to be about my skating, and not what’s between my legs,” she said. “People think I have an advantage, but I feel like I have a parachute behind me. I get laid out by girls every day. But I should be proud of who I am, because you only get one life to live.”
Now that she’s hit her own professional milestones and found confidence enough to speak from experience, Sites focuses her outreach on others just coming out. With many fans and players looking up to her, the time seemed right to use her platform to embolden others. Sites shares daily inspiration videos and photos on her social media pages to encourage people who are in the same “shell” she once lived inside.
“The only reason I can do this is because of the sport I play. I know how it feels being in that spot. We’re all different, but if we were the same, it’d be a boring world,” Sites said.
“I want to remind people to keep doing their best. That’s what I love about roller derby,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re short, fat, gay, trans, black — you have a spot. I’m happy I found it, because it gave me strength in who I am.”
— patrice wilding
Meet VanEssa Sites
At home: Lives in Dickson City with her boyfriend, Marcus Kerecman, and his daughter.
At work: She works in direct care at Wesley Village, Pittston, and coaches the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Roller Radicals, which she helped found. She also is a player with Gotham Girls Roller Derby, based out of New York City, and a member of Team USA for USA Roller Derby.
Inspirations: Fellow roller derby players and her support system of friends and family
Aspirations: To build a family and to win the Hydra championship with Gotham Girls
Diversions: Collecting owls; tattoos; Scranton Social Sports Club
Aversions: Judgmental people and cheaters
“If diva means giving your best, then yes, I guess I am a diva.”
Photos by Emma Black
Fashion fundraiser aims to help floral programs blossom
A good cause is always in vogue, and so fashionistas and philanthropists alike will gather for a common purpose at Fashion & Compassion, a fundraiser to benefit the Greenhouse Project’s community programs.
The event functions as a marketplace with a variety of local vendors, and Scranton native and celebrity stylist Marni Senofonte will be curate her must-have looks for the season and talk about her career working with the likes of Beyoncé, Ciara, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj and Lauryn Hill.
Tickets are $25 through eventbrite.com and include light fare and a cash bar. Proceeds from the event benefit Greenhouse Project program Petal Share PA, which aims to grow a healthy, sustainable community by repurposing donated flowers. The Greenhouse Project’s other efforts include horticulture therapy for elderly and vulnerable community members and creating a multi-generational space in Nay Aug Park.
Senofonte rose to prominence in her field after a stint as designer Norma Kamali’s assistant and working partnerships with brands such as Gucci, Roberto Cavalli and more. She maintains a large international audience on her popular Instagram account, @marnixmarni, where she models high-end fashions. Her mother, Kathee Sonofonte, spearheads Petal Share PA as its program director and brought her daughter into the fold to make the event a marquis happening.
Fashion & Compassion also is a NEPA Match Day event, with a guarantee from Scranton Area Community Foundation to match proceeds up to $1,000.
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: Fashion & Compassion fundraiser featuring guest speaker and celebrity stylist Marni Senofonte
When: Friday, April 28, 6 to 9 p.m.
Where: POSH at the Scranton Club, 404 N. Washington Ave.
Details: Tickets are $25, available at eventbrite.com, and include light fare, cash bar and a vendor marketplace. Proceeds benefit the Greenhouse Project’s program Petal Share PA and horticulture therapy for elderly and vulnerable community members.
Roll all night
As revelers heading to the 37th annual Rock 107 Birthday Bash gear up for the concert blowout tonight at the Woodlands Inn & Resort, Plains Twp., perhaps no one is more excited than Foghat’s Roger Earl.
“I love a party,” the drummer and sole remaining founding band member said.
Foghat hits the stage at approximately 10:30 p.m., and doors open at 7. Entertainment before the main act includes sets by Flaxy Morgan, 7800° Fahrenheit — A Tribute To Bon Jovi and Facing the Giants. The traditional giant birthday cake, door prizes and a cash bar also will be back for the 21-or-older event.
Earl spoke recently by phone from outside his sunny Florida studio, where the English group — known for the classic blues-rock hits “Slow Ride,” “Fool for the City” and “Drivin’ Wheel” plus a standout cover of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” — practices and records. He promised Birthday Bash guests a mixed bag of all the recognizable singles as well as a taste of his band’s newest album, “Under the Influence,” which continues Foghat’s signature catalog of funk-, blues- and R&B-infused rock music.
Citing artists like the late Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, he explained that his music endures because its predecessors are rooted in rock history.
“It was always about the music with Foghat. Our biggest influence is blues music. … We altered it a bit to suit us. That music’s been here since the ’40s — if you count jazz and bebop in that heritage — and it’s still here,” Earl said. “Rock ‘n’ roll endured as part of an American tradition. I don’t think (it’s) a fad. (Late Foghat frontman) Lonesome Dave said it once: asked why he likes blues and rock, he said it has an honesty about it.
“It’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but we like it,” he added, joking, “That wasn’t our song, was it?”
Earl splits his time between homes in Florida and Long Island, New York, and several family members will travel to Northeast Pennsylvania for tonight’s show. Audiences at Foghat concerts have grown more multi-generational over the years, he noted, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We have some fans with us for many years we’ve been doing this, but I’m really excited turning younger folks and new fans on. We have a lot of young people turned on by grandparents and siblings. That’s what’s enabled the band to keep playing on,” Earl explained. “I feel very fortunate at this time in life that I can earn a decent living doing 60 or 70 shows a year.”
The band will mix up the setlist to keep longtime listeners and show-goers happy, and though the musicians might dance a little less on stage these days, Earl quipped, guests can expect an energetic show full of music they love.
“The selfish part of being a musician is we do it because we love doing it,” he said. “(But) I’m very grateful being able to do this. Life is real good.”
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: 37th annual Rock 107 Birthday Bash featuring Foghat
When: Tonight; doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Woodlands Inn & Resort, 1073 Route 315, Plains Twp.
Details: Tickets are free through the Rock 107 mobile app, text and email club plus online at rock107.com. Guests also can buy tickets at the door for $15.
The spirit of French beauty and decadence makes its way into the convention center at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Sunday for the 30th annual Gourmet Gala.
Under the theme “Springtime in Paris,” more than 40 local restaurants present sumptuous appetizers, entrees and desserts for the major fundraiser that benefits Ronald McDonald House of Scranton.
Organizers set a goal of $80,000 this year, which will fund the house at 332 Wheeler Ave., Scranton, plus satellite rooms in three area
hospitals that provide respite for families of pediatric patients.
Picture Perfect Band provides entertainment from 5 to 8 p.m., and the casino offers free valet parking for guests. Admission is $45 at the door, which grants guests access to a wide variety of samples from area eateries.
Waverly Twp. resident Kathy Nelson co-chairs the event this year with Peggy Hennemuth and expects upward of 1,000 people to attend. Nelson worked on the annual fundraiser for the last four years, first by rounding up restaurants to participate and then by taking on a greater role with Ronald McDonald House after she toured the Scranton home.
“Once I did that, I was hooked. It’s a great cause,” Nelson said. “They help families really when they need it most.”
The Parisian theme came to mind in light of a trip to France she made with her husband a few years back.
“I loved it. First of all, it’s a beautiful city, and from what I hear, springtime there is spectacular,” she said. “Spring, to me, is a season of hope, so that’s kind of what we’re looking for.”
To bring Paris to Northeast Pennsylvania, she hired designer John Mackey to transform the event space with flowers and decorations. Nelson also reverted back to the original floor plan of years past, which makes room for several aisles of vendors and offers better traffic flow. Last year’s setup didn’t work as well for guests, she said, so she hopes they’ll return to enjoy the redesigned pattern, which also includes two entrances.
Mostly, she and Hennemuth look forward to seeing (and tasting) the creative ways restaurants interpret the theme.
“There will be a little bit of everything,” Nelson said. “Some really get into it. They often dress up and make it fun.”
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: “Springtime in Paris” — 30th annual Ronald McDonald House Gourmet Gala
When: Sunday, 5 to 8 p.m.
Where: Mohegan Sun Pocono,
1280 Route 315, Plains Twp.
Details: Admission is $45 at the door, or call 570-969-8998 for tickets. For more information, visit www.rmhscranton.org.
• A Little Pizza Heaven
• Angelo’s Italian Ristorante
• Ambers Restaurant & Bar
• Andy Gavin’s Eatery & Pub
• Arcaro & Genell
• Bazil Ristorante Italiano
• BBQ by Barry’s B3Q Smokehouse
• Bartolai Winery
• Bella Faccias Personalized
Chocolates & Gifts
• Cafe Rinaldi
• Camelot Restaurant & Inn
• Constantino’s Catering & Events
• Cooper’s Seafood House
• Down Home Rice Pudding
• Edible Arrangements
• Fire and Ice on Toby Creek
• The French Manor:
Pocono Bed & Breakfast
• Gerrity’s Supermarkets
• Gertrude Hawk Chocolates
• Glider Restaurant
• Harvest Seasonal Grill
& Wine Bar
• Holiday Inn Wilkes-Barre —
• Isabella Restaurant and Bar
• La Buona Vita
• LongHorn Steakhouse
• Loose Moose Cottage
at Great Wolf Lodge
• Manning Farm Dairy
• Market Street Bar & Grill
• McDonald’s restaurants
of Greater Scranton
• Mendicino’s Italian Specialities
• Moses Taylor Hospital Culinary
• Nibbles & Bits
• Nimble Hill Vineyard & Winery
• Olde Brook Inn
• Peggy’s Wing Sauce
• P.J. Brown’s Restaurant
• Pocono Provisions
• POSH at the Scranton Club
• Rustic Kitchen
• Ruth’s Chris Steak House
• State Street Grill
• Stirna’s Restaurant
• Terra Preta
• Truly Scrumptious
• Villa Maria II
• Wolfgang Puck Express
From classic to cliché, parade fashion all about taste
For many, a true hallmark of Parade Day is dressing in theme with the celebration.
Walking through downtown on Saturday will have most seeing green — in a spectrum of shades, such as Kelly green, hunter green, fern, avocado, lime, shamrock and chartreuse. Add hints of orange and white, and you hit the triad of colors found in the Irish flag.
Plenty of local costume and party-supply stores, such as Cal-Ideas in Dunmore or Party City in Dickson City, offer zany accessories such as green wigs, buttons, beads, socks, feather boas, stickers and temporary tattoos. Graphic T-shirts with Irish puns, phrases and mascots are big sellers, too.
But showing your pride doesn’t mean you need to buy everything green in the store. Many area residents prefer a more classic, traditional approach to celebrating their heritage.
Timeless pieces such as cable-knit Aran
or merino wool sweaters and cardigans, claddagh jewelry, tweed suits and newsboy caps
all hark back to the culture of the Emerald Isle, and can be found online or locally in shops such as Cronin’s Irish Cottage in the Marketplace at Steamtown.
Take an even more subtle approach and honor Irish designers — wear a fascinator in homage of famed milliner Philip Treacy, whose detailed, delicate hats and head accessories made him a favorite of European royalty. Or, for those who know their ancestral history and can trace it back to a specific region or county in Ireland, kilts carry the story of lineage through specific tartan designs and colors.
Whether showy or restrained, Parade Day fashion can make for great conversation starters.
— patrice wilding
Clarks Summit’s Festival of Ice returns this weekend with a theme sure to give you chills — and multiply them.
The 13th annual festival kicks off Friday with a variety of family-friendly activities and attractions. Visitors can check out close to 50 ice sculpture variations on the “Ice, Lights, Broadway!” theme, including homages to “Grease,” “Hamilton,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “West Side Story,” among other beloved musicals.
Admission and parking are free all weekend. For an official map, sculpture list and updates, visit the Facebook event page. Addresses listed below are in Clarks Summit unless otherwise noted.
Noon to 2 p.m.: Live music by Just Us Duo, Citizens Savings Bank, 538 S. State St.
1 to 3 p.m.: Live music by Ken McGraw and Joe Cole, Abington Community Library, 1200 W. Grove St.
2:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, MetLife, 1028 Morgan Highway
3:30 to 4:30 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, Toyota of Scranton, 3400 N. Main Ave., Scranton
5 to 6 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, Crystal Cabin Fever, Purdytown Turnpike, Lakeville
5 to 7 p.m.: Live music by Tom Rogo, Golden Coast, 535 S. State St.
5:30 to 7 p.m.: Complimentary trolley tour of the festival with on/off stops at Everything Natural, 426 S. State St.; Depot Street; and First Presbyterian Church of Clarks Summit, 300 School St.
6 to 8 p.m.: Northeast Photography Club art show opening reception, First Presbyterian Church
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Family Fun Faire with DJ Jack Martin, storytelling with Chris Archangelo, children’s complimentary face painting by Happy Faces and post-parade juggling performance by Rob Smith, the Gathering Place, 304 S. State St.
7:30 p.m.: Festival of Ice Parade throughout downtown along South State Street
10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Live music by Mark Woodyatt, Peoples Security Bank & Trust Co., 1100 Northern Blvd., South Abington Twp.
11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, Peoples Security Bank & Trust Co.
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Northeast Photography Club art show, First Presbyterian Church
11 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Children’s Art Show (with Northeast Photography Club), Barry’s Art Room, First Presbyterian Church
Noon to 2 p.m.: Photobooth by Dynamic Duo Entertainment, the Gathering Place
Noon to 1:30 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, Frontier Communications, 108 N. State St.
Noon to 5 p.m.: Horse-and carriage-rides, outside the Gathering Place (tickets are $3, available at Clarks Summit borough building, 304 S. State St.)
1 to 3 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration plus live music by Von Storch Project, Everything Natural
1 to 3 p.m.: Live music with Mike Waskovich, Clel’s Place, 120 Barrett St.
1:30 p.m.: All About Theatre special adult theater group original play performance, the Gathering Place
2 p.m.: Broadway Musical Revue with Erin Malloy Marcinko, First Presbyterian Church
2:30 p.m.: Jill and Gehred Wetzel dance performance, the Gathering Place
3:30 to 5 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, Toyota of Scranton
4 to 5 p.m. Live ice-carving demonstration, Gerrity’s Market, 100 Old Lackawanna Trail
5 to 7 p.m.: Live music by Lights Out, La Tonalteca Mexican Restaurant, 821 Northern Blvd.
5:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Live ice-carving demonstration, State Street Grill, 114 S. State St.
11 to 12:30 p.m.: Live Broadway Brass with Brass Reflections, the Gathering Place
Noon to 5 p.m.: Horse-and-carriage rides from the Gathering Place (tickets are $3, available at borough building)
1 to 3 p.m.: Drop-in children’s craft, Abington Art Studio, 208 Depot St.
1 to 3 p.m.: Live music by Dixieland All Stars, Gerrity’s Market
1 to 3 p.m.: Live music by Doreen Coleman, Everything Natural
1:30 p.m.: All About Theatre Junior Actors original play performance, the Gathering Place
2:30 p.m.: All About Theatre Senior Actors original play performance, the Gathering Place
3 to 5 p.m.: Live music by Old Man River Band, the Gathering Place
4 p.m.: “Ice, Lights, Cabaret!” performance, First Presbyterian Church
Festival of Ice Golden Ticket Scavenger Hunt: Pick up entry form at any location with an ice sculpture, then visit all nine Festival of Ice zones to find the hidden Golden Ticket. List each ticket location and drop off completed entries by Monday at 5 p.m. at any participating location. Random drawing from completely correct entries will be held after the festival.
Also, check with Clarks Summit-area businesses throughout the weekend for specials and giveaways.
— patrice wilding
Legendary British actor John Cleese brings ‘Holy Grail’ to F.M. Kirby Center
Comedy legend John Cleese promises to answer more than “these questions three” and allow “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” fans insider access to the movie’s world of humor.
The famed British actor, who co-wrote the Camelot farce and starred as its Sir Lancelot the Brave, appears on stage for a conversation and Q&A following a screening of the 1975 classic on Saturday at F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, Wilkes-Barre.
During a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where he rested in the sun after an exhaustive 30-city tour with fellow Monty Python co-founder Eric Idle, Cleese revealed why people need a laugh now more than ever. As followers of his Twitter page know, Cleese closely follows world and American politics, and he has engaged in public discourse regarding the results of the recent presidential election.
“Eric and I said it was our jobs as Limeys to cheer the Americans up,” the 77-year-old said. “(President Donald Trump) doesn’t seem to have any of the qualifications. I wouldn’t immediately call him a gentleman, particularly regarding his remarks to women.
“I am worried he’s only taking one security briefing a week when (President Barack) Obama takes six. It’s an unnecessary risk to take.”
His distinct brand of absurdist comedy offers a timely departure from the post-election blues for many, especially those who established a cult following of the Monty Python movies and sketch-show bits.
“They often know the lines better than we do. It’s an extraordinary thought, it really is,” Cleese said. “What a nice bunch of fans we have. They don’t take life too serious. They’re sort of warm and friendly, so you couldn’t play for a better crowd.”
While diehards can quote his most celebrated jokes and lines verbatim, Cleese continues to evolve his comedy through innovative means. Whether it’s adapting his hit BBC show “Fawlty Towers” for the Australian stage or promoting a “Ministry of Silly Walks” app for mobile devices, he learned to rebrand the familiar for new audiences and mediums.
“People actually want to see the old stuff. The irony is, people — artists — always want to do something new, but people who put shows on want something old and familiar,” Cleese explained. “So we’re caught in a bit of a quandary: do stuff you want to do, and we try to find a way of doing some old stuff in a way that’s reasonably new.”
Incorporating the Q&A into his appearances is one way to guarantee a different, quality show every night. That, and getting plenty of sleep beforehand.
“You need to go rested, with energy. That’s how these things work, or else it doesn’t have that bounce,” Cleese said. “It’s much more interesting to interact than to stand and say the same thing you said in the past.
Audience members write out their questions, he added, and “we go through them to pick out the best ones.”
“We go off in all sorts of directions,” Cleese said. “We don’t know where we’re going. What is nice about it is the interaction.
“Some work is hard, some work is a bit of a grind, and some is just downright pleasant. And since I still have to make money, this is the nicest way to do it.”
— patrice wilding
If you go
What: Screening of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” followed by John Cleese on stage for conversation and a Q&A
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Details: Tickets start at $79.50, plus fees, and are available at the box office, online at www.kirbycenter.org and by calling 570-826-110.
Escape winter blues with new experiences
When the winter doldrums kick in, some people make their way outdoors for fun in the snow.
But for those who prefer to stay warm indoors, Northeast Pennsylvania offers plenty of ways to stay entertained and engaged during the coldest part of the year.
Weekend Times takes a look at some of the creative and cozy ways to beat your cabin fever and post-holiday blues.
Whether you maintain a practiced hand or never picked up a brush, group paint nights are a trendy way to delve into the art world.
Spirited Art Scranton, 253 Scranton-Carbondale Highway, Dickson City (in the Fashion Mall shopping plaza), boasts a robust calendar that includes sketching/drawing lessons, “Mommy and Me” classes as well as “tween,” family and fundraising events. Private parties for birthdays, reunions and other special occasions can be arranged for groups big or small. The studio provides all materials and helpful instruction, and guests are invited to take snacks and beverages. For more information, visit myspiritedart.com/scranton or call 570-507-1560.
Many fine art galleries offer guided instruction for novice or advanced artists, too. AFA Gallery, 514 Lackawanna Ave., hosts drawing socials Sundays from 6 to 10 p.m., and Tuesday night figure drawing from 7 to 9 each week. ArtWorks Gallery & Studio, 503 Lackawanna Ave., offers classes for adults with special needs, including sculpture, print-making, mixed media, drawing and painting. For more information, visit
artworksnepa.com or call 570-207-1815.
Plenty of bars and restaurants also offer special paint-night events, so check for more local art events frequently.
The weather outside is frightful, but indoor water parks across Northeast Pennsylvania offer warm temps and year-long pool play.
Visit H20ooohh!! in Lake Harmony, a family water park adjacent to the Galleria at Split Rock Resort that features five body, tube and raft slides; a wavepool; activity pool and more. Visit splitrockresort.com/waterpark for booking and information.
Camelback Resort in Tannersville is home to Aquatopia, which houses 13 tube-, body-, mat-, bowl- and aqua-launch capsule slides as well as several “kiddie” slides. Go to
camelbackresort.com for rates, hours and reservations.
Great Wolf Lodge in Scotrun offers numerous options in its indoor water park, where guests can enjoy a lazy river, slideboarding, raft rides and body-drop tubes plus cabanas. Visit greatwolf.com/poconos for more information.
Kalahari Resort in Pocono Manor has its own indoor water park set beneath a retractable roof. Experience the water roller coaster, lazy river and various kids’ areas spread over 100,000 square feet. Visit
Find the exit
Escape rooms are an up-and-coming experience-based, immersive group activity that have taken hold of NEPA. Electric City Escape, housed in the historic Scranton Electric Building, 507 Linden St., is described as a place of “physical adventure games, where players are locked in a room and have to find clues, break codes and open locks in a series of puzzles within 60 minutes in order to win.” The Scranton location offers several spins on this premise for $25 per person, including “Escape the Art Gallery” for two to eight people and “Escape the PI’s Office” for two to six people. New in January are “Escape No. 109 Mine” for two to eight people and “NEPA Virus” for larger groups of 10 to 30. To register or learn more, contact email@example.com or 570-862-8858.
Or, try PA Escape Rooms, 350 Main St., Dickson City, where a Game Master watches guests via camera to help with hints if they get stuck in Pirates Cove, KAOS or The Heist scenarios. Admission is $25 and open to all ages and abilities. Visit www.paescaperooms.com or call 570-382-8902 for booking and more information.
— patrice wilding