Since bursting onto the local music scene two decades ago, Slapjaw has become an indelible fixture in the heavy metal/hardcore pantheon of Northeast Pennsylvania.
As the Scranton band gears up for a headlining show to mark its 20th anniversary, guitarist/bassist Jerry Kamora took a few moments to go On the Record about what’s changed over the years and what’s stayed the same with Slapjaw — namely, a dedication to presenting high-energy music that showcases strong tunes and even stronger friendships.
Q: Tell me a little about what you have planned for the upcoming 20th anniversary show.
A: Everyone does an anniversary show, but we aren’t everyone, so we’re having a birthday party. It’ll have giveaways plus performances by Alpha Audio, Victim, Earthmouth and Terrorize This.
Q: What’s the biggest difference among the band since you first entered the scene 20 years ago?
A: We’ve had many members come and go throughout the years (three singers and nine bassists). Our musical style has fluctuated slightly with the loss and addition of new members, but we’ve always remained true to our sound regardless of those changes or what has been the trend. Holding on to our core values of friendship, love for what we do and unwillingness to follow trends has allowed us to continue all these years.
Q: Describe your music and stage presence.
A: Our music is heavy, driven and loud. We take much pride in our stage performances. You won’t catch us standing on stage playing songs. We are in the crowd. We are rolling around on the floor. We can definitely be described as highly energetic and unorthodox. People often complement us on our stage presence. Many say that they have never seen such antics before nor have they seen our level of energy from another band in a long time.
Q: What do you hope audiences take away from a Slapjaw show?
A: We hope that everyone has as good a time as we do, no matter how young or old. If they like our sound, great. If they like our stage performance, great. If they like both, even better. We love what we do first and foremost beyond everything else. If one person appreciates any component of what we do, we are grateful for it. We realize that not everyone will like us, but if one thing we do at a show allows them to have fun, that is meaningful to us. We’d like everyone to walk out of that venue satisfied that their night was not spent in vain.
Q: How does it feel to hit this milestone?
A: It’s surreal in a sense. Starting out, we really had no idea how long this endeavor would last. At about 10 years in, we started to realize that this thing can potentially go on until it can’t anymore. The beauty of it all is the friendships that are created amongst ourselves. You really become a family when you’ve been together for this long. All of the disagreements and potential attitudes surrounding the music disappear, and you become an efficient unit. We certainly can’t leave out the many friendships we created and continue to create with fans and other musicians. These are friendships we cherish. Another fascinating part of being around this long is mentoring. We often don’t realize how much of an impact we may have made on fellow musicians, or kids who later become musicians, throughout the years until meeting them later in life and hearing them say things like, “It is because of you guys that I play an instrument,” or “Thank you for complimenting us on our band; you have no idea what it means to us coming from you guys.” We take much pride in that. It’s very humbling.
The LGBTQ+ community — and its allies — celebrates Pride Month during June, and dedicated locals are making sure Scranton does its part.
Tim Maloney, a 25-year-old Keystone College graduate and Scranton area resident, has organized a series of events throughout the city in June under the hashtag #queerNEPA. A web designer and community organizer, Maloney identifies as demisexual, meaning his way of developing attraction doesn’t fit within relative norms and he finds other means of enjoying companionship, he said.
His goals for pulling together a variety of events for Pride Month are myriad, Maloney added, with some events intended to function as fundraisers for at-risk youth and people of color, and others meant to encourage visibility and unite members of the community in greater understanding.
“I felt it would be a good time to unite allies and queer folk to have fun and spend time together,” Maloney said. “In bigger cities like New York and Philly, they have displays 365 (days a year). I really felt there was something lacking in the area in terms of pride.”
The month kicks off with “Queer & Counting: An LGBTQ Art Show,” co-hosted by Jess Meoni at the Leonard Theater, 335 Adams Ave., on Friday, June 1, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, June 2, at noon. Donations will be collected during the exhibit to benefit queer and transgender people of color.
Mid-month, an LGBT+ Pride Rally and Vigil will be held at POSH at the Scranton Club on Tuesday, June 12, starting at 6 p.m. The event also coincides with Pulse Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of when 49 people were killed at an Orlando nightclub.
Whiskey Dick’s, 308 N. Washington Ave., will host Queer Night Out on Friday, June 22, at 7 p.m., featuring music by local musician Lily Maopolski. Donations from the evening will go to Cookie’s Joint, a New York community crisis shelter that serves people of color from within the community.
On Monday, June 25, at 6 p.m., readers can gather for A Fabulous Little Book Club on “Let’s Talk About Love” by Claire Kann at Temple Hesed, 1 Knox Road. The author has supported the event and featured it on her social media, Maloney noted.
The #queerNEPA series wraps up on Saturday, June 30, on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square with Hug Fest with the Hugging Army, starting at 4 p.m.
“I wanted to have a combination of events for more extroverted people and also those more introverted,” Maloney said. “I think events like Hug Fest expanded it to be more family-friendly and include folks of all ages.”
One of the guest speakers Maloney coordinated with to share a message of hope during Pride Month is Minister Sharvon “Be” Copeland, the founder and leader of NEPA-based ministry Free To Be Me, who also works as a resource parent for Luzerne County Children & Youth and founded, owns and operates NorthEnd Youth Academy in Wilkes-Barre.
Copeland, who lives in Wilkes-Barre with her wife, evangelist Nicci Copeland, aims to inspire gay and lesbian teens or same-sex parents who are struggling.
“My plan for June is to reach the hearts and souls of the shunned community — queer NEPA — to speak to them and bring awareness of spirituality and having a one-on-one relationship with God,” Copeland said. “It is very important to celebrate and come together with all allies, because too many people are dying from suicide and hate crimes from the misunderstandings of love, and the control that society and religion has set upon their people.
“It is time for a change,” she insisted.
Maloney encourages local businesses and venues to display pride flags in solidarity of the observance of Pride Month, and said visibility is crucial to the cause.
“It’s a good time to celebrate queer folks’ existence, and remember the history, and recognize progress to move forward,” he said.
Archbald resident Andrew Merwine burst onto the local music scene in 2011 armed with a collection of hip-hop/rap tunes full of fierce lyrics and plenty of emotion.
Back then, he went by the stage name Drew Breeze, under which he released five albums. Merwine battled a “staggering” case of writer’s block over the subsequent years, and even stopped performing all the way up until 2015. After experimenting with his sound, he took some time to channel his frustrations into a new batch of songs and re-emerged as Lucas Hex in 2017.
Having just completed a four-city tour in Pennsylvania and New York in support of his new EP, “Sermons,” Merwine took some time to go On the Record about what’s different with this album and his approach to getting his music out there.
Q: You used to perform as Drew Breeze but switched your stage persona to Lucas Hex. Tell us what this name means to you, and how this change reflects you as an artist.
A: The name means more to me, because Lucas has a personal meaning as far as my family goes, and Hex fits more of my personal philosophy. I won’t pretend I’m some high priest or anything, but I’ve always had an interest in the occult and “chaos magik” specifically, so it makes sense. Drew Breeze was literally a pick out of a hat when I was a kid and had a mixtape, but no name.
Q: Who’s the biggest influence on your sound?
A: This is where people are going to hate me even more than they already do: as far as influences go, I love early Drake, and I can’t help it, it’s so catchy. I love all the obvious ones that everyone says, like Tupac, Biggie, etc., but I’m super influenced by Waka Flocka Flame, Vince Staples, Ghostemane, Slipknot and any dumb thing I’ve done before I became a settled adult.
Q: How has living in Northeast Pennsylvania affected your music?
A: Living in NEPA made me thicker-skinned to criticism, which is important. People here are willing to tell you point blank if they hate you, and people have. That helped when I started getting actual meetings with bookers, bigger blogs, etc., because they have no time to sugarcoat, and I’m already thick-skinned enough to accept a “No” or a “We’ll see down the road” and keep moving.
Q: Tellus about your new EP, “Sermons.”
A: Lyrically, you can hear me tell stories about situations I didn’t need to put myself in — in an obnoxious way — and me dealing with my own mortality. The style is hard to describe because I think it’s super aggressive, but I still tried to keep it catchy, because that’s what I enjoy. I have a beat on the album produced by Nedarb, who’s worked with Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, Ghostemane, Lil Peep and a ton of others — which might not seem like much to someone on the outside, but it’s a big deal, and it’s awesome.
Q: Describe Lucas Hex live on stage.
A: Live is where I thrive. There was a long time when my recorded songs didn’t translate as well live, which I finally think I fixed with “Sermons.” But all I can say is — as humble as I like to be — I truly believe if you see me live, I can convert you.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in 2018?
A: My biggest hope is more tours. Touring this year was already the highlight of my “career.” Seeing strangers’ reactions to me and buying my merch, asking where they could get my music online, all of it — and the meetings and interest that came from it — was an eye-opening experience that this thing really has a shot at happening if I keep my nose to the grindstone.
Meet Lucas Hex
Based out of: Archbald
Up next: Slam Jam Car Show & Music Festival,
Saturday, Sept. 1, 3 to 8 p.m., Seamans Airport, 65 Windsock Lane, Factoryville
Online: Visit the Lucas Hex pages on Facebook, Spotify, iTunes, bandcamp.com and SoundCloud.com or follow @LucasHex570 on Instagram and Twitter.
School is back in session, and for University of Scranton student musicians and singers, their upcoming performances make for teachable moments with the greater community.
The fall schedule features a variety of U of S ensembles, bands and choirs teamed up with nationally renowned music professionals for a slate of free concerts open to the public.
Cheryl Boga, conductor and director of performance music at the university, said she strives to bring in not just great guest performers but also artist-teachers who can impart wisdom to the young soloists and players.
Cheryl Y. Boga
“One of the things I do is look over the long term — not just a season, but over the four years my students will be here,” Boga said. “My philosophy for the program is really one of (acknowledging that) these are the students that are going to make sure live music is supported in communities, our schools and our country, so how do we give them a background of real understanding and appreciation of great music and what it takes to make it?”
In addition to the student recitals, the season’s highlights include concerts that cover a variety of musical genres and bring in talented music professionals, one of whom — trumpet soloist and sideman Jumaane Smith — has a “long and storied history” with U of S, Boga said.
Smith was a member of the bands for crooners Michael Bublé and Harry Connick Jr. and also performed with pop stars including Stevie Wonder, Justin Bieber, Natalie Cole and Alicia Keys. Locally, Smith gave his talents to the U of S as a composer for its concert band and mixed choir, a teacher for brass seminars, conductor and soloist.
“It’s so delightful to see the amazing professional he has become,” Boga said. “His contributions here at Scranton have been unending at every stage of his career.”
Later in the season, guest soloist Kenny Rampton, a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and the trumpet voice on “Sesame Street,” will join the U of S Jazz Band for a concert and offer a free master class to students plus amateur and professional musicians 16 and older. With touring credits that include the Ray Charles Orchestra and Matchbox Twenty, Rampton’s expertise spans multiple styles.
Sherrie Maricle and the all-female DIVA Jazz Orchestra also will offer a public master class in addition to a performance that showcases their history as one of the longest-existing professional big bands in the country.
“Sherrie is just wonderful, and she’s led clinics on rhythm for Scranton brass,” Boga said. “She is a gifted and committed teacher, a spectacular drummer and runs a hell of a band. For us to be part of their 25th anniversary tour, coming off amazing venues like the Kennedy Center and Lincoln Center, I still kind of can’t believe we’re going to present them.”
U of S also will mark the 50th year for its annual Noel Night concert, which invites alumni to return and rehearse to be part of the show, Boga said.
“It’s kind of the kick-off for Christmas season for us, musically,” she explained. “It has always been University of Scranton’s gift to the community. We open the doors well over an hour early for seats and have started prelude music for a full hour before the concert even starts because of all the people sitting there.”
Noel Night focuses exclusively on sacred music and also includes remarks from university leaders and readings of the nativity narrative, which students have dubbed the “Peanuts” speech since Linus made it famous in the animated classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Providing a well-curated concert season that also is presented free is crucial not only to musical students but to the public, Boga noted.
“The arts are our nation, our world. It’s both a mirror and a window,” she said. “They’re a way to reflect back who we are and who we want to be on every level, from a small community to a wider circle. Music is important to understanding and expressing, acts as a catalyst and spurs communication. Everybody is part of this process.”
Cheryl Y. Boga
Walking into the warm wood and quaintly decorated interior of the Fireplace Restaurant in Tunkhannock feels like a step into a rustic lodge or historic inn.
People come for the hospitality and atmosphere, but they stay and return for the hearty, traditional American food, homemade desserts and hefty portions that have kept the eatery in business since 1968.
Owners Dan and Laura Yale have a long history with the Fireplace. He started working there as a dishwasher at 15, while she shared many meals with her family there as a young girl.
The Yales took over as owners about 12 years ago after Dan Yale climbed the chain of command through stops in the kitchen and front of house. Now the couple, who both grew up in nearby one-room schoolhouses, focuses on continuing the legacy of the restaurant that’s become a second home to them.
“I’ve worked a long time, keeping the reputation going,” Dan Yale said.
“That’s why it’s so awesome to have the Fireplace,” his wife added. “It’s so iconic.”
The original octagonshaped dining room was updated in the mid-1970s with additional rooms built with local barn wood, while Dan Yale completed more structural renovations and moved the restrooms upstairs to be more handicapped accessible when he took over.
What hasn’t changed is the relaxed dining atmosphere or the quality and consistency of the food served there.
“I tweaked things as I went along and added on daily specials, but we’re still famous for our prime ribs, steaks, seafood dishes and tender beef medallions,” Dan Yale said.
Another standout on the menu is Laura’s Grilled Chicken Salad, which pairs Romaine lettuce with glazed walnuts, grilled pineapple, strawberries, dried cranberries and feta cheese, topped with a fruity, creamy poppyseed dressing.
“That seals the deal,” Laura Yale said of the dressing. “They call that a ‘plate-licker.’ And it started from a recipe in our own kitchen at home.”
Other popular dishes include Shrimp Bisque, the full selection of hand-formed burgers and fresh-baked desserts, including cobblers, fruit pies, rice pudding, apple crisp and the signature pumpkin bread.
“The menu is one of the most extensive in the area,” Laura Yale said. “I call it our novel, because we’re always writing the next chapter.”
In addition to its much-requested Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri (called the “Route 6 Cooler” on the menu and served in a pint mason jar), the Fireplace also keeps plenty of local wines and beers on tap. Supporting other local small businesses is important to the owners.
“Growing up here, I know the plight of the farmer,” Laura Yale said. “It’s important when you come from a small town. It’s an honor to have a small business here.”
The restaurant seats up to about 130 guests at a time and can be booked for private parties in addition to offering on- and off-site catering. But for the true Fireplace experience, Laura Yale said diners can’t do better than the service found in-house.
“One of the coolest things about this place is everybody has a memory of it. It breaks my heart when people say, ‘She’s just a waitress.’ It’s an art form. Not everyone can be a server,” she said. “We like (customers) to feel at home here. We have about 45 employees, and I call them our ‘Fireplace family,’ with my husband at the helm keeping us all going.”
The Fireplace Restaurant
Address: 6157 Route 6, Tunkhannock
Phone: 570-836-9662 or 570-836-3579
Owners: Dan and Laura Yale
Cuisine: Traditional American
Hours: Sundays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Lackawanna River Conservation Association marks the 30th anniversary of its incorporation as a nonprofit organization on Thursday, Oct. 5, and to celebrate, area residents will enjoy a month of river-themed activities.
Bernie McGurl, LRCA’s executive director, said the events planned span a variety of interests and locations to echo the people the association serves — about 300,000 to 400,000 residents in 50 municipalities across four counties.
“It’s surprising. You wake up one day and it’s 30 years later, and we’re looking at a river that’s a heck of a lot cleaner with more people involved with it and interested in protecting and enjoying it,” he said. “Our mission is to involve the community with the river in a mutually beneficial way, so we wanted a variety of activities to recognize commonality across economic, social and cultural interest.”
LRCA protects the Lackawanna in several fashions, from stewardship of lands that border the river to conservancy programs to promoting a vision for the future.
“We’re looking at issues related to sustainability, resiliency and global climate change,” McGurl said. “We can help our community relate to what’s going on globally by acting and thinking and having more presence locally (in terms of) their links and responsibilities (to the river).”
McGurl added that the 30th anniversary calendar of events also seeks to gain new followers as the organization moves toward a generational change in leadership.
“We want to expand our capacity, and I hope to retire in a few years,” he said. “We’re hoping to use this celebration to generate awareness and interest in the community to support that.”
Lackawanna River Conservation Association’s 30th anniversary events
Cocktail Party Kick-off: Thursday, Sept. 7, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Carbondale Grand Hotel, 25 S. Main St.
Rain barrel workshop: Saturday, Sept. 9, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sweeney’s Beach, 41 Poplar St., Scranton, $25 per family
LRCA Hexagon Project Show: Sunday, Sept. 10, Steamworks Gallery, the Marketplace at Steamtown, 300 Lackawanna Ave.
Yoga and hike to Panther Bluff: Sunday, Sept. 10, 9 a.m., meets at Simpson trailhead of Rail-Trail Council of NEPA, Reservoir and Homestead streets
“Flight of the Butterflies” documentary film screening: Wednesday, Sept. 13, 7 p.m., Providence Playhouse, 1256 Providence Road, Scranton, free
Jazz Night featuring Nancy and Spencer Reed and their Jazz Combo: Friday, Sept. 15, 6:30 p.m., Sweeney’s Beach, 41 Poplar St., $20
Recycling flea market, creative family recycling activities and picnic: Saturday, Sept. 16, market open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sweeney’s Beach, 41 Poplar St.
LRCA Trivia Night with Conor McGuigan: Monday, Sept. 18, 10 to 11 p.m., the Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton, $2
Autumn Equinox Interfaith and Inter-Ethnic Celebration and Healing River Walk: Friday, Sept. 22, 7 p.m., departs from Kosciuska Healing Garden, adjacent to Market Street Bridge, North Scranton
Fall Fest Paddle and After-Party: Saturday, Sept. 23; paddlers register at noon and depart Archbald for Olyphant at 2 p.m.; after-party at Thirst T’s Bar & Grill,
120 Lincoln St., Olyphant, $20
Wine tasting with David Falchek, executive director of American Wine Society: Tuesday, Sept. 26, Tripp House, 1011 N. Main Ave., Scranton
“Lions and Owls and Elves, Oh My!” walking tour: Saturday, Sept. 30, 11 a.m., downtown Scranton, donations accepted
Eco-Trolley Tour: Saturday, Sept. 30, 2 p.m., Electric City Trolley Museum, 300 Cliff St., Scranton, $8 children/$10 adults
30th Anniversary Community Recognition Awards Dinner and Gala: Thursday, Oct. 5, 5:30 p.m., Scranton Cultural Center at The Masonic Temple, 420 N. Washington Ave., $65
For more information and an updated schedule, visit lrca.org or the LRCA Facebook page, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 570-347-6311.
Whether it’s facing the man in the mirror, letting emotions take them over or doing it their own way, tribute artists have plenty of stories to tell about their journey to embodying their idols.
The Theater at North, 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton, brings many top impersonators to town this season for shows filled with classic pop, folk, R&B and big band hits. The season kicks off Saturday, Sept. 9, with “Summer Breezin’/Stand Bac,” tributes to Seals & Crofts, America and Fleetwood Mac, and homages to such stars as John Denver, Frank Sinatra, the Bee Gees and Michael Jackson follow throughout the year.
“People have incredible connections to the music of their lives,” explained Carrie Colaiezzi, director of theater operations. “Our vision was to offer our community popular, time-honored music that spans several generations.”
“It is going to be a time travel,” said John Acosta, who performs as Barry Gibb in “Bee Gees Gold,” set for Saturday, Oct. 14. “It’s something where I want people to close their eyes and remember a time that that generation had great music. Of course, even if there is a crowd of the new generation, they get a chance to know what the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ experience was all about.”
Acosta’s show lasts about 90 minutes and runs through the best parts of the Bee Gees’ career, he said, starting with the early stages in the 1960s when the group sounded “very British, very Beatles-ish,” before the brothers Gibb transformed themselves into “disco dance gods with the falsetto, the look and hair.”
“These songs stood the test of time because of the ingredients, the integrity and the writing of that time,” Acosta said.
Forged from a different time and place, Michael Firestone relives the hits of the King of Pop during his “I Am King” tribute to Michael Jackson, set for Saturday, Nov. 11.
“I’m just trying to hit every single iconic look and different eras,” Firestone said of his 90-minute program, which features backup dancers and a full band plus top-of-the line costumes.
He’s been impersonating Jackson for almost 20 years but said the show he brings to Scranton is his best yet.
“There are some artists put here to do this, and (Jackson) was born a great artist,” Firestone said. “He was meant to be, and in 50 years, people will still be trying to sound like him. His music will last forever.”
For Cary Hoffman — star of “My Sinatra,” scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 16 — finding success as his version of Ol’ Blue Eyes means the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
“As a kid, it’s all I wanted, was to be him and sing like him. That’s what the show is about: why?” Hoffman said. “Some people say that it has to do with my losing two fathers. I made (Sinatra’s) voice a kind of father figure. The moment I heard Sinatra, my life was different forever. The sound immediately entranced me.”
Music was already in Hoffman’s blood thanks to his singer mother and uncles who served as studio musicians for the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Tormé and even Sinatra. Hoffman spent countless hours in his teenage bedroom practicing his Sinatra impersonation, he recalled, and joked that he later was the only kid in history to receive a standing ovation for singing at his own bar mitzvah.
“Right then was affirmation that I could croon,” Hoffman said with a laugh.
His show blends his takes on Sinatra classics from the late ’50s through ’70s while also recounting his own love for the music and anecdotes that include meeting the star in the 1960s. Hoffman’s storytelling transcends simple mimicry like a wedding singer might do, he noted, and aims to transport his audience for a bout of joyful escapism.
“Sinatra was kind of more than a singer. He represented a kind of freedom and looseness,” Hoffman said. “He told us you can be yourself and anything you want. Sinatra personified rebellion before rock and roll.”
No matter which tribute plays to one’s tastes, the shows promise to bond multigenerational audiences.
“Musical tributes offer a way to bring a sense of familial connectedness through live performances that modern technology just cannot deliver,” Colaiezzi said. “It evokes memories and emotions that are shared with one another.”
The Theater at North Concert Series
All shows held at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted at 1539 N. Main Ave., Scranton. Tickets available through the box office Mondays through Fridays or by calling 877-987-6487. For more information, visit The Theater at North.
“Summer Breezin’/Stand Bac,” tributes to Seals & Crofts, America and Fleetwood Mac, Saturday, Sept. 9
“My Sinatra” starring Cary Hoffman, Saturday, Sept. 16
“Back Home Again,” a tribute to John Denver, Saturday, Sept. 30
“Bee Gees Gold,” Saturday, Oct. 14
“Snow Queen — The Musical,” a children’s sing-along, Sunday, Nov. 5, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“I Am King,” the Michael Jackson Experience starring Michael Firestone, Saturday, Nov. 11
“Juke Box Heroes — Live,” with the Mahoney Brothers, Saturday, Nov. 18
“Jimmy Sturr Christmas: From Our House To Your House,” Sunday, Dec. 3, 3 p.m.
“Home for the Holidays,” by the Northern Appalachian Wind Symphony, Saturday, Dec. 16
Whether you like to dance, stretch or appreciate art, the inaugural Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival set for this weekend at Mountain Sky has something for you.
The two-day event kicks off Friday, Sept. 1, and continues on Saturday, Sept. 2, at the Scott Twp. venue with a full schedule of activities that includes plenty of live music, yoga and art workshops, and live demonstrations. Camping is encouraged for guests who wish to get the most out of their admission, especially with certain aspects of the performances stretching into the early morning hours.
Bryan Dewey, one of the festival’s co-promoters, is part of the entity Funkstronaut Productions, which brings together a collection of DJs and electronic artists for Satellite Ranch’s lineup. Organizers have long wanted to present an outdoor festival at Mountain Sky, he said, with plans finally starting to come together this past January.
“We’ve been in talks for a few years now (with Mountain Sky), and they were hesitant on electronic music and DJs,” Dewey said. “It gets a bad rep, so we like the term ‘intelligent dance music.’ The main difference is the music we have has a lot of soul in it. It’s not loud and crazy, but there’s plenty of weirdness. But there’s a lot of heart and a general loving vibe. We have everything from funky jam bands that incorporate electronic elements to hip-hop with electro to a silent disco from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.”
Music will be spread across two stages, and VIP passes give guests access to an indoor area. But Satellite Ranch will offer much more, such as various styles of yoga practice, including kundalini and mellow-flow; a graffiti art workshop; painters doing live demonstrations and selling their works; light and art installations; body painting; a live production workshop; and plenty of vendors, from vegan and vegetarian foods to bonsai tree experts.
Dewey cited years of expertise by his team of organizers in pulling together varied elements for a multi-faceted event and said he has high hopes for drawing a diverse crowd locally and from neighboring states for Satellite Ranch’s first year.
“We want to show the region what a great festival could be up at Mountain Sky. We feel like we put something together that is pretty awesome,” Dewey said. “(It) promises to be an intimate festival showcasing a variety of music not typically seen together outside of larger gatherings … (in) an atmosphere that will surely be out of this world.
“We aim to breathe fresh life and energy into an already amazing local music scene as well as expand musical tastes and horizons of attendees, all while providing a safe and peaceful environment with friendly and loving vibrations for all.”
If you go
What: Satellite Ranch Music and Arts Festival
When: Friday, Sept. 1, music begins at 3 p.m.; and Saturday, Sept. 2, music begins at noon
Where: Mountain Sky, 63 Still Meadow Lane, Scott Twp.
Details: Tickets include camping and are $130 for two-day VIP passes, $65 for two-day general admission and $40 for Saturday only. Parking is $5 or free with three or more people in the car. For more information, visit the Facebook page or satelliteranchfestival.com
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins crept into the hearts of millions as the sultry-voiced singer of TLC.
Also comprised of crooner Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas and rapper Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, TLC’s albums “CrazySexyCool” (1994) and “FanMail” (1999) catapulted the trio into music history as one of the best-selling female acts of all time. Chart-topping hits such as “Waterfalls,” “No Scrubs” and “Red Light Special” earned the female group numerous accolades since the 1990s, including four Grammys, five MTV Video Music Awards and five Soul Train Music Awards.
Lopes perished in a car crash in Honduras in 2002, but Watkins and Thomas continued creating music, including a self-titled, crowd-funded EP that includes the single “Way Back” featuring Snoop Dogg, which they released this year.
Strong as ever even as a duo, TLC headlines “I Love the ’90s: The Party Continues” tour, which makes a stop in Scranton at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Saturday, Aug. 26, at 6 p.m. Other acts on the bill include Coolio, Tone-Loc, Young MC and Rob Base.
During a recent phone interview from the road, Watkins previewed what fans can expect to see and hear at the show.
Q: What city am I
catching you in?
A: I am melting like the Wicked Witch of the West in Las Vegas. It’s so hot here.
Q: TLC has always been really brave about facing social issues in your performances and songs. With politics and injustices making news every day, can audiences expect to see some of that trademark outspokenness on this tour, too?
A: Well, you’ll definitely hear it on this album, for sure on (the song) “American Gold.” But we always have something to say, no matter what. (Laughs) I think it just naturally comes across from us being who we are, so we still stand up strong for everything when we sing it, always.
Q: TLC also always inspired with the looks of your videos and live shows, so is the live act still a big spectacle, or is it more stripped down?
A: Nah, we still give you a production. We got the lights … the dancers, the band. It’s a full production always. We’ll never stop that.
Q: How are you feeling these days? How is life on tour? (Watkins has sickle cell anemia.)
A: I can’t complain. I just have to take care of myself daily, so I do oxygen before and after the show. There’s a lot of Gatorade and water with electrolytes. I have to do certain things to stay on top of it. I won’t pretend that it’s easy, but if I pace myself and watch the things I do, and do what my doctor says, I stay pretty healthy. I have my physical therapist and masseuse out here; they keep me in shape pretty good, too, rubbing out all the kinks … because I’m always dancing.
Q: These days, it seems like artists band together for tours like “I Love the ’90s,” which feel almost like mixtapes. What is it about this music that stays fresh and never gets old for listeners?
A: I think about that time, everybody has that era where you just remember that song, like “Oh my god, it makes me feel…” You remember that song by Will Smith, “Summertime”? Every time you hear it, you go, “I remember that summer. I was at the park.” I think of that time, it was such good music, organic, and it was refreshing. Lyrically, the content was strong. I think it was just a good era of music. And I think it’s kind of like everybody grew up with it, so they’re still bumpin’ to it. My daughter even be out there like (singing Montell Jordan’s) “This Is How We Do It.”
Q: What’s your favorite moment during live performances, being in front of all those people singing along with you?
A: It’s to see the fans’ faces. There’s a couple of times — that moment when they first get to see you and that energy — it’s just like they lose it. It’s really cool. When their favorite jam comes on, they might hear the horns to (“Creep”) and they’re like, “Ahh!” You can tell some of them, it’s either (that) that’s their jam, they’re reliving their high school days or “This is the song that makes me feel great about myself.” So you just feel all the different emotions. And all their faces, it’s cool to look at when the lights aren’t blinding me.
Q: With this Kickstarter EP, you have made it known this is probably going to be the last TLC album. But has your mind changed at all being on this tour and seeing the response from fans? You just sound like you’re having so much fun. It’s hard to believe this could really be the last.
A: When we say our last, we don’t mean the last of TLC, but yes, it is the final album — studio album. That doesn’t mean we won’t do a residency. The thing that’s so great is we have a body of work now that has lasted 25 years, and hopefully this new music will make it go even longer, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be going away. So I’ll still be performing, you can still rock with us, but I doubt it’s going to make me change my mind to go in the studio to make another studio album, honestly. This industry is a little crazy for me, so I really think this has to be it.
Q: Finally, I have a few silly questions for you from some superfans. What music do you listen to when you’re taking a nice, relaxing bath?
A: Oh, that’s a good one! I love Marvin Gaye, “I Want You,” and there’s a song called “So Beautiful” by Musiq Soulchild and also Sade, “Cherish the Day.” Soft music like that calms me, because I have two (kids) that follow me, so that’s my relaxing music.
Q: Any new music you’re excited by?
A: I would say Bruno Mars because he is killing right now. He’s covering all the funk. Unfortunately, Prince … and all them are not here anymore, and he’s covering that whole genre of music. So when “24K Magic” came out, I was like, “Ohhhh!” I almost threw my phone out the window. So yes, I would say Bruno, all day.
Q: Last question. Were you prepared for how iconic your haircut would remain to this day? I know a few girls who definitely went into salons and asked for “The T-Boz.”
A: That is so awesome because I used to argue for that haircut, because in my head, I thought it was awesome. So I’m like, “Oh my god, this is going to be cool,” and I remember them being like, “What do you mean, sideburns? You’re going to look like Elvis Presley.” So that’s why I tell people, if you like something about yourself, even if people can’t see your vision, be yourself. Do what you want, because it ended up well for me. People started talking about it, and it ended up being iconic. So I never thought it would go that far, especially when I would see men with my haircut (laughs), and that was like the best ever. That is one of my favorite haircuts ever.
Trevor Brown brings a great deal of experience working with food to the table.
The 30-year-old restaurateur grew up on a dairy farm in Lemon Twp., earned a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management with a specialization in restaurants from Penn State, worked at local eateries for years and opened his own produce and pig co-op, Purple Pepper Farms in Lake Winola, a few years ago.
Now, he shares his expertise in culinary creativity at his North Keyser Avenue sandwich shop, Purple Pepper Deli. Opened in March 2016, the Scranton deli provides Brown with a steady income to supplement his seasonal farming, and makes good use of his own fresh produce as well as some of the food that otherwise would go to waste.
“A lot of the greens, like Swiss chard, gets wilty at the market, but I can bring it here for soups,” Brown said. “Or a tomato might have a small cut in it, but it’s perfectly fine to use for salsa.”
Among his farm-fresh ingredients found on the summer menu are onions, potatoes, basil, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, kale and cauliflower. Brown locally sources his other basics whenever possible, too, like bread from Roscioli’s Bakery and taco shells from Tortilleria El Buen Amigo, both in Scranton.
“They make good products, and I’m friends with them,” he explained.
Purple Pepper Deli’s menu is organized on one side by proteins (pork, chicken, turkey, beef) and veggie options, but also includes signature staples, like the Mojo Pork (citrus-infused pulled pork, smoked ham, baby Swiss, homemade pickles and mustard aioli), the Balsamic Beef (London broil, soppressata, aged provolone, tomatoes, pickled red onion, arugula, balsamic and choice of hot or sweet peppers), the Italian (which comes topped with soppressata) and the Smoked Gouda Chipotle (roasted turkey, smoked Gouda, chipotle aioli, crumbled bacon, arugula, tomatoes, fire-roasted peppers and pickled red onions).
Other features pop, in Brown’s opinion, though he struggles to pick favorites.
“I wrote the menu, and I like everything on there,” he said. “But I’m a sucker for the Fat Bull (London broil, smoked Gouda, poblano barbecue, mayo, seasonal greens, tomatoes and red onion), because I love smokey flavor.
“The most classic one we’ve made our own is the Turkey Reuben, because it comes with a garlic (sauer)kraut we make ourselves,” Brown added.
Homemade soups are a huge hit, too, he noted. In the summer, Purple Pepper Deli sells about 10 gallons a week, while that output doubles in the winter. Desserts also are available, and the deli offers delivery in the Scranton area for free with a $20 minimum order. Catering and party trays are offered, and Brown expects to reintroduce a produce stand in the parking lot by the fall.
On the shelves inside the small space, which has seating for just under 20, Purple Pepper jams and pickled veggies as well as locally harvested honeys can be picked up. Often, items are found based on the way the growing season progresses.
“Certain things stay the same for the customer’s sake, but every time they walk in, they’re going to find something different,” Brown said. “Although the menu is really big, we cross-utilize a lot, and I think that’s the secret to a successful restaurant.”
Purple Pepper Deli
Address: 825 N. Keyser Ave., Scranton
Established: March 2016
Owner: Trevor Brown
Cuisine: Soups, salads and sandwiches
Hours: Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays, noon to 3 p.m.
Online: Visit the Purple Pepper Deli page on
Facebook or purplepepperfarms.com
— patrice wilding
Rita Patel managed a small Ash Street grocery for eight years before she made the leap into opening her own restaurant space elsewhere in town.
It was the fulfillment of a longtime dream for the city resident, whose love for cooking fed her vision of sharing generations of family recipes with the people of Scranton.
Since February 2016, Shiv Shakti Chaat House, 801 N. Washington Ave., has given Patel the freedom to invite customers in for a taste of Indian Gujarati dishes. With help from several members of her family in the kitchen, including her husband, Sunil, and her parents and uncle, Patel cooks up the traditional “fast food” of her heritage.
“It’s mostly traditional Indian snacks, like you would get on any street in India,” explained Patel’s 17-year-old daughter, Dazi, who manages the Shiv Shakti Facebook page and helps with register duties.
“I like cooking, and there’s no space around here that does this,” Patel added, explaining the grab-and-go food differs greatly from the other Indian food restaurants found locally, which invite guests to sit down for full entrees.
“It’s a small town, and we don’t want the competition. So everybody gets the business,” Patel said. “Nobody else makes it like this.”
The limited menu can be found on boards at the counter of the small convenience store, which is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Food can be ordered from noon to 8 p.m. each day, either called in over the phone in advance or in person for takeout or dining in among the 12 seats found on the second floor of the shop.
Each dish is vegetarian, and special vegan orders are welcome. Prepared with fresh produce and fragrant Indian spices, the “snack food” is still quite filling.
The Vegetable Biryani is like a spicy rice dish, combining several varieties of vegetables with rice and Indian spices. The Samosas —a kind of stuffing of green peas, potato, onion, spices, coriander and all-purpose flour, deep-fried — are labor-intensive, Dazi admitted, but make for a delicious treat.
The biggest customer favorite is the Samosa Chaat, Dazi said, which is two samosas crushed with chickpea gravy and topped with a sweet yogurt, green and tamarind chutneys, fresh onion and coriander. The Lassi, a sweet, dessert-like yogurt drink, provides a refreshing, cool counter to the flavorful dishes.
Shiv Shakti offers catering and has so far maintained a perfect rating on its Facebook page, where Patel encourages customers, especially first-timers, to review the food once they try it.
“She always wanted to open a restaurant, so I’m very proud of her that she got to do this finally,” Dazi said. “Not a lot of people know us yet. The best-case scenario would be more people trying it, because it makes my mom really happy.”
“I feel proud. People tell me my food is good,” Patel said.
— patrice wilding
Shiv Shakti Chaat House
Address: 801 N. Washington Ave., Scranton
Established: February 2016
Owners: Rita and Sunil Patel
Hours: The restaurant portion is open Tuesdays through Sundays, noon to 8 p.m.; the convenience store is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Mondays.
Online: See the menu on the Facebook page.
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.