Up Close: ET Hunter

Up Close: ET Hunter

Up Close & Personal

Fútbol in America

The World Cup has even non-fans of soccer buzzing about the sport. Local bars are filled to the brim with old and new fans alike and the excitement is hard to avoid. More and more people have grown up with the sport and players in the Scranton area have likely heard of Soccer Plus, which has been the go-to retailer for all things soccer for decades. We caught up with ET Hunter, who bought the store in 2010, to talk about soccer, the World Cup and the best place to catch a game.

How did you get involved with soccer?
I’d always been into soccer. I started playing when I was 6 years old in Abington, in the youth program in which just about every kid in Abington plays. At about age 11, I was approached to go on to one of the Abington club teams, then I went to another local club out of Dallas called Northeast Attack. That was more instrumental to me than any year I spent academically in middle school or high school. It taught me a lot about myself and how to work as part of a team. It showed me a lot of the country, it got me overseas and it was an education. The coach, Gary Norconk, exposed us to a lot and let us really develop as players and as kids. It was a great and exciting time. All through my club level, I was a defender. Once I got into college, I was a center midfielder for three years. During my senior year, I was one of our forwards. I’ve played every spot except goalkeeper, which I find absolutely terrifying. I just don’t like the idea of how hard and unpredictable the shots come in. I’ve always been a little afraid of it. I think growing up with the sport being so close to my heart, it just became a real passion that’s been present for most of my life. It went away a bit after college. I kept it inside while I tried a few other things, but then I went back and did some coaching and playing and now I own the store.

What led to buying Soccer Plus?
I started working at Soccer Plus when I was in high school for the original owner, Joe Bochicchio. I’d help out every once in a while when I was in college. I moved away after college and I hadn’t really given much thought about coming back to the area unless it was for Soccer Plus. Then the opportunity came up in 2009 and I was back up here in 2010 running the store with Donna Benson, which led to the purchase of the store. It was full circle.
Joe Bochicchio and Steve Klingman opened the store in 1986. They were the men’s and women’s coaches at the University of Scranton. They never told me word-for-word how it got started, but some 20-odd years later, Steve told me they opened it because they were sick and tired of going through other people to get their uniforms. Joe and Steve were huge pioneers in the area for developing the sport and getting people rallied around it, to the point where they actually had a store. They were enthusiasts for the sport and players. They both played and went from players to coaches. Steve is still coaching and Joe coached until the day he died. The store has always been where everyone who knows the sport and loves the sport goes. They set that mark pretty early on and it continues. It’s a great meeting spot and, over the years, it has moved around. In Scranton, it was on Mulberry St., it moved from downtown to Clarks Summit and we’re in our fourth location in Clarks Summit (611 S State St.). We’ve gone to different spaces to accommodate our needs a little better and now I believe I’m in a spot I can grow into. Hopefully I’ll be moving out of that spot — I hope I have the option to expand. The store has just gotten bigger, pulling in more accounts. It started out doing team orders for the University of Scranton and then other universities, high schools and clubs. It’s continued and I’ve expanded into business apparel. Restaurants contact me to get their whole wait staff outfitted in T-shirts and polos. Softball teams, lacrosse — we’re not a one-trick pony anymore. It’s been a very comfortable graduation into what we are now.

You also sell gear for individual customers, right?
Only for soccer. On the retail front, we cater to soccer. From the smallest players using the tiniest little shoes and shin guards, all the way up to Electric City Shock, who are Scranton’s professional team. We can cater to every single athlete that comes into the store. As far as other sports go, I really only focus on uniforms and not the equipment that comes along with it, mainly because I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t want to sell someone something like, say, a field hockey stick if I have absolutely no idea how to talk about it.
We offer all of the equipment and I have a huge amount of people who buy stuff from me, but also just come to the store to hang out. They like to talk about soccer. They like to talk about their kids and how they’re doing or how they did themselves in games over the last weekend. Along with equipment, it’s really a lifestyle. It’s a niche the store has that really makes people comfortable about coming in to talk about their kids and themselves and just kind of rally around the sport.

So it’s like the soccer nexus for the Scranton area.
Exactly and it has been for almost 30 years.

EC26UPC_2_WEBHow has the World Cup affected soccer in and out of the store?
I’ve been there for two World Cups now. In 2010 it was busy, definitely a busy time. We had a really nice push for business. It’s not like the Olympics. It’s one sport and the TV channels support it. All the games are televised and it’s really easy to get involved. NBC Sports did an awesome job this year leading up to the World Cup by televising all of the British Premiere League. So if you wanted it or not, it was in your face every single weekend on a sports channel. The Internet has played a big part of that, too, as far as getting information out. With the World Cup, you have a lot of people who might not normally watch soccer. We have a lot of people who get into it. A lot of my family are getting into it and they’re not soccer fans, but they are when the World Cup comes around. A lot of those people want to get behind the teams, especially when you have a big win like the U.S. did against Ghana. It’s exciting, it’s fun. It creates a great vibe. If you were at Ale Mary’s when we scored our second goal in the Ghana game, you probably hugged five to 20 people you’ve never even seen before. It’s a sport, it’s a culture, it’s really just a way of life that’s easy to celebrate when everybody gets behind it.
We had more than 200 people in Ale Mary’s for the Ghana game. Bethlehem SteelStacks has a huge TV screen set up and I have no idea how many people showed up there — thousands. They were featured during the broadcast. Chicago had thousands of people out in their parks. We’re starting to treat this sport like the rest of the world and respecting it. We have a lot of very educated U.S. soccer fans now that are spreading that around. You talk to people who are starting to get into the sport and they love it. People who have enjoyed mainstream American sports like football, baseball, basketball are getting into soccer. I have no idea why. I’ve loved it my whole life, so I don’t know what they’ve been doing with their lives! People are getting behind it. It’s really good to see when people make that switch and enjoy it for what it is: the world’s game.

What made Ale Mary’s the place to go for games?
I’d been talking to a few bars over the last few years about getting behind this and treating the soccer crowd how we want to be treated. A place to watch, with no music on, the TV sound turned up and accommodate the crowd that we can produce. I do have to say that The Keys is an awesome place to watch a game, but for the amount of people who are interested in coming out to the World Cup games, we needed a bigger spot to do it. It was proposed that Ale Mary’s might be a good choice because they have a lot of space there, they have six huge TVs that are all facing the same direction. So it’s easy for everyone in the bar to be facing one direction and really all soak it in at the same time. Ale Mary’s jumped right in when it was explained to them how this could be a great bar for the sport and once they agreed to it, we showed them what we could do.
For the Ghana game, I gave away the official game ball of the World Cup. Not many people are going to buy that — the ball sells for $160, so not many people get the chance to see that ball, or possibly win it, take it home, play with it. That was something very special that got a lot of people really excited. It was just give us your name and enter to win. I gave away a lot of other stuff, soccer balls, T-shirts, some giveaways the vendors provided me. I’m also doing a raffle for a game ball — the same ball with a different paint job, it’s the ball that will be used in the World Cup final. That’s a paid raffle and all of the proceeds for that will go to Catholic Social Services. I want to maximize exposure for that, so we can give a good donation to that organization.

Thanks for talking to us, is there anything else you’d like to say about soccer in the 570?
It’s really an exciting time around the area and we have kids that are obsessed with the sport at a really early age. That’s when they become the players that go the extra mile, play through high school, maybe through college and then if they’re lucky on to a professional career. That goes for a couple different avenues: We have players, we have coaches and we have referees that are coming out of this area that are legit. We’ve graduated players out of this area into Division I, II and III programs for decades. I think this area, along the lines of the rest of the country, the sport is catching a lot of attention. Little kids are looking up to soccer players as their heroes. The youth programs are benefitting from the World Cup and seeing these players, having the access to them online and on TV. There are thousands of kids in youth programs playing around here. It’s getting better continuously and it’s great to see. I’m right on the forefront of it because I get to talk with a lot of league administrators, coaches and hear the progress. As much as they’re learning about their kids, I’m learning a lot about their programs. It’s a lot of fun being this close to the pulse of the soccer heartbeat in NEPA. I’m lucky to be in the position I am. I love it. I love being at the store. I’ve loved it my whole life.
— tucker hottes

Up Close: Scranton Aquarium

Up Close: Scranton Aquarium

Up Close & Personal

The Life Aquatic

If you’ve been on Sanderson Avenue through Green Ridge lately, you might have noticed a strange blue glow emanating from one of the storefronts. It’s not Scranton’s latest club, or a fancy electronics store — 1819 Sanderson Ave. is the home of Scranton Aquarium, host to many colorful and exotic undersea critters. We caught up with co-owner Jason Phoomahal to find out more about the shop, what’s swimming in those waters and what’s the deal with those blue lights.

How did you get started in the aquarium business?
My partner, Robert Winters, and I have been part of the hobby for many, many years. I’ve been keeping fish since I was about 3 or 4 years old. As I got older, I had tanks of my own and helped with my father’s saltwater tank. Robert was in the same boat — his father had fish tanks as well and as he grew up, he started working with tanks on his own. We both have freshwater and saltwater tanks. Over time, it grew. I was working at one of the local big-box stores as the aquatic specialist — basically just selling fish and helping people get started the right way. That lasted about two years until the store closed. From there, I started doing maintenance and helping people start up their own aquariums. Moving forward, people started asking Robert and me to help them more and help get fish for them. It seemed right to really get this going and open a storefront to house fish, show people the right direction and keep fish healthy for the customers. That’s always the main concern: fish health.
All the fish and the live coral we have are aquacultured. That is to say they’re raised in aquariums and farmed that way, as opposed to actually catching them from the wild. There’s a lot less impact that way. It keeps the ecosystems in the wild healthy. That’s always a big plus, to have everything aquacultured. With the corals, you get a small fragment of different types of coral. They will actually take that coral and they’ll plant it on an artificial reef on the ocean. They’ll let that artificial reef grow out and for the trade they’ll take from that instead of robbing the actual coral reefs, which would have a negative impact on the environment. Those coral frags that come from the farms will get sent to the hobby trade and sold. From there, hobbyists will actually take the frags from their home aquariums and sell them back to us, we’ll grow it out some more and frag it out. It’s a constant cycle of aquaculturing. Nothing actually gets pulled from a reef, keeping our planet nice and healthy. Reefs have a big impact on our planet. In a lot of ways, the hobby is actually putting back into nature, too. There are a lot of species of coral and fish that the hobby has helped replace. There are a few different types of coral that have been almost completely pulled out of the ocean in the past and have become extinct in the ocean. Through the efforts of hobbyists who had the coral, they were able to grow it out and started replacing a lot of different corals that have gone extinct, due to either  harvesting or other reasons that the reefs were dying. There were a lot of reefs that just mysteriously died and they were able to be replaced with reefs that hobbyists grew, thus putting a lot back into it.

Sounds like it’s environmentally sound and a good hobby.
Our main concern with the shop is making sure people in the area have a reliable place to come get their pets. I say “pets,” using that term very lightly. A lot of people look at their fish as family. I have customers who name their fish and treat them as part of the family. It’s a great hobby, a lot of fun. There are a lot of people involved in the area and the hobby is growing every day. I have new customers coming in every day asking how to keep different fish and so on.
Our goal is first to educate the customers. If you come in and just say, “Oh, I want this $80 Harlequin Tuskfish,” I’m not just going to say “Here you go!” and send you on your way. If you have an aquarium, I’m going to make sure you have the right setup for an exotic fish and are able to have the right care for that fish. Somebody else might not even ask you if you have a fish tank. We’re really set up to set ourselves apart from that. We’re a family-owned business and we treat our customers like they’re family. We’re not going to sell them anything that wouldn’t go into their setup. A lot of fish don’t cohabitate with other fish — some are more aggressive, others aren’t. You really have to have a good grasp of what your customers’ needs are and make sure you can meet those needs to give them the proper fish or coral for their aquarium.

What’s good about a small shop instead of getting information online and going to a big store?
The biggest value in getting all your information from one source is that you’re getting it from someone who has experience. With the aquarium trade, there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and have done it for a long time and can say “OK, we’re going to set up your aquarium this way and this is what you want to do.” You build a baseline. You select the type of fish you want and build it from there. When I help someone set up an aquarium, I can give someone a complete, six-month to-do list. And if they follow that, they will be successful. The biggest help in the hobby, to keep fish healthy, is water changes. Water changes are unimaginably important to remove extra nutrients from the aquarium and replace any trace elements that the fish and coral might have used up. When you do your water changes and refresh things, your water quality will remain tip-top. That’s one of the very most important things to do with an aquarium, it’s important to have that nutrient export. When beginning an aquarium, planning is important. Saltwater and freshwater have different approaches when it comes to planning. Freshwater is a little more forgiving for aquarium size. You can get away with a smaller freshwater aquarium, with smaller fish. With saltwater aquariums, there are a lot of larger fish and fish that grow to be large. If you don’t have the proper aquarium size, those fish will get sick and will not live as long. Even though I sell fish, I’d rather have someone say “Look at this Yellow Tang I’ve had for seven years from you that’s doing very well” than have someone say, “I bought seven Tangs from you in the past five years, why do they keep dying?” and it turns out they have a small tank and that’s the reason. There are also a lot of species of freshwater fish that get very large as well. The whole myth of fish growing to the aquarium size is exactly that: a myth. Fish will grow. You can’t really stop the fish’s growth, unfortunately. The whole goal is happy aquarium, happy fish, happy aquarium owner.

What are some of the more exotic species you carry?
We have a couple of really interesting species. We have a dwarf octopus we’ve had for a couple weeks, but we’re considering not even selling him — he’s become kind of a resident in the store. He became our pet — Robert and I love feeding him every day. He’s very alert to us when we walk by versus when a customer walks by. When we walk by, he’ll watch us to see if we’re going to feed him or not, whereas with a customer he’ll just give them a light show with his color changing capabilities. We also have a sea fan, which is a crinoid. It’s a relative of the starfish and sea urchin. The crinoid is a relative similar to a starfish. It has long appendages considered legs or arms and kind of looks like a big red flower. It’s a prehistoric animal — if you remember back to elementary school, learning about early fossils, a lot of the fossils you see in books are crinoid. It’s a very commonly used fossil. They’re very interesting animals with the way they swim through the water. They use kind of a gyroscope effect with their legs to move through the water.
The live coral, most people don’t even realize is an animal. It’s what’s called a sessile invertebrate, meaning it’s not a plant. It does not move like most animals, so it can’t move about the aquarium. Where you place it is where it will stay. It can grow out, but it won’t get up and walk to the other side of the aquarium. People look at live coral and think it’s a beautiful plant, but it’s actually an animal. They’re alive like animals, they eat like animals. They do share some plant features, like photosynthesis – they use photosynthesis to grow, there’s algae that lives inside the coral. That’s one of the things that makes the hobby very interesting, the thousands and thousands of species of coral that people are growing in their aquariums. There’s coral that’s outrageously colored with purples, pinks, blues, greens, yellows. All these colors indicate what type of coral it is, the shape, all of it.
If you have a piece of coral in your tank, it will grow. It can grow to the point where, if you started with a small fragment that cost maybe $10 or $20, within a year or two you can have a piece that’s worth $300 or $400, so it can be a very big investment if you do it the right way and grow that coral. There are different ways of propagating it, you can use surgical scissors, or with harder corals, you can even break a piece off, sit it on the other side of the tank and it’ll start growing there. It helps the hobby tremendously, because instead of pulling from the coral reefs, you’re actually growing a small piece of the ocean in your own tank.

So there’s lots of learning involved as well.
Yes and we’re actually reaching out to local elementary schools. Robert Morris Elementary is one of them because it’s so close. It’s a short day trip for them, they don’t have to be out of the classroom too long and they’re not sitting on a bus for three hours to learn. Then they can go back to class and take whatever they learned — whether it’s about photosynthesis or fossils — and actually go over it with the teacher. We’re trying to get something going for next year to get a couple of classes over to show them the fish, show them some of the freshwater fish native to our area. We want to teach kids and let them have a good time with a little bit of hands-on time out of the classroom where they can learn about different fish and different kinds of live corals. I know there are a lot of schools that actually have oceanography classes and it’s very helpful to have an aquarium in the class so you can actually do the water changes, care for hard-to-keep species and just try your hand at marine biology. I had a class like that in my school when I was a kid and it was a lot of fun. I want to share that experience with the people of Scranton. Every day people come in and ask me questions and I’ll sit there happily for hours on end talking to them and giving them information. I take great pleasure doing that with people, explaining the ins and outs of the aquarium hobby.
— tucker hottes



What do you think of the location in Green Ridge?
It’s great to be part of the community. I’ve been a Scranton resident for the past eight years now, by way of NYC, but I’m a true Scrantonian now. I’m really glad to have chosen this location to start this business. The people have been extremely welcoming. All the local businesses came by and introduced themselves and explained about their businesses as well and offered help for anything we might need. The food in the area is good, of course, there’s a couple of great restaurants, which keeps me happy. The people have been very welcoming and a lot of local residents have been stopping in just to get a look at it. At nighttime it really stands out with the blue lights on –when the sun lights for the tanks go down, the blue lights stay on for the coral and it actually really stands out. So people just stop in because of the look. I’m happy to bring a kind of business that people enjoy, even if they don’t have an aquarium. People come in all the time just to look around.

It really is something pleasing to the eye.
With the aquarium hobby, people don’t realize how much of an artistic eye is involved. Whether you’re building the actual glass or plastic aquarium, or putting different rocks in your aquarium to create a picturesque scene, there’s a lot of artistic talent that goes into it. That’s something I really pride myself on. The tank I have on the counter is a little display tank – I recently re-did the aquascaping in there and it took me a solid three hours to do a little five-gallon tank. I basically wanted to mimic a little bonsai tree with the rocks. I put different types of coral to simulate the leaves of the tree. There’s a lot of artistic value that goes into that. Anyone who has a fish tank will tell you that – whether they use rocks, fake plants, live plants, coral, there’s always a look people strive to achieve to get what they want out of the aquarium. I’ve seen people who’ve set their freshwater planted tanks up to look like the house from The Hobbit – something that looks just like Bilbo Baggins home from the movie, except it’s made from plants and rocks.

About the Frag swap event:
We’re going to try to start doing a monthly coral frag swap, starting in July. What’s going to happen is we’ll have some refreshments and we’ll have customers bring five small fragments of coral from their home tank. Everybody will put their coral on the table and everybody gets a number. When their number is called, they can go and pick two corals. You’ll be able to mix and match from other people’s tanks and have coral to put in your own tank. I want to get a lot of new hobbyists into it and go from there. We’ll have raffles for different products and when you go you basically won’t be spending money for the frag swap. You bring five frags and you’re going to leave with five frags you don’t have in your own aquarium. The more people we have, the more different species will be able to have. The more the merrier – I always like to encourage new people to come, even people who aren’t into the hobby and just want to learn about it and see what it’s all about. Come in to ask questions. It doesn’t cost anything to ask questions and we’re always willing to answer any questions. Robert is very big into the African Cichlid world and knows about a lot of different species and genus. He’s kept Discus fish for a long time, that’s another fish people in the area are starting to get into. They’re beautifully colored fish and we’re one of the only stores in the area that carry them. They’re a little harder to keep than regular freshwater fish.

Arts On Fire

Arts On Fire

TT02artsonfire_P2.jpgFor the past five years, the Arts on Fire festival has helped heat things up to usher in the summer. The festival began in 2009 to benefit the Scranton Iron Furnaces and Anthracite Heritage Museum. The three-day festival kicks off on Friday, June 6, with the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser, which includes a live iron pour, music by the Coal Town Rounders and refreshments. Saturday, June 7, and Sunday, June 8, will feature industrial artists demonstrating glassmaking, blacksmithing, pottery and other disciplines. Visitors can start and end their day with a trolley ride from the Trolley Museum to the Iron Furnaces for a $1 fee.
“It’s a milestone for us this year,” said festival chairman Bob Savakinus. “One of the things that’s unique about Lackawanna County is we always have such great participation from different groups.” Partners in Arts on Fire this year include the Lackawanna Historical Society, Steamtown National Park, Everhart Museum, the Trolley Museum and the Vintage Theater in addition to 12 featured industrial artists.
“Last year, we had about 1,700 people,” said Savakinus. “We’re hoping this year if we have some good weather, we can beat those numbers — it seems like we always have a little rain or drizzle or other weather holding us back.” As of press time, the weather forecast for the weekend was clear.
The main attractions for the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser and one of the highlights for the festival will be live iron pours. Saturday’s iron pour will be hosted by students from Keystone Iron Works, an ARTS engage! program for high school students focusing on iron casting. The program received its second National Endowment for the Arts grant this year.
“Because we are so honored to be able to pour at the site, we have our professional crew come in Friday night,” said Nikki Moser, co-founder of Keystone Iron Works. “We have people coming in from Wisconsin, Baltimore, Florida, New York — all over the place. They say it’s the best iron pour they’ve ever been to.”
The professional demonstration at the fundraiser Friday night will be extra special in the nighttime setting. “It’s going to be fabulous, there will be sparks everywhere,” said Moser. “We’re going to cast a 300-pound vessel made by students in the program that will be going in the sculpture park at Keystone College.”
Visitors to the pour on Saturday will be able to watch professional artists working with students casting their own work and will be able to purchase art made that day at the festival. The Keystone Iron Works program teaches students about working in a collaborative and dangerous environment to create art.
“We’re trying to teach kids to work together in this very intense moment of danger and risk,” said Moser. “It’s an amazing opportunity — they get to make a piece of sculpture and walk away with something that physically transformed. It was a negative, empty space that was filled with molten metal and became a solid object.”
The hands-on learning experience introduces students to different ways of thinking about art in a setting outside the classroom — after all, pouring molten iron isn’t something that can be done inside a schoolroom.
“My partner, Pat McGowan, coined a phrase I’ve totally jumped on,” said Moser. “He said what we’re doing is a ‘live classroom.’ I love that, because we live in this very technology- oriented world right now. The idea of a ‘live classroom’ is what we’re doing — they’re alive, physically, emotionally and intellectually engaged in every moment with us.”
The Arts on Fire festival encompasses the theme of learning about the craft and Scranton’s heritage at the historic iron furnaces, which started operation in 1840 and were run mostly by new immigrants to the U.S.
“What I really like about what we do with Arts on Fire is it’s not only an arts event, we’re also combining history and education,” said Savakinus. “We’re actually trying to educate people in sort of a sneaky way, by doing something fun with bands and artists and the iron pour. But we’ll also tell them some history, about the part the furnaces played in Scranton’s development.”
the Arts on Fire arts festivalA photographic exhibition at AFA Gallery on First Friday will showcase photos from previous years’ festivals. “A key ingredient toward getting the NEA grant is the idea of community placemaking and the arts and their involvement in community placemaking,” said Moser.
Another highlight of Friday’s art events will be the Iron Maidens exhibition, highlighting works by female artists from the U.S. and United Kingdom who work with iron casting. The show at AFA Gallery will be this year’s final stop for Iron Maidens exhibition after completing its tour of the U.S. and U.K.
The casting to be completed by Keystone Iron Works is one of the largest the group has created: a geometric folded paper pattern, measuring approximately 30 inches in diameter and tipping the scales at about 400 pounds.
“The unveiling will be ridiculous,” said Moser. “It’s a bunch of us hitting it with hammers. It’s something new for us this year. We’re trying to see what’s the biggest thing we can cast down there without a permanent facility.”
It promises to be a bit more exciting than a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
Arts on Fire and the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser celebrate arts and heritage in Scranton and the spirit of hard work and innovation that has been rooted in the area for hundreds of years. It’s a weekend-long event that will delight adults and children alike and spotlights a unique location and local talent.
“It really is about this idea of community and placemaking,” said Moser. “We are a community, we are a tribe. All of us. This festival brings us all together in this way that we should be really excited and proud about.”
— tucker hottes

Sizzlin’ Summer: Summer Grilling

Sizzlin’ Summer: Summer Grilling

Summer Grilling
Tucker Hottes chills and grills up some beer can chicken


Grilling isn’t a mythical art that needs to take place during specific months — you can grill any time you feel like it, however you want, even in the freezing cold. Of course, bright skies and long evenings go perfectly hand-in-hand with spending time outdoors tending to a meal over the flame. It’s easy enough to slap some burgers and dogs on the grate, give a couple flips and be done with the whole ordeal. But the real fun is using the grill to create dishes that are kitchen-quality with a little extra flair — and the added bonus of enjoying summer evenings.
The most important thing to recognize when taking grilling to the next level is to stop treating it like some sort of unique, alien cooking device. Gas-fired or charcoal, big or small — it’s just a heat source like any other. In fact, the grill is a pretty versatile cooking apparatus. Most people (especially those with charcoal grills) think of it as having one temperature: hot. You get the grill hot, throw some meat on, hope it doesn’t burn, flip and serve. That’s perfectly acceptable, but let’s take a look at just how unappreciative and unimaginative that is. Let’s roast a chicken! And let’s throw some beer in the mix just to make sure we don’t start taking things too seriously.
EC22SUMMER_GRILLING_3_WEBTo start off, we need to prep the chicken and give it some flavor. See the sidebar for my recommendations, but you’re going to want some basic herbs, a lime, garlic, salt and pepper, crushed red pepper and vegetable oil (as well as a dash of black truffle oil — seriously, just get some. A little goes a long way, it adds a great flavor twist and people will think you are way more awesome than you really are). Rinse your chicken in cold water and pat it dry inside and out. Mash up some dried oregano (put some fresh between damp paper towels and microwave in 10 second intervals until it’s dry), a couple garlic cloves, salt and pepper and the crushed red pepper. Mix in the oils and lime juice until it’s like a paste. Spread that mix all over the chicken, but save about a spoonful for later. You can chill the chicken in the fridge for a couple hours at this point to let the flavors really get in there, or you can continue. Drink half the beer (you can also use plain old water in a can, but that’s not as cool, right?). Poke some extra holes in the can, then add the leftover spiced paste from before and toss in some rosemary, oregano and parsley. Sit the chicken on the can and get ready to put it on the grill.
We’re going to focus on charcoal here, because it’s a little more nuanced and grilling on gas just takes all the fun out of it (and, arguably, gas takes lots of the flavor out of it). You can’t just light up some coals and toss a chicken on top of it. Think about roasting a chicken in the kitchen – you don’t do it on the stovetop. What the chicken needs is indirect heat, which means we don’t want any coals directly below. Start the coals up with your preferred method (but, really, go get yourself a chimney starter or make one out of a big coffee can — lighter fluid is tacky). Once they’ve turned gray, spread them around in a circle with a nice big gap in the middle. Here’s the real trick, though: take a foil pan with about an inch of water and put it in the middle underneath where the chicken will go. Now you can plop the chicken/can setup on (use the legs to help it stand up) and grill for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature hits 165 degrees Fahrenheit or the juice runs clear. Check every 30 minutes or so, rotate the chicken as necessary and add another couple pieces of charcoal if your piles are diminishing.
EC22SUMMER_GRILLING_2_WEBWhile you’re waiting, take the time to slice up some veggies — bell peppers, sweet onions and asparagus work great. Toss them in some oil (again, add a dash of that black truffle oil), salt and pepper and a bunch of crushed red pepper flakes for some kick (or be lame and just use the salt and pepper). Once the chicken is done, carefully lift the whole chicken/can assembly off and let it cool at least 10 minutes. Hey, 10 minutes! That’s exactly how long it’ll take to grill the veggies! Move your coals to the center of the grill for direct heat and either use an awesome tailor-made grill basket, or just slap some foil down and poke small holes in it to allow heat transfer. Toss occasionally and remove when they start to get a little blackened in spots and delicious-looking.
This is a relatively easy-but-unconventional meal that’s impressive and should get your wheels turning about other unique ways to use your grill. There’s nothing wrong with burgers and dogs (start getting creative with those burgers, people!), but the grill can give you tons of amazing options. Cook stuff in a skillet! Take a sauce pan and throw it down alongside whatever you’re cooking and save a burner on your stove! Remember: it’s just a heat source. An awesome, outdoor heat source.


1 Chicken:
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1.5 tbsp vegetable oil
Dash black truffle oil
1/2 tbsp lime juice
1 can beer (half empty)
Fresh rosemary
Fresh thyme
Fresh oregano
Fresh parsley
Bell peppers
Sweet onion
1 tbsp oil
Dash black truffle oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
Salt and pepper
Mash garlic, dried oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper into a paste and combine with oil, truffle oil and lime juice. Rinse chicken and pat dry inside and out. Cover with paste (set aside a spoonful). Chill the chicken two to four hours if desired. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before cooking. Poke extra holes in beer can. Place extra seasoned paste and fresh herbs inside. Sit chicken on beer can, propping with the legs and grill on indirect heat 1-1 1/2 hours until internal breast temperature reaches 165 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes on top of can before carefully removing from can. Toss vegetables in oil, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Grill for 10 minutes in grill pan or over foil.

The Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival

The Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival

The Susquehanna Sound
The Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival kicks off the concert season in The 570


It’s time to break out the festival-going gear and get ready to spend some time outside enveloped in music. The music season kicks off this year at Montage Mountain with a local bang — Cabinet’s Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival will start things off for the second year this Saturday, May 10, at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Last year’s Old Farmer’s Ball drew about 1,200 people to the mountain and organizers expect an even bigger turnout with more stages, more musicians and an expanded vendor area.
“Last year, we had a couple folks from LiveNation reach out and ask if Cabinet would be interested in putting on a festival,” said Cabinet’s manager Bill Orner. “So we got together with venue management, called up a couple friends and threw ourselves a festival.”
The festival’s title is different this year, but Orner said there wasn’t much drama surrounding the change, which will be permanent moving forward. “We thought it’d be a good idea to name it after a song, so we called it Old Farmer’s Ball, after our song ‘The Old Farmer’s Mill,’” he said. “Strangely enough, there was actually another Old Farmer’s Ball that we weren’t aware of. They were some really nice people down in the Carolinas and were very understanding in letting us use the name last year without any kind of conflict. This year, we decided to avoid confusion and call it Susquehanna Breakdown — which is actually a Cabinet song — so there’s not even a play on words there. We can really call it our own now.”
While the Susquehanna Breakdown won’t be the very first event of the year on Montage Mountain — the Dirty Girl mud run was May 2 — the festival is the first show at the pavilion. Orner said festival organizers and Montage Mountain management would like to keep it that way. “This will be the first set of musical notes you’ll hear coming off the mountain and hopefully it will be this way for many seasons to come,” he said.
Cabinet has been heavily touring regionally seeking new fans and a broader audience. Pappy Biondo (banjo, vocals) said the band is excited to build off the success of last year’s homecoming festival. “Last year we put out our album, Leap, and that kind of set the tone for the whole year,” he said. “Doing the first festival was kind of a ‘leap’. We ended up with a huge number of walk-up tickets. We had a great response, so that’s one of the reasons we wanted to do it again.”



The success and support of fans and newcomers alike fed the desire to expand the festival to add more music.
“It’s something bigger and we worked hard for it,” Biondo said. “If anything, it’s to prove to our wives and girlfriends that all they’ve had to put up with is actually paying off.”
This year, in response to fan feedback, the festival will feature camping on the lawn of the pavilion, as well as a limited amount of RV camping, which sold out well in advance.
“We try to read everything fans send in over email or posts on Facebook,” said Orner. “A lot of people said it’s not a ‘real’ festival unless there’s camping — that’s not the case, but it was something a lot of people wanted. We decided to start small and accommodate a couple hundred campers up on the lawn and it’s quite a unique vantage point. It’s going to be a really cool spot.”
Campers will also have a special treat as they set up camp and settle into their spots. “We’ll be playing Friday night for the campers,” said Biondo. “We’ll be doing some kind of secret set for the people who came early.”
Fan feedback drove most of the expansion and changes to this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown. “The band, the organization, this festival — all of it would be nothing without the fans,” said Orner. “So the fans speak and we must listen!”
Another first for the festival — and, indeed, for shows at Montage Mountain — will be the bike-friendly atmosphere. In addition to several bike trails around the venue, Cedar Bike & Paddle will have equipment demos, maintenance clinics and a family fun ride.

The focus on an inclusive, family-friendly festival was a big goal for the organizers, said Orner.
“Kids 10 and younger are admitted for free. We have activities for the kids — everything from face painting, to coloring, to musical sets for the kids,” he said. “It’s very important for us to ultimately appeal to younger folks and build memories and relationships with families and friends. Without that, we don’t have a future doing much of anything. This is an opportunity we have to give back in a sense, and we’re taking it and running with it and doing the best we can.”
Biondo said he will be getting in on the action as well. “I’m going to do a children’s set for the kids on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “It’s more of a family-oriented event than a lot of the bigger festivals. We’re looking forward to having people come out, and excited to give back to the fans — especially the local fans. It’s a celebration and we’re excited to celebrate.”
Artist and promoter John Warner worked with Orner and the event organizers to help coordinate vendors for this year’s festival. “John Warner works with some of the biggest festivals in the country, so it’s kind of a blessing to have him,” said Orner. “If we run into something we don’t know, or we have a question about, we can go to him for advice. We have a great group of experienced people who can help us put together a seamless kind of event that’s run, promoted, and managed like any other large festival you can find in the country.”
When asked about the organizers’ desire to expand opportunities for vendors at the Breakdown, Warner said the push came from the vendors themselves. “We didn’t decide to expand — the vendors decided,” he said. “A lot of vendors, when picking what festivals they’d like to do this season, wanted to be involved this year, which is great. We’ve got some of the best vendors on the festival circuit — if you go to any big festival in the northeast, you’ll find some of these same vendors. I think it’s great that they’ve chosen our festival as one they want to be involved with.”
There will be a wide variety of shops set up at the rear of the pavilion, at the transition point between the lawn and the covered seats. Warner explained that rain at last year’s event forced vendors under the tent, but organizers, vendors and fans alike enjoyed the setup, so it stuck. The Grateful Gallery Tour will also be featured, including artwork from Warner, Allison Murphy, Robbie Cone and Jim Gavenus.
Naturally, music is a focal point of the festival as well, and Orner said bands across the main stage and two additional stages will not disappoint.
“There’s something on this bill for everyone — whether or not you know the names of the bands, I can guarantee you that it’s all high-quality music,” he said. “You could book these bands and put them on any stage and they would hold their own.
Ultimately, the Susquehanna Breakdown is more than just a seasonal kick-off at Montage Mountain. It’s a showcase of local talent and the support the community of fans can bring to a show.
“It’s our backyard, it’s our people,” said Biondo. “You look out and the first 10 rows, we recognize almost everybody. You get farther back in the crowd and you start to see new people who are curious about what we’re doing. It’s pretty cool.”
— tucker hottes

Cheers to Beers

Cheers to Beers

The Electric City Craft Brew Fest hits PNC Field This Saturday, April 26.


The hiss of a bottle cap releasing its blast of pent-up aroma of hops, barley and subtle notes of spices is enough to make craft beer fans excited. Multiply that and spread it through a baseball stadium on a spring weekend, and you’ve got the Electric City Craft Brew Fest. The festival enters its third year this Saturday, April 26, at PNC Field in Moosic, where visitors can sample more than 60 individual brews. Creating such a wide variety of tastes and flavors will continue to be a focus of the EC Brew Fest with open seminars from the Scranton Brewer’s Guild and Wyoming Valley Brewers, including a session for cider lovers.
This weekend’s edition of the EC Craft Brew Fest is expected to be the largest yet. “The newly renovated PNC Field offers both a great concourse that’s custom made for accommodating large crowds and spectacular views,” said Tim Holmes, organizer of the festival and marketing director for Times-Shamrock Communications. “ What better way to celebrate spring’s late arrival than enjoying some lovely craft brews at the ball field?”
EC24CRAFTBEER_7_WEBRob Crain, president and general manager for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, said the festival helps bring events to the stadium that aren’t just ball games.
“The more the merrier,” said Crain. “We have dedicated staff members on our team to solicit events that don’t revolve around a baseball game. We’ve had some early success, like last May’s Wrap Party for The Office. We look forward to growing as the years go on.”
The explosion of craft beer in the market has led to a demand for seasonal brews, and the EC Craft Brew Fest has evolved to suit the ever-growing demands of beer aficionados.
“When we hosted our original Brew Fest, we knew we had to offer multiple sessions per year if we hoped to ‘tap into’ the seasonality of the craft beer world,” said Holmes. “The offerings at the Spring/Summer session are drastically different from the Fall/Winter selections. Both are great sessions — but they’re best enjoyed in season.”
Visitors to the Brew Fest will receive a sampling glass, bottled water and receive open access to samples on the concourse of PNC Field. Guests who choose to upgrade to the limited VIP tickets also gain early admission and introduction to brewers, limited edition brews, free hors d’oeuvres and a special gift. Out-of-town visitors or those looking to stay nearby can take advantage of the “Room with a Brew” package to stay at nearby hotels featuring shuttle service.
EC24CRAFTBEER_10_WEBBeer festivals around the country have plenty in common: craft beer samples, limited edition brews, and basic information sessions. The EC Craft Brew Fest has always striven to feature components to showcase the artisanal and hobby components of craft brewing. With the participation of the Scranton Brewers’ Guild and Wyoming Valley Brewers, this spring’s festival promises to bring the most high-profile education sessions to date.
Sean Wolfe of the Scranton Brewers’ Guild explained the goal is to get people thinking about all the little things that go into creating that perfect, delicious glass of beer.
“The exciting part about being involved in the festival is that EC Brewfest is trying to promote what we promote: craft brew culture,” Wolfe said. “Home brewing is one aspect of that. From our standpoint, we try to promote the things that most festivals don’t even touch on. Any festival can have a lot of beer, and a lot of good beer. Of course, people will come to drink it. Very few festivals will focus on promoting the culture around craft beer – that’s missed.”
The idea that beer should be sipped and enjoyed is integral to the craft brew community. While a growing number of people are making their own beer, learning about what goes into the process can be important even if casual enjoyment is the goal.
“The culture is about understanding the ingredients that go into beer, the time it takes to make it, and understanding the process,” said Wolfe. “A lot of times people will taste something and not understand what goes into making that. Part of what we want to do with the sessions is getting people to see the importance of what it takes to make the beer.”
EC Brew Fest attendees will also have an opportunity to experience beer-making first-hand, to get an idea of what goes into making a home-brewed beer, beginning during the 2 p.m. session from the Wyoming Valley Homebrewers. Later sessions will include focus on flavoring beer with hops and grains.
“You can see the whole process from beginning to end to see what it takes to make a beer from scratch,” said Wolfe. “We’ll have a session specifically focusing on hops and what they do in beer, and why they’re important, and learning about the different types of hops. We’ll talk about grains, what different grains do inside the beer and why a brewer might select a different grain over another. It’s a huge amount of information that I think will help people learn more about how to appreciate the beer at the festival even if they’re not ready to brew their own yet.”
Visitors who aren’t prepared to take the plunge into full-scale home brewing will still be able to learn a thing or two about the beer they’re enjoying. Two beer information stations will be staffed by volunteers with extensive knowledge of the brewing process as well as all the samples featured at the festival.
“A lot of people are disappointed if a pourer doesn’t have a lot of beer knowledge, or they’re afraid to ask questions,” said Wolfe. “At the stations, you can walk up and ask ‘I really enjoy German wheat beers’ or ‘I’m getting this taste out of this beer, where is that flavor coming from?’ The people at those tables will be able to answer those questions.”
The fest isn’t strictly limited to beer, however. The growing popularity of hard cider has led to a heavier feature in this session of the EC Craft Brew Fest. Fans of cider or anyone simply looking to try something new will want to attend the 2:30 “As American as Baseball & Hard Apple Cider” session.
“We see a lot of the same players like Magners and Woodchuck,” said Wolfe. “We want to show what the craft industry is doing to change things, so we’re going to have a bunch of different ciders. There’s a fruit cider, a pear cider, one that’s aged in oak. It’s going to be really interesting to see where that goes.”
The EC Craft Brew Fest is about more than showing up and drinking a lot of beer — the Scranton Brewers’ Guild and Wyoming Valley Homebrewers have helped ensure this festival focuses on the ‘craft’ portion of ‘craft brewing.’
“We’re not just playing lip service; we’re actually making education a core part of the festival,” said Wolfe. “Nobody does this unique style of education like you’re going to get here. We want to get out the idea that craft brew culture isn’t just going out and drinking a bunch of beers. It’s about picking a beer that you’re really going to love, and understanding it, and learning what goes into making it.”
— tucker hottes


EC24CRAFTBEER_8_WEBThursday, April 24
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Sam Adams 4 – 6 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 6 – 8 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton.. Sam Adams 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St, Scranton. Starr Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Ithaca 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Starr Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
Jack’s Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Nimble Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Long Trail 8 -10 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Shiner 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.

Friday, April 25
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 4 – 6 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 5 – 7 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Nimble Hill 6 – 8 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 6 – 8 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Long Trail and Great Lakes 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Evil Genius 7 – 9 p.m.
Jack’s Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Ithaca 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Blue Mountain 7 – 9 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton Shiner 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Stoudts 5 – 7 p.m. Evil Genius 8 – 10 p.m.
Merts, 310 Penn Ave., Starr Hill 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 9 – 11 p.m.
Scott’s Grocery, 2603 Birney Ave.,Scranton. Blue Mountain  4 – 6 p.m.
Mrs. D’s, 915 S. Washington Ave, Scranton. Stoudts 7:30 – 9 p.m.

Saturday, April 26
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Victory pre-fest beer breakfast 9 – 11 a.m.
Electric City Craft Brew Fest PNC Park 12 – 5 p.m.
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Starr Hill 3 – 5 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Stoudts 7 – 9 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Shiner 7 – 9 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Victory 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Manayunk 7 – 9 p.m.
Jacks Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Great lakes 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 9 – 11 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Victory 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Fest after party Starr Hill 9:30-11:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 27
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Sam Adams Beer Brunch 12 – 2 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Victory 3 – 5 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 5 – 7 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Starr Hill 8 – 10 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Magic hat 8 – 10 p.m.



Electric City Brew Fest Information

GA Session $29
1:30 — 5 p.m. General Admission Includes: Admission, EC Brew Fest Sampling Glass, Bottled water and choose from more than 60 Craft Brew Samples. Save money with advance tickets PLUS there is NO guarantee on collectible sampling glasses for those who pay at the door.
GA Session (April 26) $40

VIP Session
12:30 -1:30 p.m. (less than 50 VIP tix left) Includes: Everything in the GA Session plus: Exclusive pre-event intro to the Brewers inside the Mohegan Sun Club located in the Suite Level- featuring special limited Release· Brew Samples, Free Hors D’oeuvres & a special gift.
VIP Session (April 26) $60

Room with a Brew
Special room packages starting at $99 at selected Montage Mountain hotels will include free shuttle service to PNC Field from noon till 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 26. Rooms are still available. Tickets to the BrewFest sold separately.
Comfort Suites, Scranton — (570) 347-1551
Courtyard by Marriott — (570) 969-2100
TownePlace Suites — (570) 207-8500
SpringHill Suites by Marriott — (570) 207-1212

Beer School & Homebrewing Sessions throughout the day:
n Beer School Classes by Scranton Brewer’s Guild.
2:30 —  3:30 p.m.
As American as Baseball & Hard Apple Cider
Hard Ciders have been in this country since its early history, and the craft industry is giving them new life. Join us and taste what Fruit, Oak & Hops bring to hard ciders.

3:30 — 4:30 p.m.
If You’ve Big, I’ve Got Bigger: Amp’ed Up Craft Brews
Always trying to out do the next guy, Craft Brewers are in a constant race to find that new & exciting brewing trend to set themselves apart from the rest. Join us and see what the industry is doing with two already big styles, Stouts and Barley-Wines to make them even bigger!

n Homebrewing Sessions by Wyoming Valley Homebrewers.

2 — 2:15 p.m. Homebrewing 101 w/brewing demo
Will make a small batch extract beer – boil, chill (ice bath) and pitch yeast in 2 hours.

3 — 3:15 p.m. What’s in my beer kit: Hops!
Short overview of how ingredients are used in homebrewing and sampling some hop teas.

4 — 4:15 p.m. What’s in my beer kit: Grains!
Short overview of how ingredient used in homebrewing and sampling some malt teas.

Buy tickets at swbrailriders.com or call 570-969-2255 or drop by the RaiiRiders box office at PNC Field.

You MUST be 21 years old to enter this event.

Experience The Scranton 1/2 Marathon

Experience The Scranton 1/2 Marathon

13.1 Miles to Go
Thousands of Competitors and supporters expected at the Inaugural Scranton Half Marathon


Step outside for a few minutes. Pick a direction. Start running. Congratulations, you’re officially healthier than you were a few minutes ago. The benefits of running as exercise are innumerable, so it’s not surprising the sport has exploded as we take a bigger focus on health. The Steamtown Marathon is a nationally renowned event that draws runners from all over the world, but the grueling 26.2-mile length puts it out of reach for many average people. The 13.1-mile half marathon format has increased in popularity as a more achievable progression for beginning and intermediate runners, while providing a step in training for advanced runners preparing for full marathons. That demand is what drove the creation of the inaugural Scranton Half Marathon, kicking off Sunday at 9 a.m. outside Memorial Stadium.
Matt Byrne of Scranton Running Co. said he has been hearing demand for a half marathon in Scranton for years. “Last year, I was approached by [former mayor] Chris Doherty,” said Byrne. “He had participated in a lot of our 5k and 10k races. He’d been hearing the chatter and requests just like I had, that Scranton needs a half marathon. He said he would help get the support going with the city and police.”
Sol Lipton RunFurther support from the community helped the idea move from a suggestion to reality. With corporate sponsorship underway and a committee taking shape, it was time to firm up details for the event. “We picked a date about six months away from the Steamtown Marathon – we thought it would be nice to be a halfway-to-Steamtown type of thing,” said Byrne. “The spring is always a good time, and even though early April can be iffy with the weather, it looks like we might get lucky! Things were great right off the bat — everyone was excited to get on board and the response has been amazing.”
The half marathon committee was hoping for a response of about 1,000 to 1,500 for the inaugural event. Instead, the numbers swelled to 2,500 in January after registration opened. “We could have probably raised it up to 5,000,” said Byrne. “We opened up a lottery for 200 more spots, and that sold out in a couple days.”
While the demand was high, Byrne said the committee decided to keep the entry limited for the first year. “There’s a lot to manage,” he said. “You’re not entirely sure what the course can hold. You want to make sure you can handle it — you’re inviting a lot of people. It’s important to make the first year go off well, and then maybe next year we’ll go even bigger.”
Of the 2,700 participants, nearly 2,500 are from Pa. and nearly 2,000 are from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Out-of-state visitors include Florida, Vermont, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona and other states. “It’s mostly new runners — we certainly have our rippers (we had an elite who signed up from New York who’s pretty darn fast, who will give some of our local runners a good race), people who will finish in an hour and 10 minutes or so, but the bigger picture is the beginners,” said Byrne. “There are about 1,250 people who signed up and have never done a half-marathon before. It’s very beginner-oriented, and has a very local feel. Word finally got out, but by then it was mostly sold out. The locals said, ‘We want it. We need it. We’ve been asking for it,’ so they really showed up when we made the announcement.”
The race begins and ends on Providence Road at Memorial Stadium at Scranton High School. The course will take runners from Providence to Main Avenue, through North Scranton, to Green Ridge via Green Ridge St. and Sanderson Avenue, around Electric Street and a long stretch down Washington Avenue. Continuing to Adams Avenue downtown, runners will zig-zag down Spruce Street, around Franklin Avenue to Lackawanna Avenue, and head into South Side via Cedar Avenue. With a turn down Elm Street, the course will bring runners to the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, which will bring them back to Memorial Stadium for an “Olympic-style” finish on the track.
CV08CDSTEAMTOWN_P4.JPG“It was pretty easy to come up with the course with the addition of the Lackawanna Heritage Trail,” said Byrne. “The new section they put in made it easy for us to avoid hills. I personally have no problem with hills, but as an all-encompassing, welcoming race, you don’t want to have too many. We needed to stay in the valley as much as possible without duplicating too much.” As a result, the course is mostly flat, and will be inviting to first-time runners or advanced runners looking to improve their personal time.
Providence Road near Memorial Stadium will be closed by the city for the event for the safety of the runners, volunteers, and supporters. Tim Holmes, director of marketing for Times-Shamrock Communications and the organizer of the post-race events, said that the 2,700 registered participants are expected to draw a significantly larger crowd of supporters. “Just about every single one of those people has someone at least holding a bag for them,” said Holmes. “I’d say 5,000 people would be the minimum — you have a lot of first-time runners, there will be a lot of support. When you have that many people congregating in one area at one time, you don’t know what it looks like. The city has to keep everyone safe.”
With the street already shut down, it was a perfect opportunity to set up an official post-race party and create a fun atmosphere throughout the race. Live entertainment including the Coal Town Rounders will be featured on the Mohegan Sun stage set up at George’s Garage. Food and drink specials, as well as outdoor fan areas and refreshments will be available at Stalter’s Cafe, Glider Diner and The V-Spot. Fans and finishers will also be able to find a variety of food at the food trucks stationed nearby, including What The Fork Truck, Southwest Savory Grill and Nico’s Pizza.
Mike Stalter, owner of Stalter’s Cafe on Providence Road near the start and finish line, says he jumped at the chance to be involved with the post-race party. “I’m all in,” he said. “I love these kinds of big events in Scranton, and I love the hospitality businesses getting together to help promote them.”
There will be plenty of time for supporters to enjoy the atmosphere before and during the race, and it won’t be long before the first runners begin to return, said Holmes. “It’s a great fan experience to be here from the start,” he said. “The start of the race will take 15 minutes or more just to get everyone out. But the first group of runners will probably be back within an hour and a half, an hour and 15 minutes.”
While the main event focuses on adults pushing themselves to chew up those 13.1 miles, the half marathon will also have plenty of fun for the kids. Whether it’s simply enjoying the surroundings or wanting to emulate older runners, families with kids will find plenty to do.
“It’s a really family-friendly event. We’ll have face-painters, and we have a one-quarter mile kids’ run that kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on the track [at Memorial Stadium],” said Byrne. “We’ll have three groups of kids: 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10 who will all run a one-quarter mile. Including the kids really just brings home the whole thing.”
Proceeds from the half marathon will benefit the Lackawanna Heritage Valley and the continued development of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, and a significant portion of the course takes place along the newly renovated portions of the trail. “Some people might not have heard about the work they’ve done,” said Stalter. “With 2,700 runners going over such a nice, highlighted piece of our community, maybe each of them tells one person. That’s another 2,700 people. Then they tell another person, and all of a sudden, you’re bringing a lot more people into these parts of town.”
It’s a section of the city that typically doesn’t draw big crowds. “We used to call it ‘the moon’ down there,” Byrne said with a laugh. “It felt like the moon. It was nothing but dust and gravel down there forever.”
The most recent updates to the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail were unveiled in 2013, drawing visitors for multiple reasons. The wide, well-maintained route along the river entices anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors: walkers, runners, cyclists, and even anglers who access the river to try their luck with a hook and line.
“This river is looking good, and it deserves to be shown. It smells good, it looks good and people are fishing down there,” said Byrne. “They’ve worked really hard to renovate this portion of the trail, so I think it’s great to showcase. And I think people need to see it.”
The buzz surrounding the half marathon has been building since its announcement, and people have been hitting the pavement training in preparation. “Anyone who walks, runs, bikes, or drives around the city sees groups and groups of people training for it,” said Stalter. “I love it — it doesn’t matter what time of day, what the weather is, you run into groups of people training. It’s great to see.”
As of press time, the forecast for Sunday is partly cloudy in the mid-50s with no rain. The early spring weather will hopefully mirror similar autumn mild temperatures of the Steamtown Marathon.
“It’s been a mixed bag over the last couple of weeks, but it’s been looking better and better,” said Byrne. “The forecast looks like it’ll be great weather for running, so I feel good about it.”
The Scranton Half Marathon is shaping up to be a signature spring event for the city, and planners are already looking ahead to increasing the size in the future. Right now, though, the focus is on creating a fun event and atmosphere that will be enjoyable for runners, supporters, and fans alike. “This is one of the many great things for Scranton,” said Holmes. “Big towns need big events, it brings people to town. You want to keep younger people in town, you need to have events like this. We’re going to have a great crowd, it’s going to be a great day. The committee has done a fantastic job putting all of this together.”

— tucker hottes

Up Close: Alexis Johnson

Up Close: Alexis Johnson

Up Close & Personal

Running and Recovery

Alexis Johnson isn’t very different from most of us. There’s nothing about talking to her that would give the impression that she’s got a story unlike most people, and definitely nothing that conjures up images of prison, hospitals and the depths of addiction. After struggling with difficult times, Johnson has used her past two years of sobriety to focus energy on being positive and helping others. She will celebrate those two years running the inaugural Scranton Half-Marathon on April 6. In addition, Johnson is raising funds for her “Running for Timmy” organization which will assist the family of a close friend who took his own life in February. We spoke with her about these difficult subjects, and throughout discussions of tragedy and hardship, Johnson’s positive message shined through: there’s always a choice to turn your life around and help is always there for those willing to ask.

Tell us a little about your background.
I’m 31 and I live in Jessup. I graduated from Bishop O’Hara High School in 2000, and went to Penn State. I have a BS in Criminology, double minors, and did a study abroad program in London in 2005. I traveled all throughout Europe. To be brief, I fell on some hard times — I battled through an addiction that got pretty heavy. I have some DUIs, and have been in and out of jail. On April 7, I’ll be two years sober. I try to do a lot of giving back. I work for Gibbons Ford and I do a lot of volunteer work. I’m running a fundraiser, a charity for my one of my best friends who recently committed suicide, and left behind his wife and two little girls.

Where would we start to get to know you better?
Well, I had a normal childhood. I went away to school and was a model student and athlete. I went to Penn State, joined a sorority and it was all downhill from there. I got my first DUI at 18 and fell apart after that. I got my second one in 2006. I didn’t know what was going on — I couldn’t stop. I was in a bad car accident in 2008 and two weeks later, I lost my sister to cancer. That was a really dark period in my life. Unfortunately, that’s when things started to get really bad for me. I’ve had a couple of overdoses, and I’ve been in and out of jail. My wake up call was when I actually woke up in state prison, with no felonies, no idea how I got there — it was strictly from being an alcoholic and an addict. It was mostly with my own prescriptions, which is happening now with a lot of young people. They’re getting hooked on painkillers, it’s leading to harder drugs, and I’ve watched a lot of people die or go to jail. I’ve lost my three best friends to addiction, and I myself have had four overdoses. I’m very grateful to be alive, and I don’t waste a second of any day.
I really try to give back, especially to younger women who may not have had the upbringing that I had, where I was grateful and very lucky with my childhood. I know a lot of people who grew up “on the other side of the tracks,” and for me to turn out the way that I did having my kind of upbringing kind of shocked a lot of people. I shocked myself. I had full scholarships to every college I applied to; I had the world at my feet. It just goes to show that addiction and that lifestyle really has no barriers on who it attracts. I unfortunately lost 12 years of my life. Some people take a cup of coffee for granted, or the ability to wear your own clothes and sleep in your own bed at night — I’m grateful for all of that, because I lost all of it. It’s taken me a while to get it all back. And now it’s been two years sober from everything — closer to five since I’ve had a drink. I don’t have a lot of friends today because a lot of them are dead. The ones I do have, I hold on to and try to make good decisions in life today, and be a better, sober person on a daily basis.
Within the last two years, my life has made a complete 180. I just want to do the next right thing and give back, that’s what I’m trying to do with the fundraiser.

EC20UPC_1_WEBHas it helped you to work with other people who are struggling with addiction?
Absolutely. They help me more than I help them. I see people who come in a week or 10 days sober with the shakes and they can’t deal with reality. It reminds me of where I came from. My first five and a half months sober were in prison, and I came back out and had to deal with everyday life. I’m sure some people didn’t have that drying out period. They’re just trying to wing it or maybe the courts force them to. And then you have to deal with that stigma of being an alcoholic, or a junkie — the perception is you’re no good. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You’re going to keep calling me these names, I’m going to keep doing what it is you say I am.” It took this long for me to actually be OK with who I am. I don’t dwell on the past, but I don’t forget about it either. I can’t forget about where I came from. I can’t forget how bad it got. Prison, rehab, near death, — it was bad. Some people don’t feel like young, professional people can have these problems. There’s a stereotype that goes along with being an alcoholic that I don’t think people want to believe. They don’t want to think it’s so common. Someone can look at me and think, “wow, she’s got a great job and she’s in recovery — maybe it’s not so bad.” It is a better way of life. If my story can help one person open their eyes or do something different with their life and not lead the same life I led in terms of addiction, then what I went through was worth it.

Thanks for sharing your story. It has to be tough to be so candid about all of this.
Thank you. It’s not always easy. I can’t sit here and tell you that reliving my story is a good time, because it’s not. It’s a dark past and I’m not proud of the things I’ve done, but what I can say is I’m proud of who I am today and I will not make those mistakes again.

Tell us more about the half-marathon and the fundraiser you’re organizing.
It’s the first ever Scranton Half-Marathon on April 6. I don’t even know the course yet, other than it starts and ends at Memorial Stadium, it’s a standard 13.1 miles. On Valentine’s Day, a very dear friend of mine ended up taking his life. He left behind a wife and two little girls — the youngest just turned one in November. Unfortunately, life insurance policies don’t cover suicide. So the family is in a little bit of tough times. Once the initial shock wore off, I went into “what can I do” mode to find out what I could do to help out. She’s a nurse and she works crazy hours, and even getting a second job wouldn’t be enough. I thought with some of the contacts and support I’ve gained through recovery, why not see if I could do something to help with that financial burden? A couple years ago, I lost another friend to suicide. He was also an addict, and wound up taking his own life. This was the second time I had to go through this. I know there’s a lot of awareness out there from groups like Out of the Darkness, and maybe if we continue to get out the message that it’s such a permanent “solution.” It’s not like taking a vacation for a week — you’re not coming back.

Right, it’s not a “solution” to anything.
No. That person might think that their problem is solved, but the people they left behind are the ones who have to deal with the pain and the repercussions. My goal is to raise between five and $10,000. I’m doing it to get sponsors just to finish the 13.1 miles. There’s also going to be a basket raffle the day of the race. I’ve already been on the horn with businesses to donate gift cards, services, or other baskets to be raffled off. I have an account set up at PNC bank. Anybody can make donations at any PNC bank in the country: the organization name is Running for Timmy. It’s located in Region 30. I also have an online donation site set up through my Facebook account through Pay it Square. On the day of the race, whatever money has been raised through the basket raffles, online and through PNC bank, I’m going to combine the total into one check and give it to (Timmy’s family). Hopefully, this can help ease what she’s going through.

After the run, do you plan to continue to raise awareness?
Probably. I don’t know what I’ll do yet. I’m not entirely sure. I’ll probably take it a day at a time and see what comes out of it. I’ll probably sleep for one or two days, then head back to work. I would like to make this a yearly event. I have some talented friends — one does magic, one does comedy — maybe set up fundraising show. I haven’t really considered it yet — I’m trying to make it through this without dying!

What has training been like? It’s not an insignificant amount of preparation to run a half-marathon a couple weeks from now.
I can’t even lie, I haven’t run in a while. I’ve been doing a lot of Crossfit and high-intensity cardio training. Some of the sessions are over an hour. I used to run cross-country in high school, so I’ve run distances before. It’s just that high school was 14 years ago. I’m heading to Florida for a few days, it’s my first vacation in eight years. When I get back from that I’ll have exactly two weeks, and I’m going to start pounding the pavement — literally — for those two weeks to get my legs used to the constant pace. I’m going to say a lot of prayers!

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We have choices in life. We can always wallow in what we’ve been dealt, and pray for things we don’t have and wish our life was different. — but it’s the one we’ve got. The only thing I can’t do today is drink and use drugs. I can do anything else in this world that I want to do. For anybody who’s struggling with an addiction, there’s help out there and it’s OK to ask for it. I heard a quote in a meeting once that went something like, “The only time an addict or an alcoholic should look down on another is when they’re reaching out their hand to help them up.” That’s how I try to live my life. I’m grateful to be in recovery.
— tucker hottes

Up Close: Aja Wentum

Up Close: Aja Wentum

Up Close & Personal

The Grass is Green

For many people migrating to the 570, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are “the big cities” compared to smaller towns throughout the region. Others, like Aja Wentum, come from bigger cities and farther away locations. It’s not always the first stop on someone’s journey, but Wentum told us first impressions can often be misleading. After hopping around the globe following his childhood years in Ghana, high school in Oregon and years spent in London, Wentum wound up in Scranton and is embarking on a new chapter of life. Hot yoga entered his life as a professional interest, but it has also helped refocus his career, mind, body and spirit. We spoke to Wentum about his life and how Scranton, of all places, led him to work with one of the premiere hot yoga instructors and studio designers in the world. Meet Aja Wentum …

Give us a little information about your background, the two-minute life story.
I was born in Ghana, West Africa. I moved to Oregon to attend high school, then afterward I went back to Ghana for a little bit, and returned to the States for a bit. In 2001, I visited my dad’s little sister in London and ended up staying there until 2004. At the end of 2004, I was kind of fed up with all the fast-paced lifestyle of London — wasting money and going out partying. So I decided to come back to the U.S. I was going back to Oregon and my sister — who lives in Scranton — said “Why are you going back to Oregon? Why don’t you just come visit me?” I didn’t really know anybody in Scranton — I didn’t even know where Scranton was located. She said it’s close to Philadelphia, so I thought I’d give it a shot. At first, I thought, “What, are you serious?” I had the same reaction a lot of people have when they come here from big cities. I lived in big cities my whole life; I’m a total city boy. To come to Scranton was a little bit of culture shock, but it has been really, really good to me. All the things I wanted to do when I came back to the States — get away from that fast-paced life I was in that wasn’t really leading me anywhere — Scranton was the place to do it. It’s quiet and I could focus and do the things I wanted to do. One of the first things I did was start looking for schools, and I saw that the University of Scranton was a good fit for me. I got my undergrad as a nontraditional student, and I ended up finishing in three years with three concentrations. I studied Communications, Information Technology,and a minor in Economics. I worked for the Times-Tribune for a while, then Harper-Collins for a few years. I went back and got my MBA in marketing and finance to help start up my own business or help run others as well.

What did you do next?
After finishing my MBA, I saw that Scranton was a great place for me to give back to the community. I started looking at ways to get involved and joined a lot of the networking groups in Scranton. I became the treasurer of Power! Scranton, I wanted to give back to help develop Scranton and let people know there are young professionals who aren’t just going to come here and get a great education and leave. I wanted to show you can get a great education and stay.

EC13UPC_1_WEBThat turned out to be a great networking opportunity.
That’s how I ran into Chad Clark — one of the Yoga gurus who brought hot yoga to Scranton. I met up with Clark through a friend while doing my MBA, and Clark said he had a book he was coming up with about how to build a hot yoga studio. He asked if I would mind helping in the effort to get the book out and I said of course not. We sat down and talked about the book, where he’d been, the things he was doing and I was blown away. I was blown away to have someone with this much talent here in Scranton — someone who’s worshipped in other communities in America and around the world, and yet he’s in Scranton and nobody knows about him. I decided I wanted to help him not only get the book out, but to help him grow his business. I saw a great product and a great opportunity. I put two and two together and decided this was a way forward. I was partnering with someone who has core competence and skills nobody else does in the hot yoga industry in the whole of North America.

It was lucky to find someone so well regarded.
Clark is a guy who’s traveled all over the world building hot yoga studios. Recently, he was in Iowa building a studio for someone. They had flown in to look at the studios we built on Moosic Street, Scranton, and they loved it. He went out there to build one and now he’s heading to Texas to build another studio. For his book, I did almost everything — from designing, photography, editing, all the things that need to go into the production of a book. It came out really well and people have commented how good the partnership is and how lucky we are on this project. I came to Scranton originally thinking, “This is a crappy town, I don’t even know what I’m doing here with my experience and the things that I’ve done. I’ve lived in cities all my life — what am I doing here?” And then sometime in 2010 or 2011, I woke up and realized the grass is actually green here (if I water my grass). I met with all these people trying to re-route my life here, and it’s really worked out.

Give us a little more information about hot yoga.
Hot yoga is more for the physical body than traditional yoga. It’s great for athletes and for people who have physically challenging problems like chronic back pain or arthritis. If you heat up the room, the heat adds a therapeutic element. When people come in and the room is at a certain temperature, it heats up the body and warms up the joints. People are able to stretch and breathe and exercise to the point where it helps them restructure torn ligaments and muscles. There are a lot of other types of yoga, but hot yoga is more for the physical aspect of it. It’s to help you regain flexibility, help you gain balance. You’re doing breathing postures, balance postures and spinal postures, so it’s strengthening your spine and your core. That’s why the NFL and NBA are pushing athletes to start doing hot yoga. The heat helps, because it helps warm up the body and loosen you up faster and you’re able to push yourself farther than when your body isn’t warmed up. You’re able to do more, and in the end it can help with chronic back pain, chronic arthritis and diabetes. It helps in lots of ways. Our main style is Bikram style — which is different from other styles like Vinyasa. We’re trying to slowly introduce heat into the other styles of yoga as well. They’re not as hot as the Bikram style we practice, which is done in a room at 105 or sometimes up to 108 degrees. One of the things I’m trying to do is introduce heat into Pilates and other things as well, but that’s not going to be heated up to 108 degrees — probably more like 90 degrees for now, so people can warm up. Vinyasa is not as hot as Bikram — it’s only 60 minutes and goes up to 88, maybe 90 degrees.

That sounds like a really unique experience.
The other thing that separates us from many other hot yoga studios in the country — and I say “in the country” because Clark has built maybe 70 to 80 percent of some of the top hot yoga studios in the country — is we don’t use radiant heat. That heat isn’t as good for the body. Clark has a system in which he’s able to combine heat with humidity and the energy recovery ventilator (ERV). Basically, it’s like forced air and the heat is all over the room. It’s not like radiant heat where the heat comes from one panel; it’s multidirectional. The heat isn’t just hitting your body from one direction. In lots of places, the radiant panels are up on top — when you’re standing up, it’s heating up your head and nothing else. When you lay down or change posture, it’s heating up your face, or your foot. The way we have it, the heat is all over your body. You have the right setting of humidity, we normally set it to about 40-45 percent. Then you have the ERV, which brings in fresh air. It takes out the bad air in the room and brings in fresh air. You’re standing in the room, and your whole body is warm — not just one part of your body. It’s not sweaty, it’s breathable, it’s amazing — you should come try it!

What’s it like for a beginner, even if you’re out of shape?
It is so welcoming. Most of our classes are not upper level classes. We call it ability-centric. Anybody can just walk in and take a class. The instructors are going to pay as much attention as necessary to you, and coach you and reposition you. Yoga is all about positioning, the posture and how you do it. If you’re supposed to do a Standing Bull, there’s a way you’re supposed to stand — they all have different effects. The Standing Bull helps with your back and your spinal cord. For instance, if you’re supposed to have part of your body facing forward and you’re facing to the right, or up, or down, they will adjust you to make sure you have the right posture. Nobody forces you. One of the things I tell everybody when they come in is not to have any fears — just focus on yourself and what you’re able to do. Don’t worry about the rest. Yoga will meet you at whatever level you are. If you can’t even touch your toes, it’s OK! Just do what you can do — touch your knees, just do it. The next time you come into class, you’ll be surprised. You’ll go from touching your knees to touching your shins, then your toes.
I had never done yoga until I met Clark. I had back problems from playing basketball. I had problems driving long distance and I used to drive 15 hours to Atlanta with no problem. I got to the point where I couldn’t drive two hours to Philadelphia. I started practicing yoga more seriously, and I’m not kidding, my back problems went away. I was seeing people doing this crazy stuff and I couldn’t even touch my toes. But I built up the courage, went in and did what I could. In two or three weeks, I had made amazing progression and change in my postures, and my back pain started to go away — now it’s gone! It helps people with sciatic nerve problems, all kinds of things. Hot yoga will help you repair a lot of damage you’ve done to your body. Yoga is not going to judge you.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Just come try Electric City Hot Yoga! We have Clark — someone who’s one of the most sought-after instructors in the whole country. He’s been featured in articles in the New York Times, the New York Post, engineering journals, and things like that about his knowledge. He has such an amazing amount of knowledge about yoga, designing studios and creating a great space. The technology is just amazing. We try to give back to the community as well. We offer free passes now and then, sometimes we’ll give people trials, we just want people to see the benefit and to create a healthy culture here in Scranton. When people are healthy, that goes into the economy and the community as well. It’s a cycle, and the better people feel the more they want to come in and practice. It uplifts everybody.
— tucker hottes

Earfull: Suze

Earfull: Suze

Local act SUZE release new album Sounds from Thursday Evening


Somewhere deep within the bowels of a warehouse in Pittston — surrounded by floral supplies: foam, fake flowers, accents, vases, and assorted ephemera — lead singer and guitarist Adam McKinley of SUZE turns to make a point. “I’m really glad we’ve got a chance to talk to everyone in the band. Usually I feel like I’m just talking and they never get a chance to chime in.” A minute or two and a few twists and turns past even more endless rows of merchandise and it becomes clear why it’s important to hear from the rest of the guys. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of jabs and in-jokes at times, but eventually photographer Keith Perks corrals the five-piece band together for long enough to snap a few shots. Later, they undergo some serious discussion of cigarette-smoking in front of a “No Smoking” sign before judiciously heaping some flak on drummer Kevin Gallagher for breaking the previously agreed-upon “cigs-in-mouths” composition for the photo.
While it’s obvious these guys like to enjoy themselves and joke around, things turn way more serious when music comes up. SUZE began in 2007 when friends Adam McKinley and Brandin Shaffern (bass) started jamming with mutual friend Chris Bednar. One night, after filling in a quick set at a benefit show, Shaffern and McKinley were at a bar. McKinley began to talk about forming a band. As it turned out, Gallagher was in the same bar. “I was looking to jam with people, and I happened to be sitting a couple stools down from Adam,” he says. “Our mutual friend — Alan Peterson — heard McKinley talking about how he needed a drummer, so he just said ‘talk to this guy.’” A few beers later, and things began to develop from there.
ECO6EARFULL_3_WEB“Chris and his wife were having a baby, so he decided he needed to spend more time with family,” says McKinley. “We only had a couple of original songs at that point, and in the fall of 2009 we added Adam Gabriel on lead guitar.” Like many of the SUZE stories, it was a pretty casual introduction: more mutual friends, and quick compatibility. “It was a very rigid audition,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “I think I just played and we said ‘alright!’”
The next addition to the band’s history starts when a series of laughter erupts over Gabriel breaking an ankle on his birthday. “We had a show the very next night, and obviously he couldn’t play,” recalls McKinley. “I had known Angelo [Miraglia] for about 15 years, and at the time I didn’t play any lead guitar parts. It would have been a pretty boring show without any kind of lead, so I asked him to just fill in and play some keyboard solos over the songs.”
With a full five-piece lineup, SUZE finally took its modern incarnation. “Once those two guys joined, the whole dynamic changed for the better,” says Shaffern.
“Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but…” jokes Gabriel. Even a ‘serious’ discussion with these guys is punctuated by the occasional ribbing.
With the full lineup, though, SUZE began to transition from mostly cover songs to original material. “We played a lot of covers,” says Shaffern, “but a lot of it was stuff people don’t really know – more or less jam bands, but not the obvious choices.” McKinley adds, “Like I always said, if you’re going to cover Cream, don’t cover ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ you know? Do something else, that’s the way we looked at it. We’ve done an eclectic mix; we’ve even covered Wu-Tang Clan before.”
What started as a few friends jamming and playing an odd show or two had turned into something more. The band’s first album, When the World is Not Enough, resulted from the natural progression as SUZE developed more original material. “We didn’t even have a full album’s worth of material when we started recording,” says Gabriel. SUZE entered McCrindle Building Recording Studios with the intention of laying down tracks while writing new material.
“We weren’t experienced at that point, we thought ‘oh, five songs will take us forever,’” says McKinley. “We weren’t going in very often to record, so we figured we’d have enough time.” That time turned into two years of sporadic recording sessions, during which the band continued to write more material. From there it was a matter of promoting and playing more shows.
“Just having an album, something we could give to people, opened up some doors,” says Gallagher. “That’s when we started developing a fanbase. Before that it was like, ‘Hey, you guys rock! Where can we get more?’ and we had to say, ‘Uh, I dunno, look us up on MySpace or something I guess…’” Naturally, there’s a pause for laughter and reflection on old technology.
ECO6EARFULL_4_WEB“One of our goals was go get into the River Street Jazz Cafe,” says Shaffern. “It’s one of the essential places to play original music around here, especially for our style.” The earlier days of playing mostly covers paid off when fans stuck around as the band transitioned to original music. At first, a few original songs weren’t enough to fill an entire setlist, but gradually the tide turned as the band’s output increased with additional contributions to the writing.
“Over time, we shed away a lot of covers and replaced them with more writing,” says Gallagher. “Adam [McKinley] does most of the writing, but we now have additional contribution, so it adds some variety. For example [Miraglia’s] songs have a much different structure from [McKinley’s]. And [Gabriel’s] songs are much different from either of those.” Immediately, everyone chimes in to make one point definite: writing in this band is a democracy. Everything is up for discussion, and while individual passions flare, ultimately the best sound wins out.
The conversation begins to border on the too-serious side, but comes to a grinding halt when too many “Adams” are thrown around. Reassurances are issued that editors are magical, and things continue.
The short story says McKinley writes lyrics and does much of the arrangement. Members of the band generate ideas — Miraglia might present a series of sketches, Gabriel may throw some riffs together, Shaffern comes up with a bassline, Gallagher gets an idea for a drum fill — and SUZE comes together enjoying making music.

Things have moved much more quickly for SUZE since the first album was released. With an increase of creative output during the lengthy recording process, it was less than a year before they began work on Sounds from Thursday Evening. For the second album, entering the studio was much more streamlined. “We learned a lot from the first album, how to work in the studio,” says Shaffern. “We got organized. We got focused.”
McKinley adds, “The first time – you go into the studio, you’re like 26 years old and you don’t really know anything, and then all of a sudden you’re in this professional environment. We had to write stuff on the fly, coming up with new arrangements. Honestly, before that we hadn’t even heard ourselves on a recording. You hear everything, hear yourself breathe.”
Miraglia pipes up, “You can even hear the drummer singing along…” and again the guys detour for a moment into some good-natured ball-busting. At some point, Shaffern describes the process as “A Rush” and the rest insist on that as the headline for the story.
The latest recording experience also gave SUZE the opportunity to add another dimension with the studio work of Carl Krupa adding saxophone and flute parts to six the tracks. “When the horns get involved, the whole mood of the song changes, and that was something of an epiphany for some of them. We didn’t even really know what we wanted, and he would just create great ideas on the fly,” says McKinley. While SUZE won’t be adding a regular woodwind instrumentalist to the lineup, Krupa will appear with the band for the album release show.
“All I have to say,” says Miraglia, “is that the flute on [album-closer] ‘Fall of the King’ – it transforms the whole song. It’s like magic.”
SUZE has continued to build a portfolio of material, but there aren’t immediate plans to rush back into the studio. “Last time there were a few songs here and there that we could have worked into the album, but they weren’t quite ready,” says Gallagher. “Same thing this time, they might not have fit, but with some development they can work for the future, it’s nice to have them in your pocket.”
After the band’s album release show at the River St. Jazz Cafe Friday, they’ll play a mirror show at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, which the band refers to as a “home away from home.” Other notable upcoming appearances an in-store release at Gallery of Sound on March 12 and a set on PA Live on March 24. McKinley rattles off a quick list of shows that will take SUZE throughout the region and as far south as Maryland. “We have a lot of stuff lined up, a lot of dates still to be announced, so we’ve got a full plate, and get the music in front of more people,” he says.
“As a product, this album is just leaps and bounds beyond our first one,” adds Gilbert. “We really just took it to the next level. We’ve got a mix of some new venues, some places we’ve played for a while, so the future is looking good.”
The excitement of opening a new chapter flows through this group, and it’s easy to share the enthusiasm – these guys are having a blast, and making music they love.
“We’re putting out music that we want to put out,” says Shaffern. “Some people may not like it, and that’s fine. We’re not targeting any sort of specific fanbase.”
“I think we’re eclectic when it comes to that,” says Gilbert. “We’ll have as many people our age, and people 20 and 30 years older than us getting down, you know? We work really hard at it.”
“We’re not just there to party, we want to put on a good show for people, and show people that we’re serious about this, and not just some party band that’s making extra cash on the weekend,” says McKinley.
There’s a moment of reflection and agreement on this, and it looks like we’re about to close on one of those rare serious notes.
“I would like to add, however,” interjects Miraglia, “that we can party.”
Laughter ensues, and it’s a fine way to sum these guys up.
— tucker hottes

SUZE Sounds from Thursday Evening
album release party.
River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains
Friday, March 7, doors 8 p.m.
$5 at the door. 21 and older.

The Grateful Gallery visits First Friday

The Grateful Gallery visits First Friday

Grateful Art in The Electric City

We caught up with The Grateful Gallery’s John Warner about his upcoming appearance at The Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, on Friday, March 7 as part of Susquehanna Breakdown’s Fee Free event. The night will feature selected works from The Grateful Gallery, as well as live music from The Kalob Griffin Band and The Tom Graham and Bill Orner Duo.

Give us a little background on your work.
I work primarily in the music business creating concert posters for bands like The Allman Brothers, Further, Phil Lesh & Friends, moe., Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes to name a few. I’ve also created artwork for festivals like Lockn’, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. In addition to posters, I design T-shirts and other band merchandise. I also work locally with Cabinet and this upcoming festival – the Susquehanna Breakdown.

EC06FEATURE_2_WEBHow did you get involved in the business?
I’m originally from Binghamton, N.Y., not far from this area. As a kid, I was a huge fan of album artwork and it was my objective from a young age to become a professional artist. I started seeing the Grateful Dead, Phish and other jam bands in high school and I fell in love with the scene. I started making fan art back then in the ‘90s, selling my T-shirts in the parking lots at shows. I moved to California in 1990 and followed several Grateful Dead and Phish tours. At the same time, I was developing my design business, working with local bands and clubs. After a while, my art just kind of got noticed, my client list grew and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. I always prioritized developing good working relationships with the bands and have been designing for some of my clients for five, 10, 15 years now. In addition to artwork, I’ve worked on the business side of the music industry by booking bands, promoting shows and so on. In 2004, I moved to Austin, Texas to focus on developing my graphic design business, and at the same time I started managing a bar and booking shows there. I created the artwork for the shows and did promotion too. In 2007, I moved back to the Northeast and continued developing my design business with some great new clients like Citizen Cope. I met Cabinet in 2008 and booked them at a festival I was producing and promoting — the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival — which was in its second year in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since, and I am thrilled to design posters and other artwork for them.

You’re not “just” a full-time artist, then?
Oh, no — I work on the production side too. I work with Bill Orner who is the lead promoter for the Susquehanna Breakdown. I’ve helped with the nuts and bolts of the festival like layout and attractions. I also coordinate vending for a few music festivals.

EC06FEATURE_1_WEBHow did you get involved with Susquehanna Breakdown?
In January 2013, Orner called me up and said “LiveNation is giving us the opportunity to host a festival at Montage Mountain.” He knew I had worked with Mountain Jam, Peach and other festivals and that I had some experience. He wanted to know if I would come on board to give a hand and we’d see what happens. I love Cabinet and it has been really awesome to see their success and growth over the years, so naturally I said “absolutely, anything I can do to help.” Initially, the festival was supposed to be outside by the front entrance to the venue. We had some bad luck with the weather, which turned into good luck, because they moved us all under the big Pavilion tent. I really don’t think it would have been the same if we hadn’t moved it under the Pavilion. It just added such a special vibe to an already great event. It was dumb luck that we wound up underneath the tent, but it totally transformed the look and feel of the whole thing. In the first year, despite bad weather, we put on a show that looked like a legit, real, big event.
Everything went really well, and it was pretty much an automatic decision that day that we were going to do this again. So Orner usually takes care of all the booking, ticketing, promotion and organization there, and I fill in the gap by coordinating food and craft vendors, sponsorships, that kind of stuff. This year the lineup just speaks for itself — it’s fantastic. We really have some great talent this year and we’re really looking forward to it.

It’s great to showcase local talent on a stage that houses giant national acts.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. I’m originally from the region — I love the area. My mom lives in Susquehanna County and there’s just so much local talent around here that I think all too often gets passed over. There’s the proximity between NYC and Philly, so we get overlooked, but I think our region is ready to get put on the map in a big way. I know there are a lot of people in this area who just have no idea that so much great music is in their back yard! The other day, I was checking out the Facebook page for Montage Mountain, and somebody posted “What’s with Montage Mountain booking these festivals with bands nobody’s ever heard of?” This is a good thing! This year’s lineup for Susquehanna Breakdown is amazing year with both local talent and nationally touring artists. I recommend skeptics come up to the show to check it out, because they’ll walk away thinking “wow, these bands are really good!”

EC06FEATURE_3_WEBIt shows the strength of the local scene that we can support a main stage show with local acts.
Well, that’s the thing — last year could have been a huge failure and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have come back. It gives me a feeling of pride that so many people came out to support Cabinet and the local scene, and the whole thing was a success. This year, I’m really hoping that we get a wider variety of the community to come up — those who aren’t necessarily Cabinet fans, friends and family, but people who just heard about the festival and thought it sounded pretty cool.

What’s going on Friday at The Backyard Alehouse?
A night of music by Susquehanna Breakdown artists The Kalob Griffin Band and Tom Graham, along with a chance to buy festival tickets with no service charge. (Ticket prices are $20 GA and $55 VIP.) I’m going to be there with a gallery of my artwork as part of a sneak preview of the Grateful Gallery concert poster and photography show that I bring to music festivals throughout the summer. I’ll also have some posters from Mike Dubois, another Grateful Gallery artist, and there’s a chance we’ll have a special guest and some other surprises. These gallery shows are a great opportunity to pick up a poster from a favorite band or a show you attended.

What can we look forward to at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown?
In addition to the music, we also have a great variety of vendors and artisans this year. We have some of the best vendors in the country, like handmade apparel, accessories and artwork from the non profit Eden’s Rose Foundation; organic cotton and bamboo clothing from Hooked Productions; hand-painted ornaments made from recycled Christmas trees from our local favorite S.A.W. Family Creations; and Uncle John’s Outfitters, which is my own family business. We also have a couple of the best food vendors joining us — the Gouda Boys have an out-of-this-world menu and we are happy to have our local favorites Shady Grove Wraps. We’ve got some new stuff coming in like a children’s drum workshop from Everyone’s Drumming. There’s going to be something for everyone. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be able to help bring this kind of event into my backyard.
— tucker hottes

Up Close: Brian Rotherforth

Up Close & Personal

Let There Be Snow


Surrounded by snow in sub-freezing temperatures outside the lodge at Montage Mountain, it’s easy to forget that the summer’s Lazy River attraction is buried nearly eight feet below. With only a few inches of natural snow on the ground outside the boundaries of the ski area, it’s a testament to the snowmaking staff that it’s so easy to take all the snow for granted. If you camped on the mountain for Peach Festival and hit the slopes, you’ve skied or boarded in the air over your tent. Brian Rotherforth, director of snowmaking, has been making snow for 15 years, ensuring locals and visitors have plenty of white terrain to enjoy in the winter, even when the weather conditions are less than ideal. Without man-made snow, skiing in this area would be sketchy at best, so those of us who enjoy hitting the slopes owe a debt of gratitude to the intrepid people who do what Mother Nature can’t. Snowmaking at Montage Mountain seems deceptively simple: pipe water from a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain through a main pipeline about a mile long, distribute it through another couple miles of pipes and hoses and point a snow gun. The ‘artificial’ snow is just water and air (no chemicals), but it’s a process that seems easier than it should be and is harder in practice than it sounds. Brian cleared up some misconceptions and gave us some fun facts.

How long have you been making snow?
I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I love to ski, and was looking for a job. I was like, “Hey, free skiing, I don’t mind snow, I don’t mind the cold.” I don’t really ski anymore — I do, but not as much. When I get a day off, this is the last place I want to be sometimes, you know? But you get a lot of gratification out of the job. You start with nothing, and then a week or two later the mountain is open and you have people enjoying it.

What does it take to get things running each year?
You’ve seen the mountain in the summer — it’s all grass — so we’ll start off in early November if temperatures start to get low enough. We have a pump house that pumps 6,000 gallons per minute of water a mile up the mountain. To the top, we’re pumping about 4,000 gallons a minute. We’ll start with a base of wetter, heavier snow, but in general if it’s white, it’s good; that’s what we shoot for at that point in the season. Anything we can get on the ground to get us open is good. From there, we focus on a few main trails. We try to get a few beginner, intermediate and expert  slopes covered. We try to cater to everyone to open the mountain. Then we focus on other things like our tubing, because anybody can go snow tubing. Our goal is to be 100 percent open for Christmas. It doesn’t always happen — Mother Nature doesn’t always work with you — but once we get trails open and it starts to get colder, we can make more snow. Twenty-eight degrees is our starting temperature where we can make snow; you’re not making a lot of snow at that point, but when the temperature drops you can add more water to each gun, which creates more snow.

So all the snow guns are connected? How does it work?
The main line runs up the mountain, a mile bottom to top. Every trail has its own line — it’s about seven miles of pipeline that disperses water to each of our trails. Each gun runs on 480 volts of electricity, and we feed in high-pressure water. At the pump house we’re pumping 750 psi, but by the time it travels, you’re at about 350-400 psi at the gun. They use high pressure air from onboard air compressors, and the water and air flow through small nozzles. You put your high pressure water to your gun and the air breaks those particles up so small, and pushes them up in the air. Then a fan blows it all out, and it breaks the particles up more, and your air and water mixture, and that’s pretty much what makes snow. The water isn’t chilled; we pump out of a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain which is spring-fed, so it’s pretty cold to start with. When we start in November, our water is around 40-45 degrees. Right now if we were to make snow, our water is right around 32 degrees. It cools pretty quickly. We don’t use any chemicals — everybody asks ‘what are you adding to your snow?’ There’s nothing, it’s just high-pressure, cold water that freezes when it hits the air. You go outside these days when it’s below zero and spray your hose — you’re going to make snow.

Is it easier when it’s colder like it’s been lately?
It’s easier, but it’s harder on the guys working. You’re working against the elements. You’ve got running water in below-zero temperatures, so things freeze, things break. It makes it a lot harder when it’s colder, but you do make a lot more snow. You have to watch for things freezing up and make sure you have good flow through everything, and it gets a little dicey.
We usually run two shifts of about eight to nine workers per shift. I have to give the credit to all my guys: they’re the ones who are out there doing it all. I’m out there with them, but they do the bulk of the work. They’re the ones dragging the hoses, digging the hoses out, setting everything up. The credit definitely goes to them. They’re out there all night, and two weeks ago it was 12 below zero. The actual temperature with 20 mph winds… I don’t know what that adds up to for a wind chill, but it’s cold. You’ll have guys call over the radio asking what the temperature is, and when it’s that cold, you just say ‘it’s cold enough.’

What is the equipment like?
We have three different styles of snow guns, they’re all made by SMI Snow Makers out of Michigan. We have 50 of their Super PoleCat, which is their biggest gun. We have around 80 of the Standard PoleCat, and then we have about 35 of their Viking gun. They all make a little different quality of snow, but basically they all do the same job, which is getting the trails open and maintaining trails once they’re open. All the Super PoleCats are on our north face, our steeper terrain where you want more powder and where you want to keep your conditions top-notch. The bigger guns put out more water and more snow. The Standard PoleCats are basically the same, with less water flow, but they still put out a ton of snow. You can see that 30 foot pile of snow there from one gun right outside the lodge. We try not to make big piles, because once we have the trails open, the groomers come along and they push the snow around where it needs to be. We try to keep it in the middle, but the wind doesn’t always cooperate with you. Every gun has an oscillator, so the barrel will rotate back and forth 270 degrees, so that helps. You can also make a little pile, move the gun, and spread it out a little at a time. Right outside the lodge, we just cover our whole water park. You’re on like eight feet of snow on top of the Lazy River. There’s a lot of snow here — a real lot of snow.

How does natural snow factor in?
We’ve had around 20-30 inches of natural snowfall. It does help us, but when you get three or four inches of snow at a ski resort, it doesn’t really do much. It gets skied off, and when the groomers go over and run their tiller over it, it might be 1/4 inch. But when you get natural snow down in the valley, people look out their doors and say ‘hey, it snowed out, let’s go to Montage and ski!’ So it gets the people in the mood, so it definitely helps.

Natural precipitation affects the water supply, though?
We were a little low early in the season – it was a really dry fall. We watch the weather constantly, I’m on my phone every 20 minutes looking at weather to see what it’s doing out. We also have weather stations around the mountain that I can monitor from my office. But it was so dry in the fall, we got pretty low on our reservoir — you keep your eye on that. At that point, you say ‘OK, the mountain is 100 percent open, let’s shut down (snowmaking) for a couple of days, we’re covered.’ The weather affects things a lot. In December, we had pretty much the whole mountain covered. Then it rained and shot up to 60 degrees for four days, so that’s when the snowmakers come back in and work their magic. We have the capability to do it, and we did a pretty good job with it. You get the mountain back in a day or two, temperature permitting.

What happens once the mountain is open?
We keep it up. We have tower guns on every single trail now. There are spots where we have mobile carriage guns that we move around where we need. You’ve got to make connections, you always need snow at the bottom and top of the lift. So we move those around as we need to. We’re able to move right across the mountain and make snow as we go. There will be trails where we focus, like up here on Mainline — we can make snow over on Highball. Not as much, but there’s enough to put down. Then once that’s open, you can move the water somewhere else. We try to get a top-to-bottom open to start, then cater to everyone: beginner, intermediate, expert right at the beginning of the season. A lot of places can’t do that. The setup of our mountain allows us to open up all different terrain so everyone can enjoy it.
A lot of places claim ‘first to open, last to close,’ but we were 100 percent before anybody else this season. A lot of people were still trying to get to 100 percent two or three weeks ago. We have terrain parks already built – we had two terrain parks built already running early January. All of our north face was open.

How do you build terrain parks and maintain trails?
I’ll work with the terrain park director, and we’ll go out there and he’ll say, ‘I want a jump here, a jump there,’ and I know where I need put piles of snow. But you also have to get the trail open, so sometimes we’ll just open the trail first then go back and do specific areas and blow bigger piles of snow for that.
When you look at the line of trees and see ones that are all white, that’s where the guns are. When you don’t get the right wind, it goes all over. You get it on the trail, but it’s more work for the groomers. They have to move it around more. Snowmaking and grooming are basically like one department, we’ve got to work together. I’ve got to make it and they’ve got to put it in the right places.
— tucker hottes

Earfull: A Fire With Friends

Earfull: A Fire With Friends




Something has been swirling in the ether around the area for longer than a year, popping up here and there in front of audiences, and occasionally, alighting to be captured one bit at a time. Now it’s time for the spectre to fully materialize: Ghost House is the third EP from Scranton-based A Fire With Friends. To find out more about the album and its creation, we caught up with Daniel Rosler (vocals/guitar) and John Husosky (bass) during a rehearsal break. The band is finishing up rehearsals for the Ghost House release party this Saturday, Jan. 25 at TwentyFiveEight Studios, 703 N. Washington (Rear), Scranton.
“Ghost House is one of our longest EPs, with the most tracks on it,” said Rossler. “It took a little longer to put together, conceptually. It’s a little moodier, darker.”
Rossler said the album has been in the works for nearly a year and a half, including pauses to restart or refocus the band’s energy and ideas. “I’d rather it take a little longer and have a good product.”
A Fire With Friends also incorporated a different writing approach for Ghost House. “A lot of the times I’ll write a song and then work on it with the band as a collaborative effort,” said Rossler. “So this time we wrote a few songs together, and they came out well.”
The album has a consistent tone and mood, but falls shy of having a particular overarching theme. “I don’t think we necessarily sat down and talked about what we wanted it to sound like,” said Rossler. “We’ve been kind of arranging songs that we thought fit together well conceptually. It isn’t necessarily like a concept album in the specific sense, but the flow is right.”
Recording was a bit of a road show by itself. The band often wrote and recorded material in pieces, but the album did benefit from some marathon creative sessions. “We did a couple weekends out at a studio we rented in Reading,” said Husosky. “We had 24 hour sessions, overnight just writing and writing. One of our friends, Sean Davis, helped us do some pre-production and helped get a whole bunch of ideas down.”
With many of the foundations for Ghost House laid in those early sessions, A Fire With Friends then floated around the area fine-tuning and recording material. Some of the songs were played live at shows around the region, even as they were being recorded at locations like a building in West Scranton converted by the band into a makeshift studio. “It was very scenic tracking, I guess you could say,” Husosky said with a chuckle. “We finally got together all of our bits and pieces and passed them on down to the studio, and they were able to take all that madness and form it into actual tracks.”
The album takes its name from a track written by pianist Chelsea Collins. “Chelsea wrote the song, she had a piano line and ideas,” said Rossler. “I worked on a melody with her and wrote the lyrics, and we worked on it with the band. She wanted to call the track “Ghost House,” and then I think it was [guitarist Brian Errigo] who suggested we call the album Ghost House, and I liked the idea of that.”
As for the actual ‘ghost house’ itself, Collins said it refers to the band’s previous rehearsal space.
“We used to practice and record in an old basement … it was definitely haunted,” she said. “Equipment wouldn’t behave, the settings on the amps would go haywire, things like that.” While the title doesn’t relate particularly to the mostly instrumental track, Collins said the name just stuck.
The band’s plans for the album aren’t finished just yet. While they’ll likely play a few weekend dates in the area, there isn’t a major tour to support Ghost House in the works just yet. First, Rossler says A Fire With Friends be working on a video release for the title track.
“My friend, Jamie Sutor, wants to work with us on a video,” said Rossler, “We’ve got a couple locations in mind and a few ideas. I think we’re going to start shooting in February — we’re letting him have creative control on that.”
Promoting the album is also a priority, said Husosky. “The next step is to get it out there. We’re doing the whole SoundCloud, Facebook, YouTube thing — I wouldn’t mind sending copies to labels the old fashioned way.”
The band is proud of Ghost House and the effort that went into creating it.
“We worked on it so long, we’ll sell it ‘door-to-door’, so to speak,” Husosky said. “The songs speak for themselves; they just need to get out to the right audience to enjoy them. I don’t even think we’re targeting a certain age group or a specific style — we’re just trying to blanket everything we can. I think a lot of people will enjoy it.”
EC23EARFULL_1_WEBFor now, the CD release party is a highlight for the band and marks a milestone in the long production process.
“I’m pumped, I’m really happy to get out there and play,” said Husosky. “And just to get the album out there — we did kind of a little pre-order a while ago, and a couple people pre-ordered it. Every now and then, we’d have people ask ‘when is it actually coming out,’ so it has been kind of a daunting task. It’s great to finally have a product to hand people, something tangible.”
It wouldn’t be a proper celebration without some other friends, and the band is excited to welcome We Were Templars, Shorthand, Esta Coda, and A Social State to share the stage at the show.
“I think it’s the fact that we’re getting such great support from other bands and the community, and to be able to share a stage with everybody,” said Husosky. “A lot of them are close friends; we tried to pick bands that we grew up with.”
Rossler agreed.
“I’m just really, really excited to play with some of my favorite bands in the area and having a nice time,” he said. “It’s something to look forward to, and it’s what we all care about the most: trying to make music a career, playing shows and having fun together. I’m particularly excited to play with some of my best friends’ bands that I think are great.”
— tucker hottes


If you go:
What: A Fire With Friends Ghost House EP release show with We Were Templars, Shorthand, Esta Coda and A Social State.
When: Saturday, Jan. 25, 6 p.m.,
Where: TwentyFiveEight Studios, 703 N. Washington (Rear), Scranton
Information: Visit afirewithfriends.com.

Up Close: Matt Mang

Up Close & Personal

Superheroes and Great Parties

Like any good comic book hero, Matt Mang leads a double life. By day, he’s a mild-mannered manager at Scranton’s Comics on the Green, by night the bassist for Scranton’s up-and-coming pop-rock sensation, The Great Party. We caught up with Matt in between his time behind the counter and his time on stage to find out how he strikes a balance. Meet Matt Mang …

How long have you been into comics?
Like most kids, I got into them pretty young — during my early teens. I was shopping at Comics on the Green when they first opened, and when a certain time came and I needed to leave the job I was working due to scheduling conflicts, owner Dave Romeo said “Why don’t you come start putting in some time here?” It started out as little things here and there, and I eventually started doing more and started getting more responsibilities. It’s a good relationship we have — it’s like working with a good friend. We help each other out. If someone needs time off, we go in for each other. It’s just a good symbiotic relationship we have. Comics on the Green is celebrating our 22nd year in business. I’ve been there for a majority of them. I wasn’t there right from the beginning, but I’ve been there for the better part of it. It’s a great business — people hear comic book store and they have some kind of preconceived notion, especially since The Big Bang Theory has been around, but we do a lot of good business there. To keep us going for 22 years, obviously something good is going on!

Have all the recent comic book movies brought in new customers?
We definitely see a lot more kids coming in looking for Iron Man, Spider-Man and Batman whenever there’s a movie around. And it really helps with the smaller properties, too — not the obvious big comic book movies. Like when Watchmen came out — that was something a lot of people never heard of before, since there was one specific book. So you have people coming in looking just for that one Watchmen book, as opposed to, when they come in looking for Spider-Man, there’s thousands of Spider-Man books and stories. Another smaller one was Scott Pilgrim, which is based on a series of graphic novels. The other big thing is The Walking Dead — it’s been a comic foralmost 10 years now, well pre-dating the show. Walking Dead anything is just huge right now, And again, The Big Bang Theory — we get people coming in saying ‘Oh, this place is just like Big Bang Theory!’ I don’t think we are at all, but that’s just what it reminds some people of. I think it’s also set a new trend, being a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’ is more acceptable, or even trendy at this point. People are proud and want to let that shine more now as opposed to earlier when people were quieter about it, or even ashamed of it. Now it’s something that people will even brag about, it’s part of pop culture.

When you’re not slinging comics, what are your musical outlets?
Musically, The Great Party is my main focus right now. I’ve played with a good number of bands since high school. Previous to The Great Party, I was playing with a local cover band, Mr. Echo. Before that I had an original band called The Reigning Toads, which was like a funk-rock-instrumental-fusion kind of weird band. I definitely had my share of diverse bands that I’ve played with. But right now, The Great Party keeps me busy. We’re in the process of finishing up our second CD. We’re finishing recording and we hope to have it out sometime this winter. We are involved with a producer out of Philadelphia who got in touch with us and wanted to work with us. He’s worked with some pretty decent indie bands, so we’re excited about that and seeing what collaborating with him is going to come up with. He’s produced bands like Dr. Dog, Man Man and Floating Action. We were flattered, because they got in touch with us and sought us out and wanted to work with us.

Do you take time out to write music, or is it a more organic process?
We always have new music coming in that we’re trying to work on. We have a lot of snippets of songs that eventually come around. It’s been a year and a half since we put out our first release, so in that time we’ve definitely built up a nice catalog of music that we haven’t recorded. We’re just trying to record everything we have and find what’s going to make the best album out of that. Not necessarily using everything we have, but we’ll pick the best and see what makes the album flow.  We’re sort of on a little hiatus from playing — we did a couple higher profile shows in September and October. In September, we had our music video release party for our new music video “Hecho en Mexico.” We did a big release show for that at Twentyfiveeight studios. Around the same time, we also opened up for Hank & Cupcakes, which is a duo out of Brooklyn who are getting some play on MTV. We played the Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces festival in October which was our last show, but we’re thinking about maybe trying to book a holiday show between Christmas and New Year’s. We want to get back out there. You don’t want to go too long without playing a show, but we’re sort of focusing on recording right now and getting that finished.

What’s the writing process like for The Great Party?
We have two people in our band who do the majority of our songwriting. Rose Eastman does most of our vocals (her husband Mike Eastman also does some singing) but she does a lot of our songwriting. She’ll come in with ideas and present them to us. The other person who does a lot of the songwriting is Mike Nordberg, and often he’ll have an idea for something and record it himself, or take something Rose recorded and try to layer other things on it to add more dimension to it or flesh it out into more of a whole song. Then the rest of us all throw in our own ideas, of course, but Mike Nordberg and Rose do the majority of the songwriting for the band. We do all of our recording at Nordberg’s house. He has a nice setup and he does a great job with the engineering and mixing. We’re lucky in that we don’t have to go pay for studio time. It makes things easy for us; we can record stuff whenever we have time to. We’re fortunate to have Nordberg and his knowledge and equipment.

That seems like a pretty full schedule — is there anything else?
I teach as well at Gallucci Music; they’ve been a staple in Scranton for decades. I’ve been teaching there for more than 10 years now. I do mostly bass lessons, but sometimes people come in for theory lessons too. I do occasionally do studio recording as well — get hired to play on other people’s albums. Often it’s at Windmill Agency, Eric Ritter’s studio in Lake Ariel. Sometimes they’ll call me up, and I’ll come in without ever even hearing the music, or even having any idea what genre I’m going to be playing. I’ll hear the song for the first time and have to plunk something down for somebody. It’s always fun and interesting and it keeps you on your toes. Sometimes they have a specific idea for you, sometimes they don’t. They’re looking for someone else’s input or ideas. We always try to get a good balance of what you think it should be and what you think they want.
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Eat Fresh: A closer look at game meat

Pop quiz: How long does it take for the food we eat to reach your plate? If you’re buying meat from the local supermarket, it’s possible it’s spent up to two months or even longer going through the supply chain. That serves most people just fine, but with increasing concerns over quality of meat — as well as hormones and treatment of the animals —many people choose to take a more natural role in feeding their families.
The coming of autumn also ushers in the sounds of rifles and the sight of orange-bedecked hunters heading into the woods to try their skill in hopes of bringing home a few meals. One of the most common game meats is venison, or deer meat. Many people liken venison to beef in terms of texture and taste, albeit “gamier.” Depending on the dish, it might even be difficult to tell the difference — for example, spicier or heavily sauced dishes like chili are perfect for first-timers.
Renee Shrader, a 30-year-old mother of two from Wilkes-Barre Township, went hunting for the first time at the opening of the season this year and killed her first deer. “I wanted more meat in the house,” she explained. “Each hunter only gets two tags. So my husband, Mark, can only take two deer (if he gets them!). I also just wanted a chance to get my own meat, to see if I could do it.”
Opening day proved to be a miss for Shrader, but a few days later, her patience was rewarded. Her father butchered the deer and they were eating venison steaks that night. “I like the way venison tastes,” she said. “The deer I got this year went from standing there to eating it within three hours. You can’t get much fresher than that! You don’t know how much time meat in the grocery store spent between being butchered and when you’re eating it,” she said.
While stocking a freezer with venison was one motivation, Shrader says she also looked forward to improving her marksmanship and having a chance to spend time with her father. “It’s something he always does, and we don’t do a lot together,” she said. “So it was fun! And I’m looking forward to trying turkey hunting next. I really want to get one, since I stopped eating deli turkey because of nitrites (preservatives used in many lunch meats), and I love turkey sandwiches.”
Joel H., of Scranton has been hunting for more than 15 years. He’s experimented with many different preparations, and said that venison can be used in any dish that would normally use beef. As for the taste, he says many people are turned off by a gamey flavor. However, “That’s baloney,” he said. “A lot of times that flavor comes from meat that wasn’t handled properly — it wasn’t field dressed correctly, or they allowed bodily fluids to spill on the meat, or it wasn’t cooled the right way.” According to Joel, venison will taste richer and is a much leaner meat, so it may be drier than many cuts of beef. One trick is to add a little bit of ground chuck or bacon to balance, he said. “But, just like a pork chop doesn’t taste like a ribeye, different animals do have slightly different characteristics.”
One of his favorite recipes uses the backstrap of the deer (“Like the filet mignon on a cow,” he clarified). Cut the backstrap into medallions, pan-sear them, add a brandy cream sauce and mushrooms for a delicious dish. Joel says this is the recipe that convinced his wife, Andrea, to enjoy venison.
Depending on the size and frequency of meals, a single deer can last up to a year when properly frozen. But Shrader plans on replacing multiple meals per week with venison. “Now, because we’ll have so much, I want to use deer meat maybe three times per week,” she said. “No hormones, not processed, fresh from the animal, right into the freezer and to your plate. And my kids love it! That was another reason. The kids are picky, but they love venison – both of them.”
In fact, according to a recent National Geographic article, women are the fastest-growing demographic for new hunters. Most cite a desire for additive-free meat as a primary reason for joining the sport.
The list of cuts from just one deer reads like a butcher’s bill: “We have some ground, some cut into steaks or roasts, other whole cuts, kielbasa, and we set aside some roasts for jerky,” Shrader said.  As for meals themselves, the sky is the limit: “Burritos, chili, steaks, roasts. Also, jerky, jerky, and more jerky!” For the record, the venison jerky samples Shrader provided were delicious.
Smaller game such as rabbit, or game birds like quail, pheasants, and squab (doves or pigeons) can prove more challenging to hunt. “We love doves,” said Shrader. “I haven’t been dove hunting– I don’t think I’ll be able to. I would like to try; they’re just too fast… but so good!”
Venison is clearly the most popular game meat in the Northeast Pa. region, but there are many variations. In fact, the Pocono Environmental Education Center in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is hosting a Game Dinner to showcase some of the delicious options available from the woods to your table. The dinner is this Saturday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. and will start with a spring greens salad, followed by bacon-wrapped quail legs, rabbit pot pie, venison sausage and rice, and assorted desserts. There is also a vegetarian option for those who might wish to accompany a carnivore but do not want to partake in the eating of meat. Tickets are $35 per person or $60 per couple.
This is the fourth year for the PEEC game dinner, which is partially a fundraiser for the facility. “It started out as a fall celebration of the foods available from farms and forests in our area, but now it’s more of a community ‘friendraiser’ event,” explained Jeffrey Rosalsky, executive director of the PEEC. “We thought it would be a nice way to get the community together. Year to year, the menu varies slightly depending on what we can source locally. Last year, we even had bear!”
The individually sized rabbit pot pies are a specialty of PEEC chef Wendy Gannon. “We had a donation of these old, porcelain tea cups,” said Rosalsky. “Wendy looked at those and said ‘you know, I can make individual rabbit pot pies out of these!’ So she puts the filling in, puts the crusty pastry on top, and they are delicious!”
Although the dishes represent game available in the region at this time of year, because it is a public event, PEEC selects its meat from locally farm-raised animals. Rosalsky said PEEC expects between 80 and 100 people at this year’s event. Approximately 70 tickets had been sold as of press time, but he said there is typically a last-minute rush. Call PEEC at 570-828-2310 for tickets or more information.
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