Up Close: Michael Snopkowski

Up Close: Michael Snopkowski

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Michael Snopkowski is the owner and operator of 12 Inc. Venue Services, a full-service professional sound and lighting company. Snopkowsk is a graduate of Pittston Area High School and founded his company in 2010. He lives in Pittston.
Meet Michael Snopkowski …

How’d you first get involved with production work?
I’m a musician, and my father was a musician for a long time — a drummer. I followed in his footsteps as a drummer and decided to get into strings — guitars and violins and so forth — but throughout my teenage years, I never really did anything with it. As I got out of high school, I had an interest to play. But as a drummer, our music scene, in the early 2000s, sort of fell short. I don’t think anybody wanted to hear the drummer play solo during happy-hour at the corner establishment, so I started playing guitar and stayed with it. I’ve always been a solo musician or have played with my brother-in-law, and we’ve just played acoustic venues. And I met a lot of people through it. That’s how I made all of my connections, musically, from playing guitar and being out performing three or four nights a week. But I always wanted to go a step further, and after buying my first sound system, I knew I wanted to make it bigger and better and do it for other people.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
As a guitar player, Stevie Ray Vaughan. As a drummer, my dad and, of course, Gene Krupa. He was an inspiration to me. A lot of younger guys want to say Neil Peart and so on, but I want to go back to where they learned. And playing the violin for many years, I was mesmerized by seeing Charlie Daniels play when I was very young.

When you first launched your company, it initially just offered sound and lighting services for live events. But it’s really developed into much more. Can you tell us a little about it?
We’ve gone from doing productions to handling everything at the venue, such as booking, venue management and security detail. We can do everything. And there are a few places in the area that I do that with. They come to me and say they, “I want to book a show. All I know how to do is book the talent. Where do I go from there? I have technical riders and hospitality riders, and I don’t know what to do.” And we lay it out for them. We tell them what the cost is going to be and the end result and what will probably be the net and the gross. And then instead of renting out production, we have production. We have sound and lighting. And if you’re doing something larger than 100 people, we have licensed security. We can also get your tickets printed and manage them online. We’ve developed into a one-stop shop.

What do you enjoy about it?
I enjoy the initial rush when the show starts. In live sound, as opposed to studio work, there is no second take. When that band comes up, you’ve already gone through the sound check, you agreed to all of the riders, the equipment is in the building … you’ve spent days preparing for this large show, and in that single moment, when it’s show time, anything can go wrong. And it does. And what I enjoy about it is the way I handle it.

The name of the company has a special meaning to it, correct?
It stands for my 12 nieces and nephews. Nine nephews and three nieces, from my three older sisters. I’m the youngest of four.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Boating. If I do have a free day, you’ll find me floating around on the lake with my family. We go to Harveys Lake, and we have family in New York, so we spend some time up there on the water.

Any hobbies? Are you a collector?
Guitars.

Do you follow sports?
Women’s tennis. It’s high-energy. And easy on the eyes. I enjoy watching it.

All-time favorite movie?
“Spaceballs.” Anything with Mel Brooks.

Favorite TV show?
“Family Guy.”

Favorite food?
Gyros.

Favorite city?
Pittsburgh.

Favorite vacation spot?
Don’t really have one, but I’m really itching to go out to Colorado and try some snowboarding.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I’ve thought numerous times of moving my business out of here and trying it elsewhere, but I always find myself coming back here because of the people. This area had bred and holds some of the best musicals ever. Both young and old. They’re here. And I love the area. I love that it’s easy to jump in the car and take a short trip anywhere … New York, Jersey, Philly.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“It’s good to be the king.” — Mel Brooks.

Biggest pet peeve?
When people in front of me at the convenient store are buying $150 worth of lottery tickets.

Guilty pleasure?
Cadillacs. “Guitars and Cadillacs,” that’s what my girlfriend says.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I get nervous before every gig, whether I’m playing or putting the show on. But that’s the rush. It’s what I look for. I look for that three minutes of anxiety.

Have you had a defining personal moment or time in your life?
About nine years ago, I cut a lot of strings in my life that were really holding me back. I cut strings with people that were not letting me go in my direction. I needed to take my own turn. And choosing to do that has allowed me to meet so many people that brought me back into music, which I always wanted to do.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Tim Meyers

Up Close: Tim Meyers

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Tim Meyers is the brewery manager at the ShawneeCraft Brewing Co., Shawnee On Delaware. Meyers is a native of New Jersey, but he has lived in NEPA since seventh grade. He grew up in Archbald and is a graduate of Valley View High School and Marywood University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in photography and a master’s degree in business. He and his wife, Tiffany, live in Shawnee On Delaware.
Meet Tim Meyers …

You’ve been with the ShawneeCraft Brewing Co. for three years. What first led to you getting into that type of work?
In grad school, while I was taking my business classes, I got into home brewing. I’d been a fan of craft beers from the drinking side, and my friend and I decided to try and make some at home. I found it really interesting and for it to be an interesting business, just because there’s so much creativity in it and so many small start-ups were getting their start at that time. I just kind of happened into it as ShawneeCraft was looking for a part-time salesman in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. I got my start as a part-time worker, selling beer to bars and restaurants. And over the course of time, (I) worked my way up to a graphic-design role and, as time went on, more of a management role.

What do you enjoy about it?
I definitely enjoy the creativity throughout the entire industry. For me, the most fun part of my job is the graphic-design work. The first time I was able to put my artwork on a can or bottle was pretty neat. It was a fun experience. And the same goes for the merchandise. That’s the part I definitely enjoy the most.

What’s your favorite beer crafted at the brewery?
We end up doing between 20 and 25 throughout the course of the year. And one of the great things about that is that almost all of them are rotating and seasonal. So I always tend to be drinking the newest thing to come out. But I really like hoppy beers, so I tend to stick to our session IPAs.

For those who might not be connoisseurs of craft beers, can you explain a session IPA?
We make a couple of different beers that we call session-style beers. And you’ll see that from other breweries as well. “Session” usually means that it’s lower in alcohol content, so you can have more than one in a session. It’s kind of a code name for a lighter style of beer. We make a session IPA, and we make a session porter. On the other hand, you’ll see imperial beers, which are usually stronger than average in alcohol content. The session IPA is one of the few beers that we do year-round. It’s kind of our reliable IPA, and I tend to really like that one. It’s a style that I really enjoy, and I think we do a good job with it. And it’s nice that it’s nice and light, so you can do a little bit more tasting and not have to worry about having too much to drink.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Over the past year or so, I’ve gotten into playing hockey in a men’s league. I played a little roller hockey when I was younger, so I’m completely new to it. I’m in the base-level D league in Pittston, and it’s become a really fun hobby. My wife and I also love to go to concerts and see bands and movies.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
It’s kind of a wide variety. I really like punk music and that kind of rock. But recently, I’ve gotten more into bluegrass, folk and a little bit of hip-hop. My sister and I recently went to see Local Natives in Philadelphia, and they were amazing. I’ve been really into them lately.

Favorite city?
I love Philadelphia sports: Flyers, Eagles, Phillies. I’ll always have a tie to Philadelphia, because they’re close to us, and I’ve grown up following those teams. But I’ve also spent a little bit of time in Pittsburgh. I lived there my freshman year in college and really fell in love with it out there as well. It’s a little bit of a smaller city, but I really enjoyed my time there. They have a lot to offer.

Favorite vacation spot?
Ocean City, New Jersey. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. It’s kind of our yearly thing, and I have a lot of family that goes to the same place, so it’s a nice way to reconnect with them.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The arts scene. For (Scranton) being more of a smaller city, there are a lot of people that are really talented and work really, really hard to create and keep a thriving arts culture. Both the visual arts and the music scene are two of my favorite things about this area.

Favorite food?
Cheesesteaks. But I love a good cheeseburger, too. Basically anything with meat and cheese melted on top, I’m happy.

All-time favorite movie?
I love David Fincher movies and Christopher Nolan movies. But on the funny side of things, I love “Step Brothers.” And there’s an Andy Samberg movie called “Hot Rod” that’s a little hidden gem that I love.

Favorite TV show?
“Arrested Development” is one of those shows that I can just re-watch over and over again. Currently, I really like ”House of Cards” and “Game of Thrones.”

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
I’ve got this little card that we picked up at some gift shop, and it’s up on the fridge. I don’t know who the quote is from, but it says, “You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.” And I always think that’s a neat little reminder to try and be more creative or do something original.

Favorite book or author?
I’m more of an articles kind of reader. I like the shorter format. I like Chuck Klosterman’s books. He has almost a magazine kind of writing style. I loved “Killing Yourself To Live.”

Biggest pet peeve?
I always seem to get pretty aggravated when people drive slow in the left lane and kind of camp out there.

Guilty pleasure?
Reality TV. I can watch “Bar Rescue” for hours.

Defining personal moment?
I don’t know if it was a moment, because it was probably a little bit of a longer period of time, but during my time at grad school, so much was changing. I think it was really an important time for me to learn a better work ethic and really get a little more drive. I also decided where I wanted to go in my life and career. It was a big transition time, and it was also the time that I decided I wanted to run with the brewery type of work. And my wife and I were both going through that at the same time, together. So I think it was also important that she was right there with me deciding to do the same thing in her own way. And I’m really kind of proud of the fact that we both decided to go for our passion when it comes to work. It was a time of ups and downs, and finding ourselves a little bit, but it was neat that we were able to go through it together and come out on the other end.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Aaron Ferranti

Up Close: Aaron Ferranti

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Aaron Ferranti is the lead vocalist with Clever Clever, an original punk/hardcore band based out of Scranton. The group released a self-titled EP and a full-length CD, “Love.” He works for Scranton School District and is a graduate of Scranton Technical High School and the Art Institute of Philadelphia, where he studied industrial design technology. He has a daughter, Ella, 14. He lives in Scranton.
Meet Aaron Ferranti …

You’ve been with Clever Clever for three years. When did you realize that playing a heavier style of music was something you enjoyed?
As a kid, at the video store, I went to rent a horror movie, and I saw this Iron Maiden video. I took it home and just totally fell in love with metal. In school, I met up with other people like that. Brian Craig and I formed a punk/hardcore band in high school, in 1989 or 1990.

You serve as the band’s principal songwriter, penning most of the songs’ lyrics. What inspires you to write?
My inspiration in my life is my daughter. That tops everything. That’s the love of my life. I write about my feelings and things that happen to me and life’s experiences. I was never a big storyteller type of guy. I approach it where the band has a song, or a riff on the guitar, or I have one in my head, and then I kind of freestyle and get the words and find a hook, and I’ll start thinking about things and write out the lyrics.

It sounds as if your lyrics are inspired by deep sentiments, and yet the music is hard and aggressive. Is that a challenging dynamic for you to combine?
No. It’s actually fun. You get that part of you that wants to scream all the time, that you have to keep back in your normal daily life, and you can let that out. And that’s a good thing. You can let all of that anxiety out and all of that pent-up stuff.

But let’s say you write a sentimental song about your daughter. How does that translate into punk/hardcore? Do you just do it?
Yeah. You just do it. It’s just there. It just happens. (Laughs.)

What’s next for the band?
We’re going into the studio in January to work on another EP. And we’re going to press it on 7-inch vinyl, so we’re going to have a record, which has kind of been a goal since I was kid — to have my voice on a vinyl record. It’s neat.

What do enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to go hiking. It’s beautiful in this area. Most people that live here don’t realize how beautiful it really is. And I blow glass as a hobby, which keeps me in touch with my art side.

Do you have any other hobbies? Are you a collector?
I have tons of designer vinyl toys.

Favorite music?
My all-time favorite group is the Grateful Dead. And on the other spectrum, it’s got to be the Clash. I listen to everything. Maybe pop/country I’m not too into, but there is some of it that I do like. I love all types of music.

Do you follow sports?
I’m a big-time Yankees fan.

Favorite food?
Definitely pizza.

All-time favorite movie?
“Star Wars,” by far.

All-time favorite TV show?
“The Simpsons.”

Favorite city?
New York.

Favorite vacation spot?
Cape Cod.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I enjoy living here. I enjoy the seasons. You experience every one of them. And it’s my home. Born and raised here.

Do you remember your first car?
It was a 1995 or ’96 silver Nissan Sentra. And I drove it from Scranton to California and back, and it already had over 100,000 miles on it. Standard shift. And when I came back, I still had it for a couple of years. (Laughs.)

Guilty pleasure?
Chocolate.

Biggest pet peeve?
I’m pretty easygoing. I like to be positive. I like to put positivity out there. Positivity comes back to you.

Favorite book or author?
I love “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. In high school, when I had to read “The Hobbit,” it felt like a chore. Now, I just love it. But I’m more of a comic book guy now. Eric Powell is probably my favorite artist. Anything that he puts out, I’m on top of it.

Any pets?
A beagle named Winston.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I still skateboard. And I’ve been in 48 of the 50 states. All except Hawaii and Alaska.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
I moved out of my parents’ house and kind of lived on my own since I was 18. So I felt like I was an adult since I was 18. But I moved home, back to my parents’, when I was about 26 for about a year. And it was kind of an eye-opener for me to do a little bit more with my life. I got motivated, got a job with the city and started a band. It kind of made my life a lot better. It changed me in a way where it made me realize I had to get something stable, instead of always travelling, because that’s what I did — I just travelled. Finally, I decided it was about time to lay some roots down and live here and make it my home. And I feel like the travel that I did when I was younger let me do that, because I got it all out of my system. I’m happy now.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.\

photos by emma black

Up Close: Cole Hastings

Up Close: Cole Hastings

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Cole Hastings is a professional furniture maker and craftsman. He established his namesake company in 2008. A native of Philadelphia, he is a graduate of Kutztown University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, focusing on crafts with a concentration in furniture design. He also received a master’s degree in studio art at Maine College of Art. He and his wife, Rachel, live in Scranton.
Meet Cole Hastings …

Can you give us a basic description of the type of work that you do?
I’m a maker. I make objects. A lot of what we do in the shop is commission-based, so if you have a particular piece that you’re looking to make, such as a dining room table, we’ll go through the whole process that you would have gone through 150 years ago with someone. We’ll start talking about what kind of woods you like and what kind of styles you like. I’ll whittle away at what you actually want, and then I’ll do digital drawings and show you 3-D renders of what the table would look like. I’ll then talk with you about different prices for different woods or different materials, you decide what you want, and we’ll build it.

When did you first realize such work was something you might be interested in?
Before I went to Kutztown, I was a medieval re-enactor. I built medieval armor for a living, and I kind of went down that path of doing commission work. Originally, I just wanted to do it for myself, but then other people were like, “How much would you charge me to do something like that?” So I started building armor for people. I was sending suits of armor to theater departments and different re-enactors all over the country and Europe. And then I got serious about school, and I was looking for a school where I could expand on those skill sets. I was originally thinking about doing jewelry design, but at Kutztown, the furniture teacher kind of stole me away from the jewelry teacher. (Laughs) I got really obsessed with furniture and how important it was in your life.

What do you enjoy about it the most?
It’s such an honest job. There’s this joy that you get when you make a piece that someone’s been dreaming about. Last year, I had a table at the ScrantonMade Holiday Market, and I had a table that was made from a slab of elm wood. A woman and her husband were looking at some tables, and she said, “That’s the one I want,” because she grew up on an Elm Street. Since then, her house has been demolished and the whole area has changed, but now she had an elm table. This year, she actually came back and bought another piece. You kind of build this rapport with people, and it becomes more than just, “I went to IKEA, and I bought this table.” It has a story to it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My work is what I do. It’s almost all-consuming. Even when I have downtime, like after dinner, I’ll still be browsing design sites. I’m always in research mode. I’m always watching documentaries about materials and how things are made.

Favorite music?
I’m a very big fan of ’90s pop rock. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of Mika and the Fratellis. Lively, upbeat stuff. It’s good for shop work.

Do you follow sports?
I watch the Olympics. I watch archery in the summer and curling in the winter.

Favorite city?
Washington, D.C. The culture … and I love the Smithsonian.

Favorite vacation spot?
We once did a road trip down to the Southeast, and both my wife and I really enjoyed Tennessee. Pigeon Forge is really a lot of fun. It’s kind of surreal. It’s like Las Vegas in the middle of Tennessee.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I really love the people. And I always think of this as “Little Philadelphia.” There’s the culture, there’s the Italian Festival … you can get good Italian food, or Chinese, or Japanese, or whatever you’re hankering for, but you don’t have the traffic and the violence of Philadelphia. (Laughs.)

Favorite food?
A Jewish dish called kreplach. It’s basically a Jewish dumpling, usually filled with beef.

All-time favorite movies?
“Better Off Dead” and “Grosse Pointe Blank” — both John Cusack movies. I can self-identify with both.

Favorite TV show?
“Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I grew up with it and have great memories of me and my dad watching it.

Favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“Make more with less.” — Buckminster Fuller.

Favorite book or author?
“Everything I Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. It’s a great collection of short stories. I highly recommend it. I’ve given it out three times and have never gotten it back, so I keep having to require it.

Biggest pet peeve?
People that aren’t team players and don’t think of the betterment of society as a whole. I want to build more community. That’s what I’m always striving for, because I feel there’s always a place for everyone.

Guilty pleasure?
Food. I’m a glutton. (Laughs)

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people?
The medieval renaissance stuff sometimes shocks people. And I like Ariana Grande’s music.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
Meeting my wife. Meeting her and getting to know each other. My mom always said, “There’s a lid for every pot,” and I used to refer back to that and say, “I don’t think I have a lid.” But when I met my wife, I knew it was my lid. Just the constant encouragement that we both give each other, and that really great relationship that we have. … She’s a librarian at the Delaware Valley School District, and that’s what brought us to this area. Every time I’ve ever doubted myself, she’s been right there to give me the encouragement to keep going. All of the success we’ve ever had is basically because of her.

On the web: www.colehastings.com

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

 

photos by emma black

Up Close: Amy Everetts

Up Close: Amy Everetts

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Amy Everetts is the director of development and marketing at the Everhart Museum in Scranton. Everetts is a native of the Green Ridge section of Scranton and is a graduate of Scranton High School and Kutztown University, where she studied electronic media, speech, theater and marketing. She and her husband, A.J., have two children, William, 2, and Emery, 7 months. They live in South Abington Twp.
Meet Amy Everetts …

Tell us a little about your work at the Everhart.
What I do, in a way, is multiple positions. I serve as the director of development, so that means reaching into the community to build relationships with area business partners and soliciting partnerships. It’s a lot of relationship building. I also write all of our grants while working with other staff members. I also do all of our marketing with the assistance of our marketing coordinator.

What do you enjoy about it?
It encompasses everything that I love to do. I love working with people. I love getting out into the community. I love seeing what other organizations are doing and what their passions are, and then connecting that with the museum. The museum has such a diverse collection and such a wide range of programming that whether you are a bank or a fellow nonprofit, we have a connection in some way, shape or form. Any time that we can work with another organization, that’s something we’re interested in doing. I get to talk about a place that I love to work at. What better job is there, when you’re passionate about such a place? And you can let others know that exciting things are happening, and that this community treasure exists. That, to me, is a privilege.

How important are such relationships within the community in regard to keeping the museum moving forward?
It gets people interested in what we’re doing. I think what happens sometimes is that people came through the door when they were 8 years old and say, “I remember the birds, or the bees, or the rocks.” But when was the last time they walked upstairs and saw the second floor and the changing exhibits?

What have been some of your favorite exhibits?
“The Anatomy of Fairy Tales” is currently on display, and I love that exhibit. The story that it tells is so interesting, and it covers a diverse amount of topics. Programmatically, I loved the cocktail exhibit that we did. We had a lot of fun things with that. We did a speakeasy tour of downtown Scranton; we worked with Students Against Destructive Decisions, because there were also some topics on alcoholism and addiction addressed in that exhibit. I really, truly love them all for different reasons.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love spending time with my children and my husband. I love to be outdoors. Hiking, swimming, skiing and running. And I enjoy seeing comedy shows anytime I can. I love stand-up comedy. And the arts. I love to be able to go out and perform when the opportunity arises.

Where, or how, do you perform?
I just did the Scranton StorySlam. I was one of the storytellers. It could be something as small as that — just to come back to my theater roots that I so enjoyed in college. It allows me to have fun with that part of myself that I don’t necessarily get to do.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
Drake, Macklemore, A Tribe Called Quest, a lot of hip-hop. But I really do like a variety of different genres of music. When it’s time to put my baby to sleep and relax and unwind, it’s Nora Jones. I also like Rage Against the Machine and Tool. It’s pretty diverse.

Do you follow sports?
My husband roots for the Red Sox, and we have a lot of Red Sox memorabilia, but I could not tell you the score of one game. I just wear the stuff that’s given to me. (Laughs)

Favorite city?
I love Boston. My husband and I do go to Red Sox games, and I think it has a cool vibe. The people are real there. There’s a lot of history. And every time I go, I find something new that I like. There’s a lot of arts. There’s a lot of culture.

Favorite vacation spot?
Martha’s Vineyard.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The traditions. Because of our traditions and the stories that our families tell us, we build these incredible memories. For me, for example, seeing The Times tower being lit — I remember that as a kid. When you live here and you’re a lifelong resident, you know the treasures that are in this town. You know what kind of pizza you want, depending on your mood, because there’s so many different types. If you want to go skiing, it’s a five-minute drive. There are so many things. It’s the people. It’s the dialect. It’s the traditions that seem to be passed down from generation to generation. It’s a really unique town.

Favorite food?
Linguini with clam sauce.

Favorite movie?
“Dumb and Dumber.”

Favorite TV show?
“Game of Thrones.”

Favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
This is something I literally say, and laugh at, and love. I sometimes just randomly burst into people’s offices or my friends’ houses and say, “We got no food. We got no jobs. Our pets’ heads are falling off!” It’s from “Dumb and Dumber.” Believe it or not, that’s something that I say. (Laughs)

Guilty pleasure?
“Say Yes To the Dress” marathons.

Most defining personal moment?
My mom’s passing. She passed away when I was very young. And I think that forced me to grow up a lot more quickly than I necessarily wanted to. I was 24, which seems older, but that’s that pivotal age where, with your mother, you really develop a stronger relationship. To go through my 20s without that person and to kind of discover who I was — because that’s what your 20s are for, figuring out who you are, what your goals are and what you’re doing with your life — to do that, in a lot of ways, on my own was difficult. But I think, in some ways, it made me stronger.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Phyllis Hopkins

Up Close: Phyllis Hopkins

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Phyllis Hopkins is a professional musician and guitar instructor who is a member of the Phyllis Hopkins Electric Trio and offers guitar lessons at Rock Street Music, Pittston. She has released three albums. Hopkins, 50, is a native of Pittston and a graduate of Pittston Area High School. She and her husband, Serge Ubiergo, live in Pittston.
Meet Phyllis Hopkins …

How long have you been playing guitar?
I didn’t start until I was 24, so it’s been 26 years. I fooled around with it at 19 or 20 but took it seriously at 24 when I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was it.

What was it about his music that you found so inspiring?
I just never heard a guitar played like that. I always loved guitar and all of the Zeppelin songs. Jimmy Page was my favorite guitarist before I discovered Stevie Ray and all of the blues people. It was always my favorite instrument.

When did you put your first band together?
I was only playing a couple of years. It was Little Sister & the Moneymakers. It was around ’96. It just seemed like that’s what you did. I played guitar, and it was the next step. StingRay (Delpriore) used to have these Monday night jam sessions at Lispi’s, and that’s where I met all of the musicians that I know. George Wesley, Clarence Spady … I met everyone at StingRay’s Monday night jam sessions. I also took lessons from StingRay, and he introduced me to a whole world of blues. Magic Sam and T-Bone Walker … there was no going back after all of the stuff that he introduced me to. I also went to see Ronnie Earl, and he was just amazing. He was at the Rolling Stone in Larksville, and I’d never seen anyone play with such intensity. And that kind of really picked up my guitar playing. He taught at a school in Connecticut, and I took a class for a week. It was a summer workshop.

What do you enjoy the most about performing?
The dynamics. The interaction with people. I like to play with dynamics in the band. Creating on the spot. When you play with dynamics, you bring it lower, and you bring it higher, and I really like doing that. It makes the music more exciting. I also really like surprising the audience. I think a lot of people, when they see a girl with a guitar, expect folk songs or ballads. We present something completely different, with not-so-famous music, and we usually win people over. To me, if you can do that, it speaks volumes about the performers in the band. And I like smaller places, because it’s intimate and everybody’s right there. I don’t like to play at places where you’re too far away from all of the people. Blues music is meant to be intimate. Though I do love playing at the (Scranton) Cultural Center. (Laughs.)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Bike riding. My husband and I bike ride and enjoy the outdoors. Or we drive to towns like Jim Thorpe and the Delaware Water Gap. We like to go to little, quaint towns.

Any hobbies?
I collect floor lamps and lanterns. And I’m thinking of taking up painting.

Favorite city?
Paris. It’s absolutely beautiful. I love the culture, the art, everything about it. You don’t have to go to an expensive restaurant. You can just hang out and just walk around, and it’s breathtaking. And the freedom that they have — everybody can be whatever they want in Paris. It’s a great place for musicians and artists.

Favorite vacation spot?
I like to go to cities on vacation. And I’ve been to a whole lot of cities. New Orleans, of course New York, Chicago, L.A., London, Dublin. I like big cities.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
My family.

Favorite food?
Cheese.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Color Purple.”

Favorite TV show?
“Breaking Bad.”

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite quote or catch phrase?
I always say to myself, “Always do something that other people think you can’t do.”

Favorite book or author?
“On Becoming Fearless … in Love, Work and Life” by Arianna Huffington.

Any pets?
Connie. She’s a Sheltie/Shepherd mix.

Biggest pet peeve?
Country music.

Guilty pleasure?
Marilyn Manson.

Is there anything about you that might surprise your friends?
The people that I grew up with can’t believe that I play music. If my childhood friends come out to a bar and I’m playing, they’re like, “When did this happen?” — because I started a little later in life.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
Musically, it would be hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan. That made me do what I’m doing now. If I didn’t hear that, maybe I never would have became what I am.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Joe Wegleski

Up Close: Joe Wegleski

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Joe Wegleski works a sound engineer at S.I. Studios in Old Forge. The 45-year-old is a native of Moosic and a graduate of Riverside High School and New York University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music, studying music technology. He also is a member the band Jigsaw Johnny and a former member of Jugdish. He has a daughter, Nadia, 19. He and his girlfriend of 12 years, Janine, live in Scranton.
Meet Joe Wegleski …

It seems as though you’ve been at S.I. Studios forever. How long has it been?
I interned there while I was in college for a summer or two, and when I graduated in 1993, I was hired by (owner Tom Borthwick). And I’ve been there since, so it’s almost 24 years.

What was it that first made you seek out a career in audio production?
When I was a teenager, I was in a hard-rock band, and we recorded with Tom. And we were intrigued by it. We thought it was cool, it was fun, and it was another outlet. We got involved in the whole recording process and, for me, when it was time to choose my career path after high school, I knew there were a million guitar players out there. And I wanted to study in the city, and I wanted to purse something in music. Audio recording was the way to go. For me, it was NYU or bust. I really didn’t apply to any other colleges. I wanted to study music technology. And I’m glad I did.

How many projects have you worked on?
I couldn’t tell you. I don’t know. If I did one project a week, for 52 weeks, times 23 years … it’s definitely hundreds. It might be in the thousands.

What is it that you enjoy the most about making records?
It’s something different every night. That’s one great thing about living here — the diversity in our music. What I enjoy the most is that I get to help artists achieve their goals. It nice to help them along and see them with a smile on their face when they’re done with their record.

Does any particular project stick out?
Some of the harder projects that I worked on were the Dakota records. One of my first solo engineering sessions was with Jerry Hludzik of Dakota. Jerry wanted to do guitar overdubs, and I had to do it myself. It was the first time that I walked into a session and it was like, “OK, I’m in charge.” Jerry worked my tail off. I learned how to punch in and punch out and edit. Jerry always liked to push our abilities, and we always accepted the challenge and met it. And we worked with him for 20-some years after that.

You’ve also played in some really good bands over the years. Tell us a little about that part of your life.
I’ve been gigging longer than I’ve been in the studio. It’s been more than 25 years. It’s kind of like my other musical side. It’s a chance for me to be on the other side of the window, so to speak, as opposed to the recording studio. I love playing live music. It’s just in there. It’s in your blood. And it’s got to come out.

Who are some of your all-time favorite bands?
From an early age, it was the Who. I have two sisters that are 10 and 12 years older than me, so when I was a little kid, I was just surrounded by music all the time. Cool music. Bowie and Alice Cooper and all of the good stuff. It’s always been there. My dad listened to Hank Williams. My mom liked Tom Jones. I was a big KISS fan for a while. There was always cool stuff, but for me it was the Who. In my teens, I also got into some of that L.A. hard-rock stuff, like Guns N’ Roses. And I’m a big fan of the Cult.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love the outdoors. I usually need to be doing something outside. I really like hiking. Luckily for me, most of my band does, too. We hike as much as we can. It’s good for your soul.

Do you follow sports?
I’m an Oakland Raiders fan.

Do you remember your first car?
It was a blue 1985 Ford Escort. I loved that little thing. It was a good little car.

Favorite city?
It’s a three-way tie. New York City is New York City. There’s no comparison. But Asheville, North Carolina, that’s where it’s at. That’s a great city. That’s what this town should be. I always think this town has the blueprint to be another Asheville. It’s a great town, because people are happy and happy to be there. On the same token, we go to Lake Placid, (New York). Our band plays up there. And it’s the same thing. It’s a good vibe.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people. There’s a great cast of characters here in Northeast Pennsylvania, and I’ve met some really great people here. And it’s our people that define our town.

Favorite food?
Mexican.

Favorite movie?
“2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Animal House.”

All-time favorite TV show?
“Three’s Company.”

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“I got a Gibson without a case. But I can’t get that even-tanned look on my face. Ill-fitting clothes and I blend in the crowd. Fingers so clumsy, voice too loud. But I’m one, I am one.” It’s from the Who album “Quadrophenia.” That resonated with me. Every time I heard it, I got goosebumps. It doesn’t matter who you are, man. You’re one. You’re yourself. Just be yourself.

Favorite book or author?
I enjoy reading books about NASA and the space program.

Any pets?
A greyhound/beagle mix named Ivy.

Guilty pleasure?
“The Trailer Park Boys.”

Have you had a defining personal moment?
The birth of my daughter. Nadia being born … it really makes you change the way you think about things. When you have children, the focus isn’t on you anymore; it’s on them. And I think, for any parent, that’s the defining moment. Or, it should be.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

 

photos by emma black

Up Close: Maura Cummings

Up Close: Maura Cummings

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Maura Cummings is the founder of the Farmhouse Sanctuary and operator of the business Om in the Attic, which specializes in handmade jewelry. Cummings, 31, is a Dunmore native and graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School. She also studied art and psychology at Marywood University. She and her husband, Lee Herman, live in Lackawanna County.
Meet Maura Cummings …

Tell us a little about the Farmhouse Sanctuary.
We are a nonprofit organization and a refuge to all beings, be it a farmed animal that was surrendered out of an abuse case or an animal that just kind of finds their way to us. And it’s a place for humans, too. It’s a place of compassion and love for all.

Can you give an example of how an animal might find its way to you?
We have a piglet. A gentleman gave us a call and told us it had been running around in his yard for two weeks. They had tried to capture him and care for him, but he was out in the cold and out on his own. They had also tried to find the owner, and no one claimed him. And so we went over, and I was able to catch him in my arms. And we’re expecting to bring home a goat. She was purchased by a gentleman in our area for milking, and she wasn’t producing enough for him, and he wanted to find her a better life.

How many animals do you have?
We have about 21 farmed animals … (including) 10 ducks, four hens, four roosters and a pot-bellied pig.

You also mentioned it was a sanctuary for people. Can you explain?
We live in a world where there is a lot of suffering. And, through my experience in life — the ups and downs — it’s made me a compassionate person, and not just toward animals. It began with people. My mom and my dad are both extremely selfless and giving people. They work really hard, and they got that instilled in them from my grandparents, who are extremely hardworking and faithful people, in that they always look for the best in situations and the best in people. They nurtured me to be who I am, which is caregiver. There are so many people that are hurting, and I want to be able to offer them a place where the outside world kind of melts way, and you can just come and be whoever you are. There are no expectations. It doesn’t matter what you look like, it matters how you feel. We’re not a commune. It’s more of a refuge outside of your regular life. It’s just a place for compassion and love.

Tell us about your jewelry.
I began making jewelry in 2008, just kind of on a whim. I was always interested in tools and the way that things work. I started with just a simple jewelry line that I would show at First Fridays, and my friend had a shop where I would sell my pieces. They all come from fallen branches that I find in the woods, and I do wood-burning designs and paintings on them.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Promoting veganism. Not just the diet but the overall lifestyle. It’s about trying to move people toward a compassionate existence and become more aware of how your choices and your actions in life affect others.

Favorite music?
I love music from every era. I listen to Bob Marley and pretty much everything.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The community. The people. Growing up here, it’s really just been astounding how people get together to support whatever they believe in.

Favorite vacation spot?
That’s the greatest part of my life right now — that there isn’t any place I’d rather be. Waking up every morning and doing what I do is vacation in itself.

Favorite food?
Everything plant-based.

Favorite holiday?
Thanksgiving. Because it’s all about gratitude, and it’s all about giving. We’re actually having a donation-based class at Mission Yoga on Thanksgiving Day, and all of the proceeds will benefit the Farmhouse Sanctuary.

Favorite book or author?
I like a lot of philosophy-related books about questioning and seeking information and seeking clarity. (Author) Og Mandino is a favorite.

Favorite quote?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

Guilty pleasure?
I love vegan ice cream. I like sweets and chocolates, and I make my own version of vegan peanut butter cups.

Biggest pet peeve?
Ignorance. People thinking that they’re better than other people and putting people down.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
I feel as though it’s been my whole entire life’s experience. Every single moment and every day is something new. I feel like I’ll never be done learning or becoming a better version of myself. With veganism, I watched a documentary called “Earthlings,” which delves into animal agriculture and what it does to the earth and what it does to humans, and that opened my eyes. Soon after that, I became vegan. I knew what a vegetarian was, and I knew PETA existed, but I didn’t know what it was to be vegan. I feel that in my heart I always was vegan, I just didn’t have the right term for it, and my values and my morals didn’t line up. When I watched “Earthlings,” it clicked. That was it. Being vegan made me feel like I was closer to being my true self.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at
alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Sam Watson

Up Close: Sam Watson

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Sam Watson is a professional photographer who owns and operates Sam Watson Photography. He also is graphic artist who has done work for Relix Magazine. Watson, 29, is a native of Dalton and a graduate of Wyoming Seminary and Ursinus College, where he earned a degree in art. He lives in Clarks Summit.
Meet Sam Watson …

When did you first discover your love for photography?
My grandmother gave me a camera for my birthday when I was about 12. It was an old 35mm film camera. I just picked it up and started playing around with it and just delved head-deep into it. I just fell in love with everything about it.

How so?
Just capturing that moment in time. Seeing something special.

Which is your favorite type of photography?
I started with landscapes. And then, when I was 16, I went to my first concert. It was Dave Matthews. And I was just taken aback by the whole atmosphere of the live music scene, and I tried to think of a way to combine a love for photography with a love for live music. So I started bringing my camera to shows and either try to get a press pass or sneak it in and get shots from the crowd. For the first couple of years, it was really just for myself, and then I started reaching out to some magazines and live music blogs. And that was kind of my ticket through the door.

And that led to your work with Relix?
With Relix, I was a graphic designer, and they’d also occasionally bring artists into the office for live performances, and we’d shoot video and compile footage of them playing and put it up on social media. But during the summer, they’re big into the whole live music scene, and they send groups of people to different festivals around the country. I had the chance to do a couple on the East Coast and brought my camera along. We’d set up a booth and try to get people to subscribe to the magazine, and I’d do that for a couple of hours, and then be able to go and see some live music and bring my camera along. That’s what really started it. And people took notice of some of my shots, and I guess felt it was something I had an eye for.

Is there a favorite photo that you’ve taken at a concert?
Actually, at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown, with Cabinet, I took a picture of Pappy, their banjo player, right at the end of their set. He’s got his hat off, and he’s kind of got his eyes closed, and he’s kind of tipping the hat to the crowd. As soon as I clicked the shutter and captured it, I knew it was definitely something special. I later saw him at the Cornstock Festival. I had a booth there selling some of my photos, and I had him sign it. And one of the things he said to me was, “Of all of the pictures of me, this really captures the essence, to me, of what it means to be Pappy.” That was a huge compliment.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Meditate. Hike. I definitely like being outdoors. And listening to records. I’ve got a fairly extensive vinyl collection. I inherited a bunch from my parents, and I’ve also started to build my own collection.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
The Grateful Dead, the Band, Cabinet and Neil Young, who I also had the chance to shoot at the Outlaw Fest a few months ago. That was probably the biggest artist that I’ve been able to take pictures of.

Do you follow sports?
Hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers. The family is from Philly.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The dirt roads. Growing up in Dalton, it’s a rural area, and my friends and I would just hop in my Jeep and just kind of adventure out on the dirt roads and see where they took us. There’s this one spot in Fleetville where it’s four dirt roads, but they all lead back to the same spot, so you can’t really get lost. And of course the sense of community. All of the local artists that I know, and all of the musicians, it seems we’re always willing to help each other. And that’s definitely special.

Favorite city?
I studied abroad in London. I was there for six months and liked just riding the Tube, which is what they call their subway, and just adventuring around. The weather wasn’t so bad. It gets the rap of being cold and rainy, but they actually have some very mild days. And everything about the culture — I loved it.

Favorite vacation spot?
Avalon, New Jersey.

Favorite food?
My mom makes a really good clam pasta dish.

All-time favorite movie?
“Forrest Gump.”

Favorite TV show?
“The Wire.”

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite book or author?
Anything by Hunter Thompson.

Biggest pet peeve?
Negativity. My mom always said, “Positivity breeds positivity.” If you’re positive, positive things will happen. It resonates outward. It’s hard to be around someone when they’re negative all the time.

Guilty pleasure?
Fleetwood Mac.

Is there anyone that has had the greatest impact on your career?
My college photography professor, Don Camp. He really kind of formulated my photographic eye, in seeing things in a certain way. He definitely was a big influence on my photography. He was someone that saw something in my photos and really told me to go with it and to always just try to do the best that you can and not settle for mediocre work. He basically said, “You’re only as good as your last photo,” so I always try and create the best photos I can and remain relevant. And hopefully, my best work is still within me.
 

photos by emma black

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

Up Close: Justin Roach

Up Close: Justin Roach

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Justin Roach is graphic designer, marketer and social media specialist with Wayne Bank. As a freelance graphic designer, he has created album covers for hip-hop artists such as Snoop Dogg and The Game. Roach, 36, is a native of Pittsburgh but has lived in Northeast Pennsylvania for much of his life. He is a graduate of Honesdale High School, attended West Virginia University and is a graduate of the University of Scranton. He lives in Scranton.
Meet Justin Roach …

How did you end up working with national recording artists such as Snoop Dogg and The Game?
I started very small and just kind of worked my way up. I made some connections in Philadelphia back in the early 2000s with Philly artists, like DJ Jazzy Jeff. And then I started getting mid-level work. And then in 2010, I started working with Snoop.

How’d that happen?
His first album was called “Doggiestyle,” and there was a cartoon on the front of a little dog leaning over a doghouse. His cousin, Joe Cool, did that. I was 13 years old when that album came out, and I loved it, and because of that — since I always loved art — I’d always draw the little dogs on the cover. I loved the artwork. Later, I got connected to Joe Cool through a mutual friend, and I told him he was one of my favorite artists, ever, and that I loved his work. He said, “You do art, too?” I said, “Yeah,” and I showed him my stuff. He said, “You need to work with me.” He said, “I draw stuff and I sketch stuff, but I don’t actually color anything. I need a color guy. I need someone that can take my sketches and make them look official.” I said, “Alright. That would be awesome.” It was kind of cool to be working with someone that I had idolized as a kid. We started doing projects together for Snoop, and I’d do stuff for Snoop on my own, and I always kept that connection with Joe. A lot of what I do is on my own, but the most recent project that we did for Snoop was Joe and I, together. And Joe and I also did The Game project together.

Have you met Snoop?
Yeah. I met him in 2011. Some of the artists that I work with I meet. Some I don’t. With the internet, you can work with these big artists and never actually meet them. But I do talk to all of them. At the very least, I’ll call or text or email. Snoop is super-friendly. The project has been wrapped up for a while, but he actually called me about three weeks ago and just chatted for about 25 minutes. He was really complimentary. He’s a gracious guy.

What do you enjoy the most about the work?
The most fulfilling thing for me isn’t the money but seeing my stuff out there. I can go into Best Buy and see two new album covers that I just did on the front of the rack. That’s really cool. I do it more for the self-fulfillment and the exposure. With The Game album that we just did, it was the No. 3 album on the charts and the No. 1 hip-hop album. And they took the images that we did and used them for everything. They wrapped two giant tour buses with the artwork, and it was on all of the T-shirts.

Any funny stories you can share about your work?
There are a lot of headaches that go into it, especially when you’re dealing with bigger artists. They move up deadlines, and they’re demanding. And most of it is management. The artists themselves are always pretty cool and gracious. But the managers are like, “We need it now.” They’ll give you a deadline and then they’ll move it up a week, and it’s hard for me because I have a day job. For Snoop’s project, I did two 24-hour up-all-night shifts, because they moved it up. They were going on Jimmy Kimmel and they wanted to premier the album cover, so they gave me a deadline of the following Wednesday. And then they called me the Thursday before and said, “We need the album cover tomorrow morning.” I said, “It’s 50-percent done.” They said, “We don’t care. We’re going on Kimmel, and we need it for Kimmel.” But it was really cool, because I stayed up, and I did get it done, and Jimmy Kimmel kept showing it and holding it up.

And you just finished it hours earlier?
Just hours earlier. (Laughs) A lot of people don’t realize the back story that goes into it. I always tell people it’s not as glamorous as it looks. It’s cool to say I did I Snoop’s album cover, but I was jumping through hoops to get it done and was under the gun.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Designing. That’s all I do. I design at work, and when I come home, I do so much freelance design. Even when I don’t have projects, which is pretty rare, I still practice a lot. I’m self-taught, and I’m still always trying to learn. Other than that, I run, just to stay healthy and work out.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The community. Because it’s a smaller community, you can get to know some people, especially in the arts. I like that.

Any hobbies? Are you a collector?
CDs and vinyl.

Do you follow sports?
Being from Pittsburgh, I’m a diehard Penguins fan. I love hockey. And when you’re born there, you’re also born into Steelers fandom, so I’m also a Steelers fan. And a Pirates fan. But with the Penguins, I’m a diehard.

Favorite food?
Anything Italian. Pasta and pizza.

All-time favorite movie?
Either “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Dumb and Dumber.”

Favorite holiday?
Christmas. Getting together with the family, seeing a lot of people, giving gifts … I hate snow, but if it snows on Christmas, that’s the best.

Any pets?
I used to. I had a littler wiener dog, Eddie, that passed away two years ago. He was my favorite. I actually have a little tattoo of him.

Biggest pet peeve?
People that complain. Everybody has issues. But my two biggest peeves are people that complain or make excuses for things.

Guilty pleasure?
Some bad music. I’m so stuck in the ’90s … ’90s movies, ’90s music … I love everything ’90s.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
There’s a lot of people that I interact with regularly that have no clue that I do any of the album art stuff, like with Snoop. I don’t talk about it. My friends know it, but people that are maybe acquaintances don’t know that I work with some of those guys. I’ll put it online for my friends to see, but I’m very quiet about my artwork.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
I would say that every friend that I’ve met has been a defining moment. Those are the people, and family, that I trust and care about the most. And that, to me, is more important and longer-lasting than anything I’ve ever done. Each friendship is a defining moment because they kind of shaped who I am.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

Up Close: Mike Nasser

Up Close: Mike Nasser

Mike Nasser is an owning partner with Dunham Group, a company that develops custom signage for concerts and events. He runs the company with his two brothers, Billy and Patrick. The company has worked with Live Nation at the Pavilion at Montage Mountain on shows such as the Peach Music Festival, Camp Bisco and Susquehanna Breakdown. He also plays bass with the regional acts Laser Sex and the Bogyard Chugg Band, and he has a solo project, Nasstronaut. He also does live concert lighting, specializing in projection mapping. Nasser, 32, is a native of Waverly Twp. and a graduate of Scranton Preparatory School. He also studied marketing at the University of Scranton. He lives in Scranton.
Meet Mike Nasser …

The promotional signs that you’ve made for concerts have been seen by thousands of people and at venues all around the country. What led to the start of the Dunham Group?
It started with Bill Orner, the organizer of the Susquehanna Breakdown. He saw us as a group of creative and talented people that had skill sets that could be utilized for making such things. It started with us just making some bars for the VIP section. That’s kind of where we cut our teeth — within the VIP element of Montage Mountain. For the past several years, we’ve also been in charge of the artist lounge, along with the signage.

What do you enjoy about it?
I like working with my hands. Having went to Scranton Prep, the education was obviously fantastic, but they kind of get you going on a narrow path of professional fields. A lot of people become lawyers or doctors, or they work in finance. There’s not much of an avenue, at least when I was there, to really expand upon artistic expression. And the idea of working behind a desk was never really OK with me. I feel like I always marched to the beat of my own drum, except when it came to school. Even in college, I picked marketing because a couple of my friends did. It was like, “I guess I’ll do that.” I’d just kind of been floating. And that’s what excites me the most about this. I feel like I finally have a place with something that has a bright future, and it involves me doing something creative. And I find so much more satisfaction in that.

Your background in music, originally, was as a musician yourself. How did you also get involved with concert lighting?
There’s always a need for people in production. You’re always going to have a job. As a musician, I love performing and writing, but I know that what people were listening to 10 years ago isn’t exactly what they’re listening to today. People’s tastes change. And so even if I did make it on some level, you can’t be delusional and think that’s going to last forever. But when you’re working in production and something like light design, you’re still doing something creative and you still have your hand in business. That’s another reason I love doing the signage. You’re still working in the industry.

You’re in a few good bands. The Bogyard Chugg Band is a cool funk project, and you’ve described Laser Sex as “intelligent dance music” and “an experimental funktronic group.” And you also have a solo project which leans more toward dance music. How important is music in your life?
It’s my pulse. There’s not much music I say “no” to. When I think of musical influences, I picture that I’m going down the aisle of a grocery store with a shopping cart and I’m just side-swiping everything into the cart.

Who are some of your all-time favorite bands?
I love the Grateful Dead. I don’t think I could ever live without them. I grew up on that stuff, and it has provided endless amounts of inspiration. I also love Phish and the String Cheese Incident. And Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Their “Live Art” album really changed my life. I just didn’t know that music could be like that. I think they’re one of the greatest bands in the world.

What do enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to cook and hang out with my friends. My friends brew beer, and we sample it and we cook tacos.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The sense of community is really great. They say if you’ve made a friend in Scranton, you’ve made a friend for life, and I tend to agree with that. People — at least the ones that I associate with — have a very warm sense of community. And there’s art. Some of the best musicians I’ve ever met in my life — and I’ve met a lot of the them — are from this area.

Favorite city?
New York. It’s amazing. It’s a whole world of opportunity and choices. I’ve also been to Stockholm a couple of times, and I think it’s gorgeous. The people there are very friendly.

Favorite vacation spot?
Topsail Island, North Carolina. It’s the best-kept secret on the East Coast.

Favorite food?
Lebanese cuisine. Middle Eastern cuisine.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” I’ve probably seen it 100 times. It’s hilarious and genius.

Favorite TV shows?
“Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad” and “Game of Thrones.”

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

Favorite book?
“Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins.

Biggest pet peeve?
I really hate cigarette butts on the street. It’s littering. You wouldn’t do that with a Coke can. That, and sticking gum under tables. It’s just laziness.

Guilty pleasure?
Justin Timberlake. He’s a good singer. and he writes good songs.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
My first concert. It was the String Cheese Incident. Just seeing live music, I’ve never been the same, ever since. That was the defining moment of my life. As soon as I saw that, I knew it was something I was going to do with my life one way or another. And it’s working out fairly well.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at
alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Liz Naro

Up Close: Liz Naro

Liz Naro is a professional actress who has starred in several locally produced plays. She most recently appeared in “Girls’ Night In,” written by local playwright Tom Flannery. Other productions she’s appeared in include “Proof,” for which she won a Northeastern PA Theatrical Alliance Award, and “The Children’s Hour.” She also has appeared in independent films and on television. She owns and operates Just Imagine Salon & Spa, Dunmore. Naro, 49, is a native of Dunmore and a graduate of Dunmore High School. She also studied acting at HB Studios in New York City. She has two sons, Michael, 30, and Colin, 17. She lives in Dunmore.

Q: What inspired you to get into acting?

A: My one aunt who I grew up with had a big personality. And I remember her signing one of my stuffed animals with the name “Katy Duncan” or something like that — just for fun. It was a pretend autograph. She was like, “I’m a great actress, and I’m signing this.” I thought she was so was funny. And then, getting into high school productions, I was a dancer and a gymnast, so I would always get roles that had me flipping across the stage. (Laughs) But I kind of got hooked because I was performing. Then I got smaller character roles, and that hooked me, so I decided I wanted to study it and get better at it.

 

Q: You also wrote your own play, “Intimate Moments,” which you starred in. Can you tell us a little about it?

A: I performed it twice, and another time I directed it. It’s basically the story of two people going through a relationship, with its trials and tribulations. And each character has an ego, which says what they really want to say, and so they are a part of the story. It was edgy. And it was fun. I’m going to bring it back this year.

 

Q: What do you enjoy most about acting?

A: Getting lost in a character. And a lot of times, whenever I’ve done characters, it’s almost like what I’m going through in my own life. And so it kind of heals, processes and makes you work through situations. I do like getting lost in playtime. It’s playful.

 

Q: You’re also working on a film, correct?

A: I’m working on a documentary on my cousin, Ross. In 1974, he was 14 and was going to Dunmore High School. He was wrestling during agility drills at football practice, and he hit the mat wrong, and he was paralyzed. After doing my play, he said, “Liz, I’d really love to tell my story.” He was told he would never walk again, and nine months later, he walked across the football field at the West Scranton/Dunmore game on Thanksgiving Day in front of thousands of people. He walked for more than 20 years, but then started having spinal problems and deterioration. He’s in a wheelchair now, and he’s had a hard life, but he’s still so positive. I’ve been working on the documentary for a year.

 

Q: You’ve also owned your own salon for 26 years. What do you enjoy about it?

A: I love it. It’s creative. And I get to talk with people all day long. Like acting, it’s also playful. It’s nice to wake up and love what you do.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

A: I’ve done triathlons. I’ve done marathons. I love the camaraderie of all of the athletes. I ballroom dance. I do yoga and meditate. And I’ve started a not-for-profit, which I’m trying to do as a non-profit. It’s called the Mosaic Project: Healing Through the Arts. Its goal is to inspire healing, growth and self-empowerment through engagement with the arts. Our slogan is, “Broken into beautiful.’’

 

Q: Any hobbies?

A: Jewelry. (Laughs) And I used to collect postcards.

 

Q: Favorite music?

A: I love Natalie Merchant. And everybody from the Rolling Stones to the Avett Brothers.

 

Q: Do you follow sports?

A: I like football. My sons have both played football. Michael played overseas, in Berlin, and he’s now a coach. And Colin is an all-state running back with Dunmore. It seems like I’ve lived out of my car every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for years going to football games.

 

Q: Favorite thing about NEPA?

A: The community. And family. Within the theater community, we make bonds. And Dunmore is like family. When one goes down, everyone’s there to pick you back up.

 

Q: Is there anything about you that might surprise people?

A: I’m ambidextrous. And I’m really good at foosball, and I’m really good at ping-pong.

 

Q: Have you had a defining personal moment?

A: Two. One was having my children. Once you have children, you have to be totally responsible, and I had to grow up fast. And I was really young. But being accountable made me grow up, and it also made me fight. I had to fight for them. I didn’t always have it great. Financially, I wasn’t always in a great position, but I worked really hard to support them and my business. Having children really stepped up my game as a person and a human being. And the other thing was finding acting. Everybody goes through bad times in their lives that can either make or break you, and acting really helped me get through some of my growing pains.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Grant Williams

Up Close: Grant Williams

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Grant Williams is a professional musician who has performed with regional bands such as Graces Downfall and Umbriel. He will release his first solo album, “Suspended Animation,” on Tuesday and hold an early CD release party Friday at Thirst T’s Bar & Grill in Olyphant. He is employed at Northeast Music Center, Dickson City. Williams, 29, is a native of Old Forge and is a graduate of Old Forge High School. He also studied at Marywood University. He lives in Old Forge.
Meet Grant Williams …

You’ve played bass in some really good bands over the years. What inspired you to write and record a solo album?
I was always toying with the idea. I’d just sit there and noodle with something until they became songs. I had a sound-check song and a middle-of-the-set-song that were just for me. Eventually, when I found myself band-less, I didn’t want to go looking for a rebound band that I would just breakup with again in a year. So I just started focusing on my album, and it started to get its own legs, and then I’d add something new to it and write another song, and it would be bigger. It’s nice, because it started off pressure-free. There was no “We have to do this” or “We have to do that.” It was truly a work of passion.

You’ve also shot a few music videos for the album, correct?
I’m going to make one for every song on the CD. The album is all instrumental, and though the songs don’t have words, they all have meanings. And so I have to hammer people over the head with the visual aspect of what it means. (Laughs.) Plus, there is a big visual element to the songs, and so having the stories visualized adds another dimension that would be missing with just instrumental music.

What inspired the songs?
A little bit of everything, but the overall theme and the reason it’s called “Suspended Animation” is lost time. Either myself (or) other people have all wasted time on either addictions or terrible behavior or bad relationships. You’re not living; you’re just surviving. And that’s the theme. If you’re not living in it, you’re trying to overcome it. What factor in your life is making you live in that suspended animation? That’s the unifying theme of the record.

Are you open to the idea of joining another band?
If the right one shows up. But I don’t want a rebound band. It has to be the right one.

Who are some of your all-time favorite bands?
I love Incubus. And Tool is a big one. And the Beatles probably more than anything. I remember going out and picking up each remaster. I did one record at a time, just so I could give every record its own time.

Who are your favorite bassists?
Ryan Martinie from Mudvayne. He’s the guy that sent me in this direction. I hear him the most in my playing. And anybody that plays bass will say Victor Wooten. And Les Claypool from Primus. Those three would be the heavy hitters.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy learning more about outer space. I also enjoy video games, making small road trips and catching live local shows.

Favorite thing about Northeast Pennsylvania?
I like the community, especially in music. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for how supportive we are. You’ll have negative people — and they’re louder — but they don’t outnumber us.

Favorite city?
New York City. I don’t know why, but I end up there all the time, and it’s never boring. I’ve never gone there and been bored, even if it was for a boring reason.

Favorite vacation spot?
England, to visit the family. Most of them are there. I’m third generation off the boat. Our lineage is all England, and it’s just us over here. We’re the standout outcasts. (Laughs)

Do you follow sports?
I follow college football. I like Penn State. I’ve spent so much time there I consider it home. We’ve had a rough couple of years, but I can’t let go.

All-time favorite movie?
“Star Wars.” Any of them except “II.” The “Attack of the Clones” is borderline unwatchable.

All-time favorite TV show?
“Scrubs.”

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“If you have easy days, your life is going to be hard. If you have hard days, your life is going to be easy.”

Any pets?
A dog, Tipsy. And two rats, Turk and J.D.

Biggest pet peeve?
Negativity. I don’t mind if you’re negative, but don’t be negative and do nothing. If you’re presented with an opportunity to fix something that you’re complaining about, and you don’t, then I don’t want to hear you ever again. People that are just determined to be stagnant — and then just complain that they’re stagnate — drive me nuts.

Guilty pleasure?
I love Maroon 5.

Most memorable professional moment?
When Graces Downfall played the Pavilion at Montage Mountain for the second time. When I was about 17, I was at Ozzfest, and I was watching Ozzy and Korn and all of the bands on that stage, and though I was only playing guitar for maybe two years, I said “I’m going to play there.” And I did, twice. And so anymore, if I have something crazy in my head and think, “One day I’m going to do this,” it’s not so crazy. Just the fact that playing there became a tangible reality makes everything a tangible possibility. And it wasn’t just a pipe dream that happened by accident. We did it twice.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at
alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Riley Loftus

Up Close: Riley Loftus

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Riley Loftus is a guitarist/singer and was recently named best new artist at the Steamtown Music Awards. Loftus, 20, is a native of Scranton and also spent some of her childhood in Philadelphia. She is a graduate of Scranton Preparatory School and is a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she studies clinical psychology and entertainment marketing. She lives Philadelphia and Scranton.
Meet Riley Loftus …

Congratulations on your recent win at the Steamtown Music Awards. Is there anything in particular that you feel led to you being named best new artist?
That’s the power of social media. My mom was actually the one that found out about the Steamtown Music Awards and The Electric City Music Conference and said, “I think you have a shot at this. Let’s try to get some votes.” First, I had to be nominated, so I had to ask a bunch of people if they would help nominate me. And I got nominated. After that, it was almost two months of online voting. It was the most stressful thing ever, but I ended up winning in the end. There was definitely a big push on Facebook.

How would you describe yourself as an artist?
It’s just me, solo/acoustic. Just me and my guitar. I’m Top 40/pop. That’s what I like to sing, and a little bit of R&B. I like to make mash-ups of songs from the same genre. So, with the ’90s, I’ll take a NSYNC song and a TLC song and combine them together into a medley. That’s my thing. I do a bunch of those throughout my gigs. And I just play at the local bars and restaurants … places like Andy Gavin’s and The V-Spot in Scranton, Smiler’s in Dickson City, the Brickhouse Tavern in Dupont and Jak’s in Jessup.

How long have you been involved with music?
I started playing piano when I was 4. I started taking guitar lessons at 9 and really got a niche for it at 14 or 15, and then I started singing. I started playing in bars when I was 15, but it was only here and there — maybe once every few months. It wasn’t until last summer when I really took it seriously and started booking gigs regularly, every weekend, and made it my job.

Do you write any original material?
I’m working on it now. I feel it’s become a necessity to put out my own music. It’s challenging for me to write. I’m better at the music than the words. I admire those that can do it so easily and just whip out a song. Hopefully by next summer I’ll have a finished piece of work.

Who are some of your favorite artists?
Tori Kelly. She’s up and coming, but she was nominated for a Grammy. She’s only had a few hits, but she’s doing exactly what I do. It’s just her and her guitar. She’s very soulful. I admire her a lot, and I’ve met her a few times. She’s awesome.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I think the live music scene is better than a lot of areas. In my opinion, it’s better than Philly. It’s just an area that appreciates it, and so many places have live music. People here enjoy live music.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“Trust the timing of your life.”

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m an introvert, and I’m very quiet and shy, which people find very surprising because I’m a live musician and I sing in front of people. My dad says, “Riley, you sing in bars. What do you mean, you’re shy?” But that’s a different persona. When I’m performing, I’m working. After a gig, a lot of bands will go out and just hang out. I love coming home and going to bed and getting a good night’s sleep. I enjoy my quiet time. And I think people probably wouldn’t expect that.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
With music, there was a moment that took it from a hobby to where I thought I could do it as a job. I was 15 and taking guitar lessons, but I wasn’t singing yet in front of people. I was too afraid, and nervous, and thought I wasn’t good. I wouldn’t even sing in front of my parents. But my mom would listen through the door, and she heard me one day and said, “I’m putting an end to this.” She contacted my guitar teacher, Neil Nicastro, and told him, “Riley loves to sing. And she loves to sing and play guitar at the same time. You should get her to sing at her lesson for you and get her over this fear.” A few days later, I had my lesson, and a half-hour lesson turned into an hour, because he wouldn’t let me leave until I sang. Finally, he got me to sing, and he said, “You know, you’re really good. You shouldn’t be afraid of singing in front of people.” That gave me some confidence, and then the next day, he called me and said he wanted to enter me into Steamtown Idol, which was a singing competition at the Mall at Steamtown. So I went from not singing in front of anybody to being in a competition, and I made it to the finals. I sang in front of hundreds of people in the middle of the mall. And that was the moment. I thought, “This isn’t scary. I have a gift, and I should use it to the best of my ability.” After that, in a matter of months, I went from not even singing in front of my mom to singing in bars. And if it wasn’t for Neil pushing me to really just get out there, who knows what would have happened? I told him, “I blame this whole thing on you.”

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at alankstout@comcast.net.

photos by emma black

Up Close: Jen Law

Up Close: Jen Law

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Jen Law is an independent merchandising vendor in the music industry. She has worked at venues such as Sherman Theater, F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts and The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. She is also a construction worker with Jones Construction, based out of Blakely. Law, 38, is a native of Kingston and is a graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School. She lives in Kingston.
Meet Jen Law …

Tell us a little about your work as a merch vendor.
I’m an independent vendor. There are touring vendors that tour with the bands, and there are independent vendors, or local vendors, that can come in and sell at the shows. I can get hired to vend by the actual touring production or by the artists. Or I can be hired by the venue.

Can you explain how it works?
There’s a contract that is negotiated before the show even happens, and there is a merchandise end of the contract. I like to explain it like this: If you were to take a certain type of wear to a flea market, you pay for your table. In merch contracts, venues offer that. They say, “We’re going to give you a well-lit space and provide you with everything you need to sell, and we’re going to take a certain percentage.”

Are you involved in such discussions?
That’s all negotiated prior. I have nothing to do with it. But I’m there, and I can enforce the contract. My job is literally to build a full retail store in one day and tear it all down in one day. I have to take a full inventory of everything that is brought into the venue, I have to organize it, I have to display it, I have to sell it, and at the end of the night, I have to do a settlement.

Some of those concert T-shirts are pretty expensive.
The reason concert T-shirts cost so much money is because the money goes out into so many different directions. It goes back to the band, of course, so you always want to buy that T-shirt and support your favorite artist. And there’s payment for the person that is vending. And there’s the T-shirt itself, the print and shipping. They’re on tour, so they don’t have a way to just stop and pick something up, and so there are shipping costs to have them shipped wherever they are.

Do you like the work?
I love my job. The bottom line is that it’s retail. But no one is ever sad at a concert. It is the happiest place on earth. Everyone is excited to see their favorite artist. It’s so much fun. And I love the products. I appreciate the artistry that goes into the designs. And with the tours that I work with — from the guitar techs, to the stage managers, to the sound engineers — sometimes the crew makes it. To create a show is a group effort. People that come to the shows love the bands and the artists, but they don’t see these amazing people behind the scenes or get to interact with them. And I do. And I’m fortunate for that, because they are some really amazing people.

When you’re hired by an artist, do you ever get to meet them?
I do. But it’s funny, because I tend to try and avoid it. And the reason is I have met people in the industry where I’ve really loved their music, and then I met them and I was a little disappointed in their character. I’m not going to mention names, but it just made me feel different about their music, and I don’t want to feel that way.

Are there any acts that you’ve had nice experiences with?
There have been artists that have come to visit the merch booth, and they’re wonderful. Every time I work with Sevendust, they are such a wonderful camp of people. The crew. Everybody. I absolutely love working with them. Toby Keith’s camp also knows me, and he always comes up to say hello. And I had a funny little thing happen about seven years ago. I was minding my own business, having a coffee at catering and taking a break, and someone came up from behind me and starting playing with my hair. I’m thinking, “Who is this?” I thought it was somebody I was working with, just coming up and being silly. And I turned my head, and it’s Gene Simmons. He introduced himself, and he was completely polite. He asked, “How’s the coffee?” I told him it was keeping me awake and keeping me movin’. He said, “Great. Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you around.” And he politely excused himself.

How’d you first get into vending?
I was working at the former Jitterbugs nightclub, and they were doing band showcases, and there was a band that came through that later became Lifer, (a regional band, featuring future members of Breaking Benjamin, that later signed to Universal Records). And they asked me if I would help them out and sell T-shirts at a show. And that was my first vend.

How long have you been working construction?
Since February. The owner of the business did work for a friend of mine, and I was looking for something to supplement my income when I’m not slinging cotton. (Laughs) My dad has two daughters, and when my sister was born, he knew they weren’t having any more children, and he realized he had so much information and knowledge to hand down, and I was the one. So I can change my own oil. I can change a tire. And apparently, I can build decks and do siding and roofing and fencing. I love digging holes. Love the post-digger. That’s my favorite thing.

What do you like to do in your free time?
Lately, I’ve been fishing and target shooting. Fishing is great. I’m new to it, but it’s so relaxing. And with target shooting, I’m actually better with a crossbow, which is kind of funny.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
My favorite of all-time is Bill Withers. I love his music, and I love who he is as a person. I’ve seen so many interviews with him, and he’s a beautiful person. And to grow up the way he did … his story is amazing. Whenever I talk about music, I urge people to check out his story. He’s led such an amazing life, and his music is so reflective of that.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
There’s so much to do. Even when I work, it’s fun. And I love going to Lake Wallenpaupack or Harveys Lake.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
“Kindness takes no effort.” You can always give kindness to people.

Is there anything about you that might surprise your friends?
Most of my friends pretty much know everything about me. I’m pretty open. But people that are more of acquaintances would be pretty surprised that I’m working construction.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
I feel that not being a part of a clique in high school and kind of getting teased a little bit has made me a better person. It has made me see people differently and just accept everyone for who they are and not judge people for any reason. I felt that I was being judged and I wasn’t being seen for who I was. And the moment that I got out of high school and was 17 years old, and was brought into the real world, and I got the job at the nightclub with people that were a couple of years older than me, that changed. And being in that environment, with people that were friendly and nice, made me realize that the teasing and judgment was because of where I was — it wasn’t because of who I was. And that made me see people differently.

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL with ALAN K. STOUT is a regular feature in electric city, profiling people from all walks of life throughout NEPA. Reach Alan at
alankstout@comcast.net.