Up Close – Mike Walton

Up Close – Mike Walton

Mike Walton is a professional DJ and is the owner and operator of Mike Walton Entertainment. The company specializes in weddings, birthday and graduation parties, proms and corporate events. He was voted “Best Wedding DJ” in the Electric City’s “Best of 2016” readers’ poll. Walton is a native of Scranton and attended of Scranton Technical High School and Johnson College, where he received an associate degree in architectural drafting and design. He and his wife, Debra, live in Old Forge.
Meet Mike Walton …

How long have you been a DJ?
I say “over 20 years” to emphasize the experience factor, but it was actually 1984 when I started, so we’re looking at 33 years.

What inspired you to want to do it? What was it about DJ work that first drew your interest?
I didn’t want a real job. (Laughs.) While I was going to school, I wanted study time. I figured if I worked as a DJ on the weekends, I’d probably make as much if I worked at a pizza shop five nights a week. My sister worked at Specialty Records, so I could buy albums for $1. I built up my record collection like crazy, and a started buying all of these things that I didn’t know anything about. The music that I had to play was different from what I used to listen to. I used to listen to AC/DC, Van Halen and Aerosmith, and when I started deejaying, it was Madonna and Taylor Dayne. And once I saw the reaction at an event, of how people reacted to that music, it drew me to it even more. I was doing the nightclubs for three or four years, but when I did my first wedding, it was, “Forget about it.” From that point on, all I wanted to do was weddings. I just fell in love with it.

You and your staff do more than 300 events a year. After 33 years, what do you still enjoy about it?
I still enjoy working with clients and making their events personal. And I enjoy everybody on the dance floor. There’s a great feeling when it’s a great wedding. It gives you a sense of accomplishment — that you did something great for these people.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
Michael Bublé. And some of the rock and roll classics still have a heavy influence on my life. But there’s also Sinatra. Going back to that music, I’ve realized how tremendous it was. We just want to a jazz festival in Montreal and saw John Pizzarelli. And I love lounge acts, like Pink Martini, that offer such a great alternative type of music. And, of course, dance music. Any of the new dance music is fantastic.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
We like to go to New York City a lot. We love New York City. We got married in New York City, and it was one of the best experiences of our lives. We do Broadway a lot and fine dining. Our type of vacation is not to sit on the beach and chill out. We like to see as many things as we can. And New York City is one of the best places to do that. Every time you go there it can be a brand new experience. Ballroom dancing is also a big part of my life. I teach it. It’s part of my business and something I offer to my clients.

All-time favorite movie?
“Goodfellas.”

All-time favorite TV show?
“Seinfeld.”

Besides New York, what is your favorite city?
Austin, Texas. Austin is No. 2 because what New York City is to Broadway, Austin is to music. And we love Austin.

Favorite vacation spot?
The south of France.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
It’s in the middle of everything. We don’t have to jump on a plane to go to New York or Philadelphia or the ocean. And there’s a lot of resurgence in our own area, and it’s close to a lot of resurgence in other areas. The weather can be a challenge, but I like the mix of everything.

Favorite food?
Grilled Octopus.

Favorite holiday?
Definitely Christmas. Decorating our house … we were even in the newspaper one year, though my wife will not allow me to go over the edge. (Laughs.) She’s definitely the “yang” to my “yin.” DJs tend to go over the top with everything, but she’d definitely reeled me in.

Any pets?
Two cats: Mario and Giorgio. And we’ll soon be adopting a Labrador, Lupa.

Favorite quote or catchphrase?
For my business, it’s “Expect the best” and “You only have one chance to do it right.”

Favorite book or author?
“A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman.

Biggest pet peeve?
When mediocrity is acceptable. When people think that things that are mediocre are OK, whether it be with restaurants, entertainment, government or anything. I want things to be of a higher quality. We should all want that.

In addition to spinning music at events, you’ve also been a ring announcer at boxing events, been on parade floats, set up photo booths and have hosted “Game Show Trivia.” Is there anything about you, in addition to all of that, which might surprise people?
In June, I was 24 years sober. Twenty-four years of sobriety equals a beautiful life. From the things that I did in my life, I’m just amazed that I’m still here. Friends that knew me back then are astonished and proud of my accomplishments — to be where I’m at, and have a business, and have people work for me, and to be out in the public eye. I’m actually also the one who is surprised. What’s funny is when I got sober, I thought, “How am I going to be a wedding DJ now? How is anybody going to have any fun with me? How am I going to have any fun? I have to be enjoying what I’m doing to make other people enjoy it.” And three weddings in, I’m on the middle of the floor lying on my back singing “Love Shack,” with a bunch of people lying there next to me, I said, “I think I’m going to be alright.”

UP CLOSE AND 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 – James Barrett

Up Close – James Barrett

James Barrett is a musician and songwriter. He recently released his third album, “Twenty.” He has performed at clubs such as Ale Mary’s, Smiler’s, Adezzo and Andy Gavin’s. Barrett is a native of Clarks Summit and is a graduate of Abington Heights High School. He is employed by Caravia Fresh Foods in Clarks Summit and lives in Clarks Summit.
Meet James Barrett …

You’re only 20 years old, yet you’ve already released three albums. When did you first start writing songs?
I started writing when I was 11 or 12. They were obviously really bad. What can a 12 year old write about? (Laughs.) It really didn’t start clicking until I was probably about 16, and I’ve been doing it ever since. I probably have hundreds of songs written, I just don’t use them because I don’t think they’re up to the level of the ones that I release.

What inspires you to write?
Usually, it’s when I’m feeling an emotion that’s very present or I’m feeling an emotion that’s very strong that I’ll try to write about it. Unfortunately, most of the time, I’m not very good at writing songs when there a positive times in my life. I get happy, and I don’t want to. I usually end up writing when there’s something wrong. (Laughs.) My best songs usually come out when I’m upset about something, but that’s just because I feel strongly about whatever’s bothering me.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
The Gaslight Anthem were a big influence. And The Menzingers, from Scranton. And I grew up listening to a lot of my dad’s music, like the Beatles, the Stones, and Van Morrison, because he was always playing them in his car. My dad also played music, and my brother is a drummer — he plays in my band, Embera, so I was always around music growing up.

Does your band also do original material?
Yes. It started when I was a sophomore. I just wanted to write heavier music that I couldn’t play by myself. We released stuff when I was in high school and we’ve just recorded some more songs. After I wrote a solo record that did really well, I started focusing on that more than the band, but I like to do both.

Outside of music, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to watch TV. And I have four dogs that I hang out with a lot. And I like to be outside, just sitting on my porch or on my deck.

Do you follow sports?
I love the Dallas Cowboys. I love Dak. I love Zeke. I think they’re on to something good.

All-time favorite movie?
Either “The Nightmare Before Christmas” or “Sweeney Todd.”

Favorite TV shows?
“The Office” and “Lost.”

Favorite food?
I’ve been a vegetarian since 2008, and I love Eden: A Vegan Café in Scranton. I get their meatball sub. It’s my big thing.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite city?
I love New York, but I don’t go enough. I’m always in Philly, so I’ll go with Philly, since I’m there all the time.

Favorite vacation spot?
I don’t vacation, but if I could choose, it would be somewhere like Vermont. Somewhere outside, in nature, where it’s not super-hot. I’m not a big fan of the beach, but anywhere interesting. Maybe Nashville.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I like that there’s a lot of trees. And I like that there are a lot of good bands from this area.

Guilty pleasure?
This is going to sound crazy, but I have a pretty bad back. I’ve been going to a chiropractor since I was 16. And so when it’s late at night and my back is killing me and I want to feel better, I watch videos of chiropractor therapy of people getting their bones adjusted. I love seeing people that are in a lot of pain and they can’t move a certain part of their body, and they get adjusted, and their neck is straightened out. To me, it’s very interesting.

But that doesn’t help your back?
No, it doesn’t help my back. (Laughs.) But I find comfort in knowing somebody else is getting help.

Biggest peeve?
People that chew with their mouth open and people who wear sunglasses inside.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
When I was in fifth grade, I had a friend who bought a unicycle, and I thought it was the coolest thing, so I bought a unicycle. I was 11 when I learned how to ride it, and I can still do it today, I just don’t do it. It one thing to see an 11 year old doing it, but when I’m 20, with facial hair, I don’t think people want to see me riding unicycle around Clarks Summit. (Laughs.)

Have you had an event in your life, or a person in your life, that has had the greatest impact on you and has helped shape you into the person you are today?
My dad. My dad, when I was growing up, always played guitar and I was just constantly surrounded by music. And because of my brother drumming, I started playing bass, and then I taught myself guitar. And every time I play at a bar, my dad is always there. It definitely has to be my dad.

UP CLOSE AND 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 – Tami Prall-Nasser

Up Close – Tami Prall-Nasser

Tami Prall-Nasser is a client advocate for Cigna Health Insurance. She also is a member of the Junior League of Scranton. Prall-Nasser is a graduate of West Scranton High School and Keystone College, where she earned an associate degree in hotel and restaurant management and a bachelor’s degree in business management. She and her husband, William, live in South Scranton.
Meet Tami Prall-Nasser …

You’ve been with the Junior League of Scranton for six years. What was your inspiration for first getting involved with the organization?
My sister-in-law was involved the year before I had joined, and every year, during your first year, you do a project. My husband co-owns the Backyard Ale House, and after her project, she and her friend showed up with these fun shirts that said “Know Me” on them. I asked what that meant, and she said it was their Junior League Project. She explained that Junior League, which has been around for 76 years, is an organization of like-minded women who do things for the community, and that “Know Me” was their project. It was an art project, where they worked with the United Neighborhood Centers, and it was about positive expressions through art. Kids expressed themselves through poems, paintings and songs. I said, “That sounds great. How do I get involved?” I went with them to the Junior League annual dinner, met all of the women and joined that fall. And it’s been one of the best choices that I’ve made.

Your employer, Cigna, has been very supportive of your work with the Junior League and it’s become a very big part of your life. What do you enjoy about it the most?
I meet so many people. And I’m also involved, through the Junior League, with other organizations and have had opportunities to work on other projects that I’d never thought I’d be involved with. Marley’s Mission is one of them, which offers equine therapy for children that have experienced trauma. The Blue Ribbon Gala is their biggest fundraiser. And, two years ago, I also did my own fundraiser, “The Beards of Scranton,” which benefited the Catherine McAuley Center. Junior League has given me the opportunity to develop myself and my community and use the my skills.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love exercising. I love sports. Yoga. Running. I enjoy any type of high-impact workout. And anything outdoors — winter, spring, summer or fall.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
I’m a lifelong fan of the Counting Crows. I also like Pearl Jam, Ryan Adams and the Grateful Dead. And I’ve seen Phish a few times.

Do you follow sports?
My brother, 10 years ago, played professional football. He played with the New York Jets for a year, so I was a Jets fan for a while. But now I’ve moved over the Green Bay Packers, because my husband is a Packers fan.

All-time favorite movie?
“Titanic.”

Favorite TV show?
“Game of Thrones.’

Favorite city?
I love Philadelphia. And my second favorite is San Francisco.

Favorite vacation spot?
Any beach, as long as there’s sand.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I like that it’s close to larger cities like New York and Philadelphia, and that there’s also a lot to do here. And that there is a great sense of family and a great sense of community.

Favorite foods?
Cheese. Peanut butter. Chocolate. And ranch dressing.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween. I love getting dressed up.

Any pets?
A dog, Otis. He’s a white Golden Retriever.

Biggest pet peeve?
People who complain and yet don’t try to make a change or make the situation better.

Guilty pleasure?
Popcorn.

Favorite book or author?
I love the “Harry Potter” series. And my favorite author is Christopher Moore. I’ve read all of his books. He’s hilarious.

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people?
When people first meet me, from what I’m told, they get a really different impression of me. They think I’m this proper person, but I can trash talk. I’m from West Side, as we call it, so I’m a little bit dirty, too. (Laughs.)

Have you had an experience in your life that has really helped shape you or define you as a person?
Joining the Junior League … it brought something out of me. I can be quiet, but if I’m really passionate about something, I go at it at 100 percent. Joining the Junior League really opened me up to lots of opportunities that I may have missed. It’s made me passionate about volunteering and wanting to help others. My favorite quote is from Gandhi: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” And I try to live by that motto.

UP CLOSE AND 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 – Jesse Faatz

Up Close – Jesse Faatz

Jesse Faatz is a freelance photographer specializing in event and marketing photography. He is also the event coordinator at Montage Mountain Resorts. Faatz is a native of Blakley and is a graduate of Valley View High School. He studied IT and graphic design at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He and his wife, Staci, live in Taylor.
Meet Jesse Faatz …

When did you first discover your love for photography?
My father was a professional photographer on the side when I was growing up, back when film was still popular. Through the years, I was always exposed to it. I always liked to help him set up for studio portraits and just be a part of it. I would basically be his little helper. Years later, I got into graphic design, and I started doing some design for local clients — mostly bands — and I was being provided with some photos that weren’t the most professional. Maybe a friend snapped it for them, or something like that, and I had one or two bands ask if it was something I could help out with. My father had recently purchased a digital camera, and being an old-school film photographer, he had trouble learning the settings. So he kind of passed it along to me and said, “Can you help me figure this out?” And that’s really where my love for photography really blossomed. I took on a couple of band shoots and seemed to do OK with it, and I was able to integrate the photography into the design side. Fast forward a year or so, and I kind of lost interest in the design side and went full into the photography.

You have photographed a lot of concerts, especially at Montage Mountain. What is it that you enjoy the most about photographing live music? And at what other venues have you worked?
I like to call myself a musician, because I like to dabble on the drums and the guitar, so I‘ve always been interested in music on that end. And not being able to really excel on the guitar or on drums, it was basically the next closest thing that sometimes put me right onstage. I’m currently the house photographer for the Pavilion at Montage, for the PPL Center in Allentown, and I do some house photography at the Kirby Center. And LiveNation will bring me down to places like the Wells Fargo Center and a couple of other festivals that they have in Philadelphia to help out on their official coverage teams.

Who is your favorite national artist that you’ve ever photographed?
Pearl Jam. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to shoot them. And coming out of that shoot, somehow my images got into the band’s hands and landed on the landing page of their official website. My name was there, and four of my photos were featured right on their homepage. It was very humbling, after years of work, to not only be able to shoot one of my favorite bands but also have the band using my images, sharing them on Instagram, on Facebook and on their webpage. It was very humbling and kind of still gives me goose bumps to this day.

What do you enjoy the most about working at the Montage ski slope and water park?
I’m a part of an amazing team. My supervisor has taught me so much over the past two years and I’ve really grown as a marketing professional. And being able to work with our team has just really brought it home. I grew up skiing Montage. One of my first jobs was actually there in the rentals department. Now in the event coordinator position, in addition to all of the winter events that we do, I’ve been able to put on some great beer festivals and wine festivals and adult swim nights. I’ve basically done nothing but broaden my skills since I’ve been here, and that’s directly attributed to Jeff Slivinski, the director of marketing.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I get very little free time. (Laughs.) I really like to work. I’m full-time at Montage Mountain Resorts and doing the photography on the side, I’m also involved in some weddings and editing. But when I do get a little bit of free time, I’m usually enjoying the day working in the yard with my wife.

Besides Pearl Jam, who are some of your favorite musical artists?
I’m a big fan of Cabinet. All of the guys and their management are almost like family to me. I’ve been with them for four or five years now, shooting as many shows as I can. Lately, I’ve also been a big fan of Bruno Mars. His style, his charisma and his talent impress me. I’m also a Grateful Dead guy and I try to see all of the reincarnations, whether it be the Dead, or Bob by himself, or Phil Lesh & Friends. And lately, Turkuaz has been big on my playlist.

Do you follow sports?
I’m an Eagles fan.

All-time favorite movie?
Probably the “Beverly Hills Cop” series or anything early Eddie Murphy.

Favorite TV show?
Recently, it’s been “Mountain Men.”

Favorite food?
Pizza. I can eat pizza every day of the week.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite city?
I’d have to say Philly. LiveNation is kind enough to bring me down there a couple of times a year, and I basically have another extended family down there that I stay with. When I go to Philly, I work with a team of 8 to 10 other photographers, and it’s great to be welcomed. And we all push each other to make the best images. It’s really a joy and a pleasure.

Favorite vacation spot?
Anywhere where there’s a mountain with snow.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
Family. And I love the weather. I love the fact that we have four seasons, and that we get to enjoy a couple of months of winter, and have a beautiful summer, and we have a great fall and spring.

Any pets?
Two cats, Theo and Jerry.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
My mom owns a dance studio, and I was actually a trained dancer for 18 years and taught dance for four years. I lot of people don’t know that about me, but back in high school and the middle school I used to get picked on about it. But it’s actually what brought me the wife that I have today. I’ve known her since I was two years old because she started dancing at my mom’s studio. We were friends until we were about 16, and then we ended up being a couple, and we’ve been together ever since.

Have you had a defining personal moment? Something that has shaped you into the person you are today?
My parents letting me discover things for myself. They’ve always tried to guide me down the right path, but at the same time, my folks have always let me take the leap and learn from my mistakes. I really attribute who I am today to how my parents raised me and the freedom that they gave me. As far as a defining moment for my career, I would have to say it was the first Peach Music Festival that hit Montage. That’s basically how I got my start shooting for LiveNation and being a concert photographer. I volunteered to shoot the first Peach Festival for a small little newspaper called Our Town Lackawanna. I didn’t even get paid for it. I was just so stoked to have my camera out and be shooting music that I loved. An intern from LiveNation saw me running around between both stages, came up to me and asked what I was doing with my pictures. I explained that the paper I was shooting for would probably only run a handful of them, and I was able to pass some of the others on to LiveNation. From then on, it’s been history. And quite a fun ride.

UP CLOSE AND 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 – Patrick Kwiatkowski

Up Close – Patrick Kwiatkowski

Patrick Kwiatkowski is a professional artist and illustrator. His work can be found on the Facebook page for Jeweled Moon and on Instagram under @JeweledMoonArt. He also works for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1319. Kwiatkowski is a native of Old Forge and is a graduate of Old Forge High School. He received an associate degree in graphic design from Luzerne County Community College. He has a daughter, Molly, 8, and lives in Moscow.
Meet Patrick Kwiatkowski …

Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? It would seem that, in recent months, it’s become a very nice part of our life and a very big part of your life.
I’ve always drawn. I’ve always done things for people. And it just seemed like I’d put it on the back burner for so long, and now I’m opening up to it. I went to New York for about a year and I tried working in graphics, and I worked as a freelance artist. And I guess the novelty wore off, and I moved back home, and I just got back to life. And now here I am, years later, doing all kinds of different things that I never thought I’d be drawing. For the last six months I’ve been illustrating finer art … oil paintings, acrylics, water colors, inks and everything in between. And it seems to be taking off. I’m making prints and people are buying them.

What inspires you to create art?
Actually, my art has been inspired by my taste in music. I was always a Deadhead. I guess you can call me a hippie. I used to follow Phish around and saw hundreds of shows. When my daughter was born, I had to move away from that to be Dad, but now that she’s getting a little older, that freedom is starting to come back a little bit, and I’m actually including her with a lot of the music. And that’s what a lot of my art is about. It’s about the music, and what inspires me, and what drives me, and what makes me think. Eastern philosophy. Alan Watts. It gives me a creative process to draw.

Can you give us an example of how music has inspired a piece of your work?
I just did a Janis Joplin piece a few months ago, and what inspired it was a Grateful Dead song written about her after she died. It’s called “Bird Song,” and there is a line, “I’ll show you snow and rain,” and I made that a big part of it. My art is inspired by music because I feel without music, life would be meaningless. And everybody has their own genre and what they enjoy.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I spend most of my free time with my daughter. We go swimming in a creek behind the house or take nature walks. Things like that. I just recently taught her how to play chess.

You mentioned the Grateful Dead and Phish. Any other musical favorites?
It’s definitely the jammy bands, but I also like country/rock. And string-band stuff, like Still Hand String Band. And Tom Waits, Flogging Molly, the Pogues, Led Zeppelin … I’m all over the board. I can listen to polka and be happy, as long as it’s pretty noise.

Beatles or Stones?
Oh, man … that’s not fair. (Laughs.) They’re both so wonderful. But as difficult as it may be, if I had to pick one, I’ll say the Beatles. And that’s tough, because I love the Stones, too.

Any hobbies?
I buy local art. I just bought a print from Brittany Boote. She’s very talented.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Big Lebowski.” I’m an ordained minister of The Church of the Latter-Day Dude. I have my certificate at home. (Laughs.)

Is that a real thing?
It is. And I had to have it.

All-time favorite TV shows?
“Roseanne,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld.”

Favorite cities?
New York. New York is beautiful. And Baltimore.

Favorite vacation spot?
Virginia Beach.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people. I love it here. I grew up here. There are such well-knitted communities. Everybody seems to know everybody. It’s a northern area with a touch of southern hospitality. Yeah, everybody has their moments, but in the end, they’re good people. I love them.

Any pets?
A dog, Gladys, and a cat, Ed. And they both came with those names. They were rescues.

Favorite holidays?
Christmas is fun. Family and friends and the warmness of it. And St. Paddy’s Day as well, because it’s a time when our whole area celebrates.

Biggest pet peeve?
I try to let a lot roll off my back. It’s a zen thing. But I guess it would be littering, or people being ignorant, and not taking care of each other or the environment.

Is there anything about you that might really surprise people?
My daughter got involved in community theater with the Phoenix Performing Arts Center in Duryea. They’re just wonderful people, and sometimes they needed adults to be in parts, and they would ask. And so I did it, and I found out that I enjoyed acting, which is another form of art. The second time I was asked, it was for a production of “Billy Elliot.” It’s about a boy during the Margaret Thatcher years in England who wanted to be a dancer, but his dad wanted him to be a boxer. And I got to play the father. It was a serious role where I couldn’t ham it up or anything. And I found out that I could sing, and again, that I enjoyed acting. And so, I surprised myself. I think I surprised myself more than other people.

Have you had a moment in your life, or a time in your life, that had helped shape you into the person you are today?
Yes. And it’s been recently. It’s the reason I got into my art. It’s the reason I got back into music. I guess maybe you spend half of your life preparing to be the person you’re going to be and you spend half preparing to take the big dirt nap. But Buddha called it an “awakening.” Alan Watts says it’s when you open your and eyes and ears and say, “I get this. I understand my place in the universe.” And that taught me to live in the now. And I don’t think I ever did that before. I think I always lived in the past, with decisions that I made, and in the future, with anxiety over what was going to happen. Today, I just enjoy the moment. I enjoy the now. The purpose of life is to live it.

Up Close – Jonathan Reckless

Up Close – Jonathan Reckless

Jonathan Reckless is the owner and operator of 3 Jacks Burger Bar in Dunmore, which opened seven months ago. Reckless, a native of Dunmore, is a graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School and received an associate degree from Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He and his wife, Kaitlin, have a son, Jackson. They live in Dunmore.
Meet Jonathan Reckless …

What first inspired you to open 3 Jacks Burger Bar?
It’s just something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Working in the business, you always feel you can do it better than the other guy. It’s not always true, but you think you can. (Laughs.) And I guess I got tired of making money for everybody else. I always felt I had had ideas, and I always wanted to be able to kind of do my own thing, do things the way I wanted them to be done and make a claim for myself.

Why burgers?
I actually had a lot of different ideas. But I always felt you can’t do what you want to do anywhere. I’d be crazy to try to open an Italian restaurant or a pizza place in Dunmore. (Laughs.) But I had a couple of different ideas, and I always wanted to kind of hone in on something. Too many restaurants try to do everything, and I can’t keep my quality level high if I have to focus on too much. So I want to focus on one thing and be the best. And burgers were one of my ideas. And I felt the location we have was perfect.

What do you enjoy about it?
Not the hours. (Laughs.) It’s long hours. But there’s a sense of freedom and accountability. The people here work full-time, and they have a lot riding on it. And I enjoy the pressure, and it will hopefully provide a better life for myself. My bartenders make a good living and my kitchen staff does well. We’re all like a family that pulls together and makes things happen and gets things done.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m a gamer. I like to play video games. I don’t have a lot of time now with work and having a kid, but if he’s sleeping and I have a free hour while he’s napping, I’ll probably play a game or two.

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
I’m kind of all over the place. I like good country, like Randy Travis, George Strait, Toby Keith and Tim McGraw. I can go with punk rock like the Ataris or early Offspring. And you can beat the classics like Creedence and Bruce. It’s whatever’s kind of driving me at the moment.

All-time favorite movie?
I like sports movies like “Bull Durham” and “Rudy.” And whenever a see “Shawshank Redemption” come on, I can’t help but watch it.

All-time favorite TV show?
“The Wonder Years.”

Do you follow sports?
I’m a big Giants fan and actually have season tickets. I’m also a Rangers and a Red Sox fan. I spent some time up in New England, so I guess that’s where that came from.

Favorite cities?
New York. And Chicago is a really good time. I also like Toronto and Montreal.

Favorite vacation spot?
I enjoy a nice quiet beach.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
It’s just home. My family is here. My friends are here.

Favorite holiday?
Christmas. I like the Christians season and the buildup with the Christmas songs. And I like the feeling in the air. I wish people felt like that year-round.

Any pets?
A cat, Scooter.

Favorite food?
It depends on what I’m feeling, but I could probably eat pizza almost every day. But I like to mix it up.

Biggest pet peeve?
I don’t like to repeat myself. And I’m more organized than what I let on, so un-organization really kind of aggravates me.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m pretty outgoing towards people, but I’m not really comfortable with it. I’m not as personable as I portray myself, but I guess I can put the face on. (Laughs.)

Have you had a moment in your life that has helped shape you into the person you are today?
There’s always little things that you can look back on and kind of pinpoint. My buddy, Mike, and I … he ended up being a chef as well. And when we were younger, we always liked to try and make food. We’d used to try to make pizza and wing sauce when we were in grade school — maybe 10 or 12. We got our first restaurant job when I was 12 and he was 13. Not legal at all. (Laughs.) We didn’t even get paid — we just helped out at this small restaurant, but we just enjoyed the experience. And I think that probably really got us to where we wanted to be.

UP CLOSE AND 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 – Teddy Wielgopolski

Up Close – Teddy Wielgopolski

Teddy Wielgopolski, best known as Teddy Young, is a professional musician who will officially release his third album, “Movin’ On,” in July. He has been a steady performer in the clubs of Northeast Pennsylvania for the past 25 years and offers guitar lessons at Music Go Round in Wilkes-Barre Twp. Young is a native of Wilkes-Barre, grew up in Pittston and is a graduate of Bishop O’Reilly High School. He also studied art at Luzerne County Community College and music at Wilkes University. He has two sons, Jake, 16, (a guitarist) and Jude, 13 (a bassist). They live in Avoca.
Meet Teddy Young …

When did you first start playing the guitar?
I started when I was nine, and I’m 44 now, so it’s been 35 years. I was playing gigs at age 16 or 17. My dad started me off with piano lessons when I was six or seven, but that didn’t work out too good. (Laughs.) When I was nine, he asked if I was interested in guitar, and he bought me a little acoustic starter guitar, which I still have. When I was 12 or 13, I started to really put things together, musically, and started to really spend a lot of time at it. The first Led Zeppelin album was probably my biggest inspiration at the time.

Was that the album that also first took you on a journey into the blues?
Yes. There was a couple of Willie Dixon tunes on there, and it was just the sound of it. From there, I went on to discover Jimi Hendrix. And I also had a teacher along the way, Ray Delpriore — Stingray — who was a local blues musician, and he, of course, got me further into my search and discovery of Muddy Waters, Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins and B.B. King. At that time, which is also when I got to go on the road full-time, was also when Stevie Ray Vaughan had died, and Clapton came out with that blues record, “From The Cradle,” and it really shot the blues into mainstream rock. I remember hearing it on Rock 107 all the time. B.B. King was doing things with U2. And that lasted for a time. And that was the time that I was really trying to make my way out there.

Who are some of your all-time favorite artists?
I tend to go in a lot of directions. I do love the blues. I know a lot about it and consider myself a musicologist when it comes to a lot of that stuff because I’ve played it so long. But I also have a liking for certain jazz. One of my favorite guitar players is John Scofield. I also love Frank Zappa. And I love a lot of old R&B and funk. I think if you listen to my album, you hear a lot of those different influences.

When I think of guitarists from the ‘80s that were pioneering new ground, I think of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads. You already mentioned Stevie. Did you also listen to Eddie and Randy?
I love Eddie Van Halen. One of my favorite solos was “Hot For Teacher.” It starts off with that progression and then he just launches himself. My son Jake can play “Eruption” and Randy Rhoads solos. I’ve got chops, but not like the super speed-metal chops. (Laughs.)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to be with my kids. And I love to cook. I am so much into cooking. I make my own pastas, pizzas and smoked briskets. Italian cooking is really my forte, and I’m a Polish guy. (Laughs) I could cook for 10 hours on a Sunday and be happy. It’s another art form for me.

Do you have any hobbies? Do you collect anything?
Guitars and amplifiers. They’re tools, but I still have a love for them. I play a Strat –— all the time — but I still have my Les Pauls.

All-time favorite movie?
“Taxi Driver.”

Favorite TV show?
I like to watch football.

Who are your favorite teams?
The Packers and the Steelers.

Who did you root for a few years back when they played each other in the Super Bowl?
That was the worst game because I couldn’t root for either of them. It was my two favorite teams, and I can’t say which one I love more. That was the worst Super Bowl ever. I didn’t know if I was excited or disappointed. I didn’t know what I was. (Laughs)

Favorite food?
Pizza.

Favorite place to vacation?
When I was on the road, I used to love to play at the Outer Banks in North Carolina for a whole week. That’s one of my favorite places.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I love the area. I think it’s a great place to raise kids. For the most part, you don’t have a lot of the problems that you do in other areas. I love the food. I love the diversity, and I think there is a lot of diversity. And for me, in Avoca, I’m about three miles from Scranton and seven miles from Wilkes-Barre. For what I do, that is so ideal. And I’ve been all over, and musically, I think this area has some of the most talent, per capita, than anywhere in the country. And that goes for jazz, that goes for rock, that goes for blues … I truly believe that.

Favorite holiday?
Fourth of July.

Guilty pleasure?
I like to have a few beers.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m pretty outgoing when I’m out, but I tend to be pretty quiet in my personal life. I tend me be very reserved. I love my home life. I enjoy my yard, and cutting my grass, and just being with my kids.

Have you had a moment in your life that has really helped shape you into the person you are today?
My father encouraging me and steering me towards music certainly defined me. Without that, I never would have picked up an instrument. My father never played, but he felt it was an important thing. That was career defining. And the other thing, as a person, would be my children. That completely changed my life forever. When you have kids, you realize you’ve never been so in love in your life. It’s an amazing thing.

UP CLOSE AND 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 – Loreen Bohannon

Up Close – Loreen Bohannon

Loreen Bohannon is a professional sound engineer, specializing in front of house sound. She has worked with artists such as Cabinet, Rusted Root, Hailey Knox, Postmodern Jukebox and also has been on the road with Vans Warped Tour. In the past, she ran sound for Rock Street Music and worked as a radio DJ on 105 The River. She also served as the host of Party on The Patio at Mohegan Sun Pocono. Bohannon is a native of Sterling and is a graduate of Western Wayne High School. She studied technical theater, electrical engineering and English at Wilkes University. She lives at Lake Wallenpaupack.
Meet Loreen Bohannon …

When did you first realize that you wanted to work with live sound?
When I was about 16. I’ve been doing this since high school. I kind of started with Rock Street. They came into my school when Nancy Evans, who is now my adopted mom, was hired as the high school theater director. She came in and really changed around the whole program, and she brought in Rock Street to start doing our musicals. I was introduced to some of their guys — who are now good friends — and they said, “You can touch our stuff, but not until you know how to wrap a cable. And we’re not going to show you how to do it.” So I obsessed over learning how to wrap a cable, and the next time they came through I started helping them and I was the head of the stage crew. Until the last few years, it was just a job, but I’ve now realized, “This is my career. This is it. This is really what I want to do.” There’s nothing else I’ve gravitated towards.

By running front of house sound, you’re pretty much responsible for what an audience hears at a show. What do you enjoy about it the most?
There’s something tangible about the energy that’s created at a concert when everything is perfect. When I’m locked in and the band is on and the people are into it, there’s just this incredible energy that’s created that’s unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. And there’s this one moment — and it’s for all of us — when you realize, “This is why I do what I do. This is it. This is that moment.” And it’s a very thankful moment, because yes, you’re doing what you love, but for all of the people, you’re creating a moment for them, and they’re going to remember that piece of music for the rest of their lives. You’re creating memories. And that’s a powerful thing … to be able to affect someone’s life like that. Because I know how much music affected mine.

Your work has you on the road quite a bit. Do you like it?
For the past two years, I’ve been touring almost full-time. I love the road. I thrive on the road. I’m not even out there yet as much as I want to be and I’m not yet doing the level of things that I want to be doing, which means I’m going to be out there even more. I read an interesting article that talked about what we do on the road, and how close it is to us being cavemen, where we move in a troop of 20 to 40 people, we have a singular goal, and we all have to work together despite whatever disadvantages can happen on any day. And we always have to complete our mission. I have to finish the show, everyday. No matter what obstacle comes up, it has to happen. And that’s really unique.

Who are some of your all-time favorite musical artists?
Sting. Pink. Billy Joel. Hailstorm. And right now I’m into Redeye Empire.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Reading and feeding my chipmunks.

You have chipmunks?
They’re all outside, but I have dozens of them near where I live. And they’re literally like domesticated. They come up to me and I pet their little heads and feed them peanuts. They’re adorable. They’re my little dudes, and they all have different personalities.

All-time favorite movie?
“Labyrinth.”

All-time favorite TV show?
“The 10th Kingdom.” In was an old TV mini-series.

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

Any hobbies?
I collect a lot of books. I read a lot.

Favorite city?
I really like Nashville. And Portland, Oregon.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people that I’ve met. One of my favorite things about this area is when I was first coming up in this business, as a girl, most people didn’t care. Billy Kossuth from Rock Street music didn’t care. He’d give me the same work he’d give a guy and he’d expect me to be able to do it. Now that I’m older and look back on that, I think that’s amazing, because I’ve seen how much other women have struggled to get in.

Favorite food?
Cheese fries.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Biggest pet peeve?
When people wrap cables the wrong way. And loud chewing.

Guilty pleasure?
Sitting in my underwear playing Diablo III and not talking to anyone.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m a super nerd with things like “Star Wars” and “Harry Potter.” I also have extreme anxiety. It’s really bad, and it has contributed to a lot of debilitating problems with my confidence and my self-esteem in my life. And I’ve only recently, in my life, been able to sort that out. People see how confident I am, but until recently it’s pretty much all been an act. Behind what people see of me is a very shy and unsure girl who had a lot of bad stuff happen to her.

Have you had a moment or experience in your life that truly helped shape you into the person you are today?
There are a few. And they shaped who I am now and why I am so determined. And it starts when I was a kid and I was sexually abused. Also, my mother was beaten by my dad when I was child, and I remember all of it. But I never wanted to be a victim, and when I was 12 or 13 I had a breakdown, and I decide that I never in my life wanted to be a victim again. I did something called Young Marines, and I joined a Junior ROTC program, and I learned how to defend myself and how to fight, and how to pick myself up even when someone bigger than me knocked me down. My mom passed away when I was 16, and the events in my childhood allowed me to be able completely independent and support myself. I have tattoo on my shoulder, which I got when I was 18, and it’s a phoenix — to remind me to always rise up from the ashes.

photos by emma black
Up Close – Constantino Michael Siconolfi

Up Close – Constantino Michael Siconolfi

Constantino Michael Siconolfi, also known as “The Godfather,” is a professional DJ. He worked at the Woodlands Inn for 30 years, and plays music at private events and at several Pocono-area resorts. He also operates a computer repair business, Compuforge. Siconolfi is a native of Scranton and a graduate of Scranton Central High School. He later studied theatrical production and design as well as telecommunications at Penn State University. He lives in West Scranton.

Meet Constantino Michael Siconolfi …

When did you first realize that spinning records in dance clubs was something you wanted to do?
Prior to being a DJ, I was a drummer in a lot of garage bands. And what made me want to change over from playing in bands to being a DJ was the impact that it had on the crowd, with people having a good time, dancing and socializing. It was all about what the music did to the crowds. I wasn’t there for me. Never was. It was always about the end result: giving them a memory and giving them a good time. And now I’m pushing those memory buttons. The memories that I helped create 30, 25 or 20 years ago … now I get to go back and push them again. And that’s kind of fun.

Is there a particular era of music that you enjoy playing the most?
The ’80s – because of the different styles, and having watched the music reform itself after ’70s rock and ’70s disco and ’70s acoustic music. In the ’80s, they took some of those elements, and of funk and soul and disco, and created new music. A lot of ’80s pop, to this day, is influential due to the timelessness of the music.

What is that you enjoy most about being a DJ? After all of these years, when you head out to a club, what is it that you’re still looking forward to?
The lifestyle. The face of the ’80s wasn’t just the music. The clothing, the artists and the culture all melded into one big thing. The nightclubs were the Facebook of the ’80s. You had to go out to socialize and see what was going on. When I look back and play some of that music now, I try to see some of that culture in the club.

Who are some of your all-time favorite musical artists?
Prince, Styx and Earth, Wind & Fire. Styx because of the theatrics. Earth, Wind & Fire because of the soul and the funk. Prince because of his artistry.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Discovering new and different things with computers, art and music. With computers, it’s the latest applications and the latest graphics and the latest technology. I try to keep ahead of the curve. With music, I listen and learn about every facet of music that’s out there. I study fashion and trends.

Any hobbies?
I’m a record collector, and I also sell records around the world online, including ‘70s and ‘80s factory-sealed vinyl. I also paint with acrylic and oil. And I travel. Sometimes I’ll just hop in the car and not know where I’m going.

All-time favorite movies?
Ironically, “The Godfather.” Second would be all of the “Rocky” movies. Am I stereotyping myself? (Laughs.)

How did you get your nickname?
Back in ’84, I was working at a club at State College, and a bartender sort of did a typecast of me — from the way I look — as that typical Italian mobster. (Laughs.) So I asked, “Well, is there a drink to go with it?” and he said, “Yeah, there’s a drink called the Godfather,” which is Scotch and amaretto. And I grew accustomed to liking it and drinking it. So that supported the nickname.

Favorite TV shows?
“Game of Thrones” and “The Sopranos.”

Favorite food?
Any Lebanese dish. It’s healthy and I grew up on it.

Favorite city?
New York.

Favorite vacation spot?
Point Pleasant, Myrtle Beach or any beach.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The families. And the way ethnicity intertwines with the neighborhoods and the roots of where everybody came from. I’m fascinated by that.

Guilty pleasure?
Binge watching programs on TV. I just sat and watched eight episodes of “Egypt.”

Biggest pet peeve?
Rudeness and arrogance. And that could be applied to anything from driving in traffic to cutting in line. Also, jealousy.

Your uncle, Monsignor Constantino V. Siconolfi, is a well known figure in Scranton, having founded the St. Francis of Assisi Kitchen. Are you close with him?
Yes, and he’s been a strong influence on my life since I was a kid. His family … my father and my uncle … their way of life was also in influence on how to be humble, to take care of others who are in need and stay out of the spotlight.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I’m the oldest of eight children, six of whom are sisters. And I’m not 100 percent Italian. I’m part Lebanese. Also, I can’t see out of my left eye. I was born with a lazy eye, so seeing life through one eye is different. If I could have one wish, it would be to know what it was like to see out of two eyes. I’ve also met a lot of celebrities and have a lot of interesting stories about the celebrities that I’ve met, and just how normal they are.

Who has had the greatest influence on your life?
My mother. And my father. My father taught me how to survive on my own and not count on anybody else, and he trained me to grow up fast. He prepared me to survive in life when the chips were down. He taught me how to fix appliances. He taught me how to be a locksmith. He taught me how to fix just about anything that’s electronic or electric. He taught me how to a salesman. He helped pioneer a lot of things in my life. And he encouraged me.

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 – CARRIE KIECZKAIJLO

Up Close – CARRIE KIECZKAIJLO

Carrie Kieczkaijlo is the owner and operator of Royal Rock Equestrian Center, located near Harveys Lake. The facility offers horse riding lessons, horse training and horse boarding. It also sells horses. Kieczkaijlo is a graduate of Dallas High School and Centanary College, where she received degrees in biology and equine management. She lives at Harveys Lake.
Meet Carrie Kieczkaijlo …

Royal Rock Equestrian Center is now in its 10th year. When did you first know that you wanted a career that would have you working with horses?
Always. My mom had told me stories about how she had a horse when she was younger, and she actually didn’t want me to get into horses. And I think that was partially because she didn’t want to feel as though she had pushed me towards it, and also because she knew there was no turning back. I don’t think she wanted to live vicariously through me, plus she knew it’s expensive and completely time-consuming. So she actually tried to keep me away from horses, and I did tap-dance and piano lessons and things like that. But she said that somehow, one day, for me, it was magically “Horses!” Also, when I was younger — like a lot of little girls — I wanted to be a veterinarian. And I remember going on a tour of Delaware Valley College, and we were talking to the veterinarians, and they told us that one of the things that people don’t think about is that it is not primarily happy work. It’s mostly sick and hurt animals and you do a lot of euthanasia. And I thought, “Well, the whole reason I wanted to do this was so I could work with horses. Why don’t I just work with horses?” And that was really when I decided this was my path.

What do you enjoy about it the most?
It’s incredibly gratifying. I love when I’m working with a student or a horse that’s having trouble with something, and then there’s that breakthrough. That moment is just super-gratifying. My big thing is also thinking outside the box, so if I’m working with a student who is not getting something, we just keep trying. I’m big on visualization. I’ll say, “Think of it this way,” or “Imagine this” until we get it. I also love being outdoors, and I have a lot of awesome students who have become like family. It’s unique in that I can really establish this complete one-on-one with my clients.

How many horses, on average, do you usually have at the facility?
Our average is around 20. Lately, it’s been around 24.

How many of those are actually yours, and not horses that you are boarding or have for sale?
We have around 10 or 11 horses that are here permanently, and that I’ll keep until the day they die. We have some that are training horses, and the goal is to flip them. But the ones that will be here forever, whether because they’re unsellable, or they’re rescues, or they’re my lesson horses that I owe my whole life to, is probably around 10 or 11. Which is a lot of horses. (Laughs.)

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hiking and being outdoors. And I love to cook.

Any hobbies?
When I was in college, I collected vinyl albums.

Favorite music?
I’m really a punk-rock girl at heart. When I’m alone, I still gravitate towards punk, indie and even hardcore music. When I’m with people, I prefer to listen to ‘60s and the ‘70s. I love Billy Joel and I’m a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Anything from that era is awesome.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Princess Bride.” I can watch it over and over.

Favorite TV shows?
“Criminal Minds” and “Bob’s Burgers.”

Favorite city?
Usually when we travel, we’ll go to the middle of nowhere. But I like Ithaca a lot. It’s very me — farmers’ market and hippies and vegans everywhere. I also like Philadelphia. There’s a lot to do there. My sister used to live on the outskirts of the city, so it holds a lot of meaning to me.

Favorite place to vacation?
My family has vacationed to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, for as long as I can remember. Both my Mom and my sister have passed away, so that holds a lot of memories. Even though I’ve been there a million times, I still go there, and I’m happy to just be there.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I love that we have so much diversity. You can walk down the street and you can see somebody from every income bracket, from every color … obviously it’s not a big city, but I know people from every walk of life. I also like that little bit of an “underdog” thing that we have going on. We’re hanging in there. We’ve kind of had some hard times, with floods and all of these things, and we just keep coming back. And that resonates with me and my life. And I think that’s how people in this area live. They just persevere.

Favorite food?
Anything ethnic. I love Japanese. I love Indian. Anything like that.

Favorite holiday?
Christmas. I love giving presents. And I love being together with my family and Christmas carols and all of that. It‘s wonderful .

Guilty pleasure?
Two Dots. It’s a game that I play on my phone when I can’t sleep.

Biggest pet peeve?
Dishonesty. And people that don’t put their shopping cart back at the grocery store. I have been known to push my shopping cart back and look at people vindictively and be like, “It’s not that hard.” (Laughs.)

Have you had an event in your life that, more than anything, has helped shape you into the person you are today?
The death of my mother. It definitely gave me an appreciation for the people in my life. My mother was sick for a long time, but it just instilled the concept that nothing lasts forever. And that certainly gave me an appreciation for living every day and making sure that people know how you feel about them. It also brought my family closer together, and it motivates me all the time to do better, be better, and make her proud.

Up Close – Shawn Caden

Up Close – Shawn Caden

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Shawn Caden is a professional musician and currently performs with the bands the Dishonest Fiddlers and Jung Bergo. Caden is a native of Clarks Summit and is a graduate of Abington Heights High School. He also studied audio engineering at Luzerne County Community College. He and his girlfriend, Kate O’Malley, have three children: Phaedra, 5; Aldous, 3; and Ignatia, nine months. They live in Honesdale.
Meet Shawn Caden …

You play guitar, mandolin, saxophone and keyboards. When did you first realize you wanted to become a musician?
When I was in grade school, in fifth grade, I started playing drums in the concert band. I have an older brother who was already into drumming, so I kind of fell into that. When I got to high school, in ninth grade, I picked up the guitar and got into the melodic end of things. And never looked back.

The two bands you’re currently playing with are both doing well. They’ve both recorded original music and each are building a nice following. Can you tell us a little about your work with each project?
With the Dishonest Fiddlers, I just got on board recently (with group founder Dave Brown.) I play mandolin, and I like bluegrass, and Dave writes a lot of original tunes. There’s a couple of festivals coming up that we’re playing, including the Susquehanna Breakdown. Jung Bergo has two CDs, and we’re working on the third. I have a home studio, and we’re doing some stuff there. The first CD was recorded with Bret Alexander at Saturation Acres, and the second CD was mostly recorded at my house. We’ll also be playing some festivals on the summer circuit.

Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
When I first started playing guitar, Pink Floyd was it. First was the grunge area — Nirvana and 311 — but once I started to really want to play guitar, it was David Gilmour. Then, I got into the jam scene, with Phish and the Grateful Dead, and that kind of snowballed on top of all that stuff.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Family stuff. I try to get them to play. I would love to have a house full of musicians. One can only hope. (Laughs.)

Any hobbies? Are you a collector?
Just musical stuff. I love effects pedals. And for whatever reason, friends of mine just dump instruments on my lap. So I have a lot of weird things. I have a zither. I have a rubab. I own two sitars, a harmonium and a Renaissance instrument called a crumhorn. It’s just weird stuff that you’d never see anywhere.

Favorite cities?
Philadelphia and New York. On the West Coast: Portland, Oregon.

Favorite place to vacation?
My family used to rent a house in North Carolina. That was always fun. Beach life for a week was a cool getaway.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The change of seasons. They’re extreme, but I think I’d get bored living in the same atmosphere all the time.

All-time favorite movies?
Mel Brooks movies. And Monty Python.

All-time favorite TV show?
“Arrested Development.” It’s the most witty comedy I’ve seen. It’s a family you can relate to, but you’d never actually want to be related to those people. (Laughs.)

Favorite food?
I recently got into a more vegetarian diet. Veggie sushi is really good.

Favorite holiday?
Christmas. Everybody’s around. Everybody gets together.

Any pets?
Two dogs, Gryphon and Tyler.

Guilty pleasure?
Whiskey.

Biggest pet peeve?
Communication. Although I’m probably just as guilty as everybody else. But in the day and age of technology when it’s almost impossible not to stay in touch with somebody, communication is still always an issue.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I like a lot of Indian classical music. I’ve been playing sitar at my house. That’s an angle that not everybody knows. Other than that, not really. I’m a pretty honest person, to a fault. (Laughs.) Sometimes it gets me in trouble.

Have you had a defining personal moment?
Becoming a father. That’s a big one. I don’t feel the same as I ever had. An emotional rollercoaster. When my daughter was born, I couldn’t see through the tears. It was a life-changing event.

photos by emma black
Up Close – Sheila Sankur

Up Close – Sheila Sankur

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Sheila Sankar is the co-owner and operator of Crotti’s on Ash, a classic cocktail and gourmet grilled cheese lounge located in Scranton. Sankar runs the bar, which opened 10 months ago, with her boyfriend, Joe Crotti. She is a native of Archbald and is a graduate of Bishop O’Hara High School. She later studied at Indiana Institute of Pennsylvania, the Art Institute of Philadelphia and Luzerne County Community College. She received a degree in pre-law from Penn State Worthington Scranton. She lives in Dunmore.
Meet Shelia Sankar …

Tell us a little about Crotti’s on Ash.
It’s a grilled cheese bar, and typically on the menu we have five different types of grilled cheese. There’s an original American. And we have bacon/bourbon, which has bacon, sauerkraut and spicy mustard. We also have a Caprese, with tomato, basil, olive oil and mozzarella.

And we have one for dessert, with mascarpone cheese, strawberries, Nutella, honey and chocolate syrup. Joe, who got some of the ideas from New York, wanted to bring a different kind of classic corner bar into the area. We have 35 or 36 different bourbons, including Pappy Van Winkle, which no other bars have. It’s like $1,600 to $3,500 a bottle, depending on the time of the year. And people are buying it for $100 a shot. We’re also starting whiskey tastings and wine tastings.

What do you enjoy the most about working there?
I’ve been bartending since I was 18. This is what I know. I was at Tink’s and Heil’s while I was in school, and after they closed, I was going to get a day job and do that whole thing, but Blu Wasabi in Clarks Summit called me and I ended up being there for nine years. And towards the end, I was managing. I know it. I love it. And then Joe had the idea to open a bar, and I said, “No.” (Laughs.) But looking back, I’m really happy that we did. It’s definitely a journey. I like people. And I like making drinks. I like really clean martinis. I infuse my own flavored vodkas. I like to stick with a clean, healthy concept for the bar, which I feel is kind of different for this area.

You’re also an artist. With your busy schedule, do you still do any paintings?
Yes. I’d say about 80 percent of the paintings in the bar are mine. I also paint a lot of animals – people’s pets. I’ve always loved animals and cartoon characters. That’s what comes the easiest to me. It’s fun.

What to you enjoy doing in your free time?
I used to work out all the time, but since we’ve had the bar I haven’t had time. But I like doing it, and going hiking. And I really like painting.

Favorite music?
I’m a big ‘90s baby. Tori Amos and Blind Melon are probably my all-time favorites. And Ani DiFranco, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. And, for a curveball, Lady Gaga.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Departed.” I must have seen it 80 times. I could probably recite half of it.
Favorite TV shows?
“Game of Thrones,” “Dexter” and “Boardwalk Empire.”

Do you follow sports?
I have been forced to watch football and the Green Bay Packers because it’s constantly on my TV. I had to paint a giant “G” in my boyfriend’s son’s room, so I am a Packers fan now. (Laughs.)

Favorite city?
New York.

Favorite vacation spot?
A beach, with a piña colada and blue water. I don’t care where.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
The people. It’s a small town. People know each other and are really supportive of each other.

Favorite food?
Chicken tenders. And crab legs.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Biggest pet peeve?
I don’t like spiders. That’s a literal pet peeve. And I don’t like it when customers snap their fingers for a drink. Or they wave their hands, or scream, “Hey bartender!”

Guilty pleasure?
Probably, on a day off, just going away. Going to New York. Going to bars, trying drinks and hanging out. And I like Peppermint Patties.

Any pets?
A Boxer, Titan.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
I’m really social, and I talk a lot. I’m used to being in the restaurant business. But I had severe anxiety growing up and panic attacks until I was about 16 years old. I didn’t speak. I wouldn’t go out in public. My mom always said, “I don’t know what happened, but you just flipped the switch.”

Have you had a memorable defining personal moment?
I would never show anyone my artwork. Ever. Most of it was all at my mom’s house. When I started dating Joe, he pushed me to do a First Friday. This was five-and-a-half years ago. He said, “Just do it.” And I did it, and I ended up selling nine of my paintings. I was crying, hysterically. And I haven’t stopped selling paintings. But back then, I was so afraid to see people’s reactions … I was so hard on myself … but him pushing me to do that brought my wall down. I never believed in myself, but he pushed me to do that, and to embrace it, and to keep painting.
UP CLOSE AND 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 – Jessica McDonough

Up Close – Jessica McDonough

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Jessica McDonough is a mutisystemic therapist with Community Solutions Inc. She also is involved in regional theater. McDonough is a native of Honesdale and is a graduate of Honesdale High School and Grove City College, where she received a degree in music education. She received a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Marywood University. She lives in Scranton.
Meet Jessica McDonough …

Can you tell us a little about the therapeutic work that you do with teens?
I work with adolescents who are starting to show anti-social behavior or difficulties that are a little more intense that your average kid. A lot of our kids come from juvenile parole referrals or Children and Youth. Essentially, what we like to do is go in and work with the adolescent and their family, but we also work with all of the systems in their life, so we talk with the school and, if possible, their peers. We try to connect them with more positive things that can help them get back on the right track.

What do you enjoy about it?
I enjoy empowering children and their families to see their potential. I think it’s really easy to paint those sort of adolescents into a box, and they aren’t bad kids. They’re kids that haven’t been given the same type of opportunities, or maybe their parents don’t have the skill set to help them be as successful. I think what specifically sets Community Solutions work apart is we’re really empowering the family to do it for themselves. For each client that I have, I’ll generally meet with them three times a week for several hours. We’re right in there, and we get to know them pretty well. And ideally, after I leave after five months, they can continue to grow and make progress.

You’ve also been pretty involved with local theater, doing work with everyone from the Gaslight Theater to the Scranton Shakespeare Festival to the New Vintage Ensemble. When did you first realize you had an interest in acting?
I think as soon as I could talk, I knew I wanted to act. (Laughs) I used to put on ridiculous short plays for my family, and even if I wanted to go to the store, I would put on a song and dance number about it. When I first went to college, I had originally planned on majoring in performing arts, but quickly realized I could still do that work, but also get a more viable degree, which is why I did music education. And I actually taught music for eight years, prior to moving into my current field. But I’ve always loved theater.

What has been your most memorable play or role?
My favorite, to date, was playing Ophelia in “Drowning Ophelia.” That was with the Gaslight Theater Company.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to go for hikes. I took up crocheting. And I like reading. And I still do some acting. I also DJ with Patrice Wilding. We call it “SaturBae.” We do it every three or four months, mostly at The Bog. It’s really a dance party for ladies. It’s fun to see women be able to come out and cut loose. And it’s not necessarily geared toward younger women. A lot of them are moms, and it’s a big night out for them.

Favorite music?
I love a band called the Dirty Projectors. They’re just beautiful. Their music is just a little off the beaten path. I like the Alabama Shakes a lot, and I love Beyoncé. I also really like Kanye West’s music. As a person I’m not so sure, but I think he’s a very talented artist.

All-time favorite movie?
“The Goonies.”

Favorite TV show?
“The Gilmore Girls” and “The OA.”

Favorite city?
I did a cross-country trip two years ago with my best friend, and I loved Sedona. It’s not really a city, but it’s a cool place to go. Charleston is really cool, and Omaha is really fun.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
There’s something that’s very real about the interactions that I have with people here. People in this area are going to tell you how it is, but they’re also going to support you and be there for you. There’s a candor that I really appreciate, and when I travel out of this area, I miss that. It’s candor balanced with kindness. I really love Scranton.

Favorite food?
I love pizza. My boyfriend thinks I could survive on pizza alone. And I would be willing to try. (Laughs.)

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite book or author?
I love the “Harry Potter” series. I use it in my practice a lot, with kids, because I think that Harry’s story is really motivating for a lot of kids that come from difficult circumstances. And I found it motivating as a kid as well.

Any pets?
Two cats: Fred and Ellie. And a foster cat, Smidge. She’s an older cat that I take care of, and she’s been passed around, but I think she’ll probably finish out with me. (Laughs)

Biggest pet peeve?
I don’t like it when people don’t say what they’re thinking or feeling. When people talk around you, or behind your back, or other people’s backs – I have a hard time with that. I just feel that so much time gets wasted by just not being upfront with people. I think there’s a way to have those conversations where it shouldn’t have to be so difficult.

Have you had a moment or event in your life that has helped shape you into the person you are today?
I don’t know if it was one particular person or one particular moment, but a series of events in my early twenties really led to me making the decision to look critically at my life, and how I was choosing to interact with people, and to make a change for the better. I love my family dearly, but I come from a traumatic background. There was some trauma in my childhood, and I was recreating bad patterns with friends and with relationships, and seeking out people who just kind of perpetuated some of the things that I believed about myself, whatever they may have been. And there was a point in my mid-twenties when I just ended a relationship with someone that I knew wasn’t good for me, and it was the turning point for me to say, “I’m scared to ask for the things I really want, but I can’t keep living this way.” At that point I took some time for myself and I went to a really wonderful therapist, who helped me to safely start to work on those things. And it changed not only the course of my life, but the quality of my life. Tenfold.

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: Peter Ventura

Up Close: Peter Ventura

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Peter Ventura is the co-owner and operator of Coney Island Lunch in Scranton. He operates the business with his brother, Bob. The family-run business was first opened by their grandfather in 1923. Peter first began working there regularly in 1972, when he was a junior in high school. A native of Scranton, he is a graduate of Scranton Technical High School. He lived in Spring Brook Township for 25 years and has lived in Clarks Summit since 2006. He and his wife, Kathryn, have two sons, Mark and John.
Meet Peter Ventura …

Though you literally grew up around a family business and have helped run the business for more than 30 years, was there ever a time when you thought you might do something else? Or did you always know this is where you wanted to be?
Actually, my second year out of high school, I was going to join the military. I had everything filled out and was ready to go. I went to Wilkes-Barre to be sworn in, and I changed my mind. And they left me there. They wouldn’t give me a ride back to Scranton. I had to call my father, and he came and got me. Needless to say, he was happy. That was my only adventure outside. I started working for my grandfather when I was eleven years old. I mean, you can’t actually consider it “working” when you’re family, but I came down on a Saturday, and he needed the floor mopped or something, and he gave me 50 cents. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but I was able to buy five packs of baseball cards, a 16 oz. bottle of Coke and a big bag of chips. And that was the kicker. Having money. All of these years, the business has always been good to me.

Didn’t you originally take over your grandfather’s shift, which was the night shift?
Yes. We went through some of the worst times in Scranton in the ’70s, when things were really bad. And this area was sort of, not the “red light” district, but it was called “The Strip,” on Lackawanna Avenue, and we had a lot of “entertainment” that used to come in, nightly. (Laughs) And I actually liked it. And another good thing about it was that I was able to go out at night. We would close, and by the time I cleaned up, all my friends who were out would already be loaded, and I’d be out there straight. There were a lot of after-hours bars back then. All of that just worked to make me want to stay here even more.
What do you still enjoy about it the most?
I can’t really say that I’ve had some bad days here. Generally, the people that come in every day — and there are actually people that come in every day — I like talking with them. I’m a talker. Baseball, politics … I’m the perfect person for this kind of business. A lot of times, you’ll get a business, and if they can’t deal with the public, they’re not going to make it. Whereas a guy like me, I love it.

Your cheeseburger was named one of the best in the country by NASCAR Illustrated and your hot dogs have been featured on Fox News. What is your favorite item on your own menu?
I eat hot dogs. I eat them all the time. And I have unbelievablely perfect cholesterol numbers. Good arteries. I guess I was born blessed. And everywhere I go, to any town I go to, if is see little hot dog joints, I’m there. I’ve got to try them out.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
A few things. I’m an 18th century guy in the 21st century. I really like U.S. history, especially 1700s and 1800s, and I like to go to historic places. I also enjoy Eve Online. I’ve been playing since 2007. I have five high-def monitors in my office, connected to two computers. I’m an industrialist in the game. I build ships and mines.

The restaurant features a lot of decorations dedicated to baseball. I assume you’re a big fan.
I love baseball. I was a season ticket holder with the Red Barons and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees for many years and I enjoy minor league games. I also had season tickets for the New Jersey Cardinals, and I go out to Williamsport once in a while, because the Crosscutters are a Cardinal team. And I go to Binghamton a lot.

All-time favorite movie?
I just watched “Ben Hur” again. I’ve watched it a million times. And my wife recently got me “Rogue One” for my birthday, and it was the only “Star Wars” movie I didn’t see in the theater. I love anything that starts with “Star,” whether it’s “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.”

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I can walk out the front door of my restaurant and be less than two hours from New York and Philadelphia, and look to my left and see a mountain green, and look to my right and see a mountain green, and in between, in this valley, is a little bit of everything. And that’s pretty hard to find anywhere. This is a real melting pot. In a lot of places, you have to go to sections of the city to find something, but in Scranton or Wilkes-Barre, just up and down, north to south, east to west, you’re going to find something you’re going to want. And that’s what’s unique about it.

Do you remember your first car?
A 1972 Chevy Vega. Brand new. It was nice. Beautiful car. I paid $1,845 for it, and I paid with cash. I drove it maybe four blocks, up to Scranton Central, and the engine blew. I didn’t know what to do, so I left it on the side of the road.

That happened to the brand new car?
What happened was they didn’t put oil in the engine. It was an aluminum block engine, and the piston just shot right through it. It was steaming. I called my father and he said, “That’s enough of those. I want you to look at this station wagon.” It had a 454 in it. What did I know? I just heard “454” and said, “OK.” He gave me some money towards it, because it was about $5,600. Little did I know he wanted me to transport stuff for the business. (Laughs.) So that was my second car. The first one lasted about 20 minutes.

Biggest pet peeve?
All of the years I’ve been here, and I’m 62 years old, I can’t stand it when people put Scranton or this area down. I won’t get mad at them, but I’ll tell them about all of the good things. I’ll say, “We might have had some trying times here and there, but it’s not like what you’re saying.” That’s my pet peeve. Don’t badmouth Scranton if you’re going to talk to me, because it’s been good to me.

Any pets?
A cat, Barney.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?
I can watch “Downton Abbey,” and I’ll start crying during the crying scenes. I’m a big guy, but if there are sad parts in movies, like a sad scene in “The Green Mile,” I’ll start bawling. My wife will be sitting there and I’ll try to hide it, but I have a soft spot. I don’t cry when I’m making hot dogs.

Have you had what you might consider a defining personal moment?
It happened when I was a kid. One time, my stepfather told me, “Whenever you meet someone, shake their hand.” I was 13 or 14 years old, and I don’t know why, but it stuck with me. Everywhere I went, I shook hands, and my father was always proud of that. He used to race horses, and we had them in stable, and the first time I did it, we had a new driver, and I met him down near Pocono Downs. My father introduced me to him, and I stuck my hand out to shake his hand, and it sort of surprised him. When he was walking away, he said to my father, “That was really nice that your son shook my hand.” And he said, “I taught him to do that.” That was memorable … my father telling me to shake people’s hands.”

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: Kathryn Bondi

Up Close: Kathryn Bondi

UP CLOSE & PERSONAL
WITH ALAN K. STOUT

Kathryn Bondi is a digital graphic designer with Posture Interactive and an adjunct faculty member of Marywood University, where she teaches graphic design. Bondi is a native of Bethlehem but has lived in Scranton since attending Marywood, where she received a degree in graphic design. She is the vice president of the board of AAF Northeast Pennsylvania. She lives in Scranton.
Meet Kathryn Bondi …

When did you first realize you had an interest in graphic design?
I think it goes back to high school. I always loved art. My mom was an art history major, and I grew up really having a love and an appreciation of art. I was always drawing and doing crafts. But when I got to high school, reality kind of set in, and I realized I needed to combine that with a way to make money. I used to get requests to do people’s tattoo designs and T-shirt designs, and I realized I liked combining the drawing aspect with the actual logistics and layout, and sourcing materials, and trying to find the best way to deliver a creative product. I was like, “I think this is what I want to do. I want to do package designs, T-shirts, websites … I want to put artistic direction into a product and deliver it to someone.”

What do you enjoy about teaching?
It wasn’t that long ago that I was there, so I can relate to being in their shoes. I can relate to being in their seat and asking, “Is this really want I want to do for the rest of my life?” or “Do I even know what it’s like to do this in the real world?” When I started, I was probably thinking I’d be doing magazines and newspapers, but that is not what I’m doing. Maybe on a small scale, to some degree, but it’s mostly web. That’s the direction everything has gone. So I might say, “Hey, I know you’re shying away from web code, but you might want to tip-toe into that.” I like discussing their options. Saying, “You’re really strong with illustration. Maybe that really is your route, and maybe you might want to take that a step further and start licensing your illustrations on a website.” It’s giving ideas on venues that maybe they didn’t think existed and getting them to explore those venues.
Can you talk a little about your work with the American Advertising Federation?
It’s a national federation and we serve Lackawanna and Luzerne County. There are all kinds of great national events and benefits, so we try to educate people as to why they might want to become a member. There’s also a government relations component. We try to get involved on the Hill in terms of advertising, where things will affect you if you have an agency or are a freelancer. There’s also continuing education, so we have speaker events. And there’s also community service. You get out of it what you put into it. If you come to the events and you want to learn more about copywriting, or sales, or digital adverting – that’s something that you can grow and benefit from.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
There’s not much of it, but I draw when I can. And I always come back to cooking and gardening. I like being able to grow my own food and then find a way to turn that into something amazing. And whether it’s my boyfriend or my family, I’ve always been a firm believer that food brings people together. Maybe that’s because I’m Italian. (Laughs) I also do handmade jewelry. (www.etsy.com/shop/BrokenTwig)

You’re also involved with local theater, correct?
Yes. I first got involved in theater in high school, but it was more on the speech and debate side of things, with oral interpretation events. I would do dramatic pieces and poetry and prose. I also played music in high school, so I didn’t usually get to be in plays, because I was usually playing in the pit band for the plays. But for the past two or three years, I’ve gotten involved with the Diva Theater and I really like it. I’d forgotten how much I like to just get on the stage and let loose. It’s a good outlet. My first one was “The Lion In Winter.” Most recently, I was in “In the Dark.” I’ve also gotten into set design and did the stage design for “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Favorite music?
My all-time favorite artist is Beck. I’m a fan of his whole catalog and I’ve followed him since I was a kid. I generally go towards the alternative genre and indie/folk. Lately though, I’ve been more into Washed Out and Boards of Canada – stuff that you can just have on in the background. It’s very relaxing.

All-time favorite movie?
I like indie focus films and indie films – stuff that makes you think. By the end of the film, I want to be surprised. I like Wes Anderson. I like the design of his films. He has really interesting color pallets and shots. It’s very symmetrical.

Favorite TV show?
I’m currently going through “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” I also like “Rick and Morty.”

Favorite food?
Pasta.

Favorite holiday?
Halloween.

Favorite city?
Portland, Maine.
Favorite vacation spot?
Ocean City, New Jersey. That’s always been our family vacation spot.

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I love a lot about Northeast Pennsylvania. A lot of people from where I’m from in the Lehigh Valley are transplants, which some might see as refreshing, but I like the idea that everyone here has a connection to the area. People know you. There’s a sense of community. I also like the entrepreneurial spirit. You can just do something and no one’s going to say, “No.”

Guilty pleasure?
Sitting on the couch playing video games and not doing anything. Sometimes you just need to shut down and hang out in your PJs on the couch.

Biggest pet peeve?
Negativity. Negative people.

Any pets?
A dog, Mars, and a cat, Ares.

Is there anything about you that might surprise even your friends?
As much as I talk to people and I enjoy talking to people, I’m kind of a homebody. Growing up, I always had one or two very good select friends, but I never had “the gang.” To me, a good Friday night was sitting in my room, drawing and listening to music. I wasn’t very social. So that may surprise people that I know now and that have seen me out and about. That’s not how I always used to be.

Most influential person in your life?
My mom. I definitely owe a lot to her. I even have a tattoo in honor of her. It’s based off of her wedding portrait, but I did in it in the style of Alphonse Mucha, because I also love art history. She was an art history major and I minored in art history. Growing up, she fostered that in me. We went to museums together, and I definitely feel that she created the creative part of me. She could see that I also had an interest, and she helped me recognize it and know what to do with it. She’s been instrumental in helping shape how I see myself.

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