Earfull: Listen Local series intimate, varied

The first installment of the Scranton Cultural Center’s "Listen Local" series will take place on Oct. 7 in Shopland Hall featuring main act, MiZ and its opener, Ashes for Trees. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $10. First Friday artwork will be displayed in the lobby from 6-8 p.m.

Jessica Lucas, associate facility and technical director at Scranton Cultural Center (SCC), says that the genesis of the eclectic local music series began last year when SCC decided to add an opening act to its comedy series. "It provided a legitimate launching point for a series built entirely around local original music," she says.

Jessica led the search in collecting local bands to headline and support, holding a contest to choose the groups that would reach across a broad spectrum of genres. A review panel handled the process of choosing the acts, taking suggestions for acts from patrons, staff members, and other local musicians. After the six headliners were chosen, 12 bands were chosen through a contest for possible opening acts.

A poll was conducted by SCC to narrow this group of 12 down to six, which were then paired up with the headliners.

Stefanie Bush, patron and education outreach manager, was responsible for gathering the artwork from local artists to be displayed before the shows.

"Ultimately we want to put credit where it is due, with the local artists who are creating great art and music," says Jessica. "We wanted to create and provide a great way to cap off an evening downtown by offering the chance to listen to some great music in a beautiful venue."

The history of the beautiful Scranton Cultural Center dates back to the 1930s. Famed architect, Raymond Hood designed the SCC building. Hood was also part of the team that designed Radio City Music Hall. Perhaps Hood’s best known work is Rockefeller Center

Shopland Hall is only one of the event spaces in the historic venue. There is also the traditional theater, a ballroom, and a "junior" ballroom. "Shopland Hall is made for shows like this because of the set up," says Stefanie. The hall holds between 300-450 people, allowing the musicians and audience members to share in the intimacy of the room.

The showcase promises to reach across the divide, bringing in a range of sounds like MiZ’s Americana and country-tinged rock, Lagor’s psych pop, the bluesy funk and three-part harmonies of Family Animals, and the self-described Jamtronica-laden techno-fusion, acid jazz of Rogue Chimp.

Aayu (also known as Mark Ciccone) combines rock with hip-hop and will open for Red, Blue, Green in March. Aayu’s music is influenced by early 90s hip-hop, like Wu Tang Clan, Notorious B.I.G., and the Beastie Boys. He refuses to use a DJ when performing live, playing guitar on most of his songs while backed by a drummer.

"I’m still fairly new to the area, but I have heard nothing but good things about the Scranton Cultural Center," says Aayu. "I’m looking forward to experiencing it firsthand."

For many of the acts in the "Listen Local "series line up, the history surrounding the Scranton Cultural Center means as much to them as the opportunity to play there.

Mac Jackson, from Harmony Constant, who will open for Bobby Davis and the Smartest Man in January, performed plays with the Church Mouse Players years before he formed Harmony Constant with his wife, Cindy. "The Scranton Cultural Center has always had a wonderful mix of local comfort as well as class. Not just from the beautiful décor but from the employees who seem to know they are part of enriching the city," he says. Most of Harmony Constant’s songs are story songs in the singer-songwriter vein, with subtle references to local spots throughout the city.

Grip of the Gods, a local Tunkhannock band creating a hybrid of rock genres, began playing shows in and around the area before finally settling in Philadelphia. On coming back to the area in April as one of the headliners, vocalist and guitarist Richard Barni says, "To have the opportunity to play at such an establishment, in a place we consider home, is both personally and professionally gratifying as artists."

Kathleen Kelly, from Ashes for Trees, who will open for MiZ this Friday, received rides from her father to the venue to see shows before she had her driver’s license.

"I saw Moe and Ratdog there," she says. "Buildings like the Scranton Cultural Center just aren’t being built anymore with such ornate architecture and beauty."

For MiZ, who just released their debut album "East Hope Avenue," the show almost seemed inevitable. Front man Mike Mizwinski spent time in the box office as a toddler, riding his tricycle up and down the long hall, on the days when his grandmother brought him along to work. Laughing, he says, "Naturally, it’s always been a dream of mine to play there."

For Jessica and Stefanie, the reaction to the performances will be as important as the performances themselves. Stefanie says, "Without the support of the community, it would be difficult to keep things like this going."

Jessica adds, "We would love to bring back and expand this series year after year and continue to bring in different musicians from the area from as many different musical genres as possible."

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