Above: Cricket Tell the Weather
Cornstock Folk Music Festival Steps Up Community Vibe in Year Two
Get ready to spend the weekend celebrating the spirit of folk — music, art and community come together Friday, Aug. 29 through Sunday, Aug. 31 at the Cornstock Folk Music Festival located in Lazy Brook Park, east of Tunkhannock. After the inaugural event (which began life as Cornstock Acoustic Music Festival), organizers Jillian Brosnan and Anthony Hannigan wanted to emphasize that folk isn’t just about the music. While music certainly takes center stage — literally and figuratively — Cornstock will also feature demonstrations and art showcases. From chainsaw carving to macramé to music workshops, festival-goers will enjoy a weekend filled with good times and great atmosphere.
“We wanted to open it up to be a broader folk festival,” Brosnan said. “We have music, we have artists, we have dancing, theater — as much different folk stuff as possible. We’re still working on the theater, we’re hoping to have more next year.”
Hannigan said that in traveling the country, the pair experienced a wide variety of folk and other music festivals and wanted to bring the same atmosphere to northeast Pennsylvania. “We thought, ‘Hey, we have a beautiful place too, we know a lot of people who play music and a lot of people who support music and folk music,’” he said. “There are a lot more options here in the past several years, so we started leaning more toward the folk scene.”
This year’s name change was carefully considered. “It’s not just a name change, it’s more of an atmosphere change,” Brosnan said. “We don’t want it to be just a music festival — we wanted it to be a community event, where we’re bringing in artists from the region, different singer/songwriters. To me, a folk festival is more about building a community. Acoustic music is still encompassed in a folk festival idea, as well.”
Folk encompasses many genres of music, from bluegrass and roots to Celtic and everything in between. The festival is intended to embrace all aspects of folk culture and Hannigan said they’ve learned a lot since the first year. “We’re a year smarter,” he said. Brosnan added that streamlining the schedule will also enhance the festival.
“Last year, we had 26 bands and about 90 percent of them were from right here in our region,” she said. “This year, we’re going with only 18 bands and we’re bringing in groups from a broader area (Brooklyn and Philadelphia) in addition to having really great regional acts as well.”
Many of the artists assembled for the festival came via Brosnan and Hannigan’s own friends and contacts in the music world. “It’s people we meet in our own musical journeys,” Hannigan said. “We think ‘Hey, our friends back in Pennsylvania would really like these guys.’”
The pair met contemporary Celtic band Runa and headliner Cricket Tell the Weather at folk festivals last fall and it’s that kind of connection that helped build the lineup for this year’s Cornstock. Pappy Biondo of Cabinet will appear with other Cabinet members as Pappy & Friends and will join Hannigan in Garcia Grass. Both Hannigan and Brosnan will appear with some of the acts throughout the weekend, emphasizing the participatory nature of the festival.
The organic nature of folk is meant to draw audience members in as a part of the experience. There will be workshops on music therapy, yoga from Steamtown Hot Yoga and kid-friendly activities like the “Music Petting Zoo.” The “petting zoo” features artists accompanied by instruments of all flavors and allows hands-on experience and instruction. It’s all about getting people together to have fun and enjoy life and music. “One of the workshops I’m looking forward to is called ‘Yodeling Fun with Sandy Marola,’” Brosnan said. “She’s going to teach people how to yodel in a fun way — it’s not going to be too serious, but it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Visitors will be able to continue the vibe long after the stage lights go down — camping is included in weekend passes. “It’s one of the most gorgeous places in all of northeast Pennsylvania,” Hannigan said. “Once you pull into the location, the entire place opens up. Tunkhannock Creek runs right along the site and it’s surrounded by lots of shade. Fish, kayak, swim … recreate!” At night, the music will continue as campers jam with the performers and each other. “You can leave everything else at home, but bring an instrument,” he said.
Kids 16 and younger are free and even non-human members of the family are welcome. “Dogs, cats, birds, camels, you name it,” Hannigan said.
“There’s a family aspect. I’m behind that 100 percent, but this is also to educate the community,” Hannigan said. “We want everyone to have fun and participate along the way.”
Up Close & Personal
Jerry Kaufman of Waverly decided he wanted to go fast. Rather than risk a pile of tickets blasting up and down public roads, he took his car to the track and found a new home. After getting a taste for track driving, Kaufman took the plunge and began racing. With enough wins in 2013 to earn him a national championship in the National BMW Racing series, he set his sights on dominating races, taking wins in the new BMW CCA Enduro series this year. We talked to Kaufman about his quick rise and his plans for the future.
Tell us about how you got into racing.
I got into this a few years ago doing track day driving. I bought a sports car and I wanted to see what it could do on a race track. You don’t want to get in trouble for doing 120 mph on the highway. Through the BMW Car Club, I found out about driver schools where you can take your street car to the track. They put an instructor in the car with you, you wear helmets and you go as fast as you want to go on the track. I went there to see what my M3 could do and, after the first weekend, I had so much fun and thought “there’s nothing better than this.” I did about four weekends at the track with an instructor, then I decided to get a little bit more serious and bought a dedicated track car. I did that for another two years and then they asked me if I wanted to become an instructor. At that point I was deciding if I wanted to go racing or become an instructor and I thought,”Chances are if I started racing, I wouldn’t want to go back and become an instructor.” I decided to go the instructor route first and try to apply that to racing. I did that and at the same time I got my racing license. I hired a professional driving coach to transition from regular track day driving to racing. I was astonished. I knew that I was a decently quick driver and there were people out there faster than me. I just didn’t realize how much faster they could be. I worked with a coach and was just blown away by how much faster he was driving the same car. To spend money to make the car that much faster would be insane and the car wouldn’t be in the same class. I decided I really had to focus on driver training. I kept working with these coaches at the same time I was getting ready to go racing, so that when I did go out and start racing I’d be better prepared.
I did one race in 2012 and I did alright, I got second in class, but the guy in front of me was definitely a lot faster. I continued to work with the coaches and I worked in the off-season, I did some driving down in Florida to get ready for the next year. When I got out there, in the very first race of the year, I won my class. And I kept winning races — not just winning my class. I was beating almost all the cars in the class above me and sometimes a couple of classes above me. That was technically my rookie year, so in 2013 I won “Rookie of the Year” and a national championship in my class. At the same time, they were creating an endurance series. I was doing sprint races, which are approximately 45 minutes in length. The endurance races start at about four hours and go up from there.
This year, I decided to focus on endurance racing. We’ve won four of the five races that they’ve had this year, so we’re going to wind up winning the endurance series championship this year, because there are only two more races and we’ve pretty much got it locked up. Next year, I’m looking to go back to the sprints and do the enduros at the same time.
You went from amateur to a top competitor in a really short period.
I used to be a competitive shooter — sporting clays, shotgun shooting. I was really good at it and I was competing a lot back when I first started doing the track day stuff. I know what it takes to win, because I was shooting at a very high level. I kind of have an idea of what’s required as far as a mindset is concerned. It really boils down to a person’s mindset. I feel once you have the right mindset, when you’re predisposed to being good at something and have a passion for it, you can do it. I didn’t get into racing thinking I was going to go in and dominate out of the gate. I really didn’t think so. When I worked with the coach and I saw how much better of a driver he was, it just bugged me. The fact that someone could drive like that and that I wasn’t driving like that, it irked me. I put so much extra focus into getting better. My goal was never “oh, I just want to win.” The whole time it was “I want to be driving at that level.” It was more of a mental performance based on me rather than a results-oriented performance. I looked at it like, as long as I drive well, I don’t care so much if I win or not. Luckily for me, I kept my car together and I kept winning. This year, part of the reason I shifted focus to the enduro car was essentially shop time. Both the sprint car and the endurance car needed a lot of work and there was only enough time to get one going properly. I already established that I could win in the sprints in that car, so I wanted to prove that I could do it in the endurance car. For next year, I’m going to rebuild the sprint car and put it in to compete in the top class. Before I was going for a class win that were equally prepared as mine, next year I’m going for overall wins in the top class. It’s all about managing performance and expectations, so after coming up in the sprints and having this new endurance series, I wanted to really go after winning that and showing what I can do there.
Are you part of a team?
In the sprint racing, it was pretty much just me. In endurance racing, it’s a team. My uncle started calling the team Kaufman Racing, so that stuck — the website is kaufmanracing.com. I’ve put a lot of pictures on there, there are some videos and I do other updates. My crew chief is my dad, Dave Kaufman. In endurance racing, you need a full pit crew of four guys and you need at least two drivers, because the races are four hours in length. It’s really taxing on the body to race just in general. In the rules, you can only do three hours on your own and then someone else has to take over. I’ll qualify the car and start the race, then we’ll do a driver change [with team driver Anthony Magagnoli] and fuel stop in one, then later do another fuel stop and driver change and I’ll finish out the race. There are certain teams out there who will race with three drivers and we’ve toyed with the idea, but it’s very difficult to find drivers at our level. The guy I share the car with was my first driving coach. He was the guy who really inspired me to pick up the game. He and I can turn laps that are negligibly different — you couldn’t tell who’s going faster or slower or who’s really driving the car. But there are some people you put in the driver’s seat and it’s like, “wow, why did that car slow down?” Another advantage we have by only having two people is that when the first person who gets out of the car goes back in, they have an intimate knowledge of how that car is handling and what the track feels like that day, because they were just driving. Even if you have someone who is just as skilled as the first two drivers get in on that third leg, there’s still some of that need to catch up as far as learning the track and learning the car that day.
What does it take in general for someone to get into racing?
You know, you could write a huge article on this and how to get into racing, because there are a million ways to do it. If I were to pick a way that was the best way to do it, I would say either go to a professional driving school, such as a Skip Barber or a Ron Fellows driving school, something like that. Once you get your feet wet in someone else’s car, you have a better idea of “is this for me, or not.” If the answer is yes, absolutely go out and buy a car. If you’re mechanically inclined, maintain it, otherwise you can always take it to a shop and have them maintain it. They also have race series out there where you literally just show up to the track and they have teams of mechanics and everybody races the same cars. If you break something, they have spares — obviously they charge you for it, for the labor or to replace it, but it doesn’t ruin your weekend.
I would tell people who are at all interested to feel free to contact me and I’d be more than happy to help them get to the track. It’s very budget-dependent, everyone has their own different background and different drive. But there are a million ways to do it and there are a million different ways to do it at different price levels. It’s an expensive sport, but it’s by no means out of everybody’s reach.
Breakdowns are definitely a hazard.
The only problem with what we have is that the endurance car we’re racing is very unique. There isn’t another person in North America who is club racing a 2008 or beyond. Most people race the ’95-’99 generation BMWs. If we have a problem, say we cook a brake rotor or a control arm and we don’t have a spare — we’re done. If we can’t source one from a parts store or potentially from someone’s street car, we can’t race. A lot of our competitors’ race cars are from the same generation, so if something breaks, chances are someone has a spare, assuming you don’t have one. There’s something to be said about being the only person there with a certain car, but, at the same time, you’re taking a little bit of a chance. Part of the great thing about racing is at the non-professional level, a lot of times if you need a part or you need a hand working on something, your competitors are more than willing to lend a hand and help. The consensus is they want to beat you on the race track, not in the paddock. I’ve seen a guy work with a competitor. He knew he was in competition with someone in the next day’s race and here he was at three in the morning working on this competitor’s car so he could get to the track that day. As competitive and as crazy of a sport as it is, there’s that camaraderie. Not everyone feels the same way, of course, but there’s sort of a good karma aspect. Everybody’s going to be there one day where something’s going to break and they need a hand. People do what they can to help you out.
— tucker hottes
A DECADE OF JAZZ
the Scranton Jazz Festival turns 10
Music is a force that can unite communities and brighten souls — jazz is a form of music that embraces and nurtures that spirit of togetherness more than any other. The improvisational and collaborative nature of the art form has many expressions and the Scranton Jazz Festival’s 10th anniversary will showcase many styles downtown this weekend. The festival has grown from humble roots to become one of Scranton’s premiere summer attractions.
“When the festival first started 10 years ago, it was located in Nay Aug Park’s Hanlon’s Grove,” said artistic director Marko Marcinko. “The vibe there was nice. It was under a big tent that was utilized by the Scranton Community Theatre for their productions.” In 2007, the tent was destroyed by a winter storm and the festival was forced to relocate. It quickly found a home in downtown Scranton — the main stage was located at the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel and the Jazz Walk was added to expand the lineup and encompass the downtown area.
This year’s main headlining artist is multi-Grammy Award winning vocal jazz group The Manhattan Transfer. Tim Hauser, the group’s founding member, said the group enjoys the spirit festivals can bring that individual shows don’t necessarily possess.
“It brings people together in ways a lot of other things cannot,” Hauser said. “You look around and there are all different kinds of people. It brings people together and that’s important in a community. When that happens, it makes people more aware that they’re part of a community. People go about their lives and do things and some people don’t really talk to their neighbors or people outside the scope of their lives. You do something like a jazz festival and all these people come out and interact. It’s cool!”
When the main stage quiets down, the venues of the Jazz Walk are just getting started. Performances will take place at five venues throughout downtown Scranton: Ale Mary’s,126 Franklin Ave.; The Bog, 341 Adams Ave.; Trax Patio at the Radisson Lackawanna Station, 700 Lackawanna Ave.; Le Bistro, 431 Lackawanna Ave. and Posh at the Scranton Club, 404 N. Washington Ave. The Jazz Walk will feature internationally renowned artists such as Ilona Knopfler, Clarence Spady, Indigo Moon Brass Band, Tyler Dempsey and more.
“Out of all my years in Scranton, there was nothing like the Jazz Walk until we initiated that kind of concept, having a bunch of venues playing music in multiple venues downtown where people can walk from place to place,” said Marcinko. “That sort of thing is very common in many other places like Philadelphia, New York City and overseas. When we initiated that here many years ago, people were electrified, to use a pun on the city’s motto. They were electrified by having that kind of camaraderie in the streets — to have that kind of nightlife in the streets downtown that weekend.”
People unfamiliar with the jazz scene can expect to be exposed to a variety of music, from the “vocalese” stylings of The Manhattan Transfer to the classic-jazz-influenced Eric Mintel Quartet to Chris Parker Band’s mixture of Latin, funk and straight jazz to the guitar duo of Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub.
“Even if you’re not a big jazz fan, you’re going to come for some community atmosphere and spirit, with some great food, great vendors, great people. You’ll relax and enjoy it. There’s something for everyone.”
For music fans and people simply looking for a fun night out, the Scranton Jazz Festival aims to please.
“It’s a great time, period,” said committee member and producerBob Shlesinger.
Even the artists look forward to getting together to celebrate the music, mix and mingle and enjoy the spirit of the festival.
“I love doing jazz festivals,” said Hauser. “I love the atmosphere. Summertime jazz festivals are some of my favorite things to do, rather than going into a theater in the dead of winter. I love working with other artists. Chris Parker — I haven’t seen him in a long time, so that will be nice. It’s always great to run into people you admire and respect and that’s where you see them.”
For a festival that started out of a humble desire to enjoy some jazz in the park, the Scranton Jazz Festival has come into its own over a decade of hard work, expansion and community support. Organizers have seen ticket sales and feedback through social media swell steadily and planning for the next year’s event begins even as visitors are arriving on the first night, according to Marcinko.
“Starting in year one, many naysayers said ‘a jazz festival in Scranton will never last,’” said Marcinko. “After 10 years of doing it and growing it and getting bigger and better each year — the solicitations from managers and artists themselves contacting Scranton Jazz Festival and wanting to play at it — the proof has been in the pudding. If you build it and present it the right way, people will come. Artists and audiences will come and I’m very proud of those people who have been our sponsors and stuck with us all these years. We’re very grateful.”
— tucker hottes
The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel
7:30 p.m. — The Eric Mintel Group
8:30 p.m. — Clarence Spady Blues Band
Jazz Walk Venues
The Marko Marcinko Latin Jazz Sextet — Ale Mary’s, Franklin Ave.
The Bog Swing Band —The Bog, Adams Ave.
Erin Malloy & Friends — Trax Patio at the Radisson
The Tyler Dempsey Trio — Le Bistro, N. Washington Ave. )
The John Andrews Jazz Group — Posh @ The Scranton Club, Washington Ave.
The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel
7 p.m. Chris Parker Band featuring jazz sax icon Chris Vadala
8 p.m. The Manhattan Transfer – multi-Grammy award qinning vocal group
Jazz Walk Venues
Music For Models w/ Gary Keller on saxophone — Ale Mary’s, Franklin Ave.
Indigo Moon Brass Band — The Bog, Adams Ave.
Ilona Knopfler & Friends — Trax Patio at the Radisson
Brazilian Sounds Quintet — Le Bistro, N. Washington Ave. (9:30pm-12AM)
Jim Buckley & Jim Tigue — Posh @ The Scranton Club, Washington Ave. (9pm-12am)
The Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. — The Jazz Brunch
4 p.m. — The Keystone College Jazz Institute student combos
5 p.m. — Mike Fahn/ Mary Ann McSweeney jazz tribute to Woody Shaw
6 p.m. — Jazz Guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli and Ed Laub
7 p.m. — French vocalist Ilona Knopfler and trumpet great, Nate Birkey
8 p.m. — 10th Anniversary festival big band
9:30 p.m. — The Festival Jazz Jam in Trax Bar, Radisson Hotel
Up Close & Personal
A Man and His Many Projects
Juggling multiple bands and personal projects sounds like a chore, but Dan Rosler makes it sound easy. The singer/songwriter/guitarist finds time between his bands A Fire With Friends (playing Saturday, July 26 at Arts in the Square, Scranton) and Esta Coda to work on projects in a variety of formats. We caught up with him after a band practice to talk about music, inspiration and how he finds time to be a “busy lazy person.” Meet Dan Rosler …
How did you get into music?
I went to Valley View High School and grew up in Archbald — the valley area. I’ve always lived outside Scranton (I live in Moosic now). I was a sophomore in high school, around 15 years old, when I started learning how to play guitar. I started a band with my cousin about two years after I picked up a guitar. It’s just taken off from there. My life revolves around it.
My dad was into music, he’s been a musician forever. He used to play in bands when he was younger and he tried to see if I was interested in music when I was young. I just wasn’t at the time; I don’t really remember what it was that made me want to learn music. I don’t remember what the turning point was, but I remember asking my dad if he could teach me. He’s a bass player, but he knows guitar to a certain extent, so he taught me what he knew and I pretty much learned from there. I was content playing guitar in bands for a while, but then I wanted to learn how to start writing my own songs and I’ve been doing that since I was about 18 or 19.
When did you start getting more serious about playing in a band?
I specifically remember the band Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s having an influence on me and I liked the way they had the male and female vocal harmony in there. Obviously that’s been done many times before, but I don’t know what it was — maybe it was the moment I was in — that triggered me to want to do that. So my friend Sophie and I got together and started working on songs and playing some open mics. My friend Ed came along and as a three-piece we decided to make it a band and we called it A Fire With Friends. We practiced in parking lots and my mom’s place. It just kind of grew and grew over the past six years or so, which is kind of crazy!
The past year and or so, I’ve been in a band called Esta Coda, in which I also sing and play guitar with another singer/guitar player/songwriter named Jay Preston. So I’ve been trying to balance both bands for close to two years now.
Is it tough to juggle two bands?
It’s worked out pretty well so far. In terms of writing, when I start working on a song, I immediately know which band it’s going to be for. I haven’t really had any predicaments of “Which song do I use for which band?” It’s been fairly smooth. We try to be open with everyone’s schedules. You have to be on top of your game all the time so you don’t accidentally double book anything. John, who plays bass in Esta Coda, is also in A Social State, so now they’re three bands that are kind of linked together through shared members.
Sounds like you keep yourself busy.
I also have a bunch of personal projects that I take on, too, so sometimes time management can be hard. But it happens, it gets done.
A Fire With Friends recently put out an album (Ghost House). How’s that been going?
It’s been interesting. We’re kind of taking a big breather that we’ve never really taken in six years. It’s to kind of take a step back from everything and catch ourselves up, artistically. I feel proud of Ghost House, but there are some songs on there that are four years old and that’s our newest release. I kind of felt like we didn’t really have a lot of interest in playing older songs. I don’t think we’ve ever had a chance to feel what we’re releasing felt relevant and was the best that we could put out. We’ve always been kind of playing catch-up as a band. So we’re taking a step back, playing the shows that we’ve committed to playing and writing a lot. We’re going to try to record something special.
How about Esta Coda?
We’re recording our second EP now, which should be out in a couple months. We also have about 90 percent of a full-length written, so after we get the second EP release, we’ll head right back into the studio to record more. We’ve been playing a lot of shows and doing some traveling, so it’s been going really well.
What are some of the things you enjoy about making and playing music?
I think it’s often misconstrued with music, or at least being in a band, as an art form — I think most musicians would agree that there are sort of two worlds. There’s a recording aspect, then you’ve got your live aspect. They both have to be approached similarly, but at the same time they’re completely different. I’m a big fan of the creative process of anything. I’ve been working on a series of short stories I’d like to self-publish at some point, a novella, a fantasy series with my friend and another friend wants to do a graphic novel. We’re going to be shooting a small movie, too, for a script I wrote. Being a part of all this is one of my favorite things. The special part about being in a band that makes it really interesting is being able to play live. You develop the craft and you record it and you have time to sit with it and think about it and shape the way you want. To play it live, you have to figure out how to present everything you recorded and there’s a certain energy to it. There’s an art to writing a setlist. It’s an interesting split — to have two parts of something that are the same and different.
It sounds like you’ve got a lot of stuff going on!
Yeah, I’m apprehensive to talk about it for fear of it not being finished yet. I’m trying to really push myself to finish a lot of this and it’s difficult to balance it all. I do have to work full time. I’m going back to school in the fall and my girlfriend has a house that’s just a constant project, too. But that’s life. I’ve taken on a lot of projects because I like to stay busy. I feel like I’m the busiest lazy person I know, that’s probably the best way to say it. I feel like I could do more, but I get lazy.
What’s your next show coming up?
A Fire With Friends is playing Arts on the Square this Saturday. There are two stages with a lot of local music happening. It’s an outdoor, independent market. My girlfriend had a stand last year. People get to bring their homemade crafts, clothes, jewelry, food and they’re able to have a day in a booth to sell their products. I think it’s awesome. To be able to play this year is really cool.
Where do you draw inspiration for all your projects?
Sometimes I have no idea. Recently I was listening to a podcast and there was someone talking about an idea coming from the subconscious, making a quantum leap and that really screwed with my head. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere and you have to find a pen and paper to write down an idea or a lyric you’re looking for. It sucks when you miss it. Sometimes you forget it. I do get inspiration if I watch a really good movie, I can’t help but get inspired and want to create something. It’s the same if I read a good story or hear some good music, I’ll get inspired to do something. Especially locally. There are so many good local bands, I think that’s a big inspiration too — watching people you’re friends with do some really great stuff. It makes you think “I’ve got to go back to the chalkboard and better myself.” Everyone kind of pushes each other to produce the best stuff they can. And I guess everyday life offers enough inspiration and ideas. The world is just full of possible fictional characters, you can just take elements of ridiculous situations you end up in at the grocery store and apply them to a short story or something. We have a brilliant cast of characters on every corner.
Local music is a pretty tight-knit community.
There’s a lot of great everything and great artists of every medium — local theater, local bloggers, filmmakers — we’ve got a really artistic community. The local music scene has produced a lot of great bands. Some have been getting some national success — Tiger’s Jaw, Menzingers, Title Fight — and they all come from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Pittston area.
It shows there’s a lot of positive things about the area.
There’s a certain bit of truth when people complain about the area, but that’s where all the good art here is born from. There’s not a ton of stuff to do, but because of that, people have independently given themselves and the community something to do, especially if you’re interested in any type of art. We live in an interesting area and there’s a lot of great stuff that comes from that. You either do nothing and go to the bars on the weekend, or you have to do something creative to stay busy.
Thanks for talking, anything else you’d like to add?
I’m always super appreciative of anyone who’s ever taken any interest in anything I’ve done creatively, whether it’s fans of the bands, family, friends who are in the bands. I’ve had a lot of awesome support and it’s great whenever anything you do is well received by others. I’ve also had a lot of people be honest — they make you better. We’ve got a really great community in every way and I hope people are aware of that.
— tucker hottes
Up Close & Personal
Fútbol in America
The World Cup has even non-fans of soccer buzzing about the sport. Local bars are filled to the brim with old and new fans alike and the excitement is hard to avoid. More and more people have grown up with the sport and players in the Scranton area have likely heard of Soccer Plus, which has been the go-to retailer for all things soccer for decades. We caught up with ET Hunter, who bought the store in 2010, to talk about soccer, the World Cup and the best place to catch a game.
How did you get involved with soccer?
I’d always been into soccer. I started playing when I was 6 years old in Abington, in the youth program in which just about every kid in Abington plays. At about age 11, I was approached to go on to one of the Abington club teams, then I went to another local club out of Dallas called Northeast Attack. That was more instrumental to me than any year I spent academically in middle school or high school. It taught me a lot about myself and how to work as part of a team. It showed me a lot of the country, it got me overseas and it was an education. The coach, Gary Norconk, exposed us to a lot and let us really develop as players and as kids. It was a great and exciting time. All through my club level, I was a defender. Once I got into college, I was a center midfielder for three years. During my senior year, I was one of our forwards. I’ve played every spot except goalkeeper, which I find absolutely terrifying. I just don’t like the idea of how hard and unpredictable the shots come in. I’ve always been a little afraid of it. I think growing up with the sport being so close to my heart, it just became a real passion that’s been present for most of my life. It went away a bit after college. I kept it inside while I tried a few other things, but then I went back and did some coaching and playing and now I own the store.
What led to buying Soccer Plus?
I started working at Soccer Plus when I was in high school for the original owner, Joe Bochicchio. I’d help out every once in a while when I was in college. I moved away after college and I hadn’t really given much thought about coming back to the area unless it was for Soccer Plus. Then the opportunity came up in 2009 and I was back up here in 2010 running the store with Donna Benson, which led to the purchase of the store. It was full circle.
Joe Bochicchio and Steve Klingman opened the store in 1986. They were the men’s and women’s coaches at the University of Scranton. They never told me word-for-word how it got started, but some 20-odd years later, Steve told me they opened it because they were sick and tired of going through other people to get their uniforms. Joe and Steve were huge pioneers in the area for developing the sport and getting people rallied around it, to the point where they actually had a store. They were enthusiasts for the sport and players. They both played and went from players to coaches. Steve is still coaching and Joe coached until the day he died. The store has always been where everyone who knows the sport and loves the sport goes. They set that mark pretty early on and it continues. It’s a great meeting spot and, over the years, it has moved around. In Scranton, it was on Mulberry St., it moved from downtown to Clarks Summit and we’re in our fourth location in Clarks Summit (611 S State St.). We’ve gone to different spaces to accommodate our needs a little better and now I believe I’m in a spot I can grow into. Hopefully I’ll be moving out of that spot — I hope I have the option to expand. The store has just gotten bigger, pulling in more accounts. It started out doing team orders for the University of Scranton and then other universities, high schools and clubs. It’s continued and I’ve expanded into business apparel. Restaurants contact me to get their whole wait staff outfitted in T-shirts and polos. Softball teams, lacrosse — we’re not a one-trick pony anymore. It’s been a very comfortable graduation into what we are now.
You also sell gear for individual customers, right?
Only for soccer. On the retail front, we cater to soccer. From the smallest players using the tiniest little shoes and shin guards, all the way up to Electric City Shock, who are Scranton’s professional team. We can cater to every single athlete that comes into the store. As far as other sports go, I really only focus on uniforms and not the equipment that comes along with it, mainly because I’m not an expert and I wouldn’t want to sell someone something like, say, a field hockey stick if I have absolutely no idea how to talk about it.
We offer all of the equipment and I have a huge amount of people who buy stuff from me, but also just come to the store to hang out. They like to talk about soccer. They like to talk about their kids and how they’re doing or how they did themselves in games over the last weekend. Along with equipment, it’s really a lifestyle. It’s a niche the store has that really makes people comfortable about coming in to talk about their kids and themselves and just kind of rally around the sport.
So it’s like the soccer nexus for the Scranton area.
Exactly and it has been for almost 30 years.
How has the World Cup affected soccer in and out of the store?
I’ve been there for two World Cups now. In 2010 it was busy, definitely a busy time. We had a really nice push for business. It’s not like the Olympics. It’s one sport and the TV channels support it. All the games are televised and it’s really easy to get involved. NBC Sports did an awesome job this year leading up to the World Cup by televising all of the British Premiere League. So if you wanted it or not, it was in your face every single weekend on a sports channel. The Internet has played a big part of that, too, as far as getting information out. With the World Cup, you have a lot of people who might not normally watch soccer. We have a lot of people who get into it. A lot of my family are getting into it and they’re not soccer fans, but they are when the World Cup comes around. A lot of those people want to get behind the teams, especially when you have a big win like the U.S. did against Ghana. It’s exciting, it’s fun. It creates a great vibe. If you were at Ale Mary’s when we scored our second goal in the Ghana game, you probably hugged five to 20 people you’ve never even seen before. It’s a sport, it’s a culture, it’s really just a way of life that’s easy to celebrate when everybody gets behind it.
We had more than 200 people in Ale Mary’s for the Ghana game. Bethlehem SteelStacks has a huge TV screen set up and I have no idea how many people showed up there — thousands. They were featured during the broadcast. Chicago had thousands of people out in their parks. We’re starting to treat this sport like the rest of the world and respecting it. We have a lot of very educated U.S. soccer fans now that are spreading that around. You talk to people who are starting to get into the sport and they love it. People who have enjoyed mainstream American sports like football, baseball, basketball are getting into soccer. I have no idea why. I’ve loved it my whole life, so I don’t know what they’ve been doing with their lives! People are getting behind it. It’s really good to see when people make that switch and enjoy it for what it is: the world’s game.
What made Ale Mary’s the place to go for games?
I’d been talking to a few bars over the last few years about getting behind this and treating the soccer crowd how we want to be treated. A place to watch, with no music on, the TV sound turned up and accommodate the crowd that we can produce. I do have to say that The Keys is an awesome place to watch a game, but for the amount of people who are interested in coming out to the World Cup games, we needed a bigger spot to do it. It was proposed that Ale Mary’s might be a good choice because they have a lot of space there, they have six huge TVs that are all facing the same direction. So it’s easy for everyone in the bar to be facing one direction and really all soak it in at the same time. Ale Mary’s jumped right in when it was explained to them how this could be a great bar for the sport and once they agreed to it, we showed them what we could do.
For the Ghana game, I gave away the official game ball of the World Cup. Not many people are going to buy that — the ball sells for $160, so not many people get the chance to see that ball, or possibly win it, take it home, play with it. That was something very special that got a lot of people really excited. It was just give us your name and enter to win. I gave away a lot of other stuff, soccer balls, T-shirts, some giveaways the vendors provided me. I’m also doing a raffle for a game ball — the same ball with a different paint job, it’s the ball that will be used in the World Cup final. That’s a paid raffle and all of the proceeds for that will go to Catholic Social Services. I want to maximize exposure for that, so we can give a good donation to that organization.
Thanks for talking to us, is there anything else you’d like to say about soccer in the 570?
It’s really an exciting time around the area and we have kids that are obsessed with the sport at a really early age. That’s when they become the players that go the extra mile, play through high school, maybe through college and then if they’re lucky on to a professional career. That goes for a couple different avenues: We have players, we have coaches and we have referees that are coming out of this area that are legit. We’ve graduated players out of this area into Division I, II and III programs for decades. I think this area, along the lines of the rest of the country, the sport is catching a lot of attention. Little kids are looking up to soccer players as their heroes. The youth programs are benefitting from the World Cup and seeing these players, having the access to them online and on TV. There are thousands of kids in youth programs playing around here. It’s getting better continuously and it’s great to see. I’m right on the forefront of it because I get to talk with a lot of league administrators, coaches and hear the progress. As much as they’re learning about their kids, I’m learning a lot about their programs. It’s a lot of fun being this close to the pulse of the soccer heartbeat in NEPA. I’m lucky to be in the position I am. I love it. I love being at the store. I’ve loved it my whole life.
— tucker hottes
Up Close & Personal
The Life Aquatic
If you’ve been on Sanderson Avenue through Green Ridge lately, you might have noticed a strange blue glow emanating from one of the storefronts. It’s not Scranton’s latest club, or a fancy electronics store — 1819 Sanderson Ave. is the home of Scranton Aquarium, host to many colorful and exotic undersea critters. We caught up with co-owner Jason Phoomahal to find out more about the shop, what’s swimming in those waters and what’s the deal with those blue lights.
How did you get started in the aquarium business?
My partner, Robert Winters, and I have been part of the hobby for many, many years. I’ve been keeping fish since I was about 3 or 4 years old. As I got older, I had tanks of my own and helped with my father’s saltwater tank. Robert was in the same boat — his father had fish tanks as well and as he grew up, he started working with tanks on his own. We both have freshwater and saltwater tanks. Over time, it grew. I was working at one of the local big-box stores as the aquatic specialist — basically just selling fish and helping people get started the right way. That lasted about two years until the store closed. From there, I started doing maintenance and helping people start up their own aquariums. Moving forward, people started asking Robert and me to help them more and help get fish for them. It seemed right to really get this going and open a storefront to house fish, show people the right direction and keep fish healthy for the customers. That’s always the main concern: fish health.
All the fish and the live coral we have are aquacultured. That is to say they’re raised in aquariums and farmed that way, as opposed to actually catching them from the wild. There’s a lot less impact that way. It keeps the ecosystems in the wild healthy. That’s always a big plus, to have everything aquacultured. With the corals, you get a small fragment of different types of coral. They will actually take that coral and they’ll plant it on an artificial reef on the ocean. They’ll let that artificial reef grow out and for the trade they’ll take from that instead of robbing the actual coral reefs, which would have a negative impact on the environment. Those coral frags that come from the farms will get sent to the hobby trade and sold. From there, hobbyists will actually take the frags from their home aquariums and sell them back to us, we’ll grow it out some more and frag it out. It’s a constant cycle of aquaculturing. Nothing actually gets pulled from a reef, keeping our planet nice and healthy. Reefs have a big impact on our planet. In a lot of ways, the hobby is actually putting back into nature, too. There are a lot of species of coral and fish that the hobby has helped replace. There are a few different types of coral that have been almost completely pulled out of the ocean in the past and have become extinct in the ocean. Through the efforts of hobbyists who had the coral, they were able to grow it out and started replacing a lot of different corals that have gone extinct, due to either harvesting or other reasons that the reefs were dying. There were a lot of reefs that just mysteriously died and they were able to be replaced with reefs that hobbyists grew, thus putting a lot back into it.
Sounds like it’s environmentally sound and a good hobby.
Our main concern with the shop is making sure people in the area have a reliable place to come get their pets. I say “pets,” using that term very lightly. A lot of people look at their fish as family. I have customers who name their fish and treat them as part of the family. It’s a great hobby, a lot of fun. There are a lot of people involved in the area and the hobby is growing every day. I have new customers coming in every day asking how to keep different fish and so on.
Our goal is first to educate the customers. If you come in and just say, “Oh, I want this $80 Harlequin Tuskfish,” I’m not just going to say “Here you go!” and send you on your way. If you have an aquarium, I’m going to make sure you have the right setup for an exotic fish and are able to have the right care for that fish. Somebody else might not even ask you if you have a fish tank. We’re really set up to set ourselves apart from that. We’re a family-owned business and we treat our customers like they’re family. We’re not going to sell them anything that wouldn’t go into their setup. A lot of fish don’t cohabitate with other fish — some are more aggressive, others aren’t. You really have to have a good grasp of what your customers’ needs are and make sure you can meet those needs to give them the proper fish or coral for their aquarium.
What’s good about a small shop instead of getting information online and going to a big store?
The biggest value in getting all your information from one source is that you’re getting it from someone who has experience. With the aquarium trade, there’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing and have done it for a long time and can say “OK, we’re going to set up your aquarium this way and this is what you want to do.” You build a baseline. You select the type of fish you want and build it from there. When I help someone set up an aquarium, I can give someone a complete, six-month to-do list. And if they follow that, they will be successful. The biggest help in the hobby, to keep fish healthy, is water changes. Water changes are unimaginably important to remove extra nutrients from the aquarium and replace any trace elements that the fish and coral might have used up. When you do your water changes and refresh things, your water quality will remain tip-top. That’s one of the very most important things to do with an aquarium, it’s important to have that nutrient export. When beginning an aquarium, planning is important. Saltwater and freshwater have different approaches when it comes to planning. Freshwater is a little more forgiving for aquarium size. You can get away with a smaller freshwater aquarium, with smaller fish. With saltwater aquariums, there are a lot of larger fish and fish that grow to be large. If you don’t have the proper aquarium size, those fish will get sick and will not live as long. Even though I sell fish, I’d rather have someone say “Look at this Yellow Tang I’ve had for seven years from you that’s doing very well” than have someone say, “I bought seven Tangs from you in the past five years, why do they keep dying?” and it turns out they have a small tank and that’s the reason. There are also a lot of species of freshwater fish that get very large as well. The whole myth of fish growing to the aquarium size is exactly that: a myth. Fish will grow. You can’t really stop the fish’s growth, unfortunately. The whole goal is happy aquarium, happy fish, happy aquarium owner.
What are some of the more exotic species you carry?
We have a couple of really interesting species. We have a dwarf octopus we’ve had for a couple weeks, but we’re considering not even selling him — he’s become kind of a resident in the store. He became our pet — Robert and I love feeding him every day. He’s very alert to us when we walk by versus when a customer walks by. When we walk by, he’ll watch us to see if we’re going to feed him or not, whereas with a customer he’ll just give them a light show with his color changing capabilities. We also have a sea fan, which is a crinoid. It’s a relative of the starfish and sea urchin. The crinoid is a relative similar to a starfish. It has long appendages considered legs or arms and kind of looks like a big red flower. It’s a prehistoric animal — if you remember back to elementary school, learning about early fossils, a lot of the fossils you see in books are crinoid. It’s a very commonly used fossil. They’re very interesting animals with the way they swim through the water. They use kind of a gyroscope effect with their legs to move through the water.
The live coral, most people don’t even realize is an animal. It’s what’s called a sessile invertebrate, meaning it’s not a plant. It does not move like most animals, so it can’t move about the aquarium. Where you place it is where it will stay. It can grow out, but it won’t get up and walk to the other side of the aquarium. People look at live coral and think it’s a beautiful plant, but it’s actually an animal. They’re alive like animals, they eat like animals. They do share some plant features, like photosynthesis – they use photosynthesis to grow, there’s algae that lives inside the coral. That’s one of the things that makes the hobby very interesting, the thousands and thousands of species of coral that people are growing in their aquariums. There’s coral that’s outrageously colored with purples, pinks, blues, greens, yellows. All these colors indicate what type of coral it is, the shape, all of it.
If you have a piece of coral in your tank, it will grow. It can grow to the point where, if you started with a small fragment that cost maybe $10 or $20, within a year or two you can have a piece that’s worth $300 or $400, so it can be a very big investment if you do it the right way and grow that coral. There are different ways of propagating it, you can use surgical scissors, or with harder corals, you can even break a piece off, sit it on the other side of the tank and it’ll start growing there. It helps the hobby tremendously, because instead of pulling from the coral reefs, you’re actually growing a small piece of the ocean in your own tank.
So there’s lots of learning involved as well.
Yes and we’re actually reaching out to local elementary schools. Robert Morris Elementary is one of them because it’s so close. It’s a short day trip for them, they don’t have to be out of the classroom too long and they’re not sitting on a bus for three hours to learn. Then they can go back to class and take whatever they learned — whether it’s about photosynthesis or fossils — and actually go over it with the teacher. We’re trying to get something going for next year to get a couple of classes over to show them the fish, show them some of the freshwater fish native to our area. We want to teach kids and let them have a good time with a little bit of hands-on time out of the classroom where they can learn about different fish and different kinds of live corals. I know there are a lot of schools that actually have oceanography classes and it’s very helpful to have an aquarium in the class so you can actually do the water changes, care for hard-to-keep species and just try your hand at marine biology. I had a class like that in my school when I was a kid and it was a lot of fun. I want to share that experience with the people of Scranton. Every day people come in and ask me questions and I’ll sit there happily for hours on end talking to them and giving them information. I take great pleasure doing that with people, explaining the ins and outs of the aquarium hobby.
— tucker hottes
What do you think of the location in Green Ridge?
It’s great to be part of the community. I’ve been a Scranton resident for the past eight years now, by way of NYC, but I’m a true Scrantonian now. I’m really glad to have chosen this location to start this business. The people have been extremely welcoming. All the local businesses came by and introduced themselves and explained about their businesses as well and offered help for anything we might need. The food in the area is good, of course, there’s a couple of great restaurants, which keeps me happy. The people have been very welcoming and a lot of local residents have been stopping in just to get a look at it. At nighttime it really stands out with the blue lights on –when the sun lights for the tanks go down, the blue lights stay on for the coral and it actually really stands out. So people just stop in because of the look. I’m happy to bring a kind of business that people enjoy, even if they don’t have an aquarium. People come in all the time just to look around.
It really is something pleasing to the eye.
With the aquarium hobby, people don’t realize how much of an artistic eye is involved. Whether you’re building the actual glass or plastic aquarium, or putting different rocks in your aquarium to create a picturesque scene, there’s a lot of artistic talent that goes into it. That’s something I really pride myself on. The tank I have on the counter is a little display tank – I recently re-did the aquascaping in there and it took me a solid three hours to do a little five-gallon tank. I basically wanted to mimic a little bonsai tree with the rocks. I put different types of coral to simulate the leaves of the tree. There’s a lot of artistic value that goes into that. Anyone who has a fish tank will tell you that – whether they use rocks, fake plants, live plants, coral, there’s always a look people strive to achieve to get what they want out of the aquarium. I’ve seen people who’ve set their freshwater planted tanks up to look like the house from The Hobbit – something that looks just like Bilbo Baggins home from the movie, except it’s made from plants and rocks.
About the Frag swap event:
We’re going to try to start doing a monthly coral frag swap, starting in July. What’s going to happen is we’ll have some refreshments and we’ll have customers bring five small fragments of coral from their home tank. Everybody will put their coral on the table and everybody gets a number. When their number is called, they can go and pick two corals. You’ll be able to mix and match from other people’s tanks and have coral to put in your own tank. I want to get a lot of new hobbyists into it and go from there. We’ll have raffles for different products and when you go you basically won’t be spending money for the frag swap. You bring five frags and you’re going to leave with five frags you don’t have in your own aquarium. The more people we have, the more different species will be able to have. The more the merrier – I always like to encourage new people to come, even people who aren’t into the hobby and just want to learn about it and see what it’s all about. Come in to ask questions. It doesn’t cost anything to ask questions and we’re always willing to answer any questions. Robert is very big into the African Cichlid world and knows about a lot of different species and genus. He’s kept Discus fish for a long time, that’s another fish people in the area are starting to get into. They’re beautifully colored fish and we’re one of the only stores in the area that carry them. They’re a little harder to keep than regular freshwater fish.
For the past five years, the Arts on Fire festival has helped heat things up to usher in the summer. The festival began in 2009 to benefit the Scranton Iron Furnaces and Anthracite Heritage Museum. The three-day festival kicks off on Friday, June 6, with the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser, which includes a live iron pour, music by the Coal Town Rounders and refreshments. Saturday, June 7, and Sunday, June 8, will feature industrial artists demonstrating glassmaking, blacksmithing, pottery and other disciplines. Visitors can start and end their day with a trolley ride from the Trolley Museum to the Iron Furnaces for a $1 fee.
“It’s a milestone for us this year,” said festival chairman Bob Savakinus. “One of the things that’s unique about Lackawanna County is we always have such great participation from different groups.” Partners in Arts on Fire this year include the Lackawanna Historical Society, Steamtown National Park, Everhart Museum, the Trolley Museum and the Vintage Theater in addition to 12 featured industrial artists.
“Last year, we had about 1,700 people,” said Savakinus. “We’re hoping this year if we have some good weather, we can beat those numbers — it seems like we always have a little rain or drizzle or other weather holding us back.” As of press time, the weather forecast for the weekend was clear.
The main attractions for the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser and one of the highlights for the festival will be live iron pours. Saturday’s iron pour will be hosted by students from Keystone Iron Works, an ARTS engage! program for high school students focusing on iron casting. The program received its second National Endowment for the Arts grant this year.
“Because we are so honored to be able to pour at the site, we have our professional crew come in Friday night,” said Nikki Moser, co-founder of Keystone Iron Works. “We have people coming in from Wisconsin, Baltimore, Florida, New York — all over the place. They say it’s the best iron pour they’ve ever been to.”
The professional demonstration at the fundraiser Friday night will be extra special in the nighttime setting. “It’s going to be fabulous, there will be sparks everywhere,” said Moser. “We’re going to cast a 300-pound vessel made by students in the program that will be going in the sculpture park at Keystone College.”
Visitors to the pour on Saturday will be able to watch professional artists working with students casting their own work and will be able to purchase art made that day at the festival. The Keystone Iron Works program teaches students about working in a collaborative and dangerous environment to create art.
“We’re trying to teach kids to work together in this very intense moment of danger and risk,” said Moser. “It’s an amazing opportunity — they get to make a piece of sculpture and walk away with something that physically transformed. It was a negative, empty space that was filled with molten metal and became a solid object.”
The hands-on learning experience introduces students to different ways of thinking about art in a setting outside the classroom — after all, pouring molten iron isn’t something that can be done inside a schoolroom.
“My partner, Pat McGowan, coined a phrase I’ve totally jumped on,” said Moser. “He said what we’re doing is a ‘live classroom.’ I love that, because we live in this very technology- oriented world right now. The idea of a ‘live classroom’ is what we’re doing — they’re alive, physically, emotionally and intellectually engaged in every moment with us.”
The Arts on Fire festival encompasses the theme of learning about the craft and Scranton’s heritage at the historic iron furnaces, which started operation in 1840 and were run mostly by new immigrants to the U.S.
“What I really like about what we do with Arts on Fire is it’s not only an arts event, we’re also combining history and education,” said Savakinus. “We’re actually trying to educate people in sort of a sneaky way, by doing something fun with bands and artists and the iron pour. But we’ll also tell them some history, about the part the furnaces played in Scranton’s development.”
A photographic exhibition at AFA Gallery on First Friday will showcase photos from previous years’ festivals. “A key ingredient toward getting the NEA grant is the idea of community placemaking and the arts and their involvement in community placemaking,” said Moser.
Another highlight of Friday’s art events will be the Iron Maidens exhibition, highlighting works by female artists from the U.S. and United Kingdom who work with iron casting. The show at AFA Gallery will be this year’s final stop for Iron Maidens exhibition after completing its tour of the U.S. and U.K.
The casting to be completed by Keystone Iron Works is one of the largest the group has created: a geometric folded paper pattern, measuring approximately 30 inches in diameter and tipping the scales at about 400 pounds.
“The unveiling will be ridiculous,” said Moser. “It’s a bunch of us hitting it with hammers. It’s something new for us this year. We’re trying to see what’s the biggest thing we can cast down there without a permanent facility.”
It promises to be a bit more exciting than a ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
Arts on Fire and the Fire at the Furnace fundraiser celebrate arts and heritage in Scranton and the spirit of hard work and innovation that has been rooted in the area for hundreds of years. It’s a weekend-long event that will delight adults and children alike and spotlights a unique location and local talent.
“It really is about this idea of community and placemaking,” said Moser. “We are a community, we are a tribe. All of us. This festival brings us all together in this way that we should be really excited and proud about.”
— tucker hottes
Tucker Hottes chills and grills up some beer can chicken
Grilling isn’t a mythical art that needs to take place during specific months — you can grill any time you feel like it, however you want, even in the freezing cold. Of course, bright skies and long evenings go perfectly hand-in-hand with spending time outdoors tending to a meal over the flame. It’s easy enough to slap some burgers and dogs on the grate, give a couple flips and be done with the whole ordeal. But the real fun is using the grill to create dishes that are kitchen-quality with a little extra flair — and the added bonus of enjoying summer evenings.
The most important thing to recognize when taking grilling to the next level is to stop treating it like some sort of unique, alien cooking device. Gas-fired or charcoal, big or small — it’s just a heat source like any other. In fact, the grill is a pretty versatile cooking apparatus. Most people (especially those with charcoal grills) think of it as having one temperature: hot. You get the grill hot, throw some meat on, hope it doesn’t burn, flip and serve. That’s perfectly acceptable, but let’s take a look at just how unappreciative and unimaginative that is. Let’s roast a chicken! And let’s throw some beer in the mix just to make sure we don’t start taking things too seriously.
To start off, we need to prep the chicken and give it some flavor. See the sidebar for my recommendations, but you’re going to want some basic herbs, a lime, garlic, salt and pepper, crushed red pepper and vegetable oil (as well as a dash of black truffle oil — seriously, just get some. A little goes a long way, it adds a great flavor twist and people will think you are way more awesome than you really are). Rinse your chicken in cold water and pat it dry inside and out. Mash up some dried oregano (put some fresh between damp paper towels and microwave in 10 second intervals until it’s dry), a couple garlic cloves, salt and pepper and the crushed red pepper. Mix in the oils and lime juice until it’s like a paste. Spread that mix all over the chicken, but save about a spoonful for later. You can chill the chicken in the fridge for a couple hours at this point to let the flavors really get in there, or you can continue. Drink half the beer (you can also use plain old water in a can, but that’s not as cool, right?). Poke some extra holes in the can, then add the leftover spiced paste from before and toss in some rosemary, oregano and parsley. Sit the chicken on the can and get ready to put it on the grill.
We’re going to focus on charcoal here, because it’s a little more nuanced and grilling on gas just takes all the fun out of it (and, arguably, gas takes lots of the flavor out of it). You can’t just light up some coals and toss a chicken on top of it. Think about roasting a chicken in the kitchen – you don’t do it on the stovetop. What the chicken needs is indirect heat, which means we don’t want any coals directly below. Start the coals up with your preferred method (but, really, go get yourself a chimney starter or make one out of a big coffee can — lighter fluid is tacky). Once they’ve turned gray, spread them around in a circle with a nice big gap in the middle. Here’s the real trick, though: take a foil pan with about an inch of water and put it in the middle underneath where the chicken will go. Now you can plop the chicken/can setup on (use the legs to help it stand up) and grill for 1-1 1/2 hours, until the internal temperature hits 165 degrees Fahrenheit or the juice runs clear. Check every 30 minutes or so, rotate the chicken as necessary and add another couple pieces of charcoal if your piles are diminishing.
While you’re waiting, take the time to slice up some veggies — bell peppers, sweet onions and asparagus work great. Toss them in some oil (again, add a dash of that black truffle oil), salt and pepper and a bunch of crushed red pepper flakes for some kick (or be lame and just use the salt and pepper). Once the chicken is done, carefully lift the whole chicken/can assembly off and let it cool at least 10 minutes. Hey, 10 minutes! That’s exactly how long it’ll take to grill the veggies! Move your coals to the center of the grill for direct heat and either use an awesome tailor-made grill basket, or just slap some foil down and poke small holes in it to allow heat transfer. Toss occasionally and remove when they start to get a little blackened in spots and delicious-looking.
This is a relatively easy-but-unconventional meal that’s impressive and should get your wheels turning about other unique ways to use your grill. There’s nothing wrong with burgers and dogs (start getting creative with those burgers, people!), but the grill can give you tons of amazing options. Cook stuff in a skillet! Take a sauce pan and throw it down alongside whatever you’re cooking and save a burner on your stove! Remember: it’s just a heat source. An awesome, outdoor heat source.
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1-2 tsp crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1.5 tbsp vegetable oil
Dash black truffle oil
1/2 tbsp lime juice
1 can beer (half empty)
1 tbsp oil
Dash black truffle oil
Crushed red pepper to taste
Salt and pepper
Mash garlic, dried oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper into a paste and combine with oil, truffle oil and lime juice. Rinse chicken and pat dry inside and out. Cover with paste (set aside a spoonful). Chill the chicken two to four hours if desired. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes before cooking. Poke extra holes in beer can. Place extra seasoned paste and fresh herbs inside. Sit chicken on beer can, propping with the legs and grill on indirect heat 1-1 1/2 hours until internal breast temperature reaches 165 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes on top of can before carefully removing from can. Toss vegetables in oil, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Grill for 10 minutes in grill pan or over foil.
The Susquehanna Sound
The Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival kicks off the concert season in The 570
It’s time to break out the festival-going gear and get ready to spend some time outside enveloped in music. The music season kicks off this year at Montage Mountain with a local bang — Cabinet’s Susquehanna Breakdown Music Festival will start things off for the second year this Saturday, May 10, at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain. Last year’s Old Farmer’s Ball drew about 1,200 people to the mountain and organizers expect an even bigger turnout with more stages, more musicians and an expanded vendor area.
“Last year, we had a couple folks from LiveNation reach out and ask if Cabinet would be interested in putting on a festival,” said Cabinet’s manager Bill Orner. “So we got together with venue management, called up a couple friends and threw ourselves a festival.”
The festival’s title is different this year, but Orner said there wasn’t much drama surrounding the change, which will be permanent moving forward. “We thought it’d be a good idea to name it after a song, so we called it Old Farmer’s Ball, after our song ‘The Old Farmer’s Mill,’” he said. “Strangely enough, there was actually another Old Farmer’s Ball that we weren’t aware of. They were some really nice people down in the Carolinas and were very understanding in letting us use the name last year without any kind of conflict. This year, we decided to avoid confusion and call it Susquehanna Breakdown — which is actually a Cabinet song — so there’s not even a play on words there. We can really call it our own now.”
While the Susquehanna Breakdown won’t be the very first event of the year on Montage Mountain — the Dirty Girl mud run was May 2 — the festival is the first show at the pavilion. Orner said festival organizers and Montage Mountain management would like to keep it that way. “This will be the first set of musical notes you’ll hear coming off the mountain and hopefully it will be this way for many seasons to come,” he said.
Cabinet has been heavily touring regionally seeking new fans and a broader audience. Pappy Biondo (banjo, vocals) said the band is excited to build off the success of last year’s homecoming festival. “Last year we put out our album, Leap, and that kind of set the tone for the whole year,” he said. “Doing the first festival was kind of a ‘leap’. We ended up with a huge number of walk-up tickets. We had a great response, so that’s one of the reasons we wanted to do it again.”
The success and support of fans and newcomers alike fed the desire to expand the festival to add more music.
“It’s something bigger and we worked hard for it,” Biondo said. “If anything, it’s to prove to our wives and girlfriends that all they’ve had to put up with is actually paying off.”
This year, in response to fan feedback, the festival will feature camping on the lawn of the pavilion, as well as a limited amount of RV camping, which sold out well in advance.
“We try to read everything fans send in over email or posts on Facebook,” said Orner. “A lot of people said it’s not a ‘real’ festival unless there’s camping — that’s not the case, but it was something a lot of people wanted. We decided to start small and accommodate a couple hundred campers up on the lawn and it’s quite a unique vantage point. It’s going to be a really cool spot.”
Campers will also have a special treat as they set up camp and settle into their spots. “We’ll be playing Friday night for the campers,” said Biondo. “We’ll be doing some kind of secret set for the people who came early.”
Fan feedback drove most of the expansion and changes to this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown. “The band, the organization, this festival — all of it would be nothing without the fans,” said Orner. “So the fans speak and we must listen!”
Another first for the festival — and, indeed, for shows at Montage Mountain — will be the bike-friendly atmosphere. In addition to several bike trails around the venue, Cedar Bike & Paddle will have equipment demos, maintenance clinics and a family fun ride.
The focus on an inclusive, family-friendly festival was a big goal for the organizers, said Orner.
“Kids 10 and younger are admitted for free. We have activities for the kids — everything from face painting, to coloring, to musical sets for the kids,” he said. “It’s very important for us to ultimately appeal to younger folks and build memories and relationships with families and friends. Without that, we don’t have a future doing much of anything. This is an opportunity we have to give back in a sense, and we’re taking it and running with it and doing the best we can.”
Biondo said he will be getting in on the action as well. “I’m going to do a children’s set for the kids on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “It’s more of a family-oriented event than a lot of the bigger festivals. We’re looking forward to having people come out, and excited to give back to the fans — especially the local fans. It’s a celebration and we’re excited to celebrate.”
Artist and promoter John Warner worked with Orner and the event organizers to help coordinate vendors for this year’s festival. “John Warner works with some of the biggest festivals in the country, so it’s kind of a blessing to have him,” said Orner. “If we run into something we don’t know, or we have a question about, we can go to him for advice. We have a great group of experienced people who can help us put together a seamless kind of event that’s run, promoted, and managed like any other large festival you can find in the country.”
When asked about the organizers’ desire to expand opportunities for vendors at the Breakdown, Warner said the push came from the vendors themselves. “We didn’t decide to expand — the vendors decided,” he said. “A lot of vendors, when picking what festivals they’d like to do this season, wanted to be involved this year, which is great. We’ve got some of the best vendors on the festival circuit — if you go to any big festival in the northeast, you’ll find some of these same vendors. I think it’s great that they’ve chosen our festival as one they want to be involved with.”
There will be a wide variety of shops set up at the rear of the pavilion, at the transition point between the lawn and the covered seats. Warner explained that rain at last year’s event forced vendors under the tent, but organizers, vendors and fans alike enjoyed the setup, so it stuck. The Grateful Gallery Tour will also be featured, including artwork from Warner, Allison Murphy, Robbie Cone and Jim Gavenus.
Naturally, music is a focal point of the festival as well, and Orner said bands across the main stage and two additional stages will not disappoint.
“There’s something on this bill for everyone — whether or not you know the names of the bands, I can guarantee you that it’s all high-quality music,” he said. “You could book these bands and put them on any stage and they would hold their own.
Ultimately, the Susquehanna Breakdown is more than just a seasonal kick-off at Montage Mountain. It’s a showcase of local talent and the support the community of fans can bring to a show.
“It’s our backyard, it’s our people,” said Biondo. “You look out and the first 10 rows, we recognize almost everybody. You get farther back in the crowd and you start to see new people who are curious about what we’re doing. It’s pretty cool.”
— tucker hottes
The Electric City Craft Brew Fest hits PNC Field This Saturday, April 26.
The hiss of a bottle cap releasing its blast of pent-up aroma of hops, barley and subtle notes of spices is enough to make craft beer fans excited. Multiply that and spread it through a baseball stadium on a spring weekend, and you’ve got the Electric City Craft Brew Fest. The festival enters its third year this Saturday, April 26, at PNC Field in Moosic, where visitors can sample more than 60 individual brews. Creating such a wide variety of tastes and flavors will continue to be a focus of the EC Brew Fest with open seminars from the Scranton Brewer’s Guild and Wyoming Valley Brewers, including a session for cider lovers.
This weekend’s edition of the EC Craft Brew Fest is expected to be the largest yet. “The newly renovated PNC Field offers both a great concourse that’s custom made for accommodating large crowds and spectacular views,” said Tim Holmes, organizer of the festival and marketing director for Times-Shamrock Communications. “ What better way to celebrate spring’s late arrival than enjoying some lovely craft brews at the ball field?”
Rob Crain, president and general manager for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, said the festival helps bring events to the stadium that aren’t just ball games.
“The more the merrier,” said Crain. “We have dedicated staff members on our team to solicit events that don’t revolve around a baseball game. We’ve had some early success, like last May’s Wrap Party for The Office. We look forward to growing as the years go on.”
The explosion of craft beer in the market has led to a demand for seasonal brews, and the EC Craft Brew Fest has evolved to suit the ever-growing demands of beer aficionados.
“When we hosted our original Brew Fest, we knew we had to offer multiple sessions per year if we hoped to ‘tap into’ the seasonality of the craft beer world,” said Holmes. “The offerings at the Spring/Summer session are drastically different from the Fall/Winter selections. Both are great sessions — but they’re best enjoyed in season.”
Visitors to the Brew Fest will receive a sampling glass, bottled water and receive open access to samples on the concourse of PNC Field. Guests who choose to upgrade to the limited VIP tickets also gain early admission and introduction to brewers, limited edition brews, free hors d’oeuvres and a special gift. Out-of-town visitors or those looking to stay nearby can take advantage of the “Room with a Brew” package to stay at nearby hotels featuring shuttle service.
Beer festivals around the country have plenty in common: craft beer samples, limited edition brews, and basic information sessions. The EC Craft Brew Fest has always striven to feature components to showcase the artisanal and hobby components of craft brewing. With the participation of the Scranton Brewers’ Guild and Wyoming Valley Brewers, this spring’s festival promises to bring the most high-profile education sessions to date.
Sean Wolfe of the Scranton Brewers’ Guild explained the goal is to get people thinking about all the little things that go into creating that perfect, delicious glass of beer.
“The exciting part about being involved in the festival is that EC Brewfest is trying to promote what we promote: craft brew culture,” Wolfe said. “Home brewing is one aspect of that. From our standpoint, we try to promote the things that most festivals don’t even touch on. Any festival can have a lot of beer, and a lot of good beer. Of course, people will come to drink it. Very few festivals will focus on promoting the culture around craft beer – that’s missed.”
The idea that beer should be sipped and enjoyed is integral to the craft brew community. While a growing number of people are making their own beer, learning about what goes into the process can be important even if casual enjoyment is the goal.
“The culture is about understanding the ingredients that go into beer, the time it takes to make it, and understanding the process,” said Wolfe. “A lot of times people will taste something and not understand what goes into making that. Part of what we want to do with the sessions is getting people to see the importance of what it takes to make the beer.”
EC Brew Fest attendees will also have an opportunity to experience beer-making first-hand, to get an idea of what goes into making a home-brewed beer, beginning during the 2 p.m. session from the Wyoming Valley Homebrewers. Later sessions will include focus on flavoring beer with hops and grains.
“You can see the whole process from beginning to end to see what it takes to make a beer from scratch,” said Wolfe. “We’ll have a session specifically focusing on hops and what they do in beer, and why they’re important, and learning about the different types of hops. We’ll talk about grains, what different grains do inside the beer and why a brewer might select a different grain over another. It’s a huge amount of information that I think will help people learn more about how to appreciate the beer at the festival even if they’re not ready to brew their own yet.”
Visitors who aren’t prepared to take the plunge into full-scale home brewing will still be able to learn a thing or two about the beer they’re enjoying. Two beer information stations will be staffed by volunteers with extensive knowledge of the brewing process as well as all the samples featured at the festival.
“A lot of people are disappointed if a pourer doesn’t have a lot of beer knowledge, or they’re afraid to ask questions,” said Wolfe. “At the stations, you can walk up and ask ‘I really enjoy German wheat beers’ or ‘I’m getting this taste out of this beer, where is that flavor coming from?’ The people at those tables will be able to answer those questions.”
The fest isn’t strictly limited to beer, however. The growing popularity of hard cider has led to a heavier feature in this session of the EC Craft Brew Fest. Fans of cider or anyone simply looking to try something new will want to attend the 2:30 “As American as Baseball & Hard Apple Cider” session.
“We see a lot of the same players like Magners and Woodchuck,” said Wolfe. “We want to show what the craft industry is doing to change things, so we’re going to have a bunch of different ciders. There’s a fruit cider, a pear cider, one that’s aged in oak. It’s going to be really interesting to see where that goes.”
The EC Craft Brew Fest is about more than showing up and drinking a lot of beer — the Scranton Brewers’ Guild and Wyoming Valley Homebrewers have helped ensure this festival focuses on the ‘craft’ portion of ‘craft brewing.’
“We’re not just playing lip service; we’re actually making education a core part of the festival,” said Wolfe. “Nobody does this unique style of education like you’re going to get here. We want to get out the idea that craft brew culture isn’t just going out and drinking a bunch of beers. It’s about picking a beer that you’re really going to love, and understanding it, and learning what goes into making it.”
— tucker hottes
BEER WEEK TASTING SCHEDULE
Thursday, April 24
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Sam Adams 4 – 6 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 6 – 8 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton.. Sam Adams 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St, Scranton. Starr Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Ithaca 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Starr Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
Jack’s Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Nimble Hill 7 – 9 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Long Trail 8 -10 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Shiner 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.
Friday, April 25
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 4 – 6 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 5 – 7 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Nimble Hill 6 – 8 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 6 – 8 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Long Trail and Great Lakes 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Evil Genius 7 – 9 p.m.
Jack’s Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Ithaca 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Blue Mountain 7 – 9 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton Shiner 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Stoudts 5 – 7 p.m. Evil Genius 8 – 10 p.m.
Merts, 310 Penn Ave., Starr Hill 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Flying Fish 9 – 11 p.m.
Scott’s Grocery, 2603 Birney Ave.,Scranton. Blue Mountain 4 – 6 p.m.
Mrs. D’s, 915 S. Washington Ave, Scranton. Stoudts 7:30 – 9 p.m.
Saturday, April 26
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Victory pre-fest beer breakfast 9 – 11 a.m.
Electric City Craft Brew Fest PNC Park 12 – 5 p.m.
City Market and Café, 300 Adams Ave., Scranton. Starr Hill 3 – 5 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Stoudts 7 – 9 p.m.
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Shiner 7 – 9 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 7 – 9 p.m.
Andy Gavins, 1392 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Victory 7 – 9 p.m.
Stalter’s Cafe, 872 Providence Rd., Scranton. Manayunk 7 – 9 p.m.
Jacks Draft House, 802 Prescott Ave., Scranton. Great lakes 8 – 10 p.m.
The Keys, 244 Penn Ave., Scranton. Weyerbacher 9 – 11 p.m.
The Bog, 341 Adams Ave., Scranton. Victory 9:30 – 11:30 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Fest after party Starr Hill 9:30-11:30 p.m.
Sunday, April 27
Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton. Sam Adams Beer Brunch 12 – 2 p.m.
Ale Marys, 126 Franklin Ave., Scranton. Victory 3 – 5 p.m.
Cooper’s Seafood House, 701 N Washington Ave., Scranton. Great Lakes 5 – 7 p.m.
Kildare’s Irish Pub, 119 Jefferson Ave., Scranton. Starr Hill 8 – 10 p.m.
The V-Spot, 906 Providence Rd., Scranton. Magic hat 8 – 10 p.m.
Electric City Brew Fest Information
GA Session $29
1:30 — 5 p.m. General Admission Includes: Admission, EC Brew Fest Sampling Glass, Bottled water and choose from more than 60 Craft Brew Samples. Save money with advance tickets PLUS there is NO guarantee on collectible sampling glasses for those who pay at the door.
GA Session (April 26) $40
12:30 -1:30 p.m. (less than 50 VIP tix left) Includes: Everything in the GA Session plus: Exclusive pre-event intro to the Brewers inside the Mohegan Sun Club located in the Suite Level- featuring special limited Release· Brew Samples, Free Hors D’oeuvres & a special gift.
VIP Session (April 26) $60
Room with a Brew
Special room packages starting at $99 at selected Montage Mountain hotels will include free shuttle service to PNC Field from noon till 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 26. Rooms are still available. Tickets to the BrewFest sold separately.
Comfort Suites, Scranton — (570) 347-1551
Courtyard by Marriott — (570) 969-2100
TownePlace Suites — (570) 207-8500
SpringHill Suites by Marriott — (570) 207-1212
Beer School & Homebrewing Sessions throughout the day:
n Beer School Classes by Scranton Brewer’s Guild.
2:30 — 3:30 p.m.
As American as Baseball & Hard Apple Cider
Hard Ciders have been in this country since its early history, and the craft industry is giving them new life. Join us and taste what Fruit, Oak & Hops bring to hard ciders.
3:30 — 4:30 p.m.
If You’ve Big, I’ve Got Bigger: Amp’ed Up Craft Brews
Always trying to out do the next guy, Craft Brewers are in a constant race to find that new & exciting brewing trend to set themselves apart from the rest. Join us and see what the industry is doing with two already big styles, Stouts and Barley-Wines to make them even bigger!
n Homebrewing Sessions by Wyoming Valley Homebrewers.
2 — 2:15 p.m. Homebrewing 101 w/brewing demo
Will make a small batch extract beer – boil, chill (ice bath) and pitch yeast in 2 hours.
3 — 3:15 p.m. What’s in my beer kit: Hops!
Short overview of how ingredients are used in homebrewing and sampling some hop teas.
4 — 4:15 p.m. What’s in my beer kit: Grains!
Short overview of how ingredient used in homebrewing and sampling some malt teas.
Buy tickets at swbrailriders.com or call 570-969-2255 or drop by the RaiiRiders box office at PNC Field.
You MUST be 21 years old to enter this event.
13.1 Miles to Go
Thousands of Competitors and supporters expected at the Inaugural Scranton Half Marathon
Step outside for a few minutes. Pick a direction. Start running. Congratulations, you’re officially healthier than you were a few minutes ago. The benefits of running as exercise are innumerable, so it’s not surprising the sport has exploded as we take a bigger focus on health. The Steamtown Marathon is a nationally renowned event that draws runners from all over the world, but the grueling 26.2-mile length puts it out of reach for many average people. The 13.1-mile half marathon format has increased in popularity as a more achievable progression for beginning and intermediate runners, while providing a step in training for advanced runners preparing for full marathons. That demand is what drove the creation of the inaugural Scranton Half Marathon, kicking off Sunday at 9 a.m. outside Memorial Stadium.
Matt Byrne of Scranton Running Co. said he has been hearing demand for a half marathon in Scranton for years. “Last year, I was approached by [former mayor] Chris Doherty,” said Byrne. “He had participated in a lot of our 5k and 10k races. He’d been hearing the chatter and requests just like I had, that Scranton needs a half marathon. He said he would help get the support going with the city and police.”
Further support from the community helped the idea move from a suggestion to reality. With corporate sponsorship underway and a committee taking shape, it was time to firm up details for the event. “We picked a date about six months away from the Steamtown Marathon – we thought it would be nice to be a halfway-to-Steamtown type of thing,” said Byrne. “The spring is always a good time, and even though early April can be iffy with the weather, it looks like we might get lucky! Things were great right off the bat — everyone was excited to get on board and the response has been amazing.”
The half marathon committee was hoping for a response of about 1,000 to 1,500 for the inaugural event. Instead, the numbers swelled to 2,500 in January after registration opened. “We could have probably raised it up to 5,000,” said Byrne. “We opened up a lottery for 200 more spots, and that sold out in a couple days.”
While the demand was high, Byrne said the committee decided to keep the entry limited for the first year. “There’s a lot to manage,” he said. “You’re not entirely sure what the course can hold. You want to make sure you can handle it — you’re inviting a lot of people. It’s important to make the first year go off well, and then maybe next year we’ll go even bigger.”
Of the 2,700 participants, nearly 2,500 are from Pa. and nearly 2,000 are from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area. Out-of-state visitors include Florida, Vermont, Colorado, Georgia, Minnesota, Illinois, Arizona and other states. “It’s mostly new runners — we certainly have our rippers (we had an elite who signed up from New York who’s pretty darn fast, who will give some of our local runners a good race), people who will finish in an hour and 10 minutes or so, but the bigger picture is the beginners,” said Byrne. “There are about 1,250 people who signed up and have never done a half-marathon before. It’s very beginner-oriented, and has a very local feel. Word finally got out, but by then it was mostly sold out. The locals said, ‘We want it. We need it. We’ve been asking for it,’ so they really showed up when we made the announcement.”
The race begins and ends on Providence Road at Memorial Stadium at Scranton High School. The course will take runners from Providence to Main Avenue, through North Scranton, to Green Ridge via Green Ridge St. and Sanderson Avenue, around Electric Street and a long stretch down Washington Avenue. Continuing to Adams Avenue downtown, runners will zig-zag down Spruce Street, around Franklin Avenue to Lackawanna Avenue, and head into South Side via Cedar Avenue. With a turn down Elm Street, the course will bring runners to the Lackawanna Heritage Trail, which will bring them back to Memorial Stadium for an “Olympic-style” finish on the track.
“It was pretty easy to come up with the course with the addition of the Lackawanna Heritage Trail,” said Byrne. “The new section they put in made it easy for us to avoid hills. I personally have no problem with hills, but as an all-encompassing, welcoming race, you don’t want to have too many. We needed to stay in the valley as much as possible without duplicating too much.” As a result, the course is mostly flat, and will be inviting to first-time runners or advanced runners looking to improve their personal time.
Providence Road near Memorial Stadium will be closed by the city for the event for the safety of the runners, volunteers, and supporters. Tim Holmes, director of marketing for Times-Shamrock Communications and the organizer of the post-race events, said that the 2,700 registered participants are expected to draw a significantly larger crowd of supporters. “Just about every single one of those people has someone at least holding a bag for them,” said Holmes. “I’d say 5,000 people would be the minimum — you have a lot of first-time runners, there will be a lot of support. When you have that many people congregating in one area at one time, you don’t know what it looks like. The city has to keep everyone safe.”
With the street already shut down, it was a perfect opportunity to set up an official post-race party and create a fun atmosphere throughout the race. Live entertainment including the Coal Town Rounders will be featured on the Mohegan Sun stage set up at George’s Garage. Food and drink specials, as well as outdoor fan areas and refreshments will be available at Stalter’s Cafe, Glider Diner and The V-Spot. Fans and finishers will also be able to find a variety of food at the food trucks stationed nearby, including What The Fork Truck, Southwest Savory Grill and Nico’s Pizza.
Mike Stalter, owner of Stalter’s Cafe on Providence Road near the start and finish line, says he jumped at the chance to be involved with the post-race party. “I’m all in,” he said. “I love these kinds of big events in Scranton, and I love the hospitality businesses getting together to help promote them.”
There will be plenty of time for supporters to enjoy the atmosphere before and during the race, and it won’t be long before the first runners begin to return, said Holmes. “It’s a great fan experience to be here from the start,” he said. “The start of the race will take 15 minutes or more just to get everyone out. But the first group of runners will probably be back within an hour and a half, an hour and 15 minutes.”
While the main event focuses on adults pushing themselves to chew up those 13.1 miles, the half marathon will also have plenty of fun for the kids. Whether it’s simply enjoying the surroundings or wanting to emulate older runners, families with kids will find plenty to do.
“It’s a really family-friendly event. We’ll have face-painters, and we have a one-quarter mile kids’ run that kicks off at 9:30 a.m. on the track [at Memorial Stadium],” said Byrne. “We’ll have three groups of kids: 5-6, 7-8, and 9-10 who will all run a one-quarter mile. Including the kids really just brings home the whole thing.”
Proceeds from the half marathon will benefit the Lackawanna Heritage Valley and the continued development of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail, and a significant portion of the course takes place along the newly renovated portions of the trail. “Some people might not have heard about the work they’ve done,” said Stalter. “With 2,700 runners going over such a nice, highlighted piece of our community, maybe each of them tells one person. That’s another 2,700 people. Then they tell another person, and all of a sudden, you’re bringing a lot more people into these parts of town.”
It’s a section of the city that typically doesn’t draw big crowds. “We used to call it ‘the moon’ down there,” Byrne said with a laugh. “It felt like the moon. It was nothing but dust and gravel down there forever.”
The most recent updates to the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail were unveiled in 2013, drawing visitors for multiple reasons. The wide, well-maintained route along the river entices anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors: walkers, runners, cyclists, and even anglers who access the river to try their luck with a hook and line.
“This river is looking good, and it deserves to be shown. It smells good, it looks good and people are fishing down there,” said Byrne. “They’ve worked really hard to renovate this portion of the trail, so I think it’s great to showcase. And I think people need to see it.”
The buzz surrounding the half marathon has been building since its announcement, and people have been hitting the pavement training in preparation. “Anyone who walks, runs, bikes, or drives around the city sees groups and groups of people training for it,” said Stalter. “I love it — it doesn’t matter what time of day, what the weather is, you run into groups of people training. It’s great to see.”
As of press time, the forecast for Sunday is partly cloudy in the mid-50s with no rain. The early spring weather will hopefully mirror similar autumn mild temperatures of the Steamtown Marathon.
“It’s been a mixed bag over the last couple of weeks, but it’s been looking better and better,” said Byrne. “The forecast looks like it’ll be great weather for running, so I feel good about it.”
The Scranton Half Marathon is shaping up to be a signature spring event for the city, and planners are already looking ahead to increasing the size in the future. Right now, though, the focus is on creating a fun event and atmosphere that will be enjoyable for runners, supporters, and fans alike. “This is one of the many great things for Scranton,” said Holmes. “Big towns need big events, it brings people to town. You want to keep younger people in town, you need to have events like this. We’re going to have a great crowd, it’s going to be a great day. The committee has done a fantastic job putting all of this together.”
— tucker hottes
Up Close & Personal
Running and Recovery
Alexis Johnson isn’t very different from most of us. There’s nothing about talking to her that would give the impression that she’s got a story unlike most people, and definitely nothing that conjures up images of prison, hospitals and the depths of addiction. After struggling with difficult times, Johnson has used her past two years of sobriety to focus energy on being positive and helping others. She will celebrate those two years running the inaugural Scranton Half-Marathon on April 6. In addition, Johnson is raising funds for her “Running for Timmy” organization which will assist the family of a close friend who took his own life in February. We spoke with her about these difficult subjects, and throughout discussions of tragedy and hardship, Johnson’s positive message shined through: there’s always a choice to turn your life around and help is always there for those willing to ask.
Tell us a little about your background.
I’m 31 and I live in Jessup. I graduated from Bishop O’Hara High School in 2000, and went to Penn State. I have a BS in Criminology, double minors, and did a study abroad program in London in 2005. I traveled all throughout Europe. To be brief, I fell on some hard times — I battled through an addiction that got pretty heavy. I have some DUIs, and have been in and out of jail. On April 7, I’ll be two years sober. I try to do a lot of giving back. I work for Gibbons Ford and I do a lot of volunteer work. I’m running a fundraiser, a charity for my one of my best friends who recently committed suicide, and left behind his wife and two little girls.
Where would we start to get to know you better?
Well, I had a normal childhood. I went away to school and was a model student and athlete. I went to Penn State, joined a sorority and it was all downhill from there. I got my first DUI at 18 and fell apart after that. I got my second one in 2006. I didn’t know what was going on — I couldn’t stop. I was in a bad car accident in 2008 and two weeks later, I lost my sister to cancer. That was a really dark period in my life. Unfortunately, that’s when things started to get really bad for me. I’ve had a couple of overdoses, and I’ve been in and out of jail. My wake up call was when I actually woke up in state prison, with no felonies, no idea how I got there — it was strictly from being an alcoholic and an addict. It was mostly with my own prescriptions, which is happening now with a lot of young people. They’re getting hooked on painkillers, it’s leading to harder drugs, and I’ve watched a lot of people die or go to jail. I’ve lost my three best friends to addiction, and I myself have had four overdoses. I’m very grateful to be alive, and I don’t waste a second of any day.
I really try to give back, especially to younger women who may not have had the upbringing that I had, where I was grateful and very lucky with my childhood. I know a lot of people who grew up “on the other side of the tracks,” and for me to turn out the way that I did having my kind of upbringing kind of shocked a lot of people. I shocked myself. I had full scholarships to every college I applied to; I had the world at my feet. It just goes to show that addiction and that lifestyle really has no barriers on who it attracts. I unfortunately lost 12 years of my life. Some people take a cup of coffee for granted, or the ability to wear your own clothes and sleep in your own bed at night — I’m grateful for all of that, because I lost all of it. It’s taken me a while to get it all back. And now it’s been two years sober from everything — closer to five since I’ve had a drink. I don’t have a lot of friends today because a lot of them are dead. The ones I do have, I hold on to and try to make good decisions in life today, and be a better, sober person on a daily basis.
Within the last two years, my life has made a complete 180. I just want to do the next right thing and give back, that’s what I’m trying to do with the fundraiser.
Has it helped you to work with other people who are struggling with addiction?
Absolutely. They help me more than I help them. I see people who come in a week or 10 days sober with the shakes and they can’t deal with reality. It reminds me of where I came from. My first five and a half months sober were in prison, and I came back out and had to deal with everyday life. I’m sure some people didn’t have that drying out period. They’re just trying to wing it or maybe the courts force them to. And then you have to deal with that stigma of being an alcoholic, or a junkie — the perception is you’re no good. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy. “You’re going to keep calling me these names, I’m going to keep doing what it is you say I am.” It took this long for me to actually be OK with who I am. I don’t dwell on the past, but I don’t forget about it either. I can’t forget about where I came from. I can’t forget how bad it got. Prison, rehab, near death, — it was bad. Some people don’t feel like young, professional people can have these problems. There’s a stereotype that goes along with being an alcoholic that I don’t think people want to believe. They don’t want to think it’s so common. Someone can look at me and think, “wow, she’s got a great job and she’s in recovery — maybe it’s not so bad.” It is a better way of life. If my story can help one person open their eyes or do something different with their life and not lead the same life I led in terms of addiction, then what I went through was worth it.
Thanks for sharing your story. It has to be tough to be so candid about all of this.
Thank you. It’s not always easy. I can’t sit here and tell you that reliving my story is a good time, because it’s not. It’s a dark past and I’m not proud of the things I’ve done, but what I can say is I’m proud of who I am today and I will not make those mistakes again.
Tell us more about the half-marathon and the fundraiser you’re organizing.
It’s the first ever Scranton Half-Marathon on April 6. I don’t even know the course yet, other than it starts and ends at Memorial Stadium, it’s a standard 13.1 miles. On Valentine’s Day, a very dear friend of mine ended up taking his life. He left behind a wife and two little girls — the youngest just turned one in November. Unfortunately, life insurance policies don’t cover suicide. So the family is in a little bit of tough times. Once the initial shock wore off, I went into “what can I do” mode to find out what I could do to help out. She’s a nurse and she works crazy hours, and even getting a second job wouldn’t be enough. I thought with some of the contacts and support I’ve gained through recovery, why not see if I could do something to help with that financial burden? A couple years ago, I lost another friend to suicide. He was also an addict, and wound up taking his own life. This was the second time I had to go through this. I know there’s a lot of awareness out there from groups like Out of the Darkness, and maybe if we continue to get out the message that it’s such a permanent “solution.” It’s not like taking a vacation for a week — you’re not coming back.
Right, it’s not a “solution” to anything.
No. That person might think that their problem is solved, but the people they left behind are the ones who have to deal with the pain and the repercussions. My goal is to raise between five and $10,000. I’m doing it to get sponsors just to finish the 13.1 miles. There’s also going to be a basket raffle the day of the race. I’ve already been on the horn with businesses to donate gift cards, services, or other baskets to be raffled off. I have an account set up at PNC bank. Anybody can make donations at any PNC bank in the country: the organization name is Running for Timmy. It’s located in Region 30. I also have an online donation site set up through my Facebook account through Pay it Square. On the day of the race, whatever money has been raised through the basket raffles, online and through PNC bank, I’m going to combine the total into one check and give it to (Timmy’s family). Hopefully, this can help ease what she’s going through.
After the run, do you plan to continue to raise awareness?
Probably. I don’t know what I’ll do yet. I’m not entirely sure. I’ll probably take it a day at a time and see what comes out of it. I’ll probably sleep for one or two days, then head back to work. I would like to make this a yearly event. I have some talented friends — one does magic, one does comedy — maybe set up fundraising show. I haven’t really considered it yet — I’m trying to make it through this without dying!
What has training been like? It’s not an insignificant amount of preparation to run a half-marathon a couple weeks from now.
I can’t even lie, I haven’t run in a while. I’ve been doing a lot of Crossfit and high-intensity cardio training. Some of the sessions are over an hour. I used to run cross-country in high school, so I’ve run distances before. It’s just that high school was 14 years ago. I’m heading to Florida for a few days, it’s my first vacation in eight years. When I get back from that I’ll have exactly two weeks, and I’m going to start pounding the pavement — literally — for those two weeks to get my legs used to the constant pace. I’m going to say a lot of prayers!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We have choices in life. We can always wallow in what we’ve been dealt, and pray for things we don’t have and wish our life was different. — but it’s the one we’ve got. The only thing I can’t do today is drink and use drugs. I can do anything else in this world that I want to do. For anybody who’s struggling with an addiction, there’s help out there and it’s OK to ask for it. I heard a quote in a meeting once that went something like, “The only time an addict or an alcoholic should look down on another is when they’re reaching out their hand to help them up.” That’s how I try to live my life. I’m grateful to be in recovery.
— tucker hottes
Up Close & Personal
The Grass is Green
For many people migrating to the 570, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre are “the big cities” compared to smaller towns throughout the region. Others, like Aja Wentum, come from bigger cities and farther away locations. It’s not always the first stop on someone’s journey, but Wentum told us first impressions can often be misleading. After hopping around the globe following his childhood years in Ghana, high school in Oregon and years spent in London, Wentum wound up in Scranton and is embarking on a new chapter of life. Hot yoga entered his life as a professional interest, but it has also helped refocus his career, mind, body and spirit. We spoke to Wentum about his life and how Scranton, of all places, led him to work with one of the premiere hot yoga instructors and studio designers in the world. Meet Aja Wentum …
Give us a little information about your background, the two-minute life story.
I was born in Ghana, West Africa. I moved to Oregon to attend high school, then afterward I went back to Ghana for a little bit, and returned to the States for a bit. In 2001, I visited my dad’s little sister in London and ended up staying there until 2004. At the end of 2004, I was kind of fed up with all the fast-paced lifestyle of London — wasting money and going out partying. So I decided to come back to the U.S. I was going back to Oregon and my sister — who lives in Scranton — said “Why are you going back to Oregon? Why don’t you just come visit me?” I didn’t really know anybody in Scranton — I didn’t even know where Scranton was located. She said it’s close to Philadelphia, so I thought I’d give it a shot. At first, I thought, “What, are you serious?” I had the same reaction a lot of people have when they come here from big cities. I lived in big cities my whole life; I’m a total city boy. To come to Scranton was a little bit of culture shock, but it has been really, really good to me. All the things I wanted to do when I came back to the States — get away from that fast-paced life I was in that wasn’t really leading me anywhere — Scranton was the place to do it. It’s quiet and I could focus and do the things I wanted to do. One of the first things I did was start looking for schools, and I saw that the University of Scranton was a good fit for me. I got my undergrad as a nontraditional student, and I ended up finishing in three years with three concentrations. I studied Communications, Information Technology,and a minor in Economics. I worked for the Times-Tribune for a while, then Harper-Collins for a few years. I went back and got my MBA in marketing and finance to help start up my own business or help run others as well.
What did you do next?
After finishing my MBA, I saw that Scranton was a great place for me to give back to the community. I started looking at ways to get involved and joined a lot of the networking groups in Scranton. I became the treasurer of Power! Scranton, I wanted to give back to help develop Scranton and let people know there are young professionals who aren’t just going to come here and get a great education and leave. I wanted to show you can get a great education and stay.
That turned out to be a great networking opportunity.
That’s how I ran into Chad Clark — one of the Yoga gurus who brought hot yoga to Scranton. I met up with Clark through a friend while doing my MBA, and Clark said he had a book he was coming up with about how to build a hot yoga studio. He asked if I would mind helping in the effort to get the book out and I said of course not. We sat down and talked about the book, where he’d been, the things he was doing and I was blown away. I was blown away to have someone with this much talent here in Scranton — someone who’s worshipped in other communities in America and around the world, and yet he’s in Scranton and nobody knows about him. I decided I wanted to help him not only get the book out, but to help him grow his business. I saw a great product and a great opportunity. I put two and two together and decided this was a way forward. I was partnering with someone who has core competence and skills nobody else does in the hot yoga industry in the whole of North America.
It was lucky to find someone so well regarded.
Clark is a guy who’s traveled all over the world building hot yoga studios. Recently, he was in Iowa building a studio for someone. They had flown in to look at the studios we built on Moosic Street, Scranton, and they loved it. He went out there to build one and now he’s heading to Texas to build another studio. For his book, I did almost everything — from designing, photography, editing, all the things that need to go into the production of a book. It came out really well and people have commented how good the partnership is and how lucky we are on this project. I came to Scranton originally thinking, “This is a crappy town, I don’t even know what I’m doing here with my experience and the things that I’ve done. I’ve lived in cities all my life — what am I doing here?” And then sometime in 2010 or 2011, I woke up and realized the grass is actually green here (if I water my grass). I met with all these people trying to re-route my life here, and it’s really worked out.
Give us a little more information about hot yoga.
Hot yoga is more for the physical body than traditional yoga. It’s great for athletes and for people who have physically challenging problems like chronic back pain or arthritis. If you heat up the room, the heat adds a therapeutic element. When people come in and the room is at a certain temperature, it heats up the body and warms up the joints. People are able to stretch and breathe and exercise to the point where it helps them restructure torn ligaments and muscles. There are a lot of other types of yoga, but hot yoga is more for the physical aspect of it. It’s to help you regain flexibility, help you gain balance. You’re doing breathing postures, balance postures and spinal postures, so it’s strengthening your spine and your core. That’s why the NFL and NBA are pushing athletes to start doing hot yoga. The heat helps, because it helps warm up the body and loosen you up faster and you’re able to push yourself farther than when your body isn’t warmed up. You’re able to do more, and in the end it can help with chronic back pain, chronic arthritis and diabetes. It helps in lots of ways. Our main style is Bikram style — which is different from other styles like Vinyasa. We’re trying to slowly introduce heat into the other styles of yoga as well. They’re not as hot as the Bikram style we practice, which is done in a room at 105 or sometimes up to 108 degrees. One of the things I’m trying to do is introduce heat into Pilates and other things as well, but that’s not going to be heated up to 108 degrees — probably more like 90 degrees for now, so people can warm up. Vinyasa is not as hot as Bikram — it’s only 60 minutes and goes up to 88, maybe 90 degrees.
That sounds like a really unique experience.
The other thing that separates us from many other hot yoga studios in the country — and I say “in the country” because Clark has built maybe 70 to 80 percent of some of the top hot yoga studios in the country — is we don’t use radiant heat. That heat isn’t as good for the body. Clark has a system in which he’s able to combine heat with humidity and the energy recovery ventilator (ERV). Basically, it’s like forced air and the heat is all over the room. It’s not like radiant heat where the heat comes from one panel; it’s multidirectional. The heat isn’t just hitting your body from one direction. In lots of places, the radiant panels are up on top — when you’re standing up, it’s heating up your head and nothing else. When you lay down or change posture, it’s heating up your face, or your foot. The way we have it, the heat is all over your body. You have the right setting of humidity, we normally set it to about 40-45 percent. Then you have the ERV, which brings in fresh air. It takes out the bad air in the room and brings in fresh air. You’re standing in the room, and your whole body is warm — not just one part of your body. It’s not sweaty, it’s breathable, it’s amazing — you should come try it!
What’s it like for a beginner, even if you’re out of shape?
It is so welcoming. Most of our classes are not upper level classes. We call it ability-centric. Anybody can just walk in and take a class. The instructors are going to pay as much attention as necessary to you, and coach you and reposition you. Yoga is all about positioning, the posture and how you do it. If you’re supposed to do a Standing Bull, there’s a way you’re supposed to stand — they all have different effects. The Standing Bull helps with your back and your spinal cord. For instance, if you’re supposed to have part of your body facing forward and you’re facing to the right, or up, or down, they will adjust you to make sure you have the right posture. Nobody forces you. One of the things I tell everybody when they come in is not to have any fears — just focus on yourself and what you’re able to do. Don’t worry about the rest. Yoga will meet you at whatever level you are. If you can’t even touch your toes, it’s OK! Just do what you can do — touch your knees, just do it. The next time you come into class, you’ll be surprised. You’ll go from touching your knees to touching your shins, then your toes.
I had never done yoga until I met Clark. I had back problems from playing basketball. I had problems driving long distance and I used to drive 15 hours to Atlanta with no problem. I got to the point where I couldn’t drive two hours to Philadelphia. I started practicing yoga more seriously, and I’m not kidding, my back problems went away. I was seeing people doing this crazy stuff and I couldn’t even touch my toes. But I built up the courage, went in and did what I could. In two or three weeks, I had made amazing progression and change in my postures, and my back pain started to go away — now it’s gone! It helps people with sciatic nerve problems, all kinds of things. Hot yoga will help you repair a lot of damage you’ve done to your body. Yoga is not going to judge you.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just come try Electric City Hot Yoga! We have Clark — someone who’s one of the most sought-after instructors in the whole country. He’s been featured in articles in the New York Times, the New York Post, engineering journals, and things like that about his knowledge. He has such an amazing amount of knowledge about yoga, designing studios and creating a great space. The technology is just amazing. We try to give back to the community as well. We offer free passes now and then, sometimes we’ll give people trials, we just want people to see the benefit and to create a healthy culture here in Scranton. When people are healthy, that goes into the economy and the community as well. It’s a cycle, and the better people feel the more they want to come in and practice. It uplifts everybody.
— tucker hottes
Local act SUZE release new album Sounds from Thursday Evening
Somewhere deep within the bowels of a warehouse in Pittston — surrounded by floral supplies: foam, fake flowers, accents, vases, and assorted ephemera — lead singer and guitarist Adam McKinley of SUZE turns to make a point. “I’m really glad we’ve got a chance to talk to everyone in the band. Usually I feel like I’m just talking and they never get a chance to chime in.” A minute or two and a few twists and turns past even more endless rows of merchandise and it becomes clear why it’s important to hear from the rest of the guys. It’s hard to keep up with the pace of jabs and in-jokes at times, but eventually photographer Keith Perks corrals the five-piece band together for long enough to snap a few shots. Later, they undergo some serious discussion of cigarette-smoking in front of a “No Smoking” sign before judiciously heaping some flak on drummer Kevin Gallagher for breaking the previously agreed-upon “cigs-in-mouths” composition for the photo.
While it’s obvious these guys like to enjoy themselves and joke around, things turn way more serious when music comes up. SUZE began in 2007 when friends Adam McKinley and Brandin Shaffern (bass) started jamming with mutual friend Chris Bednar. One night, after filling in a quick set at a benefit show, Shaffern and McKinley were at a bar. McKinley began to talk about forming a band. As it turned out, Gallagher was in the same bar. “I was looking to jam with people, and I happened to be sitting a couple stools down from Adam,” he says. “Our mutual friend — Alan Peterson — heard McKinley talking about how he needed a drummer, so he just said ‘talk to this guy.’” A few beers later, and things began to develop from there.
“Chris and his wife were having a baby, so he decided he needed to spend more time with family,” says McKinley. “We only had a couple of original songs at that point, and in the fall of 2009 we added Adam Gabriel on lead guitar.” Like many of the SUZE stories, it was a pretty casual introduction: more mutual friends, and quick compatibility. “It was a very rigid audition,” Gabriel says with a laugh. “I think I just played and we said ‘alright!’”
The next addition to the band’s history starts when a series of laughter erupts over Gabriel breaking an ankle on his birthday. “We had a show the very next night, and obviously he couldn’t play,” recalls McKinley. “I had known Angelo [Miraglia] for about 15 years, and at the time I didn’t play any lead guitar parts. It would have been a pretty boring show without any kind of lead, so I asked him to just fill in and play some keyboard solos over the songs.”
With a full five-piece lineup, SUZE finally took its modern incarnation. “Once those two guys joined, the whole dynamic changed for the better,” says Shaffern.
“Well, that’s a matter of opinion, but…” jokes Gabriel. Even a ‘serious’ discussion with these guys is punctuated by the occasional ribbing.
With the full lineup, though, SUZE began to transition from mostly cover songs to original material. “We played a lot of covers,” says Shaffern, “but a lot of it was stuff people don’t really know – more or less jam bands, but not the obvious choices.” McKinley adds, “Like I always said, if you’re going to cover Cream, don’t cover ‘Sunshine of Your Love,’ you know? Do something else, that’s the way we looked at it. We’ve done an eclectic mix; we’ve even covered Wu-Tang Clan before.”
What started as a few friends jamming and playing an odd show or two had turned into something more. The band’s first album, When the World is Not Enough, resulted from the natural progression as SUZE developed more original material. “We didn’t even have a full album’s worth of material when we started recording,” says Gabriel. SUZE entered McCrindle Building Recording Studios with the intention of laying down tracks while writing new material.
“We weren’t experienced at that point, we thought ‘oh, five songs will take us forever,’” says McKinley. “We weren’t going in very often to record, so we figured we’d have enough time.” That time turned into two years of sporadic recording sessions, during which the band continued to write more material. From there it was a matter of promoting and playing more shows.
“Just having an album, something we could give to people, opened up some doors,” says Gallagher. “That’s when we started developing a fanbase. Before that it was like, ‘Hey, you guys rock! Where can we get more?’ and we had to say, ‘Uh, I dunno, look us up on MySpace or something I guess…’” Naturally, there’s a pause for laughter and reflection on old technology.
“One of our goals was go get into the River Street Jazz Cafe,” says Shaffern. “It’s one of the essential places to play original music around here, especially for our style.” The earlier days of playing mostly covers paid off when fans stuck around as the band transitioned to original music. At first, a few original songs weren’t enough to fill an entire setlist, but gradually the tide turned as the band’s output increased with additional contributions to the writing.
“Over time, we shed away a lot of covers and replaced them with more writing,” says Gallagher. “Adam [McKinley] does most of the writing, but we now have additional contribution, so it adds some variety. For example [Miraglia’s] songs have a much different structure from [McKinley’s]. And [Gabriel’s] songs are much different from either of those.” Immediately, everyone chimes in to make one point definite: writing in this band is a democracy. Everything is up for discussion, and while individual passions flare, ultimately the best sound wins out.
The conversation begins to border on the too-serious side, but comes to a grinding halt when too many “Adams” are thrown around. Reassurances are issued that editors are magical, and things continue.
The short story says McKinley writes lyrics and does much of the arrangement. Members of the band generate ideas — Miraglia might present a series of sketches, Gabriel may throw some riffs together, Shaffern comes up with a bassline, Gallagher gets an idea for a drum fill — and SUZE comes together enjoying making music.
Things have moved much more quickly for SUZE since the first album was released. With an increase of creative output during the lengthy recording process, it was less than a year before they began work on Sounds from Thursday Evening. For the second album, entering the studio was much more streamlined. “We learned a lot from the first album, how to work in the studio,” says Shaffern. “We got organized. We got focused.”
McKinley adds, “The first time – you go into the studio, you’re like 26 years old and you don’t really know anything, and then all of a sudden you’re in this professional environment. We had to write stuff on the fly, coming up with new arrangements. Honestly, before that we hadn’t even heard ourselves on a recording. You hear everything, hear yourself breathe.”
Miraglia pipes up, “You can even hear the drummer singing along…” and again the guys detour for a moment into some good-natured ball-busting. At some point, Shaffern describes the process as “A Rush” and the rest insist on that as the headline for the story.
The latest recording experience also gave SUZE the opportunity to add another dimension with the studio work of Carl Krupa adding saxophone and flute parts to six the tracks. “When the horns get involved, the whole mood of the song changes, and that was something of an epiphany for some of them. We didn’t even really know what we wanted, and he would just create great ideas on the fly,” says McKinley. While SUZE won’t be adding a regular woodwind instrumentalist to the lineup, Krupa will appear with the band for the album release show.
“All I have to say,” says Miraglia, “is that the flute on [album-closer] ‘Fall of the King’ – it transforms the whole song. It’s like magic.”
SUZE has continued to build a portfolio of material, but there aren’t immediate plans to rush back into the studio. “Last time there were a few songs here and there that we could have worked into the album, but they weren’t quite ready,” says Gallagher. “Same thing this time, they might not have fit, but with some development they can work for the future, it’s nice to have them in your pocket.”
After the band’s album release show at the River St. Jazz Cafe Friday, they’ll play a mirror show at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, which the band refers to as a “home away from home.” Other notable upcoming appearances an in-store release at Gallery of Sound on March 12 and a set on PA Live on March 24. McKinley rattles off a quick list of shows that will take SUZE throughout the region and as far south as Maryland. “We have a lot of stuff lined up, a lot of dates still to be announced, so we’ve got a full plate, and get the music in front of more people,” he says.
“As a product, this album is just leaps and bounds beyond our first one,” adds Gilbert. “We really just took it to the next level. We’ve got a mix of some new venues, some places we’ve played for a while, so the future is looking good.”
The excitement of opening a new chapter flows through this group, and it’s easy to share the enthusiasm – these guys are having a blast, and making music they love.
“We’re putting out music that we want to put out,” says Shaffern. “Some people may not like it, and that’s fine. We’re not targeting any sort of specific fanbase.”
“I think we’re eclectic when it comes to that,” says Gilbert. “We’ll have as many people our age, and people 20 and 30 years older than us getting down, you know? We work really hard at it.”
“We’re not just there to party, we want to put on a good show for people, and show people that we’re serious about this, and not just some party band that’s making extra cash on the weekend,” says McKinley.
There’s a moment of reflection and agreement on this, and it looks like we’re about to close on one of those rare serious notes.
“I would like to add, however,” interjects Miraglia, “that we can party.”
Laughter ensues, and it’s a fine way to sum these guys up.
— tucker hottes
IF YOU GO:
SUZE Sounds from Thursday Evening
album release party.
River Street Jazz Cafe, Plains
Friday, March 7, doors 8 p.m.
$5 at the door. 21 and older.
Grateful Art in The Electric City
We caught up with The Grateful Gallery’s John Warner about his upcoming appearance at The Backyard Ale House, 523 Linden St., Scranton, on Friday, March 7 as part of Susquehanna Breakdown’s Fee Free event. The night will feature selected works from The Grateful Gallery, as well as live music from The Kalob Griffin Band and The Tom Graham and Bill Orner Duo.
Give us a little background on your work.
I work primarily in the music business creating concert posters for bands like The Allman Brothers, Further, Phil Lesh & Friends, moe., Gov’t Mule and Warren Haynes to name a few. I’ve also created artwork for festivals like Lockn’, Gathering of the Vibes and Mountain Jam. In addition to posters, I design T-shirts and other band merchandise. I also work locally with Cabinet and this upcoming festival – the Susquehanna Breakdown.
How did you get involved in the business?
I’m originally from Binghamton, N.Y., not far from this area. As a kid, I was a huge fan of album artwork and it was my objective from a young age to become a professional artist. I started seeing the Grateful Dead, Phish and other jam bands in high school and I fell in love with the scene. I started making fan art back then in the ‘90s, selling my T-shirts in the parking lots at shows. I moved to California in 1990 and followed several Grateful Dead and Phish tours. At the same time, I was developing my design business, working with local bands and clubs. After a while, my art just kind of got noticed, my client list grew and I’ve been doing it for more than 20 years. I always prioritized developing good working relationships with the bands and have been designing for some of my clients for five, 10, 15 years now. In addition to artwork, I’ve worked on the business side of the music industry by booking bands, promoting shows and so on. In 2004, I moved to Austin, Texas to focus on developing my graphic design business, and at the same time I started managing a bar and booking shows there. I created the artwork for the shows and did promotion too. In 2007, I moved back to the Northeast and continued developing my design business with some great new clients like Citizen Cope. I met Cabinet in 2008 and booked them at a festival I was producing and promoting — the Hop Bottom Arts and Music Festival — which was in its second year in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since, and I am thrilled to design posters and other artwork for them.
You’re not “just” a full-time artist, then?
Oh, no — I work on the production side too. I work with Bill Orner who is the lead promoter for the Susquehanna Breakdown. I’ve helped with the nuts and bolts of the festival like layout and attractions. I also coordinate vending for a few music festivals.
How did you get involved with Susquehanna Breakdown?
In January 2013, Orner called me up and said “LiveNation is giving us the opportunity to host a festival at Montage Mountain.” He knew I had worked with Mountain Jam, Peach and other festivals and that I had some experience. He wanted to know if I would come on board to give a hand and we’d see what happens. I love Cabinet and it has been really awesome to see their success and growth over the years, so naturally I said “absolutely, anything I can do to help.” Initially, the festival was supposed to be outside by the front entrance to the venue. We had some bad luck with the weather, which turned into good luck, because they moved us all under the big Pavilion tent. I really don’t think it would have been the same if we hadn’t moved it under the Pavilion. It just added such a special vibe to an already great event. It was dumb luck that we wound up underneath the tent, but it totally transformed the look and feel of the whole thing. In the first year, despite bad weather, we put on a show that looked like a legit, real, big event.
Everything went really well, and it was pretty much an automatic decision that day that we were going to do this again. So Orner usually takes care of all the booking, ticketing, promotion and organization there, and I fill in the gap by coordinating food and craft vendors, sponsorships, that kind of stuff. This year the lineup just speaks for itself — it’s fantastic. We really have some great talent this year and we’re really looking forward to it.
It’s great to showcase local talent on a stage that houses giant national acts.
Well, that’s what it’s all about. I’m originally from the region — I love the area. My mom lives in Susquehanna County and there’s just so much local talent around here that I think all too often gets passed over. There’s the proximity between NYC and Philly, so we get overlooked, but I think our region is ready to get put on the map in a big way. I know there are a lot of people in this area who just have no idea that so much great music is in their back yard! The other day, I was checking out the Facebook page for Montage Mountain, and somebody posted “What’s with Montage Mountain booking these festivals with bands nobody’s ever heard of?” This is a good thing! This year’s lineup for Susquehanna Breakdown is amazing year with both local talent and nationally touring artists. I recommend skeptics come up to the show to check it out, because they’ll walk away thinking “wow, these bands are really good!”
It shows the strength of the local scene that we can support a main stage show with local acts.
Well, that’s the thing — last year could have been a huge failure and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. It wouldn’t have come back. It gives me a feeling of pride that so many people came out to support Cabinet and the local scene, and the whole thing was a success. This year, I’m really hoping that we get a wider variety of the community to come up — those who aren’t necessarily Cabinet fans, friends and family, but people who just heard about the festival and thought it sounded pretty cool.
What’s going on Friday at The Backyard Alehouse?
A night of music by Susquehanna Breakdown artists The Kalob Griffin Band and Tom Graham, along with a chance to buy festival tickets with no service charge. (Ticket prices are $20 GA and $55 VIP.) I’m going to be there with a gallery of my artwork as part of a sneak preview of the Grateful Gallery concert poster and photography show that I bring to music festivals throughout the summer. I’ll also have some posters from Mike Dubois, another Grateful Gallery artist, and there’s a chance we’ll have a special guest and some other surprises. These gallery shows are a great opportunity to pick up a poster from a favorite band or a show you attended.
What can we look forward to at this year’s Susquehanna Breakdown?
In addition to the music, we also have a great variety of vendors and artisans this year. We have some of the best vendors in the country, like handmade apparel, accessories and artwork from the non profit Eden’s Rose Foundation; organic cotton and bamboo clothing from Hooked Productions; hand-painted ornaments made from recycled Christmas trees from our local favorite S.A.W. Family Creations; and Uncle John’s Outfitters, which is my own family business. We also have a couple of the best food vendors joining us — the Gouda Boys have an out-of-this-world menu and we are happy to have our local favorites Shady Grove Wraps. We’ve got some new stuff coming in like a children’s drum workshop from Everyone’s Drumming. There’s going to be something for everyone. It gives me an enormous amount of pride to be able to help bring this kind of event into my backyard.
— tucker hottes