Neil Nicastro is a professional musician who recently released his second solo
album, “For Escaping.” Previously, he played in local bands such as the Collective and the Five Percent.
He also gives music lessons at Neil Nicastro Music, Entertainment and Instruction in Dunmore
and offers DJ services for weddings and special events. Nicastro is a native of Dunmore and graduated
from Dunmore High School. He later studied at Penn State University and East Stroudsburg University, where he earned a degree in physiology. He and his wife, Erin, have two children, Santino, 9, and Paloma, 7. They live in Dunmore. Meet Neil Nicastro…

Tell us a little about your new album.

I hadn’t put anything out in a while, and just listening to the Jason Isbell stuff and the new Frank Turner stuff really inspired me and reminded me that that’s really my favorite thing to do, is write songs. And I just felt that I really needed to do it again. And my wife was really encouraging about it,
too. I’ve always been a professional musician, and once I got into the process, I got way into it, and ended up recording about 20 songs again, which I always do. I wrote about a lot of different experiences, played a lot of different instruments on the album and had some fun. After all of this time, I feel like I can finally create the music that I’m hearing in my head.

You’ve also been teaching music for about 20 years. What do you enjoy about it?
I think I have a good mix of adults and kids, and I teach from the perspective of “enjoyment first.” My biggest goal is for somebody that comes to me later in life, even after they’ve taken lessons, and they say that they still play, and that they enjoy playing. That’s the best. If you can pick up an instrument, and just zone out and be creative, it’s such a huge escape. You can be much more in touch, rather than just listening to your favorite
music. That’s my philosophy for teaching: that I still love it playing, after all of this time and after all of these hours that I’ve put in, and that if I can just pass on a little of that excitement to other people —I think that’s a pretty cool thing.

And what about your DJ work?
“That’s kind of what I morphed into after the Five Percent. I was trying to get a wedding band going, and I started playing at the Pocono resorts quite a bit. I was doing some ceremony music, but the demand for the wedding band was always pushed aside by the DJ. It’s the same thing as playing, where you read the crowd, so I started getting into that, too. It’s kind of my favorite thing to do, because it feels like it’s important. When you’re
a part of somebody’s wedding, you can put your stamp on it. I’ll play during the cocktail hour, and then DJ the rest of the night. And you can put your heart into it. I’ll learn whatever song they want me to learn. It’s great. And people enjoy it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
I love to run. If I could play guitar and run in a day, I’m a happy guy. That’s all I really want to do. (Laughs)

Who are some of your favorite musical artists?
Damian Rice. I love him. And right now, I think the new Jason Isbell record is as good as it gets. It’s as good as music can be. I also really like Frank Turner and Ben Holiday. I’m not nostalgic about
music. I grew up loving Live. “Mental Jewelry” is one of my desert island discs, but I don’t go back and listen to it, because I feel like I’ve consumed it. I loved Blind Melon, but I don’t often go back and listen. I’m looking for new stuff.

Favorite city?
Denver. I like the healthy lifestyle, and I was really turned on to how active it was. Also, the Five Percent went around the country a couple of times, and when we were in Denver, we decided to spring on a hotel. Most of the time, we were camping, so that might have tainted my perception, because we actually stayed in a room (Laughs)

Favorite thing about NEPA?
I think, especially after being around the country, that the music scene is awesome. Even though it’s morphed and there’s not as many bands, and there’s more solo and duo gigs, I still think the music scene is great. I never complain. There’s still young bands putting out great albums. I lived in Philly for a little while, and in the Poconos for a little while, and I don’t think I would be as happy a musician if I was somewhere else.  

All-time favorite movie?
“Billy Elliot.”

Favorite food?
Broccoli. I put peanut butter on it.

Do you follow sports?
I did when I was younger, but now I like to watch what I can do. My son’s playing soccer, so we watch soccer. I follow running and cycling, because I do it.

Favorite holiday?
Christmas. The kids are so excited.

Favorite book or author?
Malcolm Gladwell. I’m around music all day long, and so when I run, I usually listen to audio books.

Biggest pet peeve?
Probably laziness. And negative behavior. What’s the point? If you smile, everything’s a little bit easier.

Guilty pleasure?
French fries. Although I only have them a couple of times a year.

Is there anything about you that might surprise people? 
I’ve been to 42 of the 50 states. I collected dirt from all of them and have it in a jar. It’s in my office. People ask why I don’t keep it separate, and the reason is that it was already separate. Now, it’s together. (Laughs)

Have you had an experience in your life, or a moment in your life, that’s really helped shape you or define you as a person?
I probably can’t say what it is, because it’s kind of a negative thing. And I’m always working at being a positive person, whether it comes across or not. All of my career choices, and everything, are geared towards that. And
I like to think that, as a musician, it’s important what I’m doing, in trying to make people happy, making music.

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

Photos by Emma Black

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