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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photos by emma black