LUZERNE - It was a good feeling to have gone out last night to catch the debut performance of Stardog Champion, and to have had to circle around the block a few times looking for a parking spot. This show, clearly, had a buzz to it. And when you consider how much the musicians in this new project have meant to the NEPA music scene, I was happy about that. The buzz was well deserved. And when the band hit the stage at 11 p.m., the biggest expectation was met.
Simple: They had good songs. Really good songs.
And really, that was probably one of the few questions going into the night. Featuring former members of Breaking Benjamin, Lifer and Drama Club, there was no question as to whether or not they'd be great players and entertaining performers. Everybody knew that going in. And so, even though everyone was seeing the group for the very first time, it wasn't like there were several hundred people standing there with their arms folded, sizing them up. These guys already had fans. And these folks had come for a good time. Guitarist Aaron Fink and bassist Mark James, who sold millions of records with Breaking Benjamin over the past decade, certainly have fans. Nick Coyle, a longtime fixture on the local music scene, also has fans. His former band, Drama Club, recorded some great songs ("November" remains a favorite) and he, Fink and James - with the group Lifer - were all previously signed to Universal Records. And the band's drummer, Josh Karis of Leroy Justice, is also a talented musician and has also toured the entire nation.
Again, these guys have chops. And fans.
What Saturday night's show at Brews Brothers West revealed is that they also have chemistry and some really good modern-rock tunes. The group's debut EP, "Exhale" - released just days ago - offers a fine mix of punch and melody. (One must wonder if the EP's title is reflective of the sense of relief the band's members might now be feeling, particularly Fink and James, whose previous squabbles with Breaking Benjamin vocalist Ben Burnley are well documented.) The lead single, "When We Fall" is an explosive, radio-ready track (currently in rotation on 102.3-FM, The Mountain) and was met with enthusiastic approval. Other songs from the EP, such as "Aphrodite" and "The Switch" also held the crowd captive.
And that - despite the band's member's accomplished track records - is not an easy thing to do. To have a large number of people ready, eager and willing to digest new material for the first time in the live setting is something that, frankly, I've only seen a small handful of bands ever pull off. Add Stardog Champion to the list.
Musically, everything was there. The guitars soared, the bass rattled your guts and Coyle was in fine form as both a vocalist and frontman. And despite the harder edge to the music, the show was fun. There were spot-on covers of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter," U2's "Bullet The Blue Sky" and Living Colour's "Cult of Personality." A few female dancers, wearing white masks and form-fitting body suits, joined the group on stage for a number, and though it was both sexy and quirky and added some interesting flavor to the show, it was not - at all - your typical "strippers-on-stage-with-the band-thing" that we've all seen a hundred times. The girls were fully clothed; it was more in the vein of something you might have expected from the late Robert Palmer or even Tool. And for Stardog Champion, it worked.
There were also bouncing balls. At one point, about a half a dozen large inflated balls made their way out over the crowd, and - to the beat of the music - fans whacked them high in the air and around the room to one another. It was very Rolling Stones-esque and it all contributed to the sense that this show, though the first for the band, was indeed a celebration. The fact that so many people frequently held their cell-phones in the air snapping photos and shooting video also contributed to that feel.
In addition to music fans, Stardog Champion also brought out musicians. The crowd was peppered with prominent members of other local bands, music journalists (The Weekender and Highway 81 Revisited) and the Gallery of Sound. And the group was introduced by Freddi Fabbri, the longtime area DJ, now with 102.3-FM, who has always had a special relationship with some of the band's members and, 12 years ago, was one of the people who helped break Breaking Benjamin not only on radio, but also, fittingly, in the same club where Saturday's event was held.
"Do you like new beginnings?" Fabbri asked the crowd.
Clearly, the answer was yes.
So much of it simply felt right, and I got an early indication that it might be a good night. About 20 minutes before showtime, I asked Coyle if he was nervous.
"Not at all," he said with an assuring smile. "I'm ready to get out there and rock."
Already looking forward to the next show. Already looking forward to spinning a few more tracks from the EP on the radio.
(Alan K. Stout's "Music On The Menu Live" can be heard every Sunday night from 8-9 p.m. on 102.3-FM, The Mountain. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)
No, not turnpike on-ramps. These ramps are also known as wild leeks, and they’re supposedly delicious and very very good for you. RIGHT NOW is the season for them, they’re one of the first things (along with fiddleheads…more about them later) that you can forage for this early in the spring.
They are part of the onion/garlic family, but are renowned for being pungent as hell. In fact if you eat enough (which isn’t very many) and wait around you (and your loved ones, no doubt) will be able to smell the odor coming right out of your pores.
They are found in forested areas all over the Northeastern part of the US. They like shady and sandy soil, often near rivers or streams. Some sources say they grow on the north side of embankments or hills in the woods, in small clumps. They’re very popular in Appalachia, in fact my best friend, who has lived in West Virginia nearly 30 years, was the person who turned me on to them.
Unfortunately I don’t have any on my property, and believe me I check thoroughly every year. This year I even asked the Ex if I could check his land, since he has a lot more acreage. He was kind enough to let me, but no ramps, at least not where I looked.
Ramps look a lot like lily-of-the-valley, at least from the ground up, but underground they look a lot like scallions. They’re not real easy to dig up, either, which is why you have to bring a garden trowel or small shovel. When you dig don’t take them all, so that they can continue to grow where they are. You have to eat them almost right away since they don’t keep well even in the fridge. Use them wherever you’d use onion or garlic, but keep in mind they’re a lot stronger.
If and when I ever find any, I have a whole bunch of north-facing slopes on my property, and they’re kind of wooded, so I’ll be planting as well as eating!
Now on to fiddleheads. I DO have a few of them on my property. They're just the furled fronds of the "ostrich" ferns you see in all wooded areas in NePa. Left on the plant they'd unroll into large fern leaves. You have to pick them when they're really small though, because they get bitter almost immediately. But in this baby state they have a delicate asparagus-like flavor. Just make sure you cook 'em all the way through.
So ANYBODY who knows where there are some ramps, please reply to this post! Or just email me, click on "Hosts" then you'll see my little bio, there's a box to email me there.
Back in '90s, at least once every few weeks, I found myself interviewing a rock star. I was the music columnist at The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre at the time, and because the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre market seemed to be a stop on most major concert tours, and because most of my interviews were being carried on the national entertainment wire, rock stars were calling all the time. Billy Joel. Steven Tyler. Eddie Van Halen. David Bowie. Ray Charles. Jon Bon Jovi. Don Henley. I was fortunate enough to chat with all of them about music. And even though I was often a big fan of some of the people I interviewed, I never got starstruck or overly excited about it. It was my job - a job that was fun and that I grateful for - but also one that I took seriously. The most important thing to me about interviewing a rock star was making sure that the interview resulted in a good story for the newspaper.
Still, that didn't mean there weren't a few times when I was a little bit more anxious to make that call. And on one occasion, in January of 1999, this was particularily true. And that's because I was scheduled to interview one of the King's Men. I was scheduled to interview the longtime drummer of one Elvis Aaron Presley.
I was scheduled to interview D.J. Fontana.
He was not the household name that had been accompanying a lot of my articles at that time, but to me, this one was special. Hanging out at a local tavern one night a day or two before our scheduled chat, my friends - who were not accustomed to hearing me even talk about my work that much - seemed surprised over my enthusiasm for this particular interview.
"You guys don't understand," I said. "I'm more excited about this than I would be to be talking to somebody like Eddie Vedder."
With that, I was met with somewhat of a puzzled look.
"This guy played with ELVIS," I said. "Hound Dog. Heartbreak Hotel. Jailhouse Rock. He played on all of them."
At that point, I think they actually started to get it. Fontana, in fact, played on more than 450 Elvis songs. He also played with Presley on all of his early TV appearances, including his 1956 milestone performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and one that is considered to be one the finest performances of his career - the 1968 NBC television special best known as the " '68 Comeback Special."
And D.J. Fontana - who was coming to Wilkes-Barre as part of an Elvis tribute show - gave me a very good interview.
"I was always impressed with what a gentleman he was," he said, when I asked him to share his favorite Elvis memory. "He was always kind to people. He always spoke with `yes, ma'am,' `no, sir,' `thank you very much.' He was always polite. As he got bigger, he didn't have to be. But that's the way he was taught when he was a little boy, so he never got rid of that attitude."
Fontana, who named Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa among his influences, told me that it never occurred to him when he was recording Presley's early hits that he was also securing his place as one of rock 'n' roll's pioneering drummers.
"You don't think about those things," he said. "You're in there to cut a good record. Of course, Elvis always hoped they were hits, but we were all striving for the same thing - to do the best job we could and get the best record we could."
Getting the best record they could. Those words carried a lot of weight coming from a man who essentially helped form rock and roll. And it was when he talked about making those records - and Elvis' role in their production - that Fontana offered the most insight. Though Presley was widely regarded as a marvelous vocalist, his role with his own recordings was not, for the most part, one of a musician or songwriter. But Fontana told me that Elvis knew the nuances of a recording studio very well and essentially served as his own producer.
"He was the final word," said Fontana. "He knew what he wanted to hear. We had producers - guys that I called clock-watchers. They'd sit behind the sound board and go `Oh yeah, Elvis, that's two minutes and 15 seconds,' but's that about all they ever said. Elvis would do it until he was satisfied and say `That's the one I'm taking.' He was usually right."
It remains, to this day, one of my favorite interviews.
My chat with D.J. Fontana was done on the phone, but when he came to town a few days later, I was able to meet him in person. By that time, the story from our interview had already been published in the paper and I was able to give him a copy. He was also kind enough to sign a copy for me and pose for a picture. Though he talked during our interview about Elvis always being a gentleman and of his politeness, I found the same to be true of Mr. Fontana, who is now 82 and whose legendary work has not been limited to recording with Elvis. With the "All The King's Men" project, he worked with people such as Keith Richards, Levon Helm and Jeff Beck. Just a few years after I did the interview, he played with Paul McCartney. And in recognition for his work, he has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the sidemen category.
Over the past few years, I've posted quite a few of my old newspaper interviews with rock stars on YouTube. And with my friends and I currently planning a trip to Graceland, and with the music of Elvis frequently filling my home, I thought I'd share a few excerpts my interview with D.J. Fontana. You can listen to them on the link above.
"I'm a big Elvis fan," I say at one point during our conversation. "It's really a pleasure to talk to you."
Indeed it was. It's not everyday that you get to talk music with someone who was in the room when pop culture was forever changed and who had a role in that change. It's not everyday that you get to talk with someone that worked with Elvis, so often, for more nearly 15 years.
It's not everyday that you get to talk with one of the King's Men.
And I have just the inexpensive way to do it! I haven’t had dental insurance for years, so I was sorta putting off getting them cleaned and checked. Well!
Last Tuesday I went to the Luzerne County Community College Dental Clinic, located in their Health Sciences Center right in the middle of Nanticoke. They have a slew of dental hygiene students who are just dying to clean your teeth and give you a full set of xrays, all watched over by a certified instructor and a dentist.
My hygienist was Sara and she couldn’t have been nicer. Yes, it takes a little longer because at each step the student then has to get the instructor over to examine her work and make sure it’s right. OK maybe a lot longer but here’s the payoff…the whole thing costs $15! I @#$% you not.
I arrived at 8:40 (for an 8:30 appointment but no one looked at me funny…well no funnier than usual). The first thing they do is a long and lengthy conversation about your health, medications you’re on, things you’re allergic to, all that insurance crap. Then the x-rays, which took maybe 45 minutes. Then they probe your teeth; measuring them? Something like that. Then the actual cleaning; it had been so long I had never had the ultrasonic thingie, which I did not like. They give you the usual bag o’ dental stuff, explaining what each thing is, and tell you to floss daily and brush twice a day. I was out by 11:50. But who cares, I would have stayed twice as long for the price! I actually heard myself saying they should charge more.
One of the many great things about this is, they can’t afford to slack off because an instructor is looking over their shoulder every inch of the way. And while I have never met an unpleasant hygienist, my girl Sarah was just adorable, competent, with a sure but gentle touch. (Wonder if she’s married, just kidding!!!)
So after my gym in Dallas was sold to some guy last year, it changed its name to something that actually gave me pause at first. Can’t mention the actual name. However we were all told we had to renew our memberships and I simply couldn’t afford it. I still can’t.
So I went in the other day to see if there was any kind of discount or payment plan I could get. The guy wouldn’t even see me. Wouldn’t even descend the six steps from his office to the front desk to meet me. After that cold treatment, I decided I couldn’t possibly just hand over the membership fee, which is in excess of $425 (or even more if you pay a month at a time. That’s called the Poor man’s Tax).
So now I’m asking YOU PEOPLE (yes, I just referred to you as YOU PEOPLE) to recommend a gym. I live up behind the Back Mountain, in Beaumont, Pa, and that’s the tragedy, because that gym is only ten minutes from my house. But I can’t go there, and actually reward them, you know?
I’m looking in particular for lots of aerobics classes…that’s the stuff I love, especially step. Zumba’s OK, and so is kickboxing, but step is my arch-favorite (hah, get it, arch favorite??!). If you do post an answer give me a reason WHY that particular gym is great.
Surprised to find there IS one? Well there is. They divide it into three categories: "Early American Song, 1600-1879," "Tin Pan Alley, 1880 - 1953" and "Rock n' Roll, 1954- present."
Here's the link, they just announced this years' inductees today: http://songhall.org/news/entry/songwriters_hall_of_fame_announces_2013_inductees. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, and Mick Johnes and Lou Gramm of Foreigner, are being inducted this year, as well as Holly Knight, JD Souther and Tony Hatch.
Here's the list to CURRENT members: http://songwritershalloffame.com/exhibits/era. Most of the people you expect to be there are there, like Lennon & McCartney, Holland, Dozier & Holland, Bruce, Goffin & King, even the Sherman brothers who wrote every Disney song ever.
What surprised me is who's NOT on the list. John Hiatt. John Prine. Jim Steinman, who wrote "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Tom Waits. Chrissie Hynde. Justin Hayward from the Moody Blues. Warren Zevon (there's no "Z"s at all!)
I was gonna say Lionel Richie but then I remembered he wrote "We Are the World" so I kicked him off my list.
Anyone you feel should be nominated? List 'em below in the comments.
I've been eating healthy for at least 25 years. As soon as I started giving birth to people, I realized I needed to be much more responsible about my eating habits (and theirs, at least at first). I cut waaay down on red meat. I made all kinds of fabulous vegetarian meals for dinners each night. I never put salt on anything.
When I moved up here to Northeastern Pennsylvania, I started really living the life. 100 ounces of water every day. Plenty of leafy greens. Actually, there's a guy (Dr. Dan Golaszewski, www.nepadrdan.com) who has a show on our sister station, WILK, that I listen to religously. He has a mnemonic for the healthiest foods: GOMBBS, which stands for greens, onions, mushrooms, beans, something else starting with "b" that I can't remember, and seeds. I eat almonds and steel cut oats. Raw, local honey (I mean local, I could practically walk to their house), raw milk, free range eggs. And it takes me, like, a month to get through a dozen eggs. Only bake with gluten free flour, (mixed with a little whole grain spelt flour). As most of you know who read this blog I grow tons of my own food. Broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, beets, sweet potatoes (that didn't work out so well), corn, peas, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, onions, garlic, zucchini, butternet squash, pumpkin, melons, tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, celery. Even edamame, but this didn't work out too well either. Anyhow, all this means I also eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. All organic, of course.
Using this strategy I managed to lose, like, 35 pounds year before last. Well, now most of it is back, because I just stopped, you know, controlling my intake, so to speak. But I still manage to eat mostly healthy stuff, tempeh, white meat chicken, and when I have to eat grains they are only whole grain. Don't eat rice or pasta pretty much ever. I even buy that Ezekiel bread that is made from sprouted grains.
I quit smoking 30 years ago. I stopped drinking 32 years ago.
And what did I get for this virtuosity? High blood pressure and high cholesterol.
That's right, I'm just like everyone else. Everyone else that's been drinking soda pop all their lives, and wolfing down Doritos, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets made of pink slime. Not to imply that I never scarf down a bag o' chips, but it's rare.
This is why I'm blaming my mother and her Irish family. Poor genetic material.
Seriously, you'll love it. No pressure, a good workout but easy on the joints (do I sound old?). Don't even have to have a date because you're ENCOURAGED to change partners each dance.
Chicory House Dance Series
Community Contra Dance February 2, 2013, in Kingston PA
A New England Contra dance features music by the “Smash the Windows” with fiddler Bruce Young, accompanied by Peg Shutes on keyboard, along with calling by Hilton Baxter. The dance at 7:00PM, at the Church of Christ Uniting, 776 Market Street, Kingston. No partner or previous experience is necessary. Because the pattern of moves of each Contra Dance is repeated often, Contra Dances are easy to learn, and dancers of all skill levels are welcome. The caller will teach all the dances. The dance tradition encourages dancers to change partners throughout the evening, so each person will get to dance with a variety of skill levels. Lightweight clothing is recommended. Dancers are invited to bring a snack to share at intermission. Those arriving early can join a pot-luck dinner starting at 6 pm. Bring a dish-to-pass if coming for the dinner. Further information is available at 570-333-4007 or at folkloresociety.org, where dancers can connect to the Facebook page and watch videos.of recent dances.
Apparently Monsanto is trying to take over even the heirloom seed market, so they can own everything we eat AND grow. Here's a link to a list of "Monsanto-free seed companies." I'm glad my guys, Baker Creek, are on there.
Anything you're planning on growing has an "heirloom seed." These are open-pollinated (non-hybrid) seeds. Hybrids are what you'll find in most seed catalogs, since they are bred to produce disease resistant and pretty plants. When you try to grow a seed that came off a hybrid plant, only some of the characteristics bred into that plant will result. For instance, say you decided to save the seeds from your BigAss Tomato that you got from Burpee. It will probably produce a tomato plant, but it may not be so big, or it may be real big but not so tasty, or it may be big & tasty but not disease resistant.
Here's where I buy all my seeds: www.rareseeds.com. I don't know why that's their URL but their company is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I'm sure there are other companies around too.
Next week'll be February and I'll be starting the eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, petunias (yeah I'm gonna try 'em again this year), and echinacea. Most of which are from seeds I've saved from previous years. Yes, this means I DIDN'T HAVE TO BUY THOSE SEEDS THIS YEAR!!!!