Category Archives: Artist Interviews

Roving piano man reflects on life, looks forward to Johnstown

Submitted photo

BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Matt Jordan studied mechanical and aerospace engineering at West Virginia University until he said he became “distracted and disillusioned with college.”

After two years, he dropped out.

“I was looking for something else to do with myself,” said Jordan, who now travels around in a minivan equipped with a piano, playing “pop-up performances” for unassuming audiences.

His first appearance in Johnstown, for instance, was well-received. Men and women who were gathered inside Mill House Café, located along Diamond Boulevard in Westmont, were beckoned out of their comfortable chairs when sounds of the blues suddenly emerged from the parking lot area.

The sight of Jordan playing the piano was almost as delightfully entertaining as his obvious musical talents. Jordan’s strawberry-colored instrument was installed inside his minivan like an art exhibit on wheels. As Jordan stood and played, his upper body poking through the sunroof, more Mill House customers continued to gather ‘round.

Some folks reached for their phones to record video and take photographs, while others danced and clapped. The blues, it seemed, had never sounded better on that crisp October morning.

“Where did that guy come from?” one lady asked when she returned inside.

This reporter had wondered the same. I found out later, after asking Jordan for an interview, that he was in Johnstown on a business trip that involved delivering ice to local customers. Jordan’s employed part-time by Home City Ice.

“The regular guy needed a vacation, and I’m the ‘floater,’ so I took the gig,” Jordan said. “I brought my piano and stayed an extra day to explore, because I’ve always thought Johnstown seemed like a cool place.”

On that day, Jordan did what he always does when he’s in a new town, or near public places in general: He went looking for people going about their days as usual, people whose days Jordan knew he could brighten by simply pulling off the road and sharing his talents.

“Most people don’t expect to see a guy sitting in a van playing a piano and singing to them, so it’s fun how people react,” the 25-year-old said. “When I’m looking for a place to stop and play, I look for people. Playing to an empty street or the side of a highway wouldn’t benefit anyone besides me, so I look for populated areas.”

Jordan’s performing name is Matt’s Blues, and he’s been entertaining audiences throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky since early 2016.

As far as the piano-inside-the-minivan is concerned, it took some time and effort to get it inside that van in the first place.

“I received my piano from a guy who didn’t need it anymore,” Jordan said. “I wanted a red piano for my shows, so I painted it with the guidance of a friend from church. The piano ended up in the van as soon as I figured out that I could use the van to transport it. The Dodge Grand Caravan is spacious enough to fit a console (mid-height) piano behind the front seats, through the side door.

“I built a six-wheeled cart for moving the piano, and it loads into the van by rocking back and sliding up onto the van floor. It weighs several times what I do, so it’s all about leverage. More recently did I discover I could play the piano while it was in the vehicle.”

A piano man in a piano van. And nowadays, Jordan is as happy as can be.

“There is no such thing as a typical day for me, and that’s something I enjoy about my current lifestyle,” he said. “Between working on cars, tuning, repairing and painting pianos, practicing, promoting, performing and sometimes driving trucks, one week is never the same as the last.

“I hope to grow as an artist and become a great musician. Learning to tune pianos has opened my ears to the infinite range of intonation and inflection present in sound, things I’ve been hearing my whole life but only recently picked out or focused on, so that tells me there is a certain bit of eternity present in music. No two pianos are the same, no two performances are the same, there’s no absolute standard of success and there’s no upward limit of creativity. People who say it’s all been done are conceited. My goal is to see how far I can go with music.”

Jordan started traveling in his piano-equipped minivan when he realized “how low of a demand most places have for live music.”

“It’s like a traveling sales job,” he said. “You work on expanding your territory.”

Jordan became interested in music at an early age, thanks in part to his parents.

“My dad always had a keyboard and would show me stuff,” he said. “I would say I was 16 when I started to learn (how to play piano) intuitively.”

His parents introduced him to artists such as the Beatles, Paul Simon, James Taylor, John Denver, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Billy Joel, Steve Winwood, Men At Work, Boston, Heart, Peter Gabriel and more.

While attending high school in Garrett County, Maryland, Jordan also learned how to play the trumpet. From there, he picked up the organ, keyboards and harmonica.

It was an Eric Clapton album (specifically, “The Cream of Clapton”) that turned him on to blues music. And so, he said, his exploration of the blues began.

During his two years at college, Jordan took the blues more seriously than his academic studies (plus, he said, playing and listening to music was an escape “from the prevalent alcoholism” on campus), and, a year after he quit school, he landed a gig playing organ with the Dennis McClung Blues Band.

“I met Dennis while working at Sam’s Club and started talking to him about my interest in music,” Jordan said. “He invited me to a jam session to audition, and, next thing I knew, I was part of the group.

“It was a great experience playing with the DMBB. Dennis and his bandmates gave me an incredible foundation of music to build upon, and gave me a real love for the blues. Historically speaking, without the blues, there’d be no rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, R&B or boogie-woogie, so it’s an essential and pure art form to me, the study of which I see no end to.”

Jordan mentioned that while the band never embarked on an “official” tour, they played in places he had never been to or heard of before — the kinds of places he now seeks out as a solo artist.

Even though college didn’t quite work out for him, the metaphorical weight of his school loans inspired Jordan to pay them off as soon as possible and, in turn, he gained the confidence he seemed to have needed to hit the road and pursue his musical passions.

“Getting into debt going to school for something I wasn’t convinced I wanted to do seemed like a bad idea, and from that mistake I found the motivation to get a job and work to pay them off,” he said. “Once I had done that, I felt like I could do anything, like be a professional musician.”

Jordan sought the help of professional musicians, including Tom Roberts, a pianist, composer, transcriber and arranger from Pittsburgh.

“Studying with various teachers has opened my brain to the many different ways people approach the common goal of making music,” he said. “One only has to witness a few seconds of Tom playing to realize he is seriously good at what he does, so I’m super blessed to have him in my life. Tom has completely reinvented the way I approach the piano.

Others have also given Jordan guidance and support throughout the years.

“Dennis McClung has many profound ideas on music that I still think about every day. Randy Franklin, DMBB pianist and keyboardist (also a piano salesman) was the first to give me real practical advice on my technique. Jonathan Wilson, a software engineer from Montana, via the digital magic of YouTube, got me started in my dorm room playing funk grooves on my keyboard.”

Dr. John floats to the top of Jordan’s list when it comes to musical influences.

“Dr. John is the artist to beat because he has mastered his craft,” Jordan said of the 76-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. “It would take a very special person to play his music and do anything better than Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John the Nite Tripper). It’s evident he has put in the effort, or ‘paid his dues’ to become extremely proficient as a musician. Besides his chops, which are definitive, the stuff he writes ranges from funky to heart-wrenching to thoughtful to weird, with a little of everything in between, and a persona to match.
 
“In other words, he is fabulous. I think I could dig him for the rest of my life and never get to the bottom.”
He’s also a huge fan of Allen Toussaint, Aaron Neville, James Booker, the Neville Brothers, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, the Meters, Tuts Washington and Jelly Roll Morton.

“Listening to them, and so many more, has taught me everything I know about music.”

Lately, Jordan said he’s been on a “psychobilly kick” since he discovered Reverend Horton Heat.

“In my spare time, I listen to whatever strikes my fancy,” he added. “The less it sounds like generic pop music, the better. And I never go too long without some New Orleans jazz.”

The pianistry, stories and humor typically associated with the music of music of New Orleans is what makes Jordan so interested in playing, and sharing, it with others.

“New Orleans music attracts me because it’s everything,” he said. “Nothing is excluded in their appreciation of music, because like people, all notes are created equal.”

Jordan said that he hopes his unique approach to playing music for crowds will allow him to “communicate some truth to the people listening.”

“In life, I feel there is a lot of confusion,” he said, “and people’s plans rarely turn out perfectly. To sort through all the thoughts and emotions of a situation and find the truth in it, and possibly communicate that truth to someone else, is maybe the highest goal a mortal person can strive for.

“Pertaining to the piano van, I think what I do makes a positive impact because it’s unusual, and something most people have never seen before. I always hope to deliver a soul-stirring performance, and I feel great if I brighten even one person’s day. I think it’s something everyone should make a goal for themselves. If everyone took time each day to be kind to someone else, then there’d be a lot less insecurity in folks, I think.”

Thanks to the attention Jordan received in Johnstown during his stop at Mill House Café, he will be returning to the city in the new year. On Jan. 21, he’s scheduled to play a gig at PRESS Bistro in downtown Johnstown.

“I’m looking forward to coming back to Johnstown,” he said. “I landed some gigs by meeting some folks who were looking for an entertainer. I was out being the ham I am, and was asked to play, so I said, ‘Yes please!’

“I’m looking forward to seeing the same nice Johnstown folks I met earlier when I come back. I hope to deliver an unforgettable performance, see some more scenery, and make some more friends along the way.”

Jordan said he’s enamored by Johnstown’s history and the people who call the city home.

“I think Johnstown is cool because it’s a place with a lot of interesting history and surviving architecture. A lot of places I’ve seen in West Virginia and Pennsylvania are like this. The industry moved out a while back, but the towns are still there,” he said. 

“People call it ‘economic depression,’ but to me it’s just a different time for the same place, and every place has a story to tell.”

In addition to playing in Johnstown in January, Jordan will also be playing the Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival in February. His up-to-date list of future performances can be found on his official website at www.mattsblues.com.

At the end of the day, Jordan might not have become an engineer, but he certainly has, in his own right, engineered a way to bring people together.

“I think society has for a long time been heading in an impersonal, antisocial direction, so I like breaking down that barrier with random strangers and coming into contact,” he said. “I used to be afraid to talk to people, and I think a lot of people are afraid of being awkward. 

“But there’s beauty in awkwardness, I think. We’re all people, and people are amazing. It’s never not worth my time to give someone my attention.”

Krizner joins new batch of Hall of Fame inductees

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Sue Konvolinka described her friend, local painter Marianne Krizner, as “a dynamic community member who is has an unassuming compassion for not only the arts, but also the people of our region.”

Konvolinka — who has known Krizner since 1998 and served alongside her on the board of directors of the Community Arts Center of Cambria County — is one of many people in the community familiar with Krizner’s passion to not only create art, but also to promote art and to encourage fellow artists to use their talents to the best of their abilities.

Submitted photo Marianne Krizner.
Submitted photo
Marianne Krizner.

Angela Rizzo, Bottle Works executive director, is another one of those people.

“Marianne’s involvement and support of the arts has been nonstop,” Rizzo said. “She is one of those gems who has really kept the arts alive and has helped provide opportunities for all ages.”

Thanks to her ongoing efforts and support of the arts, Krizner will be honored by Bottle Works Ethnic Arts Center on Nov. 5, when she and fellow artists Ron Donoughe and Rachel Allen will be inducted into the nonprofit’s Artists’ Hall of Fame at Sunnehanna Country Club in Westmont.

The Bottle Works Artists’ Hall of Fame was established to commend artists and art advocates for the work they have done to ensure that the arts remain a vital part of the community.

Krizner, Donoughe and Allen will join a legion of other notable inductees, including Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center Executive Director Michael Bodolosky, theater director Rodney Eatman, maestro Istvan Jaray, Johnstown concert ballet artistic director Carla Prucnal and former Bottle Works executive director Rosemary Pawlowski.

Krizner said she feels humbled to be one of this year’s nominees.

“I never thought I’d receive anything like this,” she said. “I’m very honored because I know some of the people who have been inducted, and I think very highly of them.”

Krizner will be surrounded at the upcoming ceremony by her family, including her six children and nearly all of her grandchildren. She has 11 grandchildren in total.

She will also be joined in spirit by her husband, Bob, who died less than three months ago.
Konvolinka said that Krizner’s husband was one of her biggest supporters.

“I most appreciate the fact her husband, Bob, knew of this award before his passing,” Konvolinka said. “Their admiration for each other is a special love story.”

Submitted photo A painting by Marianne Krizner.
Submitted photo
A painting by Marianne Krizner.

Krizner’s late husband enjoyed woodworking and, as a high school student, he enrolled in drafting classes. Krizner joked that she “dragged him from museum to museum” throughout the years.

It turns out that Krizner’s most widely viewed piece of art is a painting she created for Bob for his birthday. Bob was a Navy Skyraider pilot on the USS Coral Sea 1946-52, and her painting depicts two Douglas AD Skyraiders flying above the USS Coral Sea. 

The painting was donated to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida, and remains in its permanent collection. The National Naval Aviation Museum is the world’s largest naval aviation museum.

“This is just one example of Marianne’s talent as she relates to life experiences and memories in her work,” Konvolinka said. “Her use of a wide variety of medium demonstrates her ability to express her vision of landscape and still life with diversity.”

In addition to the Skyraider painting, more than 100 other works by Krizner — pen, ink, oil and watercolor works — appear in private collections throughout the United States.

Krizner said she enjoys creating still life paintings.

“I’m very much a realist in what I paint,” she said. “And I like the outdoors, so I paint the outdoors a lot.”

Krizner becomes inspired to paint when she has an idea, or sees a beautiful sight such as a sunrise or a sunset. She is also inspired by other artists’ work.

“I think art exhibits are the most encouraging of all,” she said. “You come home and you say, ‘I’m going to try that technique,’ or, ‘I’m going to try to see what I can do with that subject.’”

Krizner said that people owe it to themselves to explore their talents.

“I think we were all given specific talents, and I think it’s our responsibility to use those talents in a positive way,” she said. “You might have to take a class, or find a teacher who will show you how to pursue that talent. Too often, you hear people say, ‘Oh, I can’t draw a straight line.’ Who cares about a straight line? You never really draw straight lines anyhow.”

Krizner is no stranger to working with experienced artists in order to improve her skills. The Bedford, Ohio, native attended Ohio University and graduated with an associate’s in art.

“At that time, teachers were desperately needed,” Krizner said, “so they were allowing people like me to start teaching with an associate degree if they continued to pursue their degree.”

Krizner did just that; she attended Case Western Reserve University and earned a bachelor’s in education with a minor in art. She also took her electives at Cleveland Institute of Art.

In 1954, Krizner began teaching first-grade students. She incorporated art into her classroom, giving students art supplies such as crayons and paints.

Krizner worked as a teacher until she and Bob’s first son, Doug, was born. Five more children followed: Richard, Tom, Ellen, Lauren and Allison.

Krizner resumed her teaching career when Allison entered second grade and, by that time, she and Bob had permanently settled in Johnstown. Bob was a U.S. Steel employee.

Krizner taught seventh- and eighth-grade students at Our Mother of Sorrows and, in the meantime, continued to take lessons and study with various artists in the area. In 1993, she earned her master’s in education from St. Francis University in Loretto.

Krizner said she enjoyed working at Our Mother of Sorrows.

“Teaching art was a great deal of fun because our principal was so cooperative,” she said. “I would request paints and pencils and I even got into calligraphy with the kids.”

Konvolinka said that many of Krizner’s students appreciated the ways in which she shared her expertise.

“A number of my friends have children who were students of Marianne,” Konvolinka said. “The mention of her name evokes a smile and instant memories of their eighth-grade child traveling to NYC Metropolitan Museum of Art to research well-known art masters they had studied in Marianne’s classroom. Students located their master artist with a museum floor plan Marianne provided before the trip.

“She was able to identify the importance of art education as an alternative or supplement to other extracurricular activities for a period of over 15 years as a language arts and art teacher.”

What Krizner also brought to the school was her interest in Shakespeare. Krizner brought to fruition an annual outdoor Shakespeare play, which she both adapted and directed. The productions continued for 17 years after Marianne’s retirement.

“Those plays were very successful,” Krizner said, “and for some students, that was the only time they were ever on stage. What was also good was that it kind of gave them an idea of Shakespeare that wasn’t frightening.”

After retiring from Our Mother of Sorrows, Krizner provided private art tutoring.

Krizner also found the time to contribute illustrations to a few books, including “Johnstown: The Story of a Unique Valley.”

For the past 35 years, Krizner has also been an active member of the Allied Artists of Johnstown. She has served the organization in various capacities, including as president, patron chairman and, currently, as secretary.

Local art teacher, the late Harriet Goff — who is also a fellow Artists’ Hall of Fame inductee — led Krizner to join the Allied Artists. Goff was an instrumental person in Krizner’s life, teaching her how to improve her painting skills whenever they had a chance to get together.

“Allied Artists of Johnstown have expressed their respect of Marianne’s talent, experience and kindness,” Konvolinka said. “Her historical knowledge of Allied Artists of Johnstown blends the older and younger artists together as one.”

Konvolinka, a member of the Garden Club of Johnstown, said that she especially enjoyed working with Krizner when Garden Club of Johnstown and Allied Artists of Johnstown presented a joint show, titled “A Master Piece in Bloom.” Krizner co-chaired the Allied Artists’ participation in what was their first collaborative show with the Garden Club of Johnstown.
“Marianne worked in tandem with our methodical process as we prepared for a unique, joint show at Bottle Works,” Konvolinka said. “It was the first show of its kind in the Johnstown region.”

Krizner said that she has enjoyed her involvement with the Allied Artists of Johnstown.

“We have a wonderful group of people who enjoy getting together and talking about art,” she said. “I haven’t met anybody I didn’t like. 

“We all come from different backgrounds and all have different personalities, which makes it interesting. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed the people, the shows, the work. It’s been a good experience.”

In addition to her upcoming induction into the Artists’ Hall of Fame, Krizner has been honored with other awards that Konvolinka said are well-deserved.

In 1994, Krizner received the YWCA Tribute to Women in Education; in 2002, SAMA’s Service to the Arts Award; and in 2007, the YWCA Volunteer Award.

“She is more than an artist,” Konvolinka said. “She is a productive and active member of our community with a history of making a difference in the lives of so many: fellow artists, former students, youth, Tribute to Women honorees, her church and her family.”

For 18 years, Krizner has also served on the YWCA Tribute to Women committee.

“Approximately three months prior to the awards, all honorees begin working with her to prepare a timed speech representing what inspires them to make that difference in our region,” Konvolinka said. “Her language arts education continues to help women.”

Konvolinka described Krizner as “one of the most generous and articulate women I know in the Johnstown area.”

“I am proud to consider her a friend,” Konvolinka said. “She will continue, as she has, at a steady pace with compassion and generosity. 

“Marianne leads by example. Many of her students enjoy successful careers as artists and others continue to appreciate art, as a hobby. As a mother of six, Marianne takes pride knowing her children enjoy careers of architectural design, engineering, theater and education.”

When she and her family moved to Johnstown all those years ago, Krizner said she remembers wanting to make friends and champion the already thriving arts scene she found in the city.

“I’m glad I put myself out there,” she said.

Local teen making her mark as a singer

Mary Jo Swank.	Submitted photo
Mary Jo Swank. Submitted photo

By CODY McDEVITT
codym@dailyamerican.com

When Mary Jo Swank started writing songs in third grade, they tended to be love ballads that were, as she describes them, “cheesy.”

Not too many of them were about things that had happened to her personally. That’s no longer the case.

“Songs I write now are about real-life experiences,” she said. “A lot of them are about insecurities. There are also a lot of songs about believing in yourself. I hope to bring people up in the future, too. I still write some love songs, some of which are from my own experiences and some from people I know.”

Swank, 14, of Boswell, is a freshman at Meyersdale Area High School. She has performed the national anthem at the Jennerstown Speedway, at a Johnstown Tomahawks game and at a performance by the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra.

Pop star Demi Lovato is her primary influence. Swank was inspired by her work because it dealt with insecurities and struggles related to her time in high school. She also counts Whitney Houston as another person she emulated.

Swank has exhibited range on her upcoming album, which will be released on an undetermined date in the near future. She has gospel on it, as well as urban hip-hop. There is one song that has a bit of a country sound. She will eventually settle on one of those genres when she gets a record deal.

“Part of the goal of this album is to get a record deal,” Swank said. “So it’s sort of an audition. If they see how many I do, they’ll say I do those ones real well. My producer says I have to do what I like to do.”

Her producer, Aubrey Stanley, owner of Speed Ridah Productions in Lansdowne, has been working with Swank for about a year. He praised her talent.

“She’s able to capture what someone else is doing or what is going on around her and put it in a song,” Stanley said. “She is one of the few people who can tap into the emotion of a song without necessarily being tied to the song. That’s hard for an artist to do.”

Her father, Mike Swank, has seen the transformative impact music has had on his daughter.

“Her mother and I support her 100 percent,” he said. “We’ve seen how music has changed her life. She works extremely hard at it. Whether it’s with her voice coach. Whatever it is, she’s done it.”

Her mother, Laura Swank, echoed the sentiment.

“I’m really proud of her,” Laura Swank said. “She has a goal and a dream. And I enjoy watching her go for that dream.”

The young lady from Boswell hopes to become like her hero, Demi Lovato. She wants to do for others what Lovato did for her.

“I always tell people that in the future that I hope to inspire other people through my music,” Swank said. “I don’t want to do it for the money and the fame. I’m going to need money to do it all, but a lot of it I want to do it from the goodness of my heart.”

Richland grad making waves in the Big Apple

Submitted photo by Martina Gomez Santander
Submitted photo by Martina Gomez Santander

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Say hello to Maxim Orlando. He’s a singer, writer, director, actor . . . a jack of all trades when it comes to the stage.

“Amazing, talented and unique” is how Michael Bodolosky, Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center executive director, describes him. Bodolosky is one of many local residents who have watched Maxim Orlando — better known locally as Max Fedore — grow as both an artist and an individual.

And the Richland High School graduate continues to grow, determined to pursue his dreams and make his family, friends and community proud. 

Fedore has been interested in entertaining audiences for as long as he can remember. His parents, Andy Fedore and Dr. Mary Lou Astorino, own Meadowbrook School Bed and Breakfast, and, as a child, Fedore enjoyed entertaining guests.

“We had all these wonderful people coming in every weekend,” Fedore said, “and I would always sing for them or tell them stories. I was always trying to get people involved in what I was creating; I always wanted to entertain and perform.”

These days, Fedore is a senior at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is majoring in film and television production and minoring in psychology.

It’s fair to say that he’s been keeping rather busy, entertaining and performing.

On Feb. 26, for instance, he’ll be singing inside the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center in New York as part of Lincoln Center’s College Cabaret. Fedore auditioned, made it into the public voting round and secured one of the five coveted performance slots.

“Thanks to my friends in Johnstown and New York, I now have this incredible opportunity to perform at this unique event,” Fedore said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for someone my age to perform at this venue. Lincoln Center has this great reputation as being the epicenter of high art in New York. It’s an opportunity for some really great exposure, and I’m very excited.”

Fedore plans to use his 10-minute slot to perform three or four songs, one of which will be a love song from his film-in-progress, “Opera of Cruelty.”

“I look forward to talking about the film and letting everyone know that this crazy project is underway,” Fedore said. “It’s going to be a really fun night.”

His performance at Lincoln Center is just one of many unique experiences Fedore has been afforded while working and playing in the Empire State.
One of the latest and greatest experiences involves his aforementioned thesis film.

The surreal drama tells the story of Young Victim, who is invited to an opera orchestrated by Famed Fiend. Young Victim quickly becomes infatuated with one of the performers, Tigress, and, before he knows it, is caught in an elusive trap from which he must escape.

“The film is very much a play on what is real and what is performance,” he said. “It asks the question, What are we willing to watch?”

After workshopping the script for “Opera of Cruelty” with his peers and director Mary Lambert (best known for directing Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”), Fedore successfully pitched his script to Lambert and his fellow classmates, all of whom were competing for a limited number of allotments to make their films with assistance from the university.

“At the end of the thesis class, you do this final pitch in front of the whole class. You talk about the script, the vision, what you have in place as far as production . . . basically, you have to prove that you deserve NYU’s assistance. There are only 24 slots, and only half of the students in the class receive them. It’s interesting because you’re up against your peers, but it’s very much like the real world,” he said.

Fedore’s successful pitch resulted in him receiving the insurance and equipment needed to begin shooting his film at the end of April. He and his crew will have approximately six days to shoot, and he hopes to make final edits by October so that it can be entered into the film festival circuit. In the meantime, he’s looking for filming locations in and around New York City.

“Most of our cast and crew are based in New York, or are NYU students, so our game plan is to shoot in New York,” he said.

Working on “Opera of Cruelty” has allowed Fedore to collaborate with fellow artists, including Juilliard alum Nathan Prillaman, who composed the score, and acclaimed fashion designer Asher Levine, who will create otherworldly costumes for Famed Fiend and Tigress.

“Working with Nathan was the most exhilarating experience,” Fedore said. “We spent hours discussing the sounds and style of the opera and then met almost three times a week for a month as each piece was crafted. He would create a mock-up of the orchestration, and I would then let the music wash over me and give notes.”

“I wrote the lyrics for the individual songs and this inspired much of the music. Of course, when I heard the final score, I was inspired to rework and refine the words. But I wish someone had been filming my face the first time I heard the opening music for the film: It was so perfect and spectacular that I was in complete shock,” he said.

“What most excites me about creating this production is the process of crafting a film to music; it is truly a new experience for me to be working so closely with music before the production begins. It’s very much a choreographed piece. The direction will be influenced largely by the music. Hearing the grandeur of the sound will influence every decision, from camera angles to how the actors move through the space.”

Just as Fedore reached out to Prillaman, he also took a chance in reaching out to Levine, who has designed custom outfits for celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and John Legend.

“When I was thinking about this film, I knew that I needed someone who could create not just fashion, but a whole creature,” Fedore said. 

“If you look at Asher’s work, he has great, animalistic qualities to his designs. It was a dream come true when he said, ‘Yeah, let’s work together.’ So, he’s bringing my sketches to life. It’s surreal.”

Though Fedore said it is difficult to act in the same film that one is directing, he is taking on a challenge; in the film, Fedore will play the role of Famed Fiend, a character with whom he has a lot in common.

“The Famed Fiend is the master of ceremonies of the opera,” Fedore said. “He’s the brains behind the operation, the world outside of the cruel and evil place. He wants to create beauty in the world and he sort of loses himself in that quest.

“I think that every time you turn on the television or open the newspaper, it seems like our world is getting much darker, more brutal. Even though the world outside seems cruel, I want to create art that can inspire people and offer some beauty.”

“Opera of Cruelty” is inspired in part by French poet and dramatist Antonine Artaud, who composed a manifesto in his 1938 book “The Theatre and Its Double,” detailing why theater needs to contain elements of shock and surprise for audience members.

Artaud wrote that the theater should be a “communion between actor and audience in a magic exorcism; gestures, sounds, unusual scenery, and lighting combine to form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world.”

Fedore became acquainted with Artaud’s writings in his dramatic literature class.

“He was really out there, really forward-thinking,” Fedore said of Artaud. “His famous theory, called ‘The Theatre of Cruelty,’ sort of started the whole idea for my film. The film is surreal and impressionistic, and my whole goal is to use the film to create a magical experience.”

Fedore mentioned that his opera is also inspired by animals that have been released from captivity into the wild.

“About a year ago, I started watching these videos that allowed me to follow this tiger in Russia named Cinderella,” he said. 

“It became this obsession. The handlers rescued the tiger and they nursed her back to health. When they released her back into the wild, they set up all these slow-motion cameras, and when she jumped out of the cage, you got this incredible experience of watching her run to freedom. That inspired the idea within the film that there’s this wild creature that’s being caged, but it might be for the creature’s own good. That very much inspired the Tigress, the prized performer of the opera. She wants nothing more than to escape.”

Fedore described the thesis film as not only his “most ambitious undertaking yet,” but also his most expensive.

Considering Fedore’s attention to detail and motivation to produce a high-quality film, he’s seeking individual donations via an Indiegogo campaign. Each tax-deductible donation and grant that Fedore receives will help with the film’s $20,000 budget. (For more information about the Indiegogo campaign or to donate, visit www.indiegogo.com and type “Max Fedore” in the site’s search bar, or use this direct link: igg.me/at/operaofcruelty.)

Fedore said it feels exhilarating to create a film that combines his passions for music and filmmaking.

“I’m so excited that everything is coming together,” he said. “I sort of feel like, after all these years, with my performing experience, my filmmaking experience . . . everything is culminating in this final project.”

He added that his time in New York has been invaluable.

“I think that coming to NYU is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve been able to work with some of the most talented people from all over the world and that has helped me grow as an artist and an individual,” he said.

“Just from living in New York, I have had the opportunity to see so many incredible live performances in theater and live music . . . I’ve absorbed as much as possible.”

Despite his love for New York, it’s always a thrill to return home to Johnstown.

“As much as I love New York, I’m so blessed to have a community of people back home who seem to be behind me in whatever I want to do,” he said. “I always love coming back home and sharing my experiences and my work with people who have supported me creatively and financially. There are so many people I’m still in contact with in Johnstown. It’s overwhelming to think about the support I have in Johnstown.”

After earning his degree from NYU, Fedore intends to market his work at film festivals; he hopes that will open some doors for him. He hopes the same of his internship.

Fedore has been interning with Killer Films, a New York-based production company, since December. Killer Films’ film credits include “Carol,” which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is in theaters now, as well as the Oscar-winning drama “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth.

“I’m learning how really great independent films are being created and learning as much as possible,” Fedore said of his internship.

His ultimate dream is to direct a feature-length film and to keep challenging himself.

“I just think you should always challenge yourself to do things that make you nervous and make you uncomfortable because, otherwise, you’re not going to grow.”

Mundok, Milkovich team up for seven-song EP

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

As soon as Adam Milkovich and Adam Mundok finished recording the first song for inclusion on their first collaborative EP, they were convinced that they had hit a musical gold mine.

“We knew we were on to something when we recorded our first song, ‘Drink This Town Dry,’” Milkovich said. “The moment we finished that track, it sounded so rich and full and we just knew we had something special on our hands.”

“Drink This Town Dry” is one of seven songs on “E=AM²,” which was released Jan. 31.

Their recording name, AM², is a play on their matching initials, and “E=AM²” is a nod to Albert Einstein (the cover of their EP features a Photoshopped image of Einstein sticking out his tongue).

“Einstein is definitely one of our heroes,” Mundok said.

Just as their hero was a hard worker, so too are Mundok and Milkovich. They started work on the EP in late June of 2013 and wrapped up the project in late January of 2015.

“We stand on the shoulders of the greats who came before us, and we aspire to make our music sound as great as possibly can with the tools and the experience we have,” Mundok said.

The EP gave both musicians an opportunity to play a variety of instruments. For Milkovich, that included the acoustic six- and 12-string guitars, electric and bass guitars, dobro, harmonica, mandolin, violin and synthesizer, while Mundok played the drums, acoustic guitar, harmonica and didgeridoo. Both men supplied lead and background vocals, and Mundok mixed and mastered the entire album.

The result of their efforts is a solid lineup of songs that, as a whole, could best be described as Appalachian roots/folk-based indie rock.

“All of the songs are so varied and so unique that they cannot be placed in any one genre or musical style,” Milkovich said.

He’s right: take the Mundok-penned “The Light,” which boasts a hard-to-miss country Western vibe, while Milkovich’s songwriting efforts shine in “Hell to Pay,” an upbeat, clap-along anthem that’s one of the EP’s standout tracks.

Milkovich and Mundok (who refer to each other as Milk and Dok, respectively) seemed especially thrilled to discuss “Fair Warning,” a song they co-wrote to honor John C. Hess.

“He is an unspoken hero of the Great Flood of 1889,” Mundok said. “Hess was a train engineer who tied his whistle down and drove his train backward to warn residents that the dam had broken. He saved a lot of lives.”

The track and its 30-second predecessor, “Train Leaving the Party (Intro to Fair Warning)” are the EP’s highlights. In fact, “Fair Warning” can be categorized as an “earworm” — a song that gets stuck in one’s head.

Milkovich credited Mundok for being able to recreate Hess’s train whistle the way he aspired for it to sound.

“On that last track, I was trying to emulate the sound of a freight train roaring down the tracks at a high rate of speed, but I didn’t want to do it with a synthesizer,” Milkovich said. “I wanted to recreate that sound using an electric guitar, so I asked Adam if he could possibly add some kind of reverb on the electric guitar to make it sound like a freight train going down a long, dark tunnel. He made that happen. That’s just one of many amazing things that happened while we were making this album, and I can’t thank him enough.”

Mundok also praised Milkovich, who, when he’s not writing and recording songs with Mundok, is busy playing in local Americana band Striped Maple Hollow.
“I feel very fortunate to be working with Mr. Milkovich because our sensibilities are very similar,” Mundok said. “He has such a wide, broad taste in music. He’s one of the best music aficionados I know.”

Since the men work so well together, they already have plans to re-enter the studio to record a second album. That album is scheduled for release in 2016. For now, they are sitting back and enjoying the accolades that “E=AM²” is receiving.

“People seem to like our songs and like what we’re doing,” Mundok said. “We’ve received really high praise from some musician friends. Now that this EP is finished, we’ll do a number of gigs to support it throughout the year. We want this CD in people’s hands so they can enjoy it.”

Anyone who is interested in purchasing “E=AM²” can do so online through CDBaby and ReverbNation. Otherwise, the EP will be available at the band’s local performances, one of which is scheduled to take place Feb. 20 at 8 p.m. at PRESS Bistro in Johnstown’s Central Park. Additional performance dates and information about E=AM² can be found by visiting the band’s Facebook page at Facebook.com/AM2band.

Chiz Rider returning to Johnstown for performance

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Professional trumpeter Charles “Chiz” Rider is to perform at Memorial Baptist Church on Jan. 14 beginning at 6 p.m.

The touring and recording artist is a first-class professional American trumpeter: He plays contemporary and traditional Christian music and has opened for Christian artists such as Carman, Margaret Becker, DC Talk and Skillet. Myrrh Records signed Rider after hearing his pop-jazz style, making him the youngest artist to be signed to Myrrh Records since Amy Grant.

Rider performs approximately 250 concerts annually throughout the United States and abroad. He has even shared his talents with former President George W. Bush.

“Chiz Rider has performed several times in Johnstown,” said Micah Mood, a local recording artist and concert promoter. “I’m not sure about other venues, but I know he has performed several times at Memorial Baptist Church, and we’re happy to have him back. Chiz is an entertaining performer, and his performances cover a variety of styles and moods.”

Mood said Memorial Baptist Church will serve as a suitable venue for Rider’s concert.

“The church building is a great structure. It was built in 1925 when two congregations, Welsh Baptist and English Baptist, merged,” Mood said. “The sanctuary has very nice acoustics. I’ve actually recorded some music there for past projects and have always enjoyed the sound in the sanctuary. If you’ve noticed Memorial Baptist from the Inclined Plane, this free concert is a great opportunity to check it out. If you’re a fan of great music, this is a great opportunity to hear a great performance here in town.”

Memorial Baptist Church is located at 210 Vine St. in Johnstown, near the foot of the Inclined Plane. Rider’s performance is free of charge, but donations will be accepted. All donations will benefit Rider and his ministry.

For more information about this performance, call Memorial Baptist Church at 814-535-1859. Rider’s official website is www.chizrider.com.

Photo courtesy of chizrider.com
Photo courtesy of chizrider.com

FROM BLUE NAVY TO PALLOR: THE SHADES OF JAKE DRYZAL

By BRUCE SIWY
bruces@dailyamerican.com

He’s writing and producing albums like a career musician. It’s a good start for someone who can’t yet legally drive.

Fascinated with rock ‘n’ roll since he was 7 years old, Jake Dryzal is dreaming big to make his passion his livelihood someday.

The 15-year-old Windber resident has worked the past five months to write
and record his first album under the Pallor moniker, a project he described as an experimental combination of acoustic, punk rock and heavy metal music.

“I love making music because it’s just a way to show how I feel,” he said. “And I want other people who feel the same way to appreciate it.”

Dryzal — son of Dan and Jodi Dryzal, and brother to Dana and Bradley Dryzal — has been playing guitar since he was 8 and writing music since he was 10. He is a former student of the Greater Johnstown School of Music.

For about three years he was recording under the name Blue Navy, performing at venues including Ace’s and Woodside Bar & Grill. He said he gave his new musical project a new name because the songs were a little angrier, comparing the sound to bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Suicide and American Football.

“Blue Navy is a lot softer, sad and slower in pace,” he said. “Both (projects) dealt with things I wanted to happen in life, but never came to me.”

Most of the drumming for the Pallor album was done by 20-year-old Richland Township resident Kevin Pribulsky using Acoustica Beatcraft software. There are “live” drums on only one track.

To record the guitar and bass parts for the album, Dryzal used a simple flip camcorder. He played mostly a Fender Stratocaster through a Marshall, employing mostly alternative tunings, calling them simpler and more distinctive than standard.

He said he enjoyed the experience, and hopes to grow as a musician, aspiring to eventually earn a music degree in college.

“Follow your heart,” he said. “Write what you want to write about and it will turn out amazing.”

Marsh loves working with a camera — and kids

As her career would have it, Jill Barber Marsh has climbed ladders to get the perfect shot. She has also waited patiently behind basketball hoops and learned more than she ever thought she needed to know about muscle cars.

Marsh, born and raised in Johnstown, has been a photographer since she fell in love with the medium during a darkroom photography class at the University of Houston in 1991. At the time, she was majoring in education.

“My printmaking professor said, ‘You should try darkroom photography. I think you would really enjoy it,’” Marsh said. “I tried it and said, ‘Holy cow — I so love this. I’m not going to be a teacher, I’m going for the fine art degree!”

Marsh gained valuable experience shooting weddings and even accepted a freelance position with the Houston Chronicle. Her human interest photography for the newspaper gave her an opportunity to mingle with people of all different backgrounds and personalities, including those who didn’t quite trust the media.

“One time I had to shoot a carnival — one of those old carnivals that moves from place to place,” she said. “At the time, there was a big thing about how unsafe the rides were. So I’m taking pictures and I have my ‘Houston Chronicle’ thing around my neck and this guy tells me I can’t take pictures there. I said, ‘Let me talk to your boss.’ My dad used to work for the carnival when he was a kid and he knew carny talk, so I started talking to the boss in carny talk. He couldn’t believe it. Then he said, ‘Lady, you go take all the pictures you want.’”

In addition to her work for the Houston Chronicle, Marsh also did all the PR photography for Randalls (a large southern grocery store chain), shot muscle cars for a car sales newspaper and took on sports coverage for a local sports paper.

It was hard for Marsh not to get a kick out of the muscle car gig: “The guys wanted to tell me that they had imported the seats from Italy and they were this kind of leather and the steering wheel came from this place . . .”

While Marsh took on some fun assignments, she also agreed to take on a challenging opportunity.

“As I was finishing my degree, my darkroom professor told me about a volunteer opportunity, Literacy Through Photography, being done in Houston. Houston schools were taking at-risk children from their classrooms and having a photographer and a resident poet from California work with them,” she said.

“My school was Edison Middle School in Houston’s barrio district, which had such poverty and crime and drug use that many times I feared for my life driving there. My first day there, I was filled with trepidation. I was the only blonde person in the building. The principal and vice principal were both armed and wore handcuffs on their belts. I wasn’t sure just what I was getting into.”

Marsh soon found, however, that she had come to the right place.

“I had the only school that had a darkroom, which was wonderful. I had 12 children — all from Mexico — who spoke very little English and I spoke a tiny bit of Spanish. But once we all got into that little darkroom and they started learning how to develop their own film in complete darkness and how to make their own prints, everyone fell into a special friendship based on creativity and love of the medium,” she said.

“The stories those children told me about their lives were heart-crushing. I wanted so much for them to succeed with their photography and writing; they astounded me with their creativity and love. As the school year wound down, they were told that their photos and writing were going to be displayed at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston during the International PhotoFest held there every year. They had never heard of the convention center, nor did they know what an important photography show it is every year and how many famous, world-renowned photographers show their work there. The school districts brought all of the photography students from all the (participating) schools for the opening. My students were spellbound. The kids were so excited when they got to see their work and see photographers’ work from all over the world. Their mouths were just hanging open.”

Marsh was proud to say that the Literacy Through Photography program still exists within the Houston school district.

“It’s still going strong to this day,” she said. “I was lucky to have been involved.”

After approximately 20 years spent in Houston, plus a few in Arizona and Florida, Marsh and her husband, John, decided to move back to Johnstown. Four out of their five children were already living here, and they figured that the cost of living would be much cheaper. That, however, didn’t make the transition any easier for her.

“I enjoyed everything about Houston. There were things to do culturally: museums, art galleries, festivals. I just loved the whole big city thing,” Marsh said. “When we first returned to Johnstown (six years ago), I felt as though I’d made a major mistake moving back. I thought this town was still going downhill fast, and that there was nothing here for the youth of this city, or anyone else for that matter. I was so wrong.”

So wrong, in fact, that she now considers living in Johnstown “a huge blessing.” What’s ironic, too, is that she’s currently doing in Johnstown almost the exact same thing she was doing in Houston.

“I was asked to speak at The Greater Johnstown Camera Club about my experience with the children in Texas and later was asked to be a volunteer through AmeriCorps, setting up a photography program for children in Johnstown similar to Literacy through Photography in Houston,” she said.

The result is the Goodwill GoodGuides Camera and Creative Writing Club, which meets on Wednesday evenings over the course of six weeks. This Wednesday marked the beginning of a new six-week session. While the two previous sessions were held in Moxham and Johnstown, the new sessions are to take place primarily in Steve Purich’s “Tranquility Gardens Nature Retreat and Learning Center.” Part of the center’s mission statement states that the place strives to “create a unique retreat in the woods for teaching young children the meaning of life and the opportunity for self-discovery through nature and the arts.”

One evening, Marsh even plans to take the children to a creative writing class at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

VOMA’s Adam Mundok sees opportunity in Johnstown

When people hear the name  “Adam Mundok,”   the Venue of Merging Arts (VOMA) likely comes to mind, and rightly so. For the past six years, Mundok has worked to transform it from a church to a non-profit arts venue where workshops, art exhibits, plays and live music performances are held year-round.

Mundok, however, is more than just a man behind the scenes of one of the most popular venues in Johnstown. He’s a writer. He’s a producer. He’s a musician. And, for a short time, he was a Californian. But let’s make it clear that his roots are here. Never mind that he went to high school in Hershey. He’s a Johnstowner through and through. Five generations and counting.

After earning his high school diploma, Mundok was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, where he struggled to find a major that seemed to be the right fit. Eventually he settled into the communications program and began to get involved on campus.

“While I was there, I just tried to pursue my interests. I took a lot of writing classes and I got involved with a civic organization called Circle K. I also joined the programming board; I was in charge of hiring the bands and entertainment for UPJ, which is obviously a pretty direct parallel to what I’m doing right now.”

By “right now,”   he was referring, in part, to this year’s Cambria City Ethnic Festival, which is scheduled for next weekend. VOMA has a hand in bringing well over a dozen bands to its Third Ave. stage, and Mundok is instrumental in helping to make that happen.

“There was no stage there before. Bottle Works and Art Works were there and they were doing some things, but it wasn’t what it is now. I knew Third Ave. needed a stage and VOMA needed an event to generate revenue. That was my opportunity,” he said.

Speaking of  “opportunity,”   it didn’t come knocking back in the 1990s. Mundok first had to build the door. So in 1996, following his college graduation, he traded Johnstown for Wilmington in an effort to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker.

“I made a bet with myself. If I landed a film gig, I would start a career in filmmaking. And I did. So I let that become my life path, and I started pursuing that as an interest and a passion,” he said. For five years he remained in North Carolina, working on the sets of “Muppets from Space”   and  “Black Dog”   (among others) on various soundstages within Screen Gems Studios before deciding that Los Angeles was beckoning.

And so another bet was wagered: he would give himself five years to see what heights he could reach in L.A. Plus, it would give him plenty of time to see how the city’s wheels spun underneath the hot pavement and massive buildings.

Soon after his arrival on the West Coast, Mundok landed a gig as a production assistant on  “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.”   He also worked to produce press junkets through Telefilm, Inc. for big-budget movies (read: “Bubble Boy,” “Ocean’s Eleven” and “Death to Smoochy” ), putting him in close proximity to stars such as Jake Gyllenhaal, George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon.

His time spent with the late Robin Williams during the  “Death to Smoochy” press junket was especially memorable.

“I was in a room with him all day. I felt that he was a very warm and compassionate and sincere individual,” Mundok said.

“He remembered the entire crew members’ names.That’s rare. At the end of the day, he shook my hand and said, ‘Nice to meet you, Adam. Thank you for all your hard work.’”

Despite the thrills of working in the entertainment industry, Mundok decided that it wasn’t enough, and his chances of making it big were slimmer than he would’ve preferred.

“I got to a point where the industry was sustainable, but for as good as you are, luck will always be an X Factor. It’s a variable that no one can control,   he said.

“I just always felt that I was standing at a roulette wheel — you might be at a really high table, spending a thousand bucks a roll, you know, but it’s still luck . . . there was some skill involved, but I never felt fully in charge or in command because that industry requires a lot of people. With music, you think it’s hard getting four guys together, but try getting 40 together to do a film with no budget. And everybody has to be passionate about it for it to work.” He reiterated that working with big stars, however, made him no better than anybody else.

“I’m not perfect; I’m very imperfect, but it’s been my passion and persistence that has gotten me anywhere. Anyone who hears of an accomplishment or accolade of mine . . .that just means that I was passionate about something and very persistent. I wanted to go live in L.A. and see behind the curtain, see who was pulling the strings. I saw what I needed to see, but at the end of the day, I’m not better than anybody. I struggle.”

After five years and a failed reality TV pitch to studio executives representing Disney, Paramount, MTV and others, Mundok packed his bags and flew back home to Pennsylvania. When he returned in 2006, his focus shifted from movies to music.

“I had a lot of connections with a lot of local bands and a lot of people were supportive of VOMA as an organization, so I put all my eggs in that basket,” he said.

So far, those eggs are still intact.

Though he currently has a full-time job that has more to do with cars than with music, Mundok is happy with what has become of his re-established life in Johnstown. Music and art is what it’s all about right now. A typical week involves “one night making music, one night working on VOMA and weekends producing shows,” he said.

Being around music — whether he’s playing, listening, or producing — has always been part of Mundok’s life. His father was a musician in the band Kindred Spirit; he played rhythm guitar and sang. His brother T.K. fronts the local band Black Cat Moan, and they were on this year’s AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival lineup.

Some of Mundok’s own music is scheduled to be released early next year. The EP, titled AM2, has paired Mundok with Striped Maple Hollow member Adam Milkovich. Together they’ve been working on original songs that feature an array of instruments, including the mandolin and dobro.

When the album is released, audiences can expect to hear many songs that share the same theme: time.

“A lot of my songs are about time: how it moves and what we choose to do with it. Most people bide their time or waste their time or spend time in ways that isn’t productive. We can live our time and be proactive with it,” he said.

While Mundok played down his talents when it comes to musical instruments (he plays rhythm guitar, harmonica, drums, saxophone and percussion), he emphasized that producing is an interest that comes first.

“First and foremost I’m a producer,” he said. “I want to be an audio engineer and music producer. That’s my main focus right now, and has been for the past eight years.”

In addition to the EP, Mundok is also wrapping up a collaborative book project with his friend Briant Laslow. The fantasy fiction novel—tentatively titled “The World of Cambra”—has been five years in the making.

As for VOMA, he’s got high hopes for not only the organization, but also the city in which it’s headquartered.

“VOMA is a place that’s very dear to my heart because of the community. That’s why it exists. It’s not because we have money, or have been given money. It’s a community arts center. Actually, I prefer the term social benefit organization. That’s more concisely what it is. If you want to write a play and perform it, you have a place to do it. If you wrote an orchestral score or a punk rock song, VOMA is there for you. You have one less excuse to say, ‘I’m not going to perform.’ Be creative. Express yourself,” Mundok said.

“I don’t have kids, so my art is like my children. I’m concerned about the whole community like it’s my own child and I don’t think a lot of people think like that. My grandfather would walk through Cambria City and pick up a piece of trash and I would think, Why did he do that? I asked him one day and he said, ‘Because this is our neighborhood and we have to take pride in it, no matter if anyone else does or not.” Though Mundok does what he can to help build a better community, he also wants his work to speak for itself.

“I don’t want to be famous or even ‘Johnstown famous’—I want to say and do things that have relevance through my music and through my art,” he said.

Relentless touring ‘typical’ for The Iguanas

Joe Cabral answers from a diner in Ohio. He apologizes, hanging up to first pay the bill, then returns the call before resuming his summer-long road trip.

His band, The Iguanas, has embarked on a tour of North America — St. Louis, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Ottawa, Greenfield, Annapolis and Carbondale among the stops. Soon the bus will return to Ohio for gigs Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 at the Southgate House Revival and Beachland Tavern, respectively. The next night a third consecutive show, this one at the Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown.

Just another hard-days’s night for The Iguanas, a band that continues to build on the reputation it started way back in 1989.

“It’s a typical summer,” Cabral says. “We have a lot of festival offers. Then we’ll connect the dots by doing clubs.”

Clubs, of course, have been The Iguanas’ natural habitat. For years they’ve been cutting their teeth primarily at historic venues in New Orleans, their adopted home. And their reputation as a diverse-sounding group — New Orleans street beats with Latin swagger and the occasional songwriter’s ballad — has allowed them to enjoy longevity and a wide-spanning festival

Cabral says The Iguanas’ shows mean dancing and an overall good-time vibe. He and fellow members Rod Hodges, Rene Coman and Doug Garrison regularly go setlist-less, engaging with and reacting to their audiences without adhering to specific genres or albums.

“I think it’s a pretty (musically) broad and rocking show,” he says.

“It’s definitely a groove.”

“We tend to mix it up. We sort of watch the crowd and see what people like. We touch all of (our albums.”

Group members are currently touring in support of their latest release, “Juarez,” a 12-song LP released via Piety Street Files & Archaic Media. It is their ninth studio album. (Cabral confides that his personal favorites are “Soul Kiss” and the opener, “Love,
Sucker.”)

The Nebraska native also acknowledges the impact that a certain Southern city has had on their sound. He and Hodges were in Colorado decades ago when they decided to make a break for NOLA.

“I wanted to be there,” he says. “A lot of the music I liked came out of New Orleans. New Orleans is awesome because it’s definitely a community and a cultural kind of thing. Music is part of the fabric of life in New Orleans.”

The Iguanas were — naturally — on the road when Katrina hit in 2005. Cabral says they watched the devastation unfold on television.

He adds, however, that the New Orleans has recovered in remarkable and unexpected ways.

“Our whole city was affected,” he says. “(But) a lot of great things have happened. There were opportunities for people to help define what the ‘new’ New Orleans would be. It brought a big influx of people from all over the country. A lot of them stayed.”

Cabral says The Iguanas — equal parts “old” and “new” New Orleans themselves at this point — are looking forward to bringing their sound to Johnstown.

One flood city to another.

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to come to (this) part of the country and play our music,” Cabral says. “I hope a ton of people come out and share it with us.”

Organizers: Blues musician brings excitement

Singer/songwriter and guitarist Jarekus Singleton is on the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival line-up. If he’s to serve as a marker for the other acts appearing this year, the bar has been set quite high, and quality music will surely be bursting through the amps at Peoples Natural Gas Park this weekend, said Shelley Johansson, communications director at Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

“Jarekus Singleton is a straight-up blues player bringing a lot of excitement to Mississippi blues,” Johansson said. “He’s a great, skilled guitar player.”

JAHA, which produces the festival each year, is welcoming Singleton and his band to Johnstown for the first time, and Singleton said  he can’t wait to get here.

“I’m looking forward to having a good time playing music and being in front of blues-loving people,” said Singleton, who is scheduled to play many other festivals around the country this summer. “I’m glad to come and be part of the culture and history (of Johnstown). The main thing I love about the festival season is that the people are so nice and genuine about the music, from the promoters to the fans. These people are just great. The blues community is a great community to be a part of.”

In a telephone interview just before a private concert in Las Vegas, Singleton discussed his childhood, his basketball career and the life he’s happily leading now.

Born in 1984 in Clinton, Mississippi, Singleton described his childhood as “happy.”

“It was cool growing up there,” he said. “I had a really fun childhood. I grew up with me, my mom and my older two brothers. We were poor, but I didn’t know that. I was just happy. I grew up in the church; my grandfather had a church in Jackson. My uncle taught me how to play bass guitar at age 9 and I started playing in the church band right away. I was learning and playing at the same time.”

Despite the joy that came from playing a musical instrument, he insisted that he didn’t think that his time spent practicing and performing would serve him so well in the years to come.

“When I first started playing, I really didn’t think much of it,” he said. “I just started playing and I figured it was something I was doing to help my family out, playing with the church. I never thought that much about it.

“Only my close friends actually knew that I was musically inclined.

People at school didn’t even know I was playing. One of my classmates heard me playing and she had to do a double take. I thought that was pretty funny.”

Singleton didn’t hide his interest in music; rather, it was overshadowed by his stellar basketball career. He was, after all, the No. 1 player in the state of Mississippi coming out of high school.

“Playing basketball was everything to me, so I went on to play at Southern Mississippi University for three years and University of William Carey for one year.”

An online sports profile states that he was named “the 2006-2007 Rawlings-NAIA Player of the Year, 2006-2007 First Team NAIA All-American, 2006-2007 GCAC Player of the Year, NAIA National Newcomer of the Year and First Team All-Conference. He was ranked second in the nation, averaging 24.7 points per game and fourth in the nation with 6.5 assists per game.”

Singleton admitted that he was quite competitive, and had a difficult time losing games.

“I like to compete,” he said. “I just always loved competition and being the underdog and coming out victorious. When I lost, I’d stay up all night trying to figure out what I needed to do for the next game.

I hate losing more than I love winning. I hate making the same mistake twice.”

It turned out, however, that nothing would be more difficult than sustaining an ankle injury in 2009 that left him sidelined and unsure if he’d be able to return to the basketball court. Upon having cartilage removed from his ankle, Singleton entered a post-surgery rehabilitation program and tried his best to fully recover. But the program wasn’t working, and Singleton soon acknowledged his next move.

“I’m the kind of person that if I can’t do it all the way right, I’m not going to do it at all,” he said.

On a bright note, he essentially received a two-for-one deal when he traded in his basketball jersey for a pen and his electric guitar.

“I was really frustrated. I was really down. I was really depressed. I was devastated. Music helped me get through that. It was a crazy thing—unfortunate but fortunate, because if I wouldn’t have went through what I went through, I wouldn’t have focused on music until my basketball career was over, so I’m glad God let that happen,” he said.

“But if you would’ve told me six years ago that I would be playing and singing for a living, I would’ve slapped you. It didn’t become real to me until after I had the surgery and started writing songs.”

Singleton always enjoyed writing and his talent as a lyricist is apparent, especially on his latest LP “Refuse to Lose.” Take these lyrics from the title track, for example: “To pay the bills I had to sweat / I worked hard jobs with no regrets / I scrubbed toilets to squeaky clean / And I scrubbed floors with Mr. Clean.”

A few songs on the album are autobiographical, including this one.

Singleton did indeed work as a janitor.

“I also worked cleaning out the oil pits . . . after people came to get their oil changed, I swept up the remainder of the oil,” he said.

“I’m not a stranger to hard work. I just want people to know I’m no stranger to humility or humbleness — that’s what I hang my hat on. I’m no more important than anybody else.”

Perhaps that’s why the overwhelming response to his latest LP has been such a thrill.

“I’m excited about it. It’s really good for people to be receptive about what I’ve brought to the table. It feels really good as an artist, as a writer. We had a lot of fun on the album and I think that shows in the music. It’s incredible to get the love I’ve been getting and I hope I can continue to inspire people with my music ‘cause that’s what it’s all about. As long as I can keep doing that, I think I’ll be O.K.”

Singleton and his band are scheduled to tour through October, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We love being on the road. We played in Mississippi for so long and when I was doing my own bookings and stuff, it was so hard to book gigs ‘cause nobody knew who I was and I was trying to get the thing going. Now that I have help and people behind me, it’s been awesome. I can focus on being an artist. I want to play everywhere — all the small towns. Once you play at home a lot, the road becomes a beautiful thing.”

But Singleton was also quick to say that Mississippi is still — and will always be — home sweet home.

“It’s the best place in the world,” he said. “It just is.”

While on the road, Singleton enjoys listening to and discovering new music. He’s a big fan of Derek Trucks, Outkast, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, among many others.

Even among these big names, he still lists his grandfather as one of his primary musical influences. And he said that if all goes well, he’ll be due to release another album in 18 to 24 months.

“I’m always writing, always coming up with new material,” he said. “I can’t go to sleep without thinking about music; I can’t turn on the air conditioner without thinking about music; I can’t walk to the mailbox without thinking about music. It’s a constant thing. It’s a lifestyle.”

For more information about Singleton, visit www.artistecard.com/jarekussingleton. Singleton performs at the AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 2 on the Spangler Subaru Stage (Stage and time is subject to change; check event schedule.)