Category Archives: Uncategorized

MACHINES DREAM

Self-titled
10 songs, 65 minutes
No label (2013)

Hailing from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Machines Dream is pretty far from “local.”

Still, they reached out via Twitter. And they were definitely worth a listen.

Machines Dream takes measured, disciplined approach to songwriting. It’s safe to say these guys often hear that they’re pulling off a “contemporary Pink Floyd-type thing” (most comparable to the excellent ‘70s Floyd and the dry, Waters-less ‘80s Floyd — not the acid-inspired ‘60s stuff ). They’re also reminiscent of Peach, a band that included Justin Chancellor before he joined Tool for the recording of the “Ænima” album.

The keyboard work is mesmerizing, the bass lines are active and the guitar leads are a real thing of beauty. If you can’t appreciate the soaring, 8-minute epic “Toronto Skyline,” maybe good prog-rock isn’t for you.

Hats off to Brian Holmes, Craig West, Keith Conway and Ken Coulter for their work on this album.

The group has also released a follow-up album, “Immunity.” Expectations for this should high, given the nice work on the debut.

You can hear samples at machinesdream.com.

-@BruceJSiwy

Freshness key for flourishing Westmont bakery

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

What do Rustan and Beth Fluke — along with their son, Collin, and their dog, Pippin — have in common?

Answer: food allergies.

The family members have turned their allergy issues into endless opportunities to learn how to bake without using common ingredients such as sugar, wheat or yeast. Even better, they are sharing their baked goods with the Johnstown community.

Rustan and Beth recently purchased Mill House Café at 828 Diamond Blvd. in Westmont from original owners David and April Buckwalter of Ligonier. While the menu hasn’t much changed, the couple is interested in making the café known not only for its expansive drink list, but also its baked goods.

“Several customers have said, ‘Please don’t change much,’ which was already our idea, but our passion is in the baked goods,” said Rustan, who discovered Mill House Café with his wife shortly after it replaced Sorella Sorella last August. They were thrilled that there was almond milk available behind the counter. “We want to introduce people to items on our menu that are gluten-free or yeast-free.”

Beth agreed.

“The hardest thing about having food allergies is finding a good place to eat out,” she said.

Some gluten-free items available for purchase at Mill House Café include pumpkin raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin raisin scones and no-bake cookies. They plan to add donuts, pies, and black bean and white bean brownies to that lineup in the near future. Gluten-free and yeast- free breads and bagels are also available for those who enjoy the sandwiches and breakfast options at Mill House Café.

Some cookies, including their pumpkin cookies, are sugar-free or made from plant-based sugars.

“You have an opportunity to explain to people what the dessert is and how it doesn’t affect your blood sugar,” Rustan said of his sugar-free desserts. “And if customers have any questions, we keep cards listing all the ingredients behind the counter.”

While Beth enjoys baking at their in home Lower Yoder Township, Rustan nowadays does most of his baking at Mill House Café. He usually begins baking around 6 a.m.

“In fourth grade, I was taught how to make no-bake cookies, and that was it,” Rustan said of how his love for baking started.

The extra incentive occurs when a customer gives him a thumbs-up.

“I really enjoy when people like something,” he said. “There’s a satisfaction in making something that somebody else likes.”

The Flukes, however, recognize that not all customers are interested in these niche items. That’s why they’re still making traditional baked goods. And like the previous owners, they are committed to offering customers fresh menu items.

“We are foodies,” Beth said. “Fresh ingredients make such a difference in cooking and baking.”

In addition to the expanding the line of baked goods, Rustan and Beth plan to add a “sandwich of the month” to the menu, and are exploring the possibly of offering grab-and-go items near the end of each workday. They are also considering extending their hours and hosting open mic nights/live bands on Saturday evenings. Their loose leaf tea line has also grown.

As far as being the owners of a popular local coffee shop, Rustan and Beth still seem surprised that the opportunity presented itself.

“Mill House is such a nice place,” Beth said. “We’re big proponents of supporting local businesses and small businesses, so to be able to be a part of that in a great community like Westmont is a beautiful thing.”

Carpenters tribute coming to town

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

“Close to You: The Music of The Carpenters” is coming to the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center Nov. 13 beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The evening of music is designed to pay tribute to siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter. Known for their melodic love songs, the duo
recorded more than a dozen albums and released more than 30 singles, including “Yesterday Once More,” “Top of the World” and “We’ve
Only Just Begun.” Their music career began in the late 1960s and continued until Karen’s death in 1983.

Lisa Rock and her sixpiece band will recreate the songs that The Carpenters fans came to know and love.

Rock, who been performing to sold-out crowds for years, is dedicated to creating a memorable Carpenters experience for fans of all ages.
Her four-octave range allows her to sing The Carpenters’ hits in their original key. Her bandmates include Eric Engelson on drums, Justin Boller on bass and guitar, Amy Malouf on backup vocals and percussion, Ken McMullen on piano, Dave Orlicz on woodwinds, harmonica
and keyboard, and Micky York on backup vocals, keyboards, harp and drums.

How a doctor saved the chamber music series

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

In 1985, Dr. Albert K. Mall was recruited by Mercy Hospital to join the gynecology and obstetrics department. He wasn’t sure at the time if he and his family were going to stay in Flood City.

“I thought it might be temporary,” said the doctor, who grew up in Bordentown, New Jersey, and trained for OB/GYN at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. “But I liked it so much, I stayed. I loved the area, the opportunities for my kids, the outdoor environments, the friendliness of the people. (Moving to
Johnstown) was an unexpected blessing.”

Mall and his wife, Helen, along with their three children, Zachary, Adrian and Rachel, embraced what Johnstown had to offer. For Mall and his wife, that included attending Lee Hospital Auxiliary’s chamber music concert series. The concerts took place inside the State Theater along Main Street before transferring to Lee Auditorium. Built in 1926, State Theater was called Johnstown’s first “million-dollar theater.”

“The acoustics in the State Theater were fantastic,” Mall said. “I used to go up and sit in the back . . . the sound was so good.”

When UPMC came to town around 1998, Lee Auxiliary disbanded and the concert series disappeared.

“I missed it,” said Mall, whose own experience playing music included learning the clarinet, saxophone and keyboard as a child. “There was no chamber music in town. There was some rock ‘n’ roll and polka . . . there’s always polka.”

Mall defines chamber music as “music in a small space.” And that’s exactly what he loves about it.

“It’s very intimate,” he said. “You’re really in touch with each instrument. If you go to a chamber music concert, you hear each player as an individual. (Composer) Johannes Brahms called chamber music ‘an intimate conversation between four people.’ You hear the voices of the instruments so clearly. It’s really uplifting.”

In 2005, Mall said that he had “a lot of energy” and restarted the series under the name Chamber Music Series of Greater Johnstown. One change he implemented was adding jazz concerts to each season’s lineup.

“The Lee series was all classical types of chamber music, but I put jazz in there,” he said. “Jazz is wonderful. It’s my favorite musical form.”

Before the series could come to fruition, Mall had to find a suitable venue.

“I got help from a colleague, and he recommended that I talk to Bill Williams,” Mall said. “Bill belonged to First Presbyterian Church and the pastor at the time was very eager to have music in his church.”

Mall was delighted to find that the church, located at 309 Lincoln St., offered the perfect space.

“First Presbyterian Church probably has some of the best acoustics in the country,” he said. “Performers would call us and say, ‘We need this kind of amp and this kind of microphone,’ and when they saw the space, they realized they didn’t need any of that.”

Within a year, the Chamber Music Series of Greater Johnstown was up and running. Mall used advertisements, word of mouth and even “comp” tickets to spread the word. He also had support from local businesses, foundations and music-loving individuals.

Mall chose performers in part through a program called PennPat, which existed to help boost the careers of musicians across the state. Every year, he sought to find musicians whose talents seemed to be on a whole other level.

“One of the violinists I booked was a 17-year-old named Ann Fontanella. She was fantastic,” Mall said. “They recorded her playing and she has a video from that concert in Johnstown on her YouTube page. It has (more than) a million hits.”

He said that audiences flocked to First Presbyterian Church. Many people even drove long distances to get there.

Though the season schedule changed from year to year, one thing never wavered: the audiences’ display of appreciation and admiration.

“The Johnstown audience is so appreciative,” Mall said. “Almost everybody gets a standing ovation and a callback.”

Mall has since retired from active involvement with the Johnstown Concert Series (the series was renamed a few years ago), but he said that he’s enjoying this year’s season and he appreciates the board members’ eagerness to keep it going.

“There’s a great lineup this season,” he said. “They’ve done well.”

The series is even prospering: Recent collaborations include a partnership with the Pittsburgh Concert Society, for which they presented selected winners of their conservatory-adjudicated Major Auditions. They are even able to continue offering complimentary tickets to John P. Murtha Neuroscience and Pain Institute
patients who are suffering from chronic pain.

Johnstown Concert Series board member Victoria Czarnek said that Mall put a lot of time and effort into reviving what could have been a lost series.

“It took great vision and organization for him to bring back a popular part of culture in Johnstown,” Czarnek said. “Not only does he appreciate music, but he also has the vision and energy to make things happen. I understand that the series sponsored by Lee Hospital was very popular, and a lot of people were sad to see it end. Dr. Mall is the one who took action and did something about it. We now have several people on our board doing what he used to do by himself when he got started.”

The 2014-2015 concert season is well underway, but four concerts in the series remain.

The next performance features organist, pianist, educator and conductor Ethan Laplaca and is scheduled to take place Nov. 22 beginning at 7:30 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church.

“I think people will be pleasantly surprised that they don’t have to know anything about classical music to enjoy one of our concerts,” Czarnek said. “We ask the musicians to prepare a 90- minute program of familiar and/or hummable melodies and encourage them to interact with the audience by telling stories about the pieces being played or their composers.

“Something new this year is the ‘meet-the-artist’ reception that will follow every concert. Not only does it give the audience a chance to meet the artist, but it also gives the audience a chance to meet each other and unwind. Our new post-concert receptions wrap up a lovely and inexpensive way to spend a Saturday evening.”

Czarnek added that many concert attendees have stated that they’re grateful to not have to drive to Pittsburgh or other cities to hear high-quality chamber music.

“People like the convenience of hearing really excellent music without having to drive to Pittsburgh,” said Czarnek, who got involved with the series in 2006. “We have had many excellent musicians pass through town.”

Mall said that he’s glad that others appreciate what good can come from sitting down and listening to music.

“Music soothes the savage beast, including the beasts of pain, anxiety and stress,” Mall said. “I think the series is an incredibly good thing. It’s a beautiful thing. Beautiful things should stay with us.”

Oktoberfest Manzen

As most of you are undoubtedly well versed in the Reinheitsgebot, this review is hardly necessary.

So for the rest of you who haven’t studied and sampled the Bavarian Purity Law’s exacting standard of 1516 — well, “This Bud’s for you!”

Oktoberfest Manzen is crafted by Paulaner Brauerei in Munich, Germany.

It has a storied history and, judging by the taste, this longevity is not without warrant.

There’s absolutely zero head on this brew. And it isn’t smoky like so many other seasonal beers of this ilk — instead, it has an earthy and inoffensive taste, with a hint of dried leaves. Something tells me it’d be awesome with bratwurst.

As they say in Germany: “Prost!”

SMITHWICK’S

Yuengling and Coors are divisive brands for beer drinkers — Yuengling haters bemoan the bitter taste, while Coors haters question its beer-hood in the first place.

I’d put Guinness in that category, too. Either you can’t get enough of those pints, or you’d rather drink mud.

As someone who puts Guinness in that mud/stale coffee category, I was a little worried about Smithwick’s, which is made by Guinness. But I was surprised in a good way.

This is a tart ale with a bite. It’s rich without being sludgy. And it has a roasted, clean and peppery finish.

Basically it’s a good Irish ale for those who aren’t into the mud/stale coffee/old motor oil taste.

LANDSHARK

Negative reviews are often the easiest to write.

That’s because when a drink disgusts or repulses, normally you know why. Too bitter. Too sweet. Not bitter or sweet enough.

Oddly, Landshark bucked the trend. I’m not a fan, but can’t articulate why. It’s not overly heady, hoppy, malty, sugary or light. It’s not under-flavored, overly carbonated or uber-heavy.

More than anything, I guess it’s just unremarkable — that hum-along Top 40 hit that’s in everybody’s head even though nobody really likes it.

Apparently this stuff is the “house lager” for Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant chain.

Going by the beer’s generic taste, maybe Buffett should stick to margaritas. This so-called lager is no cheeseburger in paradise.

GEN. WASHINGTON’S TAVERN PORTER

I don’t know if the claim is true — that this beer was a recipe concocted by George Washington. Nor can I confirm that it really was drank by the first president’s soldiers during the war against England.

What I will say is this: If these statements are confirmed, historians may soon debate whether Washington was a better general, president or brewmaster.

Yards Brewing Co.’s supposed reproduction of Washington’s recipe — molasses and all — is one finely crafted beer.

If rich, coffee-tinged beers are your thing, you’ll love this one’s rich taste and smooth finish. And its alcohol content — a fire-breathing 7 percent — could be enough to start a second American Revolution if the enough of the malcontented masses get their grubby hands on it.

This one’s dark beer done right. If that ain’t ‘Merican, what is?

MOOSEHEAD LAGER

Recently I gave some love to our neighbors south of the border. So how about the north?

Look, Canada also deserves a lot of credit. Hockey is the world’s most exciting sport. And Rush, for all the heckling, is really underrated here in the States.

Underrated is a term you could use for Moosehead as well. While Molson and Labatt’s receive majority of the press here in the U.S., this one shouldn’t be ignored.

Have enough of them and they may leave you feeling a little on the bloated side — but hey, that’s perfect for the Canadian-style winters we suffer here.

Genesee Ice

You know what you’re in for any time you buy a beer ending with “ice.”

You also know the price you’ll pay when you buy a beer beginning with “Genesee” — and that bargain price is what drove this week’s review topic. If the cost gets much lower, it’ll be cheaper to fill your swimming pool with this stuff than municipal water.

First, the science. According to a reputable source*, the “process of ‘icing’ beer involves lowering the temperature of a batch of beer until ice crystals form. Since alcohol has a much lower freezing point . . . than water and doesn’t form crystals, when the ice is filtered off, the alcohol concentration increases.”

The process gives “ice” beer a flat taste — like it was left in the freezer too long and skunked.

Still, better to drink than swim in. But that’s only conjecture.

SOURCE MATERIAL: *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_beer

MOOD MUSIC: Guitarist enjoying the ride with SMH

Ohio Liberation Army. The Harlots. The Vicars. The Headaches. The common denominator for these now-defunct bands is that Micah Mood was
a member of each.

Striped Maple Hollow? Not defunct.

In fact, this band has been Mood’s consistent source of inspiration and motivation for the past few years.

As the band’s banjo and guitar player, Mood plays alongside his friends and fellow musicians Adam Milkovich and Sonya Giuffre, not to mention his wife, Jayna. A year ago, the four-piece Americana group released their debut LP, a 13-song assortment of original and cover songs. It’s an LP that reflects the band’s style and affinity for folk, bluegrass and country music.

Mood — who serves as one of the band’s lyricists (he penned the new album’s sixth track, “Giving Up on Giving Up,” for instance) — said that he’s happy with the album.

“We recorded it ourselves and mixed it ourselves. That can be dangerous, but given the circumstances, I’m happy with how it came out,” he said. “It’s a good representation of us as a band.”

One listen to any of the tracks on the record and it’s obvious how important Mood’s banjo is to Striped Maple Hollow’s sound: He’s not as intense as Winston Marshall of Mumford and Sons, but like Marshall, Mood knows how to pluck those strings to create the desired effect. That said, it may come as a surprise to hear that if it weren’t for Striped Maple Hollow, Mood would likely consider letting his instruments collect some dust.

“I am not one to necessarily practice for the sake of practicing — the band gives me a reason to write songs and play,” he said. “It’s a good motivation for me.”

Despite taking some piano lessons as a child (“I took a lot of piano lessons, but you wouldn’t know it if I sat down at a piano”), Mood is a self-taught musician. He didn’t start taking music seriously, however, until he was nearing his graduation from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown.

Mood, who grew up in the southwestern part of the state, said that Pitt-Johnstown was what brought him to Johnstown in the mid-1990s. And it seems that it was music, in part, that made him stay.

When he drummed for his first punk band, Ohio Liberation Army, the experience afforded him an opportunity to get a taste of what being in a band entailed: recording, touring and meeting like-minded individuals who shared his passion for music.

“I enjoyed everything — from the get-go, I enjoyed playing shows and meeting new bands,” he said. “When that band (Ohio Liberation Army) dissolved, I knew that I wanted to keep playing.”

Though his time spent with The Harlots, The Vicars and The Headaches was also somewhat short-lived (he chalked it all up to bad timing), Mood eventually found a liking for playing music at coffee houses and open mic nights with his wife.

“We did some on-and-off coffee house gigs with friends here and there, but it wasn’t until five or six years ago that we started doing coffee shops more regularly and formed the band (Striped Maple Hollow) officially,” Mood said.

Nowadays, Mood said that he’s enjoying being a musician who lives, writes and plays in and around the area.

“I think it’s going well — (Striped Maple Hollow is) a nice opportunity to get to play some older bluegrass and traditional songs that I wouldn’t get to play in a rock band,” he said. “I enjoy bluegrass and Americana, and I’m glad that we get to play it.”

This year, the band will appear onstage at the Flood City Music Festival (catch them from 2-3 p.m. Aug. 2) as well as the Wills Mountain Festival in Cumberland Valley Township on Aug. 10. In September, they’re scheduled to play at the Windber Bluegrass Festival.

“We enjoy playing festivals,” Mood said. “It’s a fun kind of family day and the lineups are great. It’s different from the kinds of shows we play at places like VOMA (Venue of Merging Arts in Johnstown’s Cambria City) where we can do quite a bit of slower to mid-tempo kind of numbers, but when you’re playing at 2 p.m. in the sun at a festival, it’s interesting to figure out what to play that will get people’s attention. We usually end up playing a lot of upbeat songs.”

For Mood, playing music is — and always has been — about connecting with people who make up audiences both large and small.

“Playing music, for me, has been a great way to connect with people. I think in terms of an artistic outlook, it’s a lot of fun and a good opportunity to write and exercise that creative part of me,” he said.

“I’m not always successful at it, but over the last few years I’ve tried to have a more positive worldview and I’ve tried to write songs with a more upbeat outlook. I think that sometimes those songs connect the most with people.”

In addition to Striped Maple Hollow, he has a side project. Some of these songs can be heard at http://www.soundcloud.com/skulls-across-america.

“The music there is a mix of different styles — some banjo instrumentals, acoustic guitar based songs, and from the past year or so some electric guitar experiments more in the psychedelic/drone realm.”

Mood also enjoys playing his share of cover songs.

“It’s always exciting when people check out our music and get into it, but I apologize if anyone hears me at an open mic and I butcher one of their favorite songs,” he said, laughing. “I do my best.”