Beer, bands, and trains

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First Posted: 6/10/2013

When it comes to Northeast Pennsylvania, some may ask, “Why?” Others, like Jon Henderson, simply ask, “Why not?”

The producer at Goodtime Tricycle, an Atlantic City-based company that puts on large-scale lifestyle events, used those exact words when asked why the area was chosen to play host to the Steamtown Beer and Music Festival at Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain on Saturday, June 15, the first festival of its kind in the area.

“We know Scranton has some partiers,” said Henderson, who grew up in Lake Wallenpaupack. “I think we nailed it. When we were at the Dave Matthews Band show doing promotions, I saw three people who had nothing to do with one another wearing our t-shirts from the Atlantic City festival, and I thought, ‘This really might be the perfect place for something like this.’”

The Steamtown Beer and Music Festival is certainly a large undertaking, an event that will have 50 breweries serving over 200 beers; live music from Fuel, The Menzingers, Muscle Shoal Revival, The Sunset Villains, Gabriel the Marine, and Banquets; games; and several other activities, but it was simply a matter of transferring the idea from one place to another for Goodtime.

The company is responsible for putting on such events as the Average Joe Expo, Atlantic City Sea Food Festival, and the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival, which ran for the 8th year in 2013. Approximately 22,000 people came to the festival, making it the second-largest event of its kind in the country.

“We’re taking all the moving parts and what we created in Atlantic City and bringing it to Scranton, but outdoors,” Henderson explained. “It’s an opportunity for the discovery and celebration of beers and the people who created them.”

Henderson said the planning of the event was a lot easier than he thought, thanks in large part to sponsors like Live Nation, Mohegan Sun, 98.5 KRZ, and The Weekender stepping up and helping to execute it.

“A lot of people are excited about new happenings in Northeast Pennsylvania,” Henderson said. “We talked with a handful of people and knew there were a couple beer events in the region and, while those are good events, it’s nothing like we do. We do an outdoor festival, an opportunity for discovery, set it to a cool soundtrack, and create a multi-layered festival experience that’s more than walking around from table to table and drinking beer.”

During the day, there will be games, ice sculptures on display, cooking demonstrations that showcase how to grill with beer by John Koza, executive chef of Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, and Grill Sergeant Brad Turner, who was an executive chef in the U.S. Army for years.

The festival will also provide moustache rides to all those in attendance. Sound dirty? Not as much as you think, and if you’re really itching to know, stop by The Weekender’s area on Saturday and receive a free ride of your own.

Should all go well, will we see another festival in the future? It’s not even a question.

“We built this; it’s not one and done,” Henderson insisted. “We’re looking to do the same thing in Scranton that we did in Atlantic City – Steamtown Beer and Music Festival ‘14, ‘15, ‘16 and so on.”

-Sara Pokorny, Weekender Staff Writer

Steamtown punk

When The Menzingers were asked if they’d like to play the Steamtown Beer & Music Festival, guitarist/vocalist Tom May felt the answer was obvious.

“We love beer and Scranton, so hell yeah!”

While the four punk rockers moved to Philadelphia over five years ago to better network with fellow bands, it was the Northeast Pennsylvania music scene that encouraged them to originally take the plunge.

“The idea of being in a band wasn’t some kind of unattainable thing. It was everybody that grew up in the same town as us – everybody booked their own shows and everybody did everything themselves, so that definitely was an inspiration and got us going for it,” May described in a phone interview from Atlanta, Ga., before a headlining gig.

“We grew up in Scranton, so it’s where we’ll always really call home, and that’s where… our friends and family are. That’s where we go to visit on holidays and things like that. It’s fantastic.”

Formerly of local ska group Bob and the Sagets, May admits they weren’t always so fond of Scranton, often hoping to escape the hometown that served as inspiration for their honest, heartfelt music. Their latest record, “On the Impossible Past,” contains a song called “Sun Hotel,” named for the South Scranton bar and flophouse closed down two years ago after a major drug bust.

“I rented a practice space and had a screen printing shop next door there, underneath the Dominican grocery store that was there. We were all 19 or 20, so basically we would just go there and get wasted and screw around and practice and print t-shirts. The Sun Hotel would serve us underage,” he recalled.

“It was totally shady. I got jumped outside of there one time at the gas station. It was an interesting experience down there.”

It was one of many sights familiar to local fans.

“The record before that, ‘Chamberlain Waits,’ was because we’d come out the back of the screen printing place, of the practice space that we had, and we’d be standing right next to the river and all you could see was the giant arms manufacturer right behind us,” he continued. While he found this area of downtown to be “a weird place,” he wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

“From what I understand, it’s changing a bit. It has a lot of economic problems recently, especially with the city being so broke, but that’s just who we are – we’re a bunch of kids from the Northeast in a place that used to make stuff, and now that things are changed, they don’t really make anything there anymore. It’s just an interesting American experience.”

This identity, perhaps, is what makes their music so relatable to the youth across the country – and the world – who have embraced The Menzingers, landing them a deal with Epitaph Records, one of the largest and most well-known independent punk labels, in 2011.

“That was the label that had all the bands that we listened to growing up, so it was a strange kind of full circle thing. You spend years and years and years of just daydreaming about that and then it ends up working out,” May noted.

“It’s like a kid who plays baseball at Lackawanna Little League and then becomes part of the Phillies. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

And they were welcomed with open arms by owner/founder Brett Gurewitz, who is also a guitarist and songwriter for the legendary Bad Religion.

“Instead of taking us out for whatever or trying to wine and dine us or something, they just closed off the parking lot…and set up barbeque and some beers and stuff like that, and everybody who worked at Epitaph Records just took a two-hour break and we just sat around eating and drinking. Brett Gurewitz just told us all kinds of stories about all the bands that we loved; it was so interesting. It was awesome,” he enthused.

“When we got done, everybody who worked there just said, ‘He never did that before. We heard so many things that we didn’t know. We never heard any of these stories.’”

A lot has changed for The Menzingers in just a few short years, but what didn’t change for them matters much more.

“The idea that as a band we’re friends first and a band second, and that a lot of the people that you meet within the industry that you work with, that you tour with or that work for you or you work for – it feels like everybody is friends first. It’s all about having the same sort of ideals and morals and approach to the industry, and then second comes all the business parts. That’s really reaffirming,” May emphasized.

“There are lots of sharks and people like that, but in the scene that we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of, it’s not like that.”

This environment has allowed them to stay sharp creatively as well, taking a few months off recently to write new songs to record by year’s end.

“I can definitely say it’s heavier than anything we’ve done so far. That’s not screaming or anything like that – it’s a lot more riff-driven and a lot heavier, a lot bigger guitars and things like that,” he said of the upcoming album, which is already “pretty far along.”

“We’re not trying to make the songs a little bit more complicated, but trying to pay more attention to what we’re writing.”

The group hasn’t played in the area since a sold-out benefit in December, and while many of the local venues they used to frequent have since shuttered their doors, the Steamtown Beer and Music Festival has granted them their first opportunity to play the much larger stage of the Toyota Pavilion at Montage Mountain. It’s the people, not the place, that matters most, however.

“We really have no idea what to expect, but we are expecting to have a really good time, and a bunch of our family members are going to come out, and they usually don’t come to the small, very packed places,” May said.

“(I’m most looking forward to) the people I’m going to see there, for sure, and the fact that we’re playing at a place that we grew up going to concerts at. That’s really exciting. There’re some people that I haven’t seen in a long time who have contacted me and said that they’re coming, so I’m so excited to see them.”

-Rich Howells, Weekender Editor

Creative Fuel

Fuel are well-known across the country for chart-topping hits like “Hemorrhage (In My Hands),” “Bad Day,” and “Shimmer,” but many locals may not be aware that the band got its start not far from Northeast Pennsylvania, even recording in the area in 1997.

Born in Tennessee, singer Brett Scallions first discovered music while growing up in a church.

“The cool thing about learning and singing in church and also in choirs is I learned a lot about harmony and how to sing with other people and stuff like that,” Scallions told The Weekender in a phone interview from Rochester, N.Y., while on tour.

“I grew up in Tennessee, so Elvis was right down the street, so I used to listen to Elvis records and get up on the hearth – that was my stage – and I’d sing and dance and act like Elvis. As I grew older – I was about 13, I think – my brother came home from college and he brought an acoustic guitar home with him that he had borrowed from a friend. He taught me a chord – he taught me a G chord, I think – and I just sat there and played that G chord over and over again.

“It just kind of snowballed from there; I was hooked. Eventually I ended up getting my own guitar and kind of self-taught myself.”

While he now calls Los Angeles home, Scallions and the other members of the band that would become Fuel relocated to the more affordable Harrisburg in the early days, recording their second EP at C&C Recording Studio in Hazleton and naming the four-song album after the city.

“I haven’t been in that area in quite a while, you know, but I remember making those recordings and stuff there. It was an interesting thing. It was pretty cool because that’s such a blue-collar area, and the people were so down-to-earth and just really good-hearted. It was a nice experience for us to go there and relax and just focus on the music,” Scallions said of the recording.

After their debut full-length, “Sunburn,” was released the following year, Fuel steadily took off, eventually receiving million-dollar record deals and worldwide tours with Silverchair, Aerosmith, Kid Rock, and many other popular acts, but Scallions wasn’t happy with his musical direction at the time and decided to leave the band and play with The X’s and Circus Diablo and form new projects like World Fire Brigade. Fuel continued on with a new lead singer, releasing “Angels & Devils” in 2007.

Sharing the same manager as keyboardist Ray Manzarek and guitarist Robby Krieger of The Doors, Scallions was invited to jam with the living legends and became the singer for their group Riders on the Storm from 2007 through 2010, completely restoring his passion for performing.

“Those guys showed me all of South America and Mexico and Europe. I got to actually go to Père Lachaise Cemetery and go to Jim Morrison’s grave on Jim’s death day with Ray and Robby. And then we did a show that night in Paris; it’s one of those days that’s hard to forget, for sure,” he recalled.

“One thing about The Doors’ catalog is anything can happen; there’s jam sections and you’re just waiting for the right time to come in, basically, and that time can be at any point… Within that, you’re basically conducting the show so the crowd knows where to go.”

It proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, as Manzarek passed away last month at the age of 74. Scallions received the news via text from a friend during a rehearsal.

“My heart stopped. I threw my guitar down and I called Robby immediately,” he said. “Robby and I talked on the phone for a while. We had a few laughs and we talked about Ray and swapped some stories and basically kind of hugged each other over the phone.”

He rejoined Fuel in 2010 with a new lineup and newfound creative energy, recording 17 new songs for an album he hopes to release later this year.

“There’s definitely some stuff on the new record that I feel like can be staple, old school Fuel, but then I’ve really gone back to the roots of what I grew up listening to, between Elvis and Led Zeppelin and The Beatles and The Cult and stuff like that. That’s all rock ‘n’ roll that was based off of blues and jazz and gospel,” he pointed out.

“I take it song by song. I don’t try to make it lyrically flow into each other; one song can be about some type of political thing, and the next song can be about love gone wrong, and another song can be about life lessons. I’m a father now – I’ve got two kids and I’ve got a beautiful wife, and I’ve thought about them at times in some of my songwriting. I wrote a song called ‘Wander’ that is written for my boys; it’s basically life lessons for them to remember.”

The more “blues-based” tunes with a “jazz influence” even contain a guest appearance by Krieger on one track, and Riders on the Storm may have even influenced Fuel’s live direction.

“They just pulled every bit of that passion out of me and let me feel what it was like to be on a stage with guys that were just jamming and could really play. Every night was a different free-for-all. That was such a solid feeling of freedom to be able to just go up and not know what’s going to happen next, and I loved that,” Scallions described.

“(Fuel is) always looking for a way to extend things and jam and listen to each other and just play and break up the monotony of the same show every night.”

Scrantonians can judge for themselves when the hard rocker return to NEPA, performing a mix of old and new songs meant to take fans on a “fun rollercoaster ride.”

“When you see things on the schedule, your ears perk up and you go, ‘Oh cool, that’s going to be a fun one, and that’s one of the shows that I know is going to be a good time,’” Scallions said of the Steamtown Beer and Music Fest.

“PA has always been ground zero for this band, so I always know that when we go back into that area that it’s going to be a fun time.

“Seeing old friends, having a good time – that’s what it’s all about.”

-Rich Howells, Weekender Editor

No holds Beer’d

“Don’t tell me when and what I can drink,” proudly states Dave Oakley during a discussion about beers having distinct seasonal release dates.

This sentiment is one spoken from a true home brewer who has a passion for brewing the kind of beer he wants to drink. This same passion is true of the four friends who make up 3 Guys & A Beer’d Brewing Co., located in Carbondale. Oakley, Matt Zuk, Jon Bronson, and Johnny “The Beard” Waering founded the company after years of brewing beers together for themselves, continuing their desire to make great beer that not only they love, but their customers love as well.

The business has been growing strong since 2011, and the demand is extremely high for their beers.

“We have trouble keeping up with demand sometimes,” Zuk said. Now this may be frustrating for some customers and to the owners as well, but in this current economic state, it is a good problem to have, and that problem is certainly earned.

The guys have put out some really wonderful beers, whether it’s their Soul Patch Pumpkin Ale (a personal favorite of mine), the very popular Wheat the People (an American-styled Hefeweizen), or the new and extremely popular Loyalty Barber Shop Shaving Cream Ale, creating a huge demand for their products.

There is good news, though – they are expanding very soon. They have purchased larger equipment that will enable them to brew more beer, and it should be in full use by year’s end. They have truly grown in a grassroots, DIY fashion to get to this point.

In fact, while Oakley was showing me the new bottling machine they acquired, he noted that up until now, every bottle was done by hand.

“We calculated that we did about 10,000 bottles by hand up to this point,” he said. “Not an easy thing to do.” But they are certainly doing it right because I haven’t had a bad bottle yet!

The majority of their beers are draft only, but they are adding new brews to bottles as they continue to expand. Currently, they only offer Wheat the People, Ladder Dive Rye IPA, and Carbond’Alien (American Pale Ale) in bottles on a regular basis, though they have plans to add Loyalty Barber Shop Shaving Cream Ale to bottles in the near future.

If you have not had anything from 3 Guys & A Beer’d yet, then do yourself a favor and try one, or even three! They are widely available throughout the area, so call around to your favorite taverns, and if they don’t carry it, tell them to get some. Additionally, the guys will be at the inaugural Steamtown Beer and Music Festival, pouring many great offerings like Wheat the People, Ladder Dive Rye IPA, Carbond’Alien, and Malarkey Irish Style Red Ale, so if you really needed another reason to go to the festival, you have one now!

-Derek Warren, Weekender Correspondent