Music blog Highway 81 Revisited to celebrate anniversary at Karl Hall in WB
Michael Lello’s career in journalism has taken him to Philadelphia and New York City, but there’s a part of him that’s stayed firmly planted in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Lello will celebrate the seven-year anniversary of his music blog, Highway 81 Revisited, on Saturday at Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre during an evening of music that features Delaware Water Gap art-pop act Lewis & Clarke, Scranton Americana musicians J.P. Biondo and Chris Kearney and Philadelphia band Rosu Lup.
The lineup, Lello said in a recent interview, showcases how Highway 81 grew from a focus on NEPA to embrace the other communities in which he lived and worked.
A Pittston native, Lello now lives in New York City and works for the New York Post, but the beginning of Highway 81 dates back more than a decade, before Lello began his second tenure with the Times Leader Media Group.
“The roots go back a little before I became the editor of the Weekender, which I was from 2007 to 2011,” Lello said. “In the mid-2000s, I was living in Philadelphia and taking notice of music blogs popping up, Pitchfork and Stereogum primarily, which ironically aren’t independent anymore.”
By reading those publications, Lello discovered bands like Arcade Fire and Dr. Dog that he appreciated. While covering legal news for LexisNexis, Lello was freelancing for independent music publications in Philadelphia and contributing to the Weekender under then-editor Alan K. Stout.
Eventually, Lello returned to NEPA and took the Weekender editorship that had become available.
“At the time, the website was just updated weekly,” Lello said. “I figured we should use it as an unlimited space for anything we couldn’t fit into the newspaper. I began publishing online, debuting songs, doing video interviews. When my time came to an end there, I had a lot of time on my hands.”
And Lello took some of the practices he’d put into place at the Weekender and started Highway 81 Revisited.
“The big question was, ‘If I had to start this thing with no financial backing, would some people who were accessible to me when I was working for a publication that had resources, would they still work with me?’ The answer was ‘yes,’” Lello said.
He started slowly, landing an interview with jam scene innovator Keller Williams, and a year later, talking to hard rock icon Alice Cooper. In between, Lello kept a keen eye on original music being generated in NEPA, and covered local and regional music. Today, he accomplishes the same feat with the help of Bloomsburg journalist Michael Lester and photographers Sam Watson, Alex Seeley and Angelo Santoro.
The blog has featured interviews with Cabinet, Tigers Jaw, Aaron Fink, MiZ, Leroy Justice and more. It has become a platform to premiere songs and videos and has even had a live presence, presenting a Holiday Reunion Concert in 2016 at the F.M. Kirby Center and representing the VIP backstage experience at Cabinet’s 2014 Susquehanna Breakdown festival at Montage Mountain in Scranton.
The publication has gone on to interview Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, Jon Anderson, formerly of Yes; Brad Whitford, of Aerosmith; The Breeders; Of Montreal; and Yngwie Malmsteen. But it was Lello’s tie to accomplished NEPA musician and Karl Hall owner A.J. Jump that motivated another live show in the region.
“I wasn’t looking to do a seven-year anniversary show, but the timing was right. (A.J) was opening the venue, and I thought, ‘spring will be our anniversary; I haven’t done a local show in a while. What if we did a seventh anniversary show there and put on some bands we’ve dealt with in the past?’”
He reached out to songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lou Rogai, who he’s gotten to know through years of covering regional music. According to Lello, Rogai’s band, Lewis & Clarke, has a neo-folk sensibility with a “dreamy nature to it.”
“Their music demands attention,” Lello said of the selection. “It’s not for a bar setting. The harder you listen, the better it sounds.”
Biondo and Kearney were obvious choices, because Lello frequently covered their respective bands when they were performing.
“J.P. Biondo from Cabinet speaks for itself,” Lello said. “Chris Kearney was with Coal Town Rounders, and they played several of our events.”
Rounding out the bill, Rosu Lup is a recommendation from Rogai.
“I checked them out and thought they were great and added a different flavor to the bill,” Lello said. “It represents that we’re not just an NEPA blog. I’m looking forward to hearing them all play.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Highway 81 Revisited Anniversary Party featuring Lewis & Clarke, J.P. Biondo and Chris Kearney, and Rosu Lup
When: Doors open at 7 p.m.; music starts at 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Karl Hall, 57B N. Main St., Wilkes-Barre
Additional information: Tickets cost $10 at the door the evening of the event. Patrons will be seated on a first-come-first-served basis. The evening is BYOB. For more information on Karl Hall, visit karlhall.org.