Friendships forged in the thriving Northeastern Pennsylvania punk-rock scene of 15 to 20 years ago and tempered by the sentiment of locals supporting locals have laid the foundation for an event in downtown Wilkes-Barre that will bridge nostalgia and future business in the community.
In the space formerly occupied by Cafe Metropolis, an all-ages music venue that boomed from 1996 to 2010, the Wilkes-Barre locations of Loyalty Barber Shop & Shave Parlor and Electric City Tattoo will host a grand opening celebration from 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 30 featuring musical performances by NEPA native Bob Lewis and Dallas songwriter Dave Hage.
Lewis, who has lived and crafted songs in Nashville, Tenn., for the past three years, said he got a call to play the event because of his history with Loyalty co-owners James Simon and Anthony Ranella. While still an NEPA resident, Lewis was a regular customer at Loyalty’s Archbald location, making trips to the barbershop from his Kingston apartment.
“I had known Anthony Ranella, one of the barbers,” Lewis said. “He was an old punk scene dude, and I was like, ‘I’m going to support one of the dudes that’s doing this for a living.’”
Lewis said his first experience in Loyalty made him feel like he was in a classic barbershop scene, referencing Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino,” where people gather to share stories and life experiences and joke with one another.
“I developed relationships with the other guys,” Lewis said, “mainly James Simon, because we had so many things in common: music, tattoos, Lyme disease, just the full spectrum of humanness.”
Simon said the inspiration to bring Lewis in for the grand opening came from looking over design features that were intentionally kept as nods to Metropolis.
“Everyone who works at the shop grew up going to shows there,” Simon said. “We kept some of the elements. We left graffiti wherever we could and blended it with new construction. We also reserved a wall for people to bring in old show flyers, and we staple them up on the wall.”
Lewis, who is locally known for his original songwriting as well as his work with M-80 and Mr. Echo, was the guitarist in punk outfit Bedford during the era from which the flyers were saved.
“Way more than half of (the flyers) were Bedford flyers,” Simon said. “I knew it was going to be Bob in some capacity. He was there a lot, and it comes full circle.”
Lewis, whose 2011 release “NOw here” is a well-crafted blend of alternative country and emotionally saturated Americana, is taking a simple, stripped-down approach to his latest batch of songs, which he plans to record for an upcoming album with the same philosophy.
“That’s how the recordings of (the songs) are going to fly for now,” he said, referring to a recent batch of spontaneous demos. “No label, no investor, no manager, no booking agent … . People try to inflate the way they appear in hopes to appear greater, like they are the Great Oz. I’m saying … let’s not pretend, and let’s make the art that goes with it about the songs and characters and lyrics.
“It’s still me. It’s pop. It’s digestible, but there are weirdisms on it. That’s one of the cool things about being on this rung of the ladder. I just want to finish songs I’m in love with.”
Lewis will perform some of his basic, emotive new music at the grand opening, which will be full of original music by him and Hage and “maybe a few covers.”
For the business owners, the day is about welcoming new people into their ever-expanding community of customers and friends who appreciate that old-fashioned shop feel.
“It has that old-time feel with a new twist,” Simon said. “We’re doing modern, cutting edge styles and giving people what they want. But people are actually talking to each other. Nobody’s head is in their phone. Any barbershop like that is a real special place.”
“It’s to introduce local people to our businesses,” Electric City Tattoo co-owner Nick Frenchko said of the event. “It’s a little joint venture. I was never here when it was Cafe Metro, but from what I understand, it was a pretty big venue. I think it’s cool we’re involved in something like that that has so much history.”
Frenchko said customers enter the adjoined businesses through different entrances, bringing barbershop clients through the tattoo studio and vice versa.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s people you wouldn’t normally see. There are moms walking kids through to get haircuts in the back. There are older gentlemen. They get a chance to walk through, and maybe the second time around, it’s not so scary to them. The second time they come in, they’re comfortable and say hello.”
“It’s such a vast span of types of people that come in here,” Simon said of the barbershop. “We have judges, lawyers, police, blue-collar folks. People who wouldn’t normally talk to each other talk to each other.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.
IF YOU GO
What: Loyalty Barber Shop & Electric City Tattoo WB Grand Opening
Where: Electric City Tattoo and Loyalty Barber Shop and Shave Parlor, 94 South Main St., Wilkes-Barre
When: 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 30
Additional information: Admission is free. The evening will feature food, drinks, giveaways and live musical performances by Bob Lewis and Dave Hage