It was a night of firsts. It was a night of surprises. But it was also a night that unequivocally confirmed what we already knew – Northeastern Pennsylvania has talent, and plenty of it.
On Tuesday, June 23, the first-ever NEPA Scene’s Got Talent Finals Showcase packed over 130 people into Thirst T’s Bar & Grill in Olyphant, a night made possible through the generous sponsorship of Thirst T’s, Great Lakes Brewing Company, LT Verrastro, Inc., Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, and TwentyFiveEight Studios. The exciting mix of well-known and undiscovered talent from Northeastern Pennsylvania on the bill was chosen by audiences at the weekly open mic and talent competition that began on March 24.
Welcoming guests with a red carpet, decorations, and fancy suits and dresses, the showcase served as the grand finale to three months of hard work and excellent performances, culminating in professional, polished sets that could earn them the second place prize of $250 cash or the grand prize – a vacation package that includes $500 cash, three days and two nights in Cleveland, Ohio to tour the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the Great Lakes Brewing Company, tickets to a Cleveland Indians baseball game, and a free recording session at TwentyFiveEight Studios in Scranton.
The diverse performers, in order of appearance, were:
- Indie pop duo Skip Monday (Kaylin Karr and Nathan Montella)
- Guitarist Jason Vo and drummer Bryan Banks
- Comedian Ted Hebert
- Singer/songwriter Jenn Johnson
- Singer/songwriter Adam Bailey
- Bassist Grant Williams
- Comedian Zack Hammond
- Singer/songwriter Katie Evans
- Progressive/alternative rock band Eye on Attraction
- Singer/songwriter Asialena Bonitz
- Comedian Dan Hoppel
- Improvisational musicians Steve Werner, Dan King, Matt Montella, and Joe Loftus
The three emcees – Mark Dennebaum, Lauren Quirolgico, and Rich Howells, all co-hosts of the NEPA Scene Podcast – noted right away that the panel of local celebrity judges would have a tough time deciding the winners, and they certainly did. Critiquing each act on originality, creativity, entertainment value, audience appeal, skill level, and stage presence, the scores by Bernie Maopolski, board member of First Friday Scranton; John Popko, owner of WAX Creative Marketing and senior consultant of marketing and business development at Fuzz 92.1; John Sedlak, mayor of Olyphant; Thaz Whalen, general manager of The Leonard Theater; and Katie Wisnosky, teacher and founder of the Breaking Ground Poets, were extremely close, but comedy ended up ruling the night.
Hammond took first place and Hoppel won second, scoring a major win for the underrated NEPA comedy community with their hilarious, no-holds-barred humor. Hammond thanked his supporters and encouraged everyone to pursue their own talent, no matter what it was, and never give up on it. Hammond relaunched his website, zaxcomedy.com, a few days later and has many gigs booked over the next few months, so those who haven’t seen him yet should make plans to do so.
The evening ended in an impromptu jam session on stage and a lot of smiles, laughs, and a deeper appreciation for the area and all it has to offer.
NEPA Scene’s Got Talent will return for another 12 weeks and a new showcase starting Sept. 1.
Photos by Robb Malloy/NEPA Scene
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, adequate photographer, podcast co-host, and practicing poet. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.