Rich Howells

New Scranton music venue opens inside The Marketplace at Steamtown

New Scranton music venue opens inside The Marketplace at Steamtown
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Since The Mall at Steamtown became The Marketplace at Steamtown in 2016, the former retail stores have been converted into everything from a fitness center to an aquarium to a wine bar to a community college campus, complete with a public market replacing the food court. A new music venue can now be added to that list of unconventional tenants.

Simply called “The Place,” the second-floor space that was once home to Timmy’s Town Center, an interactive children’s museum, now brings kids in for a different reason – music lessons.

The Place serves as the new headquarters for Making Music Matter for Kids, a nonprofit organization that offers music education to kids in grades K-12, particularly those in low-income or disadvantaged situations. The green room in the back is for teaching – the rest of the 4,000 square foot space can hold around 500-600 people for live concerts.

Following six months of renovations, founder and music director Lance Miley has an impressive 30 foot by 20 foot stage, a new PA system and lighting, a VIP and meet and greet area, and a ticket desk and sound booth separated by a wall out front. While the colorful carpet from Timmy’s Town remains, the massive space has otherwise been completely transformed into a real Ticketmaster venue that will soon host local and national acts if the community comes together to support it. As of now, few people seem to even know it’s there, but Miley is hoping to change that soon.

The Place that matters

It’s a Friday night, but the Marketplace (300 Lackawanna Ave., Scranton) is largely empty save for Miley and MMMFK President Robin McArdle, who are helping New Jersey cover band The Event Horizon load in and showing them around the new space.

“We were just walking around one day in the mall. Downstairs there’s a big open space and I’m like, ‘That’d be a cool place for a venue.’ The parking’s really good, tour bus access in the back. The room is large enough to hold enough people, and there’s plenty of space to grow,” Miley recalled.

“It’s our third week here. We’re just starting, but we’re already looking to expand. There’s 1,000 square feet on the left of us, and 1,000 square feet on the right of us.”

They have only presented a few bands since their soft opening on Aug. 31. John “JD” DeServio of Black Label Society was going to host a bass clinic that night but ended up getting a call from frontman Zakk Wylde to go back out on tour with his Zakk Sabbath cover band. Miley said DeServio promised to make it up and bring his solo project.

“I told him bring your boss,” he said with a laugh. “I can’t wait to get Black Label Society in here. That’s down the pike.”

Miley understands the life of a musician well. Ever since the New Jersey native saw Glenn Campbell on television as a kid, he had a guitar in his hand. He is currently the vocalist of Jersey heavy metal band Legion, who recently played a gig with Megadeth’s David Ellefson.

He has also spent the last 10 years teaching and passing his skills onto others, making his mark locally with a Rock School in Clarks Summit, where he moved three years ago. He saw a need in the area right away.

“After the first year, they actually eliminated kindergarten, first, and second grade music programs from Western Wayne School District because they lost their budget. In that particular year, I was getting students coming in and they would start taking lessons for a few months, then the parents couldn’t afford $20 a week. So I didn’t have the heart to say that I can’t teach your kid anymore because you don’t have the money, so I volunteered my time,” he explained.

“It started happening a lot. It was happening repeatedly, so that’s where the idea for the nonprofit came from. We used to do Wallyfest every year with the students. We experimented with all charity to see if we could get our expenses paid for. It worked out very well.”

Making a scene

The Rock School sign now hangs in the green room of The Place, where this mission continues with Making Music Matter for Kids. They plan to pay the bills here with grants and low-cost lessons until the venue can get off the ground.

“There’s something about teaching a kid how to fish and then they go fishing on their own. It keeps them out of trouble. It’s my passion. I was told in order to keep it, you’ve got to give it away,” Miley said.

“We’re really looking forward to getting the nationals in because it’s just going to bring the community together and people are just going to be a part of this whole thing.”

Scranton hard rock/metal band Behind the Grey are ready to play their part, choosing The Place for their EP release show tonight at 8 p.m. With their friends in Traverse the Abyss, The Holtzmann Effect, and Paladin’s Death on the bill, they’re hoping to introduce The Place to a younger audience who have been waiting for a dedicated all-ages venue in Scranton. Behind the Grey drummer Mike Boniewicz introduced guitarist Will Perna to Miley and brought up the idea of debuting their EP at The Place.

“We did a few of Lance’s Making Music Matter for Kids shows when he was renting out VFW halls and such, so we had a history. When I went to check The Place out, I saw it was an actual stage with a real sound system and light rig and I was pretty excited. We all wanted to do an all-ages show with the amount of requests we get to play them,” Perna told NEPA Scene.

“I think venue has a lot of potential. Hopefully the scene will accept the venue in and more shows like ours will happen there. Hopefully, if our release show is received well, it will have a snowball effect and more bands and fans will go there.”

“And it has a lot more potential for bigger shows,” Boniewicz added, noting the back entrance to easily load equipment in.

“Lance can extend it out from what he was telling me. Easy load in and out with no one even knowing someone is in there, which is great.”

The Marketplace at Steamtown will stay open late to acccomodate the concerts. Eventually, Miley said Center City Wine Cellar will serve alcohol just outside the venue, though drinks won’t be allowed inside The Place, and he hopes the adjacent restaurants like Basilico’s will serve food after regular business hours once the crowds start coming in.

“It’s a good size venue. They get a couple good local shows and maybe get a decent national in there and hopefully they’ll be on they’re way,” Perna said.

“It’s definitely something we need in the area,” Boniewicz emphasized. “There’s no other all-ages venues like that in Scranton with that kind of space.”