‘Come Together’ – 8 rock artists praise NEPA music scene before parking lot benefit concert in Wilkes-Barre on July 16
After spending so much time apart, it’s finally time to come together.
“Come Together: A Community Benefit Concert for the Arts” is the largest gathering of Northeastern Pennsylvania musicians planned for this year, and after the coronavirus pandemic shut down most of the area in March and led to the cancellation of almost all local shows booked through the rest of 2020, it’s long overdue. Pulling it off safely, however, isn’t as simple as just giving in to the demand for live music.
With venues currently closed or extremely limited by health guidelines, the drive-in concert has become a popular concept in these strange times for the entertainment industry, but few places have the space or the resources to pull it off. The Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza is one of them, as it is able to fit up to 1,000 vehicles its parking lot in Wilkes-Barre Township, with extra space allotted between each vehicle.
When the arena recently announced its first two outdoor shows, Queen tribute band Almost Queen on July 17 and stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan on July 18, Joe Nardone Jr. seized the opportunity to get local artists back on stage – specifically a 40-foot stage “equipped with lighting, large LED video screens, and audio amplification” tailored for these unique events.
“The credit goes to Joe Nardone for coming up with this idea. We already had a few shows scheduled for that weekend, so he reached out to me to see if we could add another event that would benefit some great organizations in our community. We have the space, but he had the idea and the passion,” Mohegan Sun Arena General Manager Will Beekman explained.
“Joe was quick to contact AJ Jump from Karl Hall, and AJ led the way in terms of curating this thing.”
Nardone, the co-owner of two Gallery of Sound record stores and the owner of Rockology Music Academy, and Jump, a drummer and co-owner of Wilkes-Barre music venue Karl Hall, had both the knowledge and the connections to organize an impressive lineup for Thursday, July 16 and, thankfully, concertgoers won’t have to stay inside their cars to enjoy it.
“Everything is a challenge under these current conditions, but we feel like we have found a comfort zone somewhere between letting people have a good time and keeping everyone safe. People can get out of their cars to enjoy the show from a dedicated tailgating space, but social distancing will be strictly enforced, and masks must be worn at all times when outside of the designated area. We will let everyone have a good time, but we will also make sure that they follow the necessary guidelines to keep everyone safe,” Beekman noted.
“There are a lot of people, like yourself, who are constantly pushing this community in a positive direction, and I think a lot of that is coming to light during this pandemic. I will always be a cheerleader for this community. I think it’s a great place in which to live, work, and play. The community has been very good to me, and I want to make sure that’s always a two-way street. The art and music scenes in our area have long been very strong. It’s impressive to look at all of the great musicians who either live here or originated from here. It’s a special place.”
The varied rock lineup, which received two additions yesterday, features Tigers Jaw (acoustic set), Lifer, Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen, University Drive, Esta Coda, Modern Ties, The Mule Team, James Barrett, Joe Burke & Co., Blind Choice, and two current members of multi-platinum Wilkes-Barre rock band Breaking Benjamin presenting two different projects. Drummer Shaun Foist is bringing his side project, Ohio alternative rock band ViFolly, to Wilkes-Barre for the first time, and bassist/backing vocalist Aaron Bruch will lead a Pan.a.ce.a reunion set on vocals, taking over for singer Tim Farley, who now lives in Texas.
100 percent of proceeds from “Come Together” will be donated to nonprofits, theaters, and performance centers that have been heavily impacted by COVID-19, such as the F.M. Kirby Center, Karl Hall, The Ritz Theater, the Scranton Cultural Center, the Dietrich Theater, Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre, the McGlynn Center in Wilkes-Barre, WVIA, Axelrad Screen Printing, and Luzerne County Head Start.
NEPA Scene talked to a majority of the artists involved and found that they are just as eager to perform live as the public is to see them again in person. We asked each one why they wanted to play this all-ages benefit show and what this community and music scene means to them – here’s what they had to say.
Why did you agree to perform at ‘Come Together?’ What does the NEPA music scene mean to you?
Scranton indie rock band
“Music is a community, and the pandemic has negatively impacted just about all aspects of it. It’s important for us to use our collective platforms to help out venues and theaters in our area so they will still be there on the other side of this,” vocalist/guitarist Ben Walsh said.
“We wouldn’t be anywhere without our experiences growing up in the NEPA music scene. This scene has always been such a diverse, positive, and uplifting community, which results in so many talented artists having the encouragement and support to do things their own way and develop their own unique style.”
Wilkes-Barre hard rock/nu metal band
“AJ Jump and Joe Nardone Jr. hit us up and told us about this unique ‘drive-in’-style concert they were planning. I’ve played a ton of shows, but never anything like this. Then when they said it was to raise money for our venues that have been hardest hit by this shutdown; it was a no-brainer for us,” vocalist Nick Coyle said.
“We really do have a pretty tight-knit community here in NEPA. Especially the music scene – everyone knows each other. It’s nice to see everyone coming together in such strange times.”
Dustin Douglas & The Electric Gentlemen
Wilkes-Barre blues rock band
“There’s no question that it’s been a strange few months for all live performers. The one thing that gives us life has been taken away from us, so the opportunity to play this show was an honor. To play any show at this time is a beautiful opportunity, but to be able to do it in my hometown with a lineup of so many friends make it just that much sweeter. Plus to play for such a great cause, which we all are a part of and feel so deeply for, is an honor,” vocalist/guitarist Dustin Douglas said.
“The NEPA community and music scene is literally everything to me. I’ve been a part of this local music scene for what seems my entire life. It’s my lifeline. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many places to play and hang where the scenes are world-famous, but the NEPA scene (no pun intended) can hold its own against any of the major music and art meccas in his world. There’s such talent and tenacity right here. The members of this community should not and will not be looked over.”
Scranton alternative rock band
“I was super excited to play this show for a ton of reasons – mostly because it’s a great cause and helps the local community that’s nurtured so many artists for so many years, but I’m also so excited to get to finally play a gig and see some friends!” vocalist/guitarist Ed Cuozzo said.
“The NEPA scene is so close to my heart. If it wasn’t for the support of our local community, I’m 100 percent sure that I would never have had many of the opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have. Outside of that, I truly believe we have some of the most talented and ambitious artists in the country cultivated in our little scene. Maybe that sounds pretentious, but I’m really proud to be a part of the NEPA music scene and local community.”
Scranton indie pop rock band
“First off, we’re just excited to be playing live. We can’t wait to be back doing what we love, which is performing for a live audience. But we wanted to play this show specifically to give back. This is a hard time for a lot of people, and we’re excited that we can be a little bit of a distraction from that, but primarily, this is about supporting the arts and our community here in NEPA. So many of the beneficiaries of this benefit have played a huge part in our development as a band, and we’re happy we can support them when they need it most,” drummer George Pachucy said.
“This community has always been there for us. We wouldn’t exist without the support of not only the fans locally, but also the other musicians and artists who really have become some of our good friends. We’re happy we can give back a little to a community that has done so much for us.”
Scranton indie/alternative singer/songwriter
“I think the main attraction for me playing this show is being able to see a lot of my friends’ bands that I haven’t seen perform in months. I assume this won’t be a common thing going forward, so it kind of feels like a once-in-a-lifetime memory to make with people I love. I am just excited to play a show and give back,” vocalist/guitarist James Barrett said.
“The NEPA community really does mean a lot to me personally. I owe so much of my progress in music to the local scene here. Growing up in NEPA always allowed me to find inspirations everywhere I turned because everyone here is incredibly talented. Scranton can suck for a lot of reasons, but the music scene here is special and that outweighs a lot of the negatives for me.”
Joe Burke & Co.
West Pittston indie folk band
“I’m sure I speak for everyone in the band when I say that this show is a great example of what it looks like for members of a community to lean on one another in a challenging time. An event like this will no doubt lead to the creation of others like it, and I think we should all be excited for the show and the positive impact it will have on the community. And for selfish reasons, it will feel pretty goddamn good to play a gig,” vocalist/guitarist Joe Burke said.
“The NEPA community and music scene are where we’ve formed some of our greatest and most important friendships and relationships. They’ve been continued source of support and inspiration, given that the area seems to be a wellspring of both good people and talented artists. We could not be more grateful for this area and its music scene and are honored to play a role in a show that aims to lift up the arts in NEPA.”
Lehigh Valley punk rock band
“Leading up to March, we had some great shows like Diamante, Patent Pending, Sponge, and Jimmies Chicken Shack. We were scheduled to play with Alien Ant Farm at The Gin Mill in May. COVID-19 stopped it all, just ended it. I struggled in the beginning like everyone. Then we decided to do two cover videos, live streams, but still there is nothing like a crowd. As soon as I saw the concert announced, I knew we needed to be there to help the arts community and to heal ourselves, especially with all the other bands on the lineup, so we reached out to Joe Nardone Jr. and, for that, I am grateful. I cannot wait to kick it hard on that stage,” drummer Tanner Snyder said.
“It means a lot to me since I literally grew up in the local music scene. I started performing live at the age of 12, when I met you, Rich, at NEPA Scene’s Got Talent. Then I received the 2016 Steamtown Music Award for ‘Future of the Scene’ and I never looked back. Our goal as a band is to perform with as many NEPA bands as we can, support local venues and young musicians, and to give back. We want to create original music with influences in alternative rock, rap, and punk music in the NEPA area and beyond.”
Band photos by Scott Kucharski, Jason Riedmiller, Keith Perks, and Rich Howells/NEPA Scene
by Rich Howells
Rich is an award-winning journalist, longtime blogger, photographer, and podcast host. He is the founder and editor of NEPA Scene.