Scott Kucharski

SteelStacks in Bethlehem kick off spring concert series outdoors on April 15

Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

While 2020 was, for the most part, the year that wasn’t in terms of traditional shows and events, most folks on all sides of the entertainment industry seem ready to attempt to get back to some level of normalcy in 2021. Northeastern Pennsylvania was fortunate last year to still get live, in-person concerts at venues like the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, including parking lot performances from Philadelphia Freedom, Almost Queen, and three consecutive nights with recent Grammy winner Billy Strings.

Fortunate music fans here also enjoyed a full fall lineup of shows at the Circle Drive-In in Dickson City, which included Aaron Lewis, Smith & Myers, Skillet, Allman Betts Band, Steel Panther, Blackberry Smoke, and many others thanks to Stage West, DamnMillennial Promotions, and SLP Concerts.

Just a short ride in any direction from NEPA proved to be a much different scene for live shows, with most venues deciding to not hold any events due to the restrictions in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.

With vaccinations on the rise and the restrictions being eased a bit by Governor Tom Wolf, well-known venues like the SteelStacks in Bethlehem are starting to roll out their spring and summer lineups, which as not only a writer/photographer, but a huge fan of music, is such a welcome sight to see!

The Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks (789 E. 1st St., Bethlehem) will begin its socially distanced spring outdoor concert series on Thursday, April 15 with Chris Thile of Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek, followed by Kansas City blues artist Samantha Fish on Friday, April 16.

For those who have not seen Fish live yet, the Lehigh Valley is in for a treat. She was featured in the inaugural guitar pull at the 2019 Peach Music Festival in Scranton with some of the most talented touring guitarists out there, including Scott Sharrard (Gregg Allman Band), Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee, youngster Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Dopapod’s Rob Compa, Steve Kimock, and jazz rock virtuoso Stanley Jordan.

During that set, Fish led with her own “Chills & Fever” and “No Angels” and, for the grand finale, Sharrard, Brett Bass, and Eric Kalb honored festival founders The Allman Brothers Band with a version of “Southbound” that also featured her, Cinninger, Kimock, and Jordan.

Fish is currently touring in support of her latest release, her sixth solo album “Kill or Be Kind,” which came out on Sept. 20, 2019 on Rounder Records. It has since been chosen as a “Favorite Blues Album” by AllMusic. This 2021 trek will replace her canceled 2020 tour and feature Fish as part of a live “power trio” for the first time in her career.

As of this writing, tickets are currently sold out for her performance, but there is a whole lineup of spring and summer shows listed below with descriptions from the venue. It’s only a little over an hour drive from the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area and well worth the trip for those of us who can’t wait any longer to see some live music.

SteelStacks spring outdoor concerts

Chris Thile
Genres: Bluegrass, progressive bluegrass, folk, country, classical, jazz
Date: Thursday, April 15
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $45-$135 per lawn square or table

Multiple Grammy Award winner and MacArthur Fellow Chris Thile, a member of Punch Brothers and Nickel Creek and former host of the radio program “Live from Here,” is a mandolin virtuoso, composer, and vocalist. With his broad outlook, Thile transcends the borders of conventionally circumscribed genres, creating a distinctly American canon and a new musical aesthetic for performers and audiences alike.

A child prodigy, Thile first rose to fame as a member of Grammy Award-winning trio Nickel Creek, with whom he released four albums and sold over two million records. In 2014, along with a national tour, the trio released a new album, “A Dotted Line,” their first since 2005.

As a soloist, Thile has released several albums, including his most recent, “Thanks for Listening,” a collection of recordings produced by Thomas Bartlett, originally written as Songs of the Week for “Live from Here.” In 2013, he won a Grammy for his work on “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” collaborating with Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Stuart Duncan. In 2014, Thile and Meyer released their latest album collaboration, “Bass + Mandolin,” which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album. Punch Brothers released their latest album, the Grammy-winning “All Ashore,” in 2018, with Pop Matters describing the album as “a call to savor, to pay attention, to step back from the hustle and bustle and remember the importance of being calm.”

Samantha Fish
Genres: Blues, roots rock
Date: Friday, April 16
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: Sold out

“That was my mission on this album – to really set these songs up so that they have a life of their own,” Samantha Fish said about “Kill or Be Kind,” her sixth solo album and debut on Rounder Records. “Strong messages from the heart – that’s what I really set out for.” Indeed, what comes across immediately on hearing the album is the extraordinary level of songcraft on its 11 tracks, the way these songs are so smartly put together to deliver a potent emotional impact.

Anyone who has ever heard Fish’s previous albums knows that she has earned a place in the top rank of contemporary blues guitarists and that her voice can wring the soul out of a ballad and belt out a rocker with roof-shaking force. And, rest reassured, those virtues are fully in evidence on “Kill or Be Kind.” But each of the songs on the album does far more than simply provide a setting for Fish’s pyrotechnics. They tell captivating stories, set up by verses that deftly set the scene, choruses that lift with real feeling, and hooks that later rise up in your thoughts, even when you’re not aware that you’re thinking of music at all. It’s the kind of songwriting that emerges when raw talent is leavened by experience and aspiration, and when a committed artist genuinely has something to say. Those qualities make “Kill or Be Kind” a genuine artistic breakthrough for Fish.

The Poets for Justice Poetry Slam
Date: Saturday, April 17
Time: 4 p.m.
Cost: Free

The Poets for Justice Poetry Slam is a free, family-friendly event that will feature spoken word artists and vocalists from all over the region to stir up hope and inspiration in the ongoing fight for justice and racial equality.

Hosted/directed by Zena Goodwin, presented in partnership with ArtsQuest, and sponsored by the Friends of the Lehigh University Libraries, the Poets for Justice Poetry Slam will take place at the Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks, where all CDC and state/local health guidelines are being strictly observed. Patrons must register for their free ticket using the ticketing link here; each ticket gets the holder access to one socially distanced lawn square that can fit up to four people. Patrons are responsible for bringing their own chairs and/or blankets.

The event will also be simulcast via a live stream that patrons can register for here. Live stream patrons will be sent a Zoom link in the half-hour prior to the event’s start and will also be able to participate in the post-show Q&A.

Performers include Nasheera Brown, Chloe Cole-Wilson, Ehfar, Kari Holmes, Connie Lee-Blackshear, Juanita Renay, Corey Riotz, and Zamarrie Rose, with music from Devin L. Gray, Juanita-Renay Gray, and Cyrus Thompson.

Go Go Gadjet
Genres: Party and dance music
Date: Friday, April 23
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $40-$80 per lawn square or table

Blending the rhythms of dance music with familiar melodies from the past and present, Go Go Gadjet straddles the line between band and DJ like few others. Their innovative combination of traditional instruments with modern synths and controllers has allowed them to craft a sound and presentation that is uniquely their own. A decade on the road has molded this Reading, Pennsylvania-based group into an entertainment machine. They are trendsetters in their industry, and their show is the definition of “epic.”

Continually reinventing their stage design, Go Go Gadjet’s visual display rivals that of a nationally touring act. The band believes that imagery and music go hand in hand. With careful thought and planning, they work to create captivating visuals that complement and enhance the live experience. Their aim is to provide audiences with an audio/visual escape.

In 2017, Go Go Gadjet partnered with Coors Light to promote their debut single “Make You Feel Good.” The Coors Light #ClimbOn campaign featured up-and-coming artists who have overcome challenges and obstacles in pursuit of their passion. This partnership has helped push the band’s Spotify streaming totals to well over 200,000.

Boat House Row
Genre: Yacht rock
Date: Saturday, April 24
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $10-$80 per table or lawn square

Boat House Row is a yacht rock experience. In the musical sense, yacht rock refers to the highly polished brand of soft rock that emanated from Southern California between 1976 and 1984. The term is meant to suggest the kind of smooth, mellow music that early yuppies likely enjoyed while sipping champagne on their yachts.

Significant “yacht rockers” include Hall & Oates, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross, Steely Dan, Toto, and many more.

Boat House Row is Caniche Derstine (guitars, vocals), Riley Hamlin (drums, vocals), Mick Hillside (bass, vocals), Pete Mane (tenor/alto saxophones, clarinet, flute, vocals), Kenny Trout (vocals, piano), and Cougar Wessex (guitars, keyboards). Prepare to be rocked… gently.

Philadelphia Funk Authority
Genres: Party music, pop, top hits
Date: Friday, April 30
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $10-$40 per table or lawn square

Philadelphia Funk Authority was created with one thing in mind – to provide audiences with the very best in high-energy dance and party entertainment in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and beyond. Proving time and again the ability to deliver at parties, night clubs, festivals, weddings, concerts, and corporate events, Philly Funk has a reputation for making the party happen.

The talented musicians of Philly Funk Authority bring together the experience of literally thousands of performances to formulate the ultimate entertainment machine. Truly delivering what many bands only promise, Philly Funk prides itself on being able to provide the ultimate party and dance experience, regardless of venue.

Broken Arrow – A Tribute to Neil Young
Genres: Rock, folk rock, country rock
Date: Saturday, May 1
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $10-$80

Broken Arrow performs the music of Neil Young, featuring both the rockin’ electric Crazy Horse tunes and the more acoustic, pedal steel-driven country rock material. The band delivers these classic songs faithfully while taking them out on some jamming excursions and tastefully tweaking some of the arrangements. Singer Joe Mass nails Young’s vocals perfectly, and the harmonies are spot on.

Broken Arrow is Joe Mass (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica) Marty Cohl (guitar, steel guitar), Dan Gold (bass, vocals), and Larry Freedman (drums, vocals).

Trouble City All Stars & The Groove Merchants
Genres: Reggae, dub, psychedelic rock
Date: Friday, May 7
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $10-$25 per table or lawn square

There’s positive vibes only with back-to-back sets with Trouble City All Stars & The Groove Merchants on May 7. The band is a five-piece reggae/dub/psychedelic outfit based out of Bethlehem.

The Groove Merchants are here to throw down and break out. Fueled with howling vocals from frontman Tye Vallone, driven by Luke Ferracone’s guitar work, and insured through focused horn sounds and a hustling backbeat from bassist John Evin Groome and Peter Snyder on drums, the band twists in elements of blues, funk, and soul, resulting in a revival of authentic performance.

Oro Solido
Genres: Latin music, merengue
Date: Saturday, May 8
Time: 7 p.m.
Cost: $10-$30

Oro Solido was formed by Raul Acosta, who has received the nickname “El Presidente.” Acosta was born into a musical family in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. At the age of 7, he and his older brothers Iván and Rafael, in addition to local neighborhood kids, started a pre-adolescent music group called “Los Sobrinos Del Rey,” a Dominican version of the Jackson 5. With this early experience, he was able to develop his musical talent as well as his stage presence. The group went on to perform in two nationally televised shows. At 9 years old, his family relocated to the United States. With no English skills, he moved to Jersey City, New Jersey to start his new life. Years later, he moved to Union City where the Hispanic culture was growing stronger.

In 1994, Acosta formed the merengue band Oro Sólido. That same year, he released the self-titled debut album “Oro Sólido.” He continued to release albums approximately every year after that.

With hits like “Ta Cache,” “La Tanguita Roja,” “Maria se Fue,” “El Baile del Beeper,” “Una Nalgadita,” and “La Morena,” among others, Oro Sólido positioned itself as one of the biggest Latin music groups in the world. They have surpassed various barriers when it comes to performing in the Anglo media and having their music played on English-speaking radio stations. Acosta has been nominated for and won numerous awards throughout the years, including Premios Estrella, Premios ACE, and Premios Lo Nuestro.

The group has performed over five times in Madison Square Garden as well as other famous arenas like the Universal City Amphitheater in Los Angeles, Zócalo Public Square in Mexico City, Estadio Modelo in Ecuador, El Monumento in Dominican Republic, and the New Jersey Meadowlands. They have shared stages with artists such as 50 Cent, LeAnn Rimes, Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, Fat Joe, Johnny Ventura, Wilfrido Vargas, Tito Puente, El Gran Combo, and The Temptations.

Sensational Soul Cruisers
Genres: Motown, soul, R&B, disco
Date: Friday, May 14
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $10-$80

The Sensational Soul Cruisers are not just another 11-man vocal harmony group with horns. While it is still sometimes possible to find a band featuring a similar line up of instruments, it is unlikely that you will ever find another that performs with as much energy, passion, and talent as these guys. From their humble beginnings rehearsing at the chicken coops on Route 33 to the basement of the Cycle Shop on Throckmorton Street, this band has come a long way from its “Eddie and the Cruisers” days to become one of Jersey’s best kept secrets.

Under the tutelage of legendary Jersey Shore sax player Screamin’ Steve Barlotta, who has been the captain of this fantastic soul cruise for over 20 years, has catapulted this band from the recesses of a dingy basement to over 200 performances a year while capturing the true essence of the Jersey Shore sound and its true R&B roots, attracting fans of the sound of classic Philly Ssul, Motown, disco, Stax, and the music of The Temptations, Four Tops, Earth Wind & Fire, Chicago, The Trammps, and other such groups that made some of the best music ever recorded or played live.

Over the past 25 years, the Soul Cruisers have been fortunate enough to grace the stage with many great artists like Bruce Springsteen, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Gloria Gaynor, Gary U.S. Bonds, John Cafferty, Southside Johnny, The Emotions, Bon Jovi, Smokey Robinson, and Stevie Wonder as well as being the longtime favorite house band at New York City’s famed Copacabana.

Tommy Emmanuel, CGP
Genres: Jazz, pop, singer/songwriter
Date: Thursday, May 20
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $40-$200 per lawn square or table

“Songs are our teachers. They show us the depth of the human race and its unrelenting desire to create,” Tommy Emmanuel said. Anytime you talk to any of his fans, whether musicians or civilians, invariably they will speak of not one but two qualities that define his greatness.

The first, predictably, is his extraordinary guitar playing. Considered by those in the know to be among this planet’s greatest guitarists, his playing is simply miraculous, as it would take three musicians or more to do what Emmanuel does solo. Who else, for example, when playing “Day Tripper,” can lay down the rhythm part, dig into the riff, and sing the melody all at once on just one acoustic guitar?

Which brings us to the other aspect of his music always mentioned, and without which the first might not be as powerful or as infectiously appealing – the joy. Because it’s one thing to play these multi-dimensional arrangements flawlessly on an acoustic guitar, but to do it with that smile of the ages, that evidence of authentic, unbridled delight, is an irresistible invitation to feel his music as deeply as he does.

“The joy, he said, “is there always because I’m chasing it through music. Seeing the surprise in peoples’ eyes is worth living and working for. … I can’t help but play to the people with all my heart, which is overflowing with joy of being in that moment that I’ve worked all my life for. And here it is!”

Strawberry Fields
Date: Wednesday, June 16
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $15-$60 per table or lawn square

Featuring former members of the hit Broadway musical “Beatlemania,” Strawberry Fields takes audiences on a Magical Mystery Tour through the 1960s, beginning with the year 1964 – complete with mop top hair, black suits, and thin ties – and through the first four albums of great songs. The next stop is 1967, featuring the psychedelic era of the “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” with all of the costumes and jackets featured on the album cover and singing all the groovy favorites. The last musical visit is to a place where their hair got longer and their songs were more politically involved, featuring music from the “White Album,” “Abbey Road,” and “Let It Be.”

This is the SONGS4SIGHT 2021 show benefiting the Center for Vision Loss, the only organization dedicated to the visual well-being and related quality of life of everyone in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh, Northampton, and Monroe counties. Its guiding principle is that vision loss should never be a barrier to achievement, independence, dignity, and hope.

The Lone Bellow
Genres: Americana, alt country, indie folk
Date: Friday, June 18
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Cost: $30-$100

“I want it to bring comfort,” The Lone Bellow guitarist Brian Elmquist said. “But it’s not all hard conversations. There’s a lot of light and some dancing that needs to happen.” He is reflecting on “Half Moon Light,” the band’s latest album released on Feb. 7, 2020.

“Half Moon Light” is an artistic triumph worked toward for years, earned not by individual posturing, but by collective determination and natural growth. With earthy three-part harmonies and songwriting as provocative as it is honest, the trio made up of Elmquist, lead vocalist Zach Williams, and multi-instrumentalist Kanene Donehey Pipkin creates sparks that make a stranger’s life matter or bring our sense of childlike wonder roaring back.

On this record, The Lone Bellow mix light and dark to muster a complex ode to memory, a call for hope, and an exercise in empathy. Anchored in the acoustic storytelling that first so endeared the band to fans and critics, “Half Moon Light” also takes more chances, experimenting with textures and instrumental fillips to create a full-bodied music experience. The result is their most sophisticated work to date.

The stories behind the songs matter, but they aren’t what matters most. In the end, The Lone Bellow’s music needs no explanation. Just listening offers a salve and a shelter.

“In my own perfect little world, I would be able to put the music out and not talk about it – just, ‘Here. Bye. See you next time,'” Williams said, laughing softly. “I do hope someone will find this music in a peaceful moment, when they can turn it on and get lost in the story and the sound.”

See NEPA Scene’s photos of Samantha Fish performing at the Peach Music Festival at The Pavilion at Montage Mountain in Scranton in 2019 here.