NEPA Scene Staff

Free Rockin’ the River concert series returns to Wilkes-Barre River Common July 16-30

Free Rockin’ the River concert series returns to Wilkes-Barre River Common July 16-30
Decrease Font Size Increase Font Size Text Size Print This Page

From a press release:

During the summer of 2019, music filled the air for three Fridays near the Luzerne County Courthouse as people enjoyed an evening of good music and food along the beautiful Susquehanna River. It was the first year for the Rockin’ the River concert series and proved to be a major success.

In 2020, the pandemic forced the planning committee to switch gears and take the shows on the road. Bands rolled through county neighborhoods on the back of a flatbed truck as residents of Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Pittston, Nanticoke, Kingston, and Forty Fort watched the live performances safely from the street and front porches.

Now that COVID-19 vaccinations have greatly reduced the spread of the virus, Luzerne County, the Visitors Bureau, and the Wilkes-Barre Riverfront Parks Committee will bring the concerts back to where they all started, the Wilkes-Barre River Common, with precautions in place to ensure the comfort and safety of attendees.

These all-ages events at the Wilkes-Barre River Common near Millennium Circle (92 N. River St., Wilkes-Barre) are free of charge and run from 5 p.m.-9 p.m. each Friday night. Food and beverages will be available for purchase.

Rockin’ the River 2021 performance schedule

Friday, July 16: Alex Shillo’s Tribute to Bruce Springsteen, Philadelphia Freedom: A Tribute to Elton John, and Bill Brazill

Friday, July 23: Tom Petty Appreciation Band and Bret Alexander

Friday, July 30: The Nude Party and Fife & Drom

Alex Shillo is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter from Manchester, Connecticut. One of his many influences is “The Boss.” While he is in the studio working on his solo/original music, he will be playing some Northeast dates with his band Badlands. He’s not an impersonator, but a talented musician that loves playing Bruce Springsteen’s great music while showcasing a few of his own original songs.

In addition, his father Carl Shillo is the founder/leader of Silverado. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, this national act was signed to CBS Records, had songs on the Billboard charts, toured the world with Steppenwolf, among other bands. More recently, Silverado (with Alex on rhythm guitar and supporting vocals) toured up and down the East Coast opening for major acts like Big & Rich, Jerrod Niemann, and many others.

In Badlands, Alex Shillo is backed by top-notch musicians from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island who have performed with artists such as Clarence Clemons of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Johnny Mathis, Gloria Gaynor, and John Cafferty, to name a few. Their ability to capture the essence of “The Boss,” both with their spot-on vocal harmonies and advanced instrumental abilities, makes them the top choice to perform the music of Springsteen.

Philadelphia Freedom: A Tribute to Elton John is a premier tribute show showcasing the music and fashion changes of Sir Elton John’s musical career. Playing all of the hits, such as “Bennie and the Jets,” “Rocket Man” and, of course, “Philadelphia Freedom,” their stage show intends to be as close as possible to the original madman’s vision.

Frontman and Wilkes-Barre native Doug Delescavage is a Berklee college of music graduate and lifelong Elton John fan. Combining the outrageous costumes and stage presence with the elegance of Elton’s compositions, the band recalls the 74-year-old singer/songwriter in his prime touring years. His band includes bassist Bernie Gavlick, who nails Dee Murray’s stage presence, fashion, and bass playing, and drummer Justin Malinowski, who resembles Nigel Olsson in both looks and performance. Last year, they played a drive-in concert with Almost Queen in the parking lot of Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre.

The Tom Petty Appreciation Band is a Scranton-born supergroup of well-known local musicians that has only played a few sporadic shows over the last several years. After closing down Mert’s in downtown Scranton in 2017 following years of regular shows there, the band got together in 2018 for “Bri Day” at the Scranton Cultural Center, a fundraiser for Brian Craig, the beloved co-owner of The Bog and a musician in his own right. They also performed a special Chandelier Lobby concert at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre in 2019 and opened for Gin Blossoms at Montage Mountain in Scranton in 2020.

More than just a typical tribute act, the Tom Petty Appreciation Band lives up to its name by playing the deep album cuts as well as the well-known hits that crowds love to sing along to. While their lineup changes here and there, the core love of the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers remains in each iteration, including the Philadelphia Tom Petty Appreciation Band that’s also led by vocalist/guitarist Pat Finnerty.

Bret Alexander is a singer, songwriter, and producer based in Northeastern Pennsylvania. His career began as a studio engineer in the late 1980s where he met the members of what would become Selinsgrove rock band The Badlees.

The Badlees were signed to Polydor/A&M in 1995, with Alexander playing the role of principal songwriter, guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist. Released in 1995, their self-produced album “River Songs” yielded two hit singles, “Fear of Falling” and “Angeline Is Coming Home.”

He has toured and shared the stage with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Bob Seger, The Band, The Allman Brothers Band, Edwin McCain, Live, Gin Blossoms, and countless others. His work has been featured on the Winter Olympic Games, MTV’s “The Real World,” the MTV Video Music Awards, “Extra,” and various films and TV shows.

Today, Alexander continues to perform solo, with various full band configurations, and with his band Gentleman East. In 2020, he released a collaborative album with Tom Flannery entitled “Downhill,” which was written and recorded remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His current projects include a compilation project of older material and a new solo record, plus a full producing schedule working with other independent artists at his studio. As the owner of Saturation Acres in Dupont, he has recorded many notable artists from the area, including the debut EP of multi-platinum rock band Breaking Benjamin.

Alexander and The Badlees are set to be inducted into the Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame on July 1, 2021.

This music thing is no place for those weak in spirit or constitution. Just ask The Nude Party, whose breakout hit from their 2018 self-titled debut turned a scolding from one of the band members’ relatives – “You’ll never make enough money / and no one cares about the things you say” – into an earworm chorus hook. But as singer Patton Magee notes now, “There’s a lot of shit you have to deal with playing music, and it is kind of genuinely hard. But then again, it’s also like, ‘What do you have to complain about?'”

That rock ‘n’ roll dichotomy – the agony and the ecstasy, the pleasure and the pain, the rave up and the come down – is baked into the very grooves of The Nude Party’s latest full-length effort, “Midnight Manor.” The album blasts off with the hot-wire glam-boogie of “Lonely Heather,” in which Magee channels his inner Lou Reed (and that’s Reed at his most nervy and agitated) as his bandmates – bassist Alec Castillo, guitarist Shaun Couture, pianist Don Merrill, percussionist Austin Brose, and drummer Connor Mikita – kick up a sweaty, amphetamine-fueled stew behind him, and even throw in a few sha-la-la-las to boot.

This band of college friends (that would be Boone, North Carolina’s Appalachian State University) who, after honing their chops through incessant practice at their communal band house and also on the road, gained the admiration of the musician Oakley Munson, who had them relocate to New York’s Catskill Mountains and took them under his wing.

It is also at Munson’s property, tucked away deep in the Catskills, where the Nude Party have lived, loved, and labored for the past several years. And it’s where they worked up the tunes that populate both their self-titled debut and 2020’s “Midnight Manor,” which was recorded, in true rock ‘n’ roll fashion, live to tape in six days, at the nearby Outlier Inn studio.

​As for the differences between the two albums? For starters, after the first and before the second, they toured their butts off, hitting stages from the U.S. (including Karl Hall in Wilkes-Barre) to Europe to Australia, appearing at massive fests like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo and supporting major artists like Jack White and Arctic Monkeys – both of whom, like most musicians The Nude Party encounter, quickly transitioned from mere tourmates to full-blown fans.

No favors here – the Nude Party have earned every ounce of accolade through hard work and blood, sweat, and tears… and, admittedly, a fair amount of booze. Take the new album’s “Thirsty Drinking Blues,” a rowdy romp of a tune that declares “I’m on my knees every time I fall / Ain’t religious, I was baptized in alcohol” over a barrelhouse piano-studded classic rock rhythm swagger.

But it’s not all drunken hijinks with this band. “Midnight Manor” is also imbued with “all the stress and pressure and internal dynamics and personal turmoil” they experienced in the time since their debut album. “There had been no creative outlet for all of that until we finally got down to writing again. It felt like a release of built-up tension with this record,” Magee admitted.

So what comes next?

“If I had to think about a longterm goal for this band, it would be to just exist, and exist in a purposeful way. I mean, if you want to be a superstar, you probably have to make modern pop music. But if you want to satisfy your soul, you just have to play what you want to play,” Magee mused.

“And in 10-20 years? I want to be onstage and still be surrounded by my friends. So we’ll just continue to do what we know how to do, and what we love to do. I know that’s easier said than done” – to quote the title of a rollicking, raucous “Midnight Manor” track – “but that’s what’s important to us.”

Fife & Drom is the musical brainchild of husband and wife team Mark Marshall and Abby Ahmad. Though the couple grew up as neighbors in a tiny Pennsylvania town, destiny arranged their first meeting, oddly enough, over two decades later at the Crossroads Cafe in Brooklyn, New York. One might say their collaboration was fated. The duo pen original songs inspired by the works of blues pioneers Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Son House, and beyond. Their name pays tribute to fife and drum blues music, a highly influential genre that emerged from Mississippi, the heart of Delta blues, as well as a nod to the dutch word “drom,” meaning “a group moving together with purpose.”

Joined by bassist Adam Minkoff and drummer Sean Dixon, Fife & Drom’s music incorporates the infectious rhythms and sounds from Delta and Chicago blues, but adapts with content for today’s life and times. Their explosive live shows at venues like the River Street Jazz Cafe in Plains have audiences captivated by the band’s unbridled passion, ceaseless energy, and powerful dynamics.

Their 2014 debut album, “Introducing Fife & Drom,” garnered praise for its relevant and resonant voice in blues music and featured the immense talents of Jon Cowherd (Brian Blade Fellowship, Roseanne Cash), Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan), and Jackson Kincheloe (Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds). Whether it’s the role-flipping bravado of opening track “Wicked Tongue,” the eerie karmic retribution of “Ghosts,” or the heart-wrenching struggle of “Please, Please, Please”, the record provides an unpretentious, unabashed, and unmatched entrance into the genre.

See NEPA Scene’s photos of The National Reserve and the MiZ Quintet performing at Rockin’ the River in 2019 here.

Photo by Robb Malloy/NEPA Scene