Rich Howells

Breaking down ‘The Big Break’ contest – NEPA musicians compete at 4 venues on Jan. 21-Feb. 11

Breaking down ‘The Big Break’ contest – NEPA musicians compete at 4 venues on Jan. 21-Feb. 11
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The contest is called “The Big Break,” where seven acts will compete across four stages for some major prizes, but the real challenge has been behind the scenes where Eyal Filkovsky is hoping this experience doesn’t break him.

With just days until the first night of live performances is set to begin, musicians have been dropping off the bill left and right, forcing him to rearrange months of plans while still promoting the shows at Finnegan’s Irish Rock Club on Jan. 21, the River Street Jazz Cafe on Jan. 22, The V-Spot on Jan. 29, and Bar Louie at Mohegan Sun Pocono on Feb. 11.

“The biggest challenge, aside from contracting COVID and losing two weeks of my life, has been that we have had five bands drop out because a member tested positive for it,” he said exhaustedly.

“Other than that, there’s that constant fear that the state will be shut down again, leaving everything to be postponed and rescheduled. That can end up being a lot of extra work.”

Ironically, the pandemic also served as the original catalyst for this event. The 39-year-old Wilkes-Barre resident previously lived in Colorado where he teamed up with local radio DJ Trevor O’Connor of Trevor Rocks Denver to hold the first Big Break contest in 2012. The last two years have taken their toll on the music industry, so Filkovsky felt like now was the right time to bring it back and give Pennsylvania musicians something to look forward to.

“I’m a creator with a focus on photography and filmmaking. I used to be more involved with performing on stage back when I lived in Colorado, but we’re talking nearly a decade ago at this point. I’m a rusty drummer who enjoys jamming with friends while having a few drinks. On the other hand, I love the music scene. I love everything about it – the atmosphere, the people, the music, the bands, the creativity, and the creative collective of people who are generally drawn to this aspect of life. Nothing makes me feel more fulfilled than being a part of a project that brings people together. So, I’m not an active musician anymore, but I still want to be active and contribute to the music scene. The pandemic gave me time and inspiration to resurrect this contest,” he explained.

“People were/are bored. I’m bored. I had the urge to create and bring people together in such a separated time. It just felt right, like the right time.”

While COVID-19 and its variants have kept him on his toes, the fact that he has pulled this off before gives him the confidence to do it again, albeit on his own this time.

“The [first] contest went great. We’re talking about 10 years ago, so my memory is kind of fuzzy, but I remember having the exact number of contestants we needed to move forward to sign up. The live shows were a hit, everyone had fun – no complaints,” he recalled.

“Behind the scenes, it’s just as much work but without a partner as I had in Denver. On the live event side, it’ll have a lot of the same groundwork, with a few upgrades. In Denver, per night, we only had the three contestants play, followed by an EDM DJ to close out the night. Here, we’ve got the three contestants, in addition to a spoken word artist, a comedian, and a closing non-contestant band. Here, we’re having each show at a different venue, so that’s new as well.”

The Big Break can be compared to local battle of the bands shows, though on a larger scale with more at stake – prizes include a fully produced music video by Filkovsky, a one-track recording from Elite Audio Records in Kingson, a multi-cam live recording of one song, a live show photo shoot by Amanda Hrycyna Photography, and more.

“[This is] not much different other than having extra acts to keep the night moving. There will also be swag thrown out to the crowd and sponsor booths,” he noted.

“I’ve heard, and said it myself, that there is a music scene here – and people need to get more involved.”

Despite “months and months of work, sleepless nights, worry, and bartering,” Filkovsky has found several reasons to get involved, such as “meeting a bunch of like-minded, creative, passionate, and driven people” and “seeing everything come together,” though his main reward is boosting the “morale and overall happiness” of the musicians.

“We live in dark times, and I feel it was just necessary to do,” he emphasized.

“Thank you to all of our supporters, sponsors, and friends. We couldn’t have done this or come this far without you.”

Now that the artists have been narrowed down through videos they submitted and online voting (and, unfortunately, COVID-19), the judges – Josh Balz (owner of The Strange and Unusual and Noir Dark Spirits, former member of Motionless In White), Aaron Bruch (bassist in Breaking Benjamin), and Aidan Hartzell (multi-instrumentalist) – will step up and pick a winner on the first three nights. Those winners will move on to the final round at the casino, which will decide the grand prize winner – and finally give Filkovsky his own much-needed break.

“People should come to support their fave band and overall to have a good time and let a little bit loose.”

“The Big Break” schedule

Night 1: Old Kentucky Shark, Gus the Savage, and Condition Oakland, plus spoken word artist Monk Melville and comedian Russell Austin
Location: Finnegan’s Irish Rock Club (514 Ash St., Scranton)
Date: Friday, Jan. 21
Time: Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Cost: $10

Night 2: Midheaven, 5-7-Zero, and The Mesos, plus Monk Melville and Russell Austin
Location: River Street Jazz Cafe (667 N. River St., Plains)
Date: Saturday, Jan. 22
Time: Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Cost: $10

Night 3: Prime 8, Black Horizon, Tainted Faith, and Brotality, plus Russell Austin
Location: The V-Spot (906 Providence Rd., Scranton)
Date: Saturday, Jan. 29
Time: Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Cost: $10

The Finale: Finalists, plus Stereotytans
Location: Bar Louie at Mohegan Sun Pocono (1280 Highway 315, Wilkes-Barre)
Date: Friday, Feb. 11
Time: Doors at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.
Cost: Free

Photo by Rich Howells/NEPA Scene