Rich Howells

EXCLUSIVE: Good Things Are Happening music festival debuts at Scranton Iron Furnaces on Aug. 6

EXCLUSIVE: Good Things Are Happening music festival debuts at Scranton Iron Furnaces on Aug. 6
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As if the past two years of a global pandemic and political unrest wasn’t enough for the average person to deal with, inflation has driven the cost of living to new heights in 2022. As so many struggle to make ends meet, particularly in the working class city of Scranton, it may be difficult to imagine that there is anything worth looking forward to this year, but sometimes all it takes is one optimist with enough drive to inspire the community.

Today, Scranton-based singer/songwriter James Barrett announced Good Things Are Happening Fest, a new music festival debuting at the Scranton Iron Furnaces (159 Cedar Ave., Scranton) on Saturday, Aug. 6. The all-day outdoor event features a reunion of punk band Captain, We’re Sinking, who broke up in 2018 and haven’t performed live in over five years.

Running from noon through 10:30 p.m., the varied rock lineup includes Bethlehem heavy pop duo Slingshot Dakota, Massachusetts alt rock trio Valleyheart, punk band Pay for Pain (ex-Tigers Jaw members), Philadelphia indie rockers The Tisburys, Modern Ties, Worries, Bren, Campanula, Glass Mask, and Barrett’s own indie rock band who released their latest album last year. Tickets, which are $25, are on sale now via Prekindle.

“It’s actually ridiculous. About a month ago, I was pretty frustrated one day with just like… life and my music career. It’s a common occurrence for myself and most musicians. It’s easy to focus on what you lack and most of the time it does nothing good. But it was just one of those days and I was wishing I was playing the music festivals that my favorite bands are playing and wondering how the hell I would someday get there. Then I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just start one in Scranton.’ Mostly joking, I took my idea to Facebook and Twitter, only to have 250+ artists submit their music to me and just a beautifully overwhelming response from people in Northeastern Pennsylvania about how we need something like this to happen,” Barrett told NEPA Scene in his first interview about the festival.

“I think my perception of Scranton has changed a lot in the last several years, whereas I used to fixate on what we lack as a city and how it could be better but I’d never actually do anything to try and change it. I felt like this was finally my time to try and do something good for the people in our area that are passionate towards Scranton’s arts and music culture. I knew then that I had to get to work if I wanted to make this happen.”

The name came from some local media personalities who try to look on the bright side of an often cloudy and cynical area.

“I am a devoted fan and stan of WNEP-TV. I feel like it’s part of NEPA culture and also has a viral clip like once a week of some insane shit happening in Scranton. But on the note of things happening in Scranton, they have a morning segment where they discuss the events going on in NEPA and one of the slogans is ‘Good things are happening.’ Over the last few years, it has kind of become my go-to picture any time I have good news to share with friends or the Internet, so when I saw the response to my idea, my brain immediately went to ‘Good Things Are Happening Fest.’ I realized then I would have to get in contact with the news station and ask their permission. I sent out a tweet and an email to WNEP and literally 15 minutes later I had a phone call from a person on their team pretty much saying they love the idea and will allow us to use the name and to keep them in the loop about the event. I was laughing so hard because I couldn’t believe how well all of this was going. Once I got their OK, I got the flyer made and stuck with the name.”

As the positivity spread, so did the amount of supporters willing to pitch in.

“Immediately after posting on social media, my friend Matt Kester hit me up. He has a production company and is a wizard at doing sound for live shows. We discussed my idea and I told him about maybe having it at the furnaces. From there, I went through my friend Craig Beavers who works for the city to get the contact info for the furnaces. Next thing I know, I am on the phone with the person in charge over there and this thing is becoming real. They told me to reach out to my friend Steve Masterson who ran Stage West and has done events there in the past. Steve and I talked it through and realized it is definitely something we could pull off. After teaming up with Matt and Steve, I started another dream team with my friends James Jaskolka from Wilkes-Barre and Zac Djamoos from the blog The Alternative to try and get an all-star lineup. I think we did just that.”

Convincing Captain, We’re Sinking to headline was a plan that was nearly a year in the making.

“I’ve been bugging [vocalist/guitarist] Bob [Barnett] for like a year now to get Captain to play a show again. Last fall, we actually made plans to have them reunite for a show in April, but when the COVID cases started to spike in the winter, we decided to postpone until the time was right. Once I got the idea to have this festival, I knew we needed some big names and I think, ‘Who better than Scranton’s finest?’ I hit up Bob and got the idea floating around and he got the rest of the band on board. I think they deserve the headlining spot, and I am so excited to see them live again,” Barrett said.

As a solo artist, he opened for Captain a few years ago as part of The Menzingers’ annual Holiday Show in Scranton, but booking them was more of a personal decision.

“Growing up as an aspiring musician in Scranton had a lot of benefits. One of those is having most of my favorite bands all be local. It’s honestly insane. The Menzingers; Tigers Jaw; Captain, We’re Sinking; Three Man Cannon; Petal; Wicca Phase Springs Eternal; Title Fight – the list goes on. Having all of these artists in our area when I was younger was such a cool thing for me because it gave me hope that bands can make it in Scranton. Flash forward to the current day and I still listen to all of these bands regularly. But with Captain, it feels a little closer to home for me,” the 25-year-old Clarks Summit native explained.

“I remember being in 10th grade listening to ‘The Future Is Cancelled’ nonstop. I got my license that year and I think ‘Beer Can’ was the first song I ever drove to; somehow I remember that. That album brings back such great memories of my youth, which is hilarious because it’s so emo. I love it. But about a year later, I saw Bob was substituting as a teacher in the same room I used to spend the whole period in study hall listening to his music. It blew my mind. We had played a show together for the Electric City Music Conference a few months prior, but I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. I remember I approached him and talked to him and it was in that moment that I realized I needed to relax because he’s just a normal, kind person that just happens to write some of my favorite songs. I think I’ve gotten better at talking to him now that I am not 17 years old – I hope so, at least.

“I think they are an incredible band and used to put on some of the coolest concerts I have ever been to. They still have such a devoted fan base, and even just the funny teasing of the show on their social media is an example of that. I hope it is equally as cool to them to play the show as it will be for me to watch it with all my friends again.”

The rest of the lineup was full of much more difficult decisions.

“It was the hardest part of this whole thing. I am hoping next year we can do multiple days and get way more bands on it. Between myself, James Jaskolka, and Zac Djamoos, we really spent a few weeks trying to perfect it. We wanted to get bands from our area but also didn’t want to restrict it to just local bands. The Tisburys are a great band based in Philadelphia, with some of the members being from Scranton. I’ve been dying to get a show with them, so I was happy to get them on board early. Slingshot Dakota is an awesome duo from Bethlehem that James was able to get. Valleyheart is a really sick band from Massachusetts and they just put out a record called ‘Heal My Head’ that is phenomenal. We really just wanted to get some other acts that some of the people in our area have never seen before as well as some other big named locals like Modern Ties and Pay for Pain. I am really happy with our lineup. I think next year will be even better.”

As for his own band, they are “still fighting” to get their music out there by hitting the road soon, traveling to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia.

“We have six shows coming up at the end of this month, which I am equally excited and nervous for. It’ll feel really good to finally get back out on the road after many years of not touring, this time with my new van and lineup. Gearing up to tour while planning the festival has definitely been a lot, but I am surprised by how well it is all going and how I haven’t lost my mind yet. But that doesn’t matter. I am just excited to go play some shows again and get our music in front of new people,” he emphasized.

They will return home on Friday, July 1 for a performance at Room 221 (221 Scranton/Carbondale Hwy., Dickson City) where they will likely receive a warm welcome, as they did at the album release show at the Scranton Cultural Center last year.

“The release show was the first time in my life where I truly realized this may actually be going somewhere. It was one of my favorite nights I have ever had. I have so many days where I feel like I am not where I am supposed to be, but when I take a step back and really think about it, I have come a long way. I need to get better at reminding myself that on bad days – just gotta keep going,” he admitted.

“I want to do some weekend runs throughout the fall and winter and then maybe get ready to hit the road for longer next winter.”

For now, he is concentrating on making Good Things Are Happening Fest live up to its name by securing sponsors, food trucks, and art vendors and promoting it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and likely WNEP in the near future.

“I feel like if I can pull this off where the people attending it are having a great time, then that to me will be the best part. Aside from that, I think the venue itself is awesome and will make for an interesting place to have a festival,” Barrett said.

He also believes that events like this could give locals a little more hope, especially in these trying times.

“I think Scranton has come a long way in the last decade in many aspects aside from just music and art. I’d like to believe the next few years will bring good things – pun absolutely intended – to our area. As I mentioned before, I used to constantly think there was nothing to do around here and that’s why I am trying to utilize the many gifts our area has to offer like the Scranton Iron Furnaces or the Scranton Cultural Center for my release show back in September. I think we have a lot of building ground for a better future here – we just got to come together and make it happen,” he left off.

“The music scene in NEPA is legendary and has been for a long time. I think the biggest obstacle is establishing a venue that is just as legendary as the scene itself. Every city with a lively music scene has a venue that everyone knows and goes to. Stage West really was a bright spot in our area while it was open. I am hoping something happens soon or I get rich and buy a venue. Until then, I’ll keep utilizing what we already have and try to get our art and music culture the representation it deserves.”

Photo by Jason Riedmiller Photography/NEPA Scene