Requiem for a Scream: Despite death of landmark venues, underground music still thrives in NEPA

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Requiem for a Scream: Despite death of landmark venues, underground music still thrives in NEPA

Local music diehards crowd around Tigers Jaw frontman Ben Walsh at the now in-limbo Redwood Art Space.

Local music diehards crowd around Tigers Jaw frontman Ben Walsh at the now in-limbo Redwood Art Space.

Local music diehards crowd around Tigers Jaw frontman Ben Walsh at the now in-limbo Redwood Art Space.

Courtesy of Kaitlyn Kishbaugh

James Jaskolka-Butler, Staff Writer

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“This valley has an amazing tendency to spawn incredible bands,” Derek Jolley, vocalist for NEPA-based hardcore band Summer Holds the Earth says.

Jolley, a Kingston native, does not seem to be the only one who thinks this. Within the last few years, Wilkes-Barre and the surrounding areas have been a focal point in the punk, hardcore and alternative music communities due to the increasing success of bands like Motionless in White and Title Fight, bands who got started playing right in the area.

For the most part, these bands arguably owe their success to Café Metropolis, the near-legendary punk club that ruled over South Main Street for more than a decade. In addition to regularly hosting larger shows (world-famous acts Fall Out Boy, Coheed and Cambria and New Found Glory all played at there at one time or another), this was also the place that many of the Wyoming Valley’s most important musicians would attend –and play – their first shows. Although Metropolis closed in September 2010, the need for a new venue drove some of the local scene’s most prominent figures to open Redwood Art Space, including members of Title Fight, in April 2011.

Over the course of the next year and a half, the new venue would host close to 100 shows featuring both local and national bands, including Anti-Flag, Big D & the Kids Table and The Front Bottoms.  Greg Grover, one of the men responsible for a lot of the work done at Redwood, remembers the venue fondly.

“It was perfect at the time,” he recalls. “I have so many awesome memories of that space, and even though it was only around for 16 months, it feels like it was definitely important to a lot of people, and certainly needed.”

When Redwood announced in May of 2012 that the venue would be changing its location, it seemed more of an inconvenience than anything. But now, almost a year later, the scene is still without a permanent venue.  Although shows are still being held, they do not come nearly as often. In addition, local legends like Title Fight and The Menzingers are now busy headlining countrywide tours, and no longer have the ability to put together shows in the area with the frequency they once did.

Without a central hub venue and without those shows spearheading the scene, to those within it, it almost feels as if NEPA’s hold on musical significance is slipping away.

“Places to play are quickly diminishing,” Tim Husty, who sings for the alternative rock band Three Imaginary Boys, admits.  “It seems like now there are just a lot of bars. The area has definitely cut down since I started.” Three Imaginary Boys have been performing together for more than six years, and the longevity of the band only seems to make Husty’s points more valid.

But is this really the case? Does the closing of Redwood mark the end of the NEPA music scene?

“The talent’s definitely there, the bands are there and there are a lot of people who care about the local scene,” Husty says. “It could absolutely swing around.”

Fortunately, his positivity is shared by many others in the community. In fact, since Redwood’s closing, it seems as if those involved are trying even harder to keep the scene going – perhaps out of fear, perhaps out of passion. Whatever the case may be, there are many people who still believe the scene is fully alive and functional.

Dana Takacs, who fronts the hardcore outfit United Youth, is one of the true believers.

“It’s a real bummer Redwood had to close so soon.  When Redwood opened, that’s when I really started helping out with shows. Things have slowed down since it closed, but booker/promoter Matt Wren (also associated with Redwood) still books awesome shows maybe once or twice a month in the area. In my opinion, things are still going great, kids are still starting new bands and the hunt for a new venue is still happening.”

“The scene will turn around,” Jolley opines in agreement.. “It’s like a fine curve. … Metro closed, and so they opened Redwood. Now Redwood closed, and they’ll find a new place. It might be slow now, but there are still shows. ”

Without the convenience of a permanent venue, bookers have been hosting shows in record stores, community centers, and even hookah lounges. A fire hall 10 minutes from campus was rented out for Title Fight’s record release show in October, which more than 600 people attended. At the end of March, Tigers Jaw played a show in an arts center on Northhampton Street. Hostage Calm played a park in Nanticoke the first week of April, followed by an all-hardcore fest held in a legion hall only a week later. In other words, shows continue to happen in the Wyoming Valley.

On top of that, neighboring scenes in Allentown, Stroudsburg and the Poconos also exist. This allows smaller bands from the Wilkes-Barre area to still play locally. Not wanting these small-time bands to go unnoticed, Wren released “Stuck in the Valley” last fall. “Valley” is a 21-track compilation featuring some of the most underground, unrecognized bands in Wilkes-Barre. Ranging from acoustic lo-fi to beatdown hardcore, the record seeks to prove just how much the area scene still has offer.

Where do we go from here? According to Grover, area music fans can expect a lot in the next year, including he says,“a new venue, some new bands, some new kids (and) some new energy. As long as everyone keeps a positive attitude there is no reason to believe that anything but good things will happen in Wilkes-Barre.”

“Everyone is responsible for whether or not a community survives,” he continues. “It’s up to you to continue to buy your friend’s records, and to pay to get into your friend’s shows. Everyone should feel included. That’s the only way it will work.”

Or, as Jolley says, “a scene without a vnue is like a family without a house.

“It’s still a family.”

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