Category Archives: interview

Ghost of club animates Mon Valley Academy for the Arts

JoeCampusThe Twin Coaches Supper Club, formerly on Route 51 in Rostraver Township, was a swinging big band joint with a history spanning from the early 1930s through its fiery demise in October of 1977.

The club was purchased in 1944 by Rose and Tony Calderone, who brought major acts to their newly enlarged hotspot – a must-stop venue for touring performers. Legends such as Tony Bennett, Charleroi native Shirley Jones, Canonsburg’s own Perry Como, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sammy Davis, Jr., graced the club’s stage through the years. Backed by the Frankie Barr Orchestra, whose top-notch professional musicians made easy work of even the most intricate of scores, the sound and scene were the best around.

Sometime in 1997, Charleroi resident and professional drummer, Mark Smith, purchased a 1938 vintage Slingerland Radio King drum kit. Further research revealed it was owned and played by original Frankie Barr Orchestra drummer Glenn Brady. And sometime in 2015, when Smith came across two suitcases full of 68 handwritten music charts from the Coaches, he decided it was time to breathe new interest into the Valley’s music scene.

Smith met with Susan Sparks, an artist with experience in non-profit arts management, and California area representative Pete Daley, to discuss the possibility of forming a charter music school or performance center with the idea “to take art to different venues.” But without sufficient funds or additional personnel, a clear pathway for their idea was not evident. However, Smith, with big band charts in hand and keen interest from original members of the Frankie Barr Orchestra, created an event to turn the ghost of Twin Coaches Supper Club into a living, breathing phenomenon.

On November 16, 2016 “A Night at The Coaches” gala music event took place. “We had a reunion concert at Belle Vernon High School, geared on the Coaches show, including nine members of the Coaches band,” Smith enthused, “It was our first big venue. We had 350 people for a two hour show dedicated to memory of the Coaches, a dance troupe, and five featured vocalists.”

Though the show was a great success, it also revealed a somber truth about arts in the Mon Valley. “We said ‘there is a void here,’” Smith explained, continuing “I made a living in the Valley playing. And in the Valley, the arts have fallen apart…for the last 15 – 20 years work has become difficult. In the Valley’s heyday you could make a living as a musician and raise a family. (In more recent years) it has dwindled, and all my colleagues have trouble, too.”

Still, “Memory of the Coaches sparked this renewed effort for live entertainment” in the Valley, Smith said. So, to fill the void, Smith and company “decided to create and incorporate Mon Valley Academy for the Arts (MVAA, a 501(c)(3), with Smith as president). Our mission is to create cultural events and incubate younger players with older players.”

To find those players, Joe Campus, 83, a trumpet player, conductor, and arranger from the Coaches “came up with the idea of the Twin Coaches Junior Stage Band,” Smith said. “We went to local middle and high schools and recruited 17 student musicians. Each had to be interviewed, auditioned, and rehearsed, just like the Coaches band.”

Students from areas traversing Woodland Hills to Waynesburg passed muster and became part of the junior stage band. With mentoring and teaching help from Duquesne University graduates, along with Joe Campus, those students are learning the ins and outs of both music performance and the music business.

Smith said of the mentoring process “We talk to them about the economy of the business – how to be on time, how to dress, how to spend your money, how to practice. We talk about the whole rounded business of being a professional musician.”

MVAA_JazzTrioFunding for charts, advertising, and more is provided in part by the Frick Tri-County Credit Union, which sponsored the junior stage band and provided an additional perk for each student who completed their 2017 concert: A $200 cash scholarship. An additional perk for the student musicians was playing with Joe Campus’s former Twin Coaches Supper Club band. “We did this as a tribute to Joe. We want to keep the junior stage band intact so it’s a working band with its own jobs” Smith said.

Word of the junior orchestra is out and having positive effects for live music in the Valley. In addition to Chess Park concerts by jazz and big band acts, along with The Twin Coaches Junior Jazz Trio, Smith received a “great call from a local dance studio that wants to do a dance recital with the Twin Coaches Junior Orchestra. Over the years, dance recitals went to records and CDs, but we’re talking about live music with dancers on the stage.”

The Mon Valley Academy for the Arts has also grown into its own permanent office at the newly renovated Mon Valley Chamber of Commerce Building, along with enjoying an expanded volunteer board, advisory board, and staff. Additional funding to keep the programs running is an ongoing need, and the MVAA continues working on grants to help cover expenses.

To find out more about the Mon Valley Academy for the Arts and its upcoming events, including its November, 2018 gala, art shows, and more, friend them at facebook.com/pg/monvalleyacademyforthearts.org/ and for the Twin Coaches Orchestra Project, facebook.com/groups/1694687720747275/about/ Contact MVAA via e-mail at info@monvalleyacademyforthearts.org

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

The Rainbow Ends debuts original jazz/fusion CD

When “life happened” to guitarist Joshua Carns, his music school scholarship went unfulfilled, though his dream of a music career lived on.

therainbowendsFostered by self-funded lessons and raw talent, Carns not only went on to teach at Seton Hill University, but has also put together The Rainbow Ends, a jazz trio with a mature style despite its mere two and a half years in existence.

Carns and electric bassist, Kyle Green, joined forces in January of 2016. Upon meeting through a mutual drummer friend, Carns and Green “hit it off right away” Carns said, adding “I was blown away by how skilled he was and wasn’t doing anything with it…there was this instant connection we had with one another.”

As with most jazz musicians, the ability to improv is invaluable, and when Carns and Green successfully improvised a three hour show at a local brewery, the foundation for further musical exploration was set.

However, a new drummer was needed to replace the original, who went in a different direction.

Enter Justin Banks, who Carns said showed up to an open mike with a business card and high recommendations from other friends. “He came out and played one show and said ‘I’m in, I love it.’”

With his ability to create “the most unique beats to occupy space in intricate ways in a three piece band,” Carns knew Banks was “the right guy for the job.”

With Banks on board as of October of 2016, the group’s philosophy of working by committee came about easily, as Carns said “All the musicians in this group have been playing for 20 years. So we got together and said let’s play how we want to play. You play drums how you want to play, and play bass how you want to play, and I’ll play how I want to play.”

Now with a solid lineup in place, The Rainbow Ends began creating new, original jazz instrumentals in preparation for its debut release. But good music, like anything worthwhile, takes time, so after working through various arrangements and concepts for about one year, Carns felt it was time to hit the studio.

The Schoolhouse Studio in Armbrust, PA played host to The Rainbow Ends recording sessions.

According to Carns, the 100 year old, single room former schoolhouse “has great natural reverb for recording drums and vocals,” an important element in providing pleasing depth of sound in musical recordings. Schoolhouse sound engineer and producer, Daniel Blake, took the controls for the band’s recording sessions. Though it was his first time recording a jazz band, Carns said “he did a great job.”

Its self-titled debut, The Rainbow Ends, showcases the band’s musical and compositional skills with a full range of jazz/fusion instrumentals. Original sounds range from shades of Weather Report on “Bellyscratch” to the virtuosic, funk-style grooves of “Assembly Line.” Throughout the CD, a level of musical maturity and band chemistry is evident, but not obtrusive, providing music fans with a range of exciting, new music to bend their ears.

The Rainbow Ends enjoyed a successful CD release party in Pittsburgh, and have two more shows coming up in August. Catch them on August 10, 8 pm, at the PRESS Bistro Concert Series, 110 Franklin St., Johnstown, PA and August 31, 10 pm, at the Circle Hanover, 5 E. Walnut St., Hanover, PA.

For those wanting to hear The Rainbows End from the comfort of their home, Carns encourages everyone to “check us out on Amazon, iTunes – pretty much any streaming site, you’ll find us.” Hard copy CDs and band gear are also available. Join the mailing list at rainbowendsmusic@gmail.com, follow them on twitter for the latest updates @endsrainbow, and make friends at facebook.com/therainbowends

Story by Keren Lee Dreyer for Pennsylvania Bridges

Southwestern Pintsylvania: The Lipkes from Leaning Cask

Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke

Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke

This month, I sat down with Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke, in Springdale, PA. The brewery has been open for a little over a year, but Joshua has been brewing a lot longer than that. He, like many others, started with a homebrewing hobby and expanded. The turning point for the Lipkes to take the step from homebrewing to opening their own brewpub was a trip to England in the mid-2000s. While there, they tried cask ales, which are a bit different than what you normally get in the U.S. in terms of brewing and serving style.

The brewery has three authentic English hand pumps, one of which is portable. Leaning Cask is also one of the only places in the Pittsburgh area that has a beer engine, which assists in pumping the beer from casks stored in the basement. Joshua says that while they do keep their beer warmer than most, it isn’t quite to the 50°F to 55°F that it would be served at overseas. Their beer is stored in the basement but not quite at those true “cellar” temperatures you would see in England. The casks are closer to traditional temperatures at 45°F to 50°F because they are stored in the farthest corner of the cold storage.

When it comes to the beer itself, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only English-style beers that are brewed and stored in casks. Stefanie says they put any type into casks, and they often use it as a way to try out a new beer or style of beer since the initial release is on a smaller scale. Cask beers aren’t the only types they have, either. The brewery has 12 taps, which allows a wide variation—a little bit of everything.. On most visits to Leaning Cask, you will see three to four different IPAs on tap, their own cider, a stout or porter, a wheat, English ale, and some type of Belgian. Depending on when you visit, various seasonal beers will come into play, too. Another tradition you might notice is all the brews are named with a dog theme. The Lipkes love dogs and appreciated how dog-friendly English pubs are. They wanted to bring a little of that home with them, so they not only have dog-themed beer names, but they are also very welcoming to dogs, as long as they are well-behaved. They go even a step further than allowing dogs inside the bar—they have an actual indoor bathroom for dogs only. While it is becoming more common for breweries to allow dogs, this may be the only indoor dog restroom!

Joshua, the sole brewer, brews as close to traditional English style as his equipment allows. He has a thirteen-barrel setup in the basement of the pub, as well as room to expand upstairs. He says this setup is relatively large for a new brewery; less than ten barrels are more common for somewhere that has only been open for a little over a year. I asked if he had any advice for homebrewers who may be considering expansion into commercial brewing, and Joshua said, “Be prepared for the business adventure. It’s a lot more than just making beer. That’s the simple way to put it. Do your research, know what you are getting into and, really, if you don’t have a business background, get some help or some education on it because the bottom line is you are running a business. Brewing is my downtime. That’s when I don’t have to think about the other things. Even if you are making stellar beer, you’ll be able to make good beer at the commercial stage, but it’s everything else that goes into a business.”

At this point, Leaning Cask is Joshua’s full-time job, but Stefanie still works as an elementary school counselor full time. It was refreshing to meet a woman in the industry because the craft beer and brewery field is dominated by men. Stefanie says she doesn’t feel she’s been pushed aside or ignored and feels like she gets the same amount of respect as Joshua when she introduces herself as an owner. She is a member of the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women in the beer industry and, despite the support she’s experienced, says, “I definitely think there could be more recognition, awareness, and more females involved.”

With so many breweries in Southwestern Pennsylvania, The Leaning Cask offers a British twist that helps it stand out in a booming industry and provides a style of beer that was under-represented in the area until now. They distribute to approximately 20 locations in the area but, since Springdale is not far outside the city limits, why not go to the source to try their beer?

Leaning Cask is located at 850 Pittsburgh St, Springdale, PA 15144. They are open Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. New casks are released every Thursday.

FMI: leaningcaskbrewing.com

Author’s Note: I am working on setting up interviews with other Southwest PA breweries. Is there a brewery you’d like me to cover? Reach out to me via email – PABridges.Reanna@comcast.net

Story by Reanna Roberts for Pennsylvania Bridges

Pennsylvania Bridges June 2018 Edition – Lean on Me

june-2018-cover_9xThe June 2018 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – Lean on Me – is now available online and in print.

May 2018 Edition – “Coming Back to Life”

may-2018-coverThe May 2018 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges“Coming Back to Life” – is now available online and in print.

Pennsylvania Bridges April 2018 – “Spring Into Action!”

april-2018-coverThe April 2018 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges is now available online and in print.

Pennsylvania Bridges March 2018 – “Make Some Noise!”

march-2018-coverThe March 2018 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges – “Make Some Noise!” – is now available online & in print.

February 2018 – “All You Need Is Love”

february 2018 cover.qxdThe February 2018 edition of Pennsylvania Bridges“All You Need is Love” – is now available online and in print.

January 2018 – Opportunity Knocks?!?

january-2018-coverThe January 2018 edition of Pennsylvania BridgesOpportunity Knocks?!? – is now available online and in print.

December 2017 – “The Gift of Giving”

December2017 cover.qxdThe December edition of Pennsylvania Bridges“The Gift of Giving” – is now available online and in print.