Category: Morning Call

Concert preview: Almost Queen are the champions of Freddie Mercury and company’s rhapsodies

Almost Queen

Touting itself as the most authentic Queen live show since the days of the original lineup, Almost Queen delivers a high-energy live performance that showcases Queen’s signature four-part harmonies, lavish costumes, and intricate musical interludes.

The band, featuring Joseph Russo (”Freddie Mercury” / vocals), Steve Leonard (”Brian May” / guitar and vocals), John Cappadona (”Roger Taylor” / drums and vocals) and Randy Gregg (”John Deacon” / bass and vocals) prides itself on capturing the intricate sound of the studio albums and bringing it (live) to the stage.

Fans can expect to hear Queen classics like “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Will Rock You,” “We Are The Champions,” “Another One Bites The Dust,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” 

Almost Queen will perform at The Sherman Theater on Saturday (8 p.m.) and at The Sellersville Theater May 29.

With the overwhelming success of the Academy Award-winning film, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” fans may lament not having been able to have experienced the original line-up, but Almost Queen promises to be the next best thing.

I recently spoke with Almost Queen bassist Randy Gregg about the band’s multiple performances in the Lehigh Valley area and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What first attracted you to the original band and how did you become involved in Almost Queen?

Randy Gregg: Queen has been one of my favorite bands ever since I was five years old. Back then a neighbor of mine would play Queen records all the time and one day he played me “Tie Your Mother Down.” I guess my jaw must have dropped because he said, “Oh, you like this?” [laughs]. Then he put on “Bohemian Rhapsody” and that was it. 

I began writing the Queen logo all over my kindergarten workbook. As time went on and I became musical and toured in other bands, I quickly realized that Queen was the best band around. I remember I had just come off a tour with Thin Lizzy when I got a call asking if I’d be interested in playing in a Queen band. For me, it was a no-brainer. Even after eighteen years in this band I still get chills playing on stage. There’s not one song that I don’t like to perform.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Randy Gregg by Clicking Here!

Former ‘SNL’ bandleader and Stroudsburg native G.E. Smith joins Bad Company drummer for Sellersville show

G.E. Smith

Two legendary artists are set team up for an evening of guitar-driven blues and classic rock when guitarist G.E. Smith and British drummer Simon Kirke (Free, Bad Company) bring their “We Rock U Roll” tour to the Sellersville Theater X p.m. Saturday

Smith, a Stroudsburg native and frequent performer at the theater, is no stranger to music fans. He served as guitarist for Daryl Hall and John Oates during their formative years in the 80s — performing on albums with monster hits like “Kiss on My List” and “Private Eyes.” He was with them in Philadelphia for the Live Aid festival in 1985 where he also played with Mick Jagger and Tina Turner.

Smith would later become music director of “Saturday Night Live.” A position he held for 10 years before returning to touring as a sideman with such artists as Bob Dylan and Roger Waters.

Although they’ve occasionally worked together in the past, Smith and Kirke’s performance marks the first time the pair has taken their friendship and love of music out on the road.

I recently spoke to G.E. Smith about the upcoming “We Rock U Roll” performance in Sellersville (8 p.m. Saturday), his Stroudsburg upbringing, and much more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What do you like most about performing at The Sellersville Theater?

G.E. Smith: Well, one great thing is that I’ll get to stay at my brother’s house in Stroudsburg [laughs]. Sellersville is a good feeling theater. I like that town. There’s a nice hotel next door where we’ll have dinner, and a lot of people I know from the area will also come to the gig. These are people I grew up around.

Read the rest of my

Interview with G.E. Smith by Clicking Here.

ArtsQuest concert preview: 10,000 Maniacs’ Mary Ramsey talks about her start on MTV’s Unplugged and 40th-anniversary tour

10000 Maniacs: Photo by Jeff Fasano

The band 10,000 Maniacs has covered a lot of ground during its 40 years together. From small niche market to international stardom, their current status is among the cornerstones of alternative music.

The band’s live show celebrates their musical legacy by embracing songs spanning its entire catalog and features a lineup still anchored by four of the six original members.

Viola player and backing vocalist Mary Ramsey began touring and recording with the Maniacs more than 30 years ago. She assumed the role of lead vocalist shortly after the departure of Natalie Merchant. Ramsey’s first album fronting the band was 1997′s Love Among The Ruins. The album featured the group’s ethereal take on the Roxy Music hit, “More Than This.”

The band will play will perform selections from their vast collection of hits at 7 p.m. April 26 at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe. Listeners can expect a few surprises during an intimate performance.

Fans can enjoy songs like the aforementioned “More Than This” as well as “These Are Days,” “My Mother The War,” “Rainy Day,” and “Because The Night,” the Patti Smith classic that became a monster hit for the band during its MTV Unplugged special.

10,000 Maniacs is Mary Ramsey (vocals, viola), Steven Gustafson (bass), Dennis Drew (keyboards), John Lombardo (guitar, vocals), Jeff Erickson (lead guitar) and Jerome Augustyniak (drums)

I recently spoke with vocalist/viola player Ramsey about the show and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the 10,000 Maniacs’ performance at SteelStacks?

Mary Ramsey: We have a variety of tunes from the Maniacs catalog over the years to choose from. We’ll be playing the hits as well as a few surprise covers. There’s a song John Lombardo will sing called “My Mother The War,” which goes way back. I have an electric five-string Zeta viola I play so we’ll do some Celtic tunes here and there as well. It’s an interesting blend of different sounds that work nicely together.

The band has been celebrating its 40th anniversary and you’ve been with them for more than 25 years. Can you give me some of the backstory on how you came to join the group?

I suppose it was all fate, John Lombardo had left the group for a while in the 80s and the two of us met and started a duo called John and Mary and were signed to Ryko Records. In 1990, 10,000 Maniacs released the Hope Chest CD. Some of John’s contributions to that CD were a few of the first songs the band had written, and they asked us to open for them. That was when Natalie [Merchant] asked if I’d like to sing background vocals and add strings to their set. That’s how I got on the MTV Unplugged performance. It was a thrill.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Mary Ramsey by Clicking Here.

Concert preview: 1970s hitmakers America coming to Penn’s Peak

America – Photo By Christie Goodwin

For more than five decades, the multiplatinum selling group America (featuring founding members Dewey Bunnell and Gerry Beckley), has been captivating audiences with their ubiquitous blend of acoustic-driven, harmony-rich sounds.

Some of their biggest hits, including “A Horse With No Name,” “Ventura Highway,” “Sister Golden Hair,” and “I Need You,” have gone on to become staples of classic rock radio.

Following their eponymous #1 debut album and winning Best New Artist at the 1973 Grammy awards, America went on to work with famed Beatles producer George Martin on a string of hugely successful albums. They’ve toured the world multiple times, performed the musical score for 1982′s “The Last Unicorn,” were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame in 2006, and received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2012.

Their most recent project is the 50th-anniversary box set, aptly titled, “Half Century,”

The group is currently back on tour, with a lineup that includes Richard Campbell (bass/vocals), Ryland Steen (drums/percussion) and Steve Fekete (guitars/keyboards/vocals). They’ll make a stop at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe 8 p.m. Saturday.

I recently spoke with Dewey Bunnell about the band’s longevity, songwriting and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: America recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Looking back now with all this perspective, what thoughts come to mind?

Dewey Bunnell: I don’t think anyone could have expected the kind of success we had in that first decade or how it’s lasted so long. We believed in ourselves and were expressing lyrically some themes and topics that were relevant to ourselves, our generation, and the times. Now we have multiple generations of fans who are still appreciating the music and showing it by coming to shows and listening to the music.

You and Gerry were teenagers when you wrote some of your early hits. How did the songs “A Horse With No Name” and “Ventura Highway” come about?

There’s really no hidden meaning behind “Horse …” It’s a travel log about finding oneself in an isolated place, like the desert. Growing up, our families were in the Air Force, so we traveled a lot as kids. I gravitated toward places like the wilderness, rivers, lakes, and the desert and was trying to capture that. There’s a lot of self-study and figuring out what you want to do with your life when you’re nineteen or twenty and right out of high school. It’s a song about introspection.

“Ventura Highway” was similar in that the lyric was about travel to some degree and about seeing the west coast for the first time. It was the ‘60s when my family lived there, which was a very impressionable time for me. At the time, the surf scene was blowing up; The Beach Boys, sun and surf, free wind blowing through your hair. All of that imagery was what I was trying to capture in that song.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Dewey Bunnell by Clicking Here.

Interview: 80s hitmaker Howard Jones, coming to Sellersville Theater, talks about songwriting, playing Live Aid, and touring with Ringo

Photo: David Conn

For three decades, electronic pioneer Howard Jones has been a regular presence on the international touring scene. He’s been performing his arsenal of hits and fan favorites, like “No One Is To Blame,” “New Song,” “Hide & Seek,” and “Things Can Only Get Better” in various band configurations, including his high-tech electronic setup.

But perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the foundational impact of Jones’ music than when it’s stripped down to its barest of bones. Jones will do just that when he brings his acclaimed Acoustic Trio Tour to The Sellersville Theater at 8 p.m. Feb. 20.

Joining Jones on stage that evening will be two of his longtime friends, Nick Beggs and Robin Boult, for an evening of musical fellowship.

Jones will certainly have no shortage of stories to tell. Since bursting onto the contemporary music scene in 1983, he’s sold more than 8 million albums. His monstrous 1985 album alone, Dream Into Action, went platinum in the US and featured four smash hits, including the aforementioned “No One Is To Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better.”

A few of his other credits include performing solo at the piano at the Live Aid festival in 1985 and touring as part of Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band.

I recently spoke with Howard Jones about this and his upcoming performance in Sellersville.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from your upcoming performance in Sellersville?

Howard Jones: We had been halfway through an original run of the trio tour when COVID struck. Everything was being canceled and we had to get home pretty quick. These dates are fulfilling the ones we didn’t get to do. It’s the trio tour with Nick Beggs on the bass end (he plays an instrument called the Chapman Stick and double bass), Robin Boult plays guitar and I’m on piano and vocals. Nick and Rob are two of my best friends in the world. Touring with them is a total pleasure and I hope that gets reflected in the music that we present. It’ll be the three of us enjoying ourselves on stage.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Howard Jones by Clicking Here

Interview: Al Franken, coming to ArtsQuest, talks about his resignation from the Senate, lying liars, and the big issues facing our country

Al Franken

Al Franken is a comedian, New York Times bestselling author, radio host, political activist and, perhaps most notably, former United States Senator — where he served on the Judiciary, Energy and Indian Affairs committees.

Franken was also one of the original writers for “Saturday Night Live,” where he scored 15 Emmy nominations [winning five] as both writer and producer.

Now, four years removed from his position as Senator of Minnesota — and noncommittal when it comes to the idea of another possible run — Franken is on the road with his stand-up comedy show, “Al Franken: The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently on Tour Tour.”

His show promises to feature unique satire, candid conversation about what’s going on in the world, and stories about his time in the Senate.

I recently spoke with him on the phone about his upcoming appearance at ArtsQuest’s Musikfest Cafe (8 p.m. Feb 18) and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: How would you describe your style of comedy?

Franken: It’s satire to some degree and a lot of it is about politics. I was a big fan of guys like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and all the other comedians who’ve talked about satirical comedy and commentary. It has a point of view, but the emphasis is really on laughs.

What else can fans expect from your appearance at SteelStacks?

I do about an hour and a half of standup and really enjoy the craft. I used to have a partner, Tom Davis, who would go out on the road with me. He and I were two of the original “SNL” writers.

It’s a little different now going out single. For this tour, I started working up a show at the Comedy Cellar and talk a lot about what’s going on right now and about my experience in politics. I also talk about running for the Senate and having everything I’ve ever said as a comedian, ironically or satirically, used against me and put through the de-humorizor [laughs].

The show is a lot of fun for the audience and for me. I originally did a run of 15 cities, and we’ve just added 16 more.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Al Franken by Clicking Here.

Sarah Brightman — coming to Bethlehem — talks about her Christmas show, Andrew Lloyd Weber, and holiday traditions

Photo by Oliver Sommers

Known for pioneering the classical-crossover music movement and for amassing an arsenal of album sales — including 40 million from The Phantom of The Opera soundtrack alone — Sarah Brightman has wowed audiences with her incredible three-octave vocal range and charismatic beauty.

Last year, while the world was in lockdown, Brightman put together and streamed her first-ever Christmas concert, “Sarah Brightman: A Christmas Symphony.” The worldwide response was so overwhelming that this year she is bringing her Christmas Symphony Tour to America.

Perhaps there is no more fitting place for her to kick off her holiday tour than The Christmas City’s Wind Creek Event Center on Friday, November 26.

Accompanied by orchestra, choir and a dazzling light show, Brightman’s show will feature renditions of classics from the Christmas canon, holiday favorites, and a selection of her greatest hits.

I recently spoke with Brightman about her upcoming performance in Bethlehem and much more in this exclusive interview:

James Wood for The Morning Call: How did your seasonal Christmas Symphony show come about?

Brightman: When we were in lockdown last Christmas it was a fairly miserable time for everyone worldwide. I decided to stream a seasonal Christmas show for any fans who cared to watch and listen. So, I employed some musicians who needed the work and we put it all together. There was an overwhelming response which is why, when things started moving again, I decided to turn it into a proper seasonal show for the theater. It’s something I’ve never done before in America.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Sarah Brightman by Clicking Here!

SteelStacks concert preview: Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela talks about the band’s start, the hits, and what’s next

Photo: Shervin Lainez

American alt-rock band Gin Blossoms first broke into the mainstream with their infectious 1992 album, New Miserable Experience. Songs from that album, which eventually went on to sell four million copies, included the jangle-pop and radio friendly “Hey Jealousy,” “Until I Fall Away,” “Found Out About You,” and “Allison Road.” These cemented the band as one of the early 90s best-selling acts.

The band abruptly broke up in 1997 only to reform five years later and have continued to record and perform as many as 120 shows a year. Their 2010 release No Chocolate Cake shot up to #1 on Amazon and reached #14 on the Billboard Indie Chart. The band’s 2018 follow-up Mixed Reality, is reminiscent of the group’s earlier days. Vocalist Robin Wilson called it a companion to New Miserable Experience and an album the band would’ve wanted to make in 1990.

Fans of the Gin Blossoms — featuring Wilson, Jesse Valenzuela (vocals and guitar), Scott Johnson (guitar), Scott Hessel (drums), and Bill Leen (bass) — can relive the magic of the 90s when the group performs at SteelStacks’ Musikfest Café at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9.

I spoke with Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela about the band’s Bethlehem show and more in this exclusive new interview.

James Wood for The Morning Call: What can fans expect from the Gin Blossoms upcoming performance in Bethlehem?

Jesse Valenzuela: We may have had a lot of time off and not touring as much as we used to but fans can expect to hear every song they want to hear. All of our hits will be represented. Then we’ll play some of the other material from our thirty-five years together. There’s a lot to choose from. It’s going to be a great time.

How did the band get started?

It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It took some starts and stops before we actually became a band. We all had grown up in the same college town working in different bands. We all knew about each other and eventually just started playing together. 

Read the rest of my

Interview with Jesse Valenzuela by Clicking Here.

Wind Creek Bethlehem comedy preview: Bill Maher gets real with Dave Chappelle, free speech, Trump, honesty, and Hillary Clinton

Photo: John Russo

Comedian Bill Maher has set the boundaries for humor and political talk.

First on the widely popular “Politically Incorrect,” which ran on ABC from 1993-2002, and for the last 19 years as host of his acclaimed HBO series, “Real Time” — where his combination of honesty and laughter has garnered more than 40 Emmy nominations.

On the show, Maher interviews some of the world’s most influential people while taking swings at both republicans and democrats alike. His criticism of people like Donald Trump is nearly equivalent to his concern about the over-extension of wokeism.

While taking a break from “Real Time,” Maher is currently out on the road performing stand-up. The comedian will make a stop at the Wind Creek Event Center, in Bethlehem on Sunday, Oct. 24.

I recently spoke with Maher about his upcoming Lehigh Valley performance and more.

James Wood: What can fans expect from your show at the Wind Creek Event Center?

Bill Maher: They can expect to laugh their ass off. That’s what stand-up comedy is supposed to be. If they’re people who watch “Real Time” then they’re familiar with the general things I’m interested in, which are not the trivialities of life.

I’ve always been interested in the big subjects going on in the world like politics, but I also like talking about my personal life too. Something that’s consequential and has nutrition in it. The bottom line though is people are hungry to laugh again and to laugh hard. That’s what I’m going to make them do.

How are you able to separate the format of “Real Time” from your stand-up comedy?

The great thing about stand-up is that it’s free form. What I’ve seen recently is an encouraging embrace of the point of view I’ve been putting across on my show. The greatest threat right now is from the right. We’re playing with fire with the Republican Party where they don’t believe elections are real. That’s a dangerous place to be and that has to be called out. But I also talk about what I think are the excesses of the woke and how wokeism is not really liberalism.

You may not agree with everything I say but most people can appreciate that I’m trying to be an honest broker and that’s a hard thing to do these days in America.

Read the rest of my

Interview with Bill Maher by Clicking Here.

Lisa Loeb concert preview: Grammy-winning singer-songwriter discusses ‘strangely creative time’ and return to Sellersville Theater

Lisa Loeb (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty)

Emotional, ethereal, poignant, poetic. These words best describe singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb’s music.

From her platinum-selling #1 song “Stay (I Missed You)” from the “Reality Bites” soundtrack to her Grammy-winning children’s album Feel What U Feel, Loeb has a knack for writing songs that are as ubiquitous as they are vulnerable.

Loeb will bring her arsenal of music and storytelling to an intimate performance at The Sellersville Theater on Oct. 16.

In addition to performing her signature song, fans can expect to hear songs like “Do You Sleep,” “I Do” and “Let’s Forget About It.” Loeb will also be showcasing material from her most recent album, “A Simple Trick To Happiness.” Produced by her and writer/producer Rich Jacques, the album examines Loeb’s life as a mother, wife, artist, and businesswoman seeking to find a balance between personal fulfillment and purpose.

I recently spoke with Loeb about her upcoming performance at The Sellersville Theater and more.

James Wood for The Morning Call: As an artist, what’s it been like for you during the last eighteen months of the pandemic?

Lisa Loeb: It’s been a strangely creative time during the lockdown. I set up shop in my guest bedroom and was able to work on new songs and even start a new album. I also did a lot of livestreaming shows as well as events and fundraisers over Zoom. It was an interesting time getting to connect with fans from all over the world.

Have you performed at The Sellersville Theater before?

Many times. Joe Quigley, the bass player from my band, Nine Stories, has a brother who was one of the original owners when they started having live musical acts. We had a personal connection with the theater and have seen it grow over the years. As a singer-songwriter it’s a perfect theater. It’s intimate but formal at the same time. I love being able to go there and play.

What can fans expect from your performance?

I love to play songs that people want to hear. So, I’ll play songs like “Stay” and a handful of others that have been on the radio. I’ll definitely play songs from my new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” because they’re new and seem to resonate during this time. I’ll also play songs from my entire career as well as requests and maybe even some songs from my children’s album. I also like to talk, so there will be a lot of stories.

How does the new album, “A Simple Trick to Happiness,” compare to some of your previous work?

For me, it’s a lot more personal. I wanted to write songs that people [when they hear them] can take with them throughout their day. There are songs about appreciating your life and respectfully walking away from situations that aren’t right. The title of the album is a little tongue-in-cheek. You can’t snap your fingers and find happiness but there are things you can keep in mind to make your life better.

Read the rest of my

With Lisa Loeb by Clicking Here.