Friday, November 19, 2010
Anne Feeney photo by Fred Walser
Over the past decades, local folkie Anne Feeney has headlined union and community organizing drives, strummed and sung for human rights, peace and the environment, and attacked the issues of poverty, racism, sexism and war both verbally and in song.
If she sounds like a child of the sixties cut out of the Phil Ochs, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary mold, well, it's because she is.
Feeney was born in the Mon Valley town of Charleroi in Washington County in 1951, the first child of Annabelle Runner and Ed Feeney. The family moved to Pittsburgh's Brookline neighborhood in 1954, and Feeney was given a Catholic education, beginning with Resurrection Elementary School and then graduating from the now closed Fontbonne Academy in 1968.
After saving for a year, she bought a Martin D-28 guitar (maybe the most famous acoustic ever made; Hank Williams and Elvis Presley used the D-28) in 1967; she would play it for the next 40 years. She was, like many youth of the era, politically and philosophically shaped by the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement.
Feeney was also influenced by her grandpap, William Patrick Feeney, who was an long-time mineworkers' organizer and fiddler who played his music to promote political and labor causes.
As she says, her music is meant to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
She gave her first public performance in 1969 at an anti-war rally, covering Phil Ochs songs. While a Pitt student in 1972, she was arrested in Miami at the Republican National Convention while protesting Richard Nixon's re-nomination; the charges were dismissed.
Politics wasn't all that she was involved in. The same year, she helped co-found Pittsburgh Action Against Rape, along with Annie Pride and NOW. Almost forty tears later, it's still the only organization in Allegheny County solely devoted to issues of sexual violence.
She earned her sheepskin from the University of Pittsburgh in 1974 with a Liberal Studies (what else?) degree.
In 1976 Feeney started down her musical road when she joined a bluegrass band called Cucumber Rapids; they disbanded the next year.
She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1978 and spent the next dozen years as a trial attorney; in fact, she was a charter member of the Women’s Bar Association of Allegheny County.
As she worked cases and raised two children with her lawyer husband Ron Berlin, Feeney also performed in local clubs and at rallies, such as the Great Peace March at the Lincoln memorial in 1986, or at the Washington Monument for the 1989 March for Women’s Lives. Deciding that her guitar was a more effective tool than a legal brief, she took full-time to the road in 1991 and hasn't looked back.
Since then, Feeney has toured the US, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Sweden and Denmark, playing at folk festivals, labor conventions, churches, and political/labor demonstrations and rallies. She often tours 200+ days during the year.
Feeney has performed during events on Solidarity Day in DC, the WTO demonstrations in Seattle, the EU protests in Copenhagen, the LO Kongress in Stockholm and the March for Women’s Lives in Washington. Of course, she took part in several G20 related events when that show came to Pittsburgh.
She received the Joe Hill award from the Labor Heritage Foundation in 2005; a couple of other past winners were Pete Seeger and Cesar Chavez. The late activist Utah Phillips called Feeney "the best labor singer in North America."
Her music has been played and recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary - "Have You Been to Jail for Justice?" - and that tune has been featured in the documentaries "This is What Democracy Looks Like," "Isn't This a Time: A Tribute to Harold Leventhal" and PBS show "Get Up/Stand Up: The History of Pop and Protest." Political cartoonist Mike Konopacki used Feeney's song "Union Maid" in a flash animation in 2003.
Not that she really needs anyone's help. She's part of a dozen CD releases, with eight solo efforts:
* Look to the Left, 1992
* Heartland (Live), 1994
* Have You Been to Jail for Justice?, 2001
* Union Maid, 2003
* Original Recordings, 2004
* If I Can't Dance, 2006
* Dump the Bosses Off Your Back, 2008
* Enchanted Way, 2010
With Chris Chandler:
* Flying Poetry Circus, 2001
* Live from the Wholly Stolen Empire, 2003
* Wild Wimmin for Peace: The Great Peace March, 1986
* Vote in November - Election 2004 by: Anti-Theft Device, 2004
(The disks are available through CD Baby or her website.)
Her music isn't all original, but follows an Americana template: bluegrass, traditional, labor, pop, folk, contemporary and her own material make up her playlist.
As expected, Feeney has her union bona fides. She served as president of the Pittsburgh Musicians' Union, the only woman ever elected to the position, from 1997-1998. Feeney is a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (the "Wobblies").
She also helped, with other folkie troubadours, to establish Local #1000 of the American Federation of Musicians, the "Traveling Musicians’ Union," in 1993. It represents acoustic players who perform most of their gigs away from their local AFM jurisdiction.
Feeney has paid her social dues as well, as she was president of a local NOW chapter, served on the board of the Thomas Merton Center and helped found PAAR.
She married labor attorney Ron Berlin in 1977, had two kids, Dan and Amy, and ended that union in 1995. In 2002, Feeney married Swedish political artist Julie Leonardsson, and they crash in Swissvale.
Feeney is fighting a new foe now; she was diagnosed with cancer this summer. She's battling on two fronts, trying to whip the tumor and raise money to pay the bills (you'd be surprised at how many working musicians there are who don't bring home enough bacon to pay for health insurance). She probably never realized how her quest for National Health Insurance would end up on her doorstep.
She's got a lot of friends; benefits have been held for her in Chicago, Eugene, Lexington and Cleveland among other spots. There was a local show for her just last week, and Mr. Small's in Millvale is hosting a super pre-Christmas event on December 12th.
Performing will be Joe Munroe, Mike Stout and the Human Union, Justin Sane of Anti-Flag, Hermie Granati, Liz Berlin of Rusted Root, Joe Grushecky and others.
If you'd like to donate to the cause, you can use PayPal on her webpage or just send a check; her address is also on the web site.
"Have You Been To Jail For Justice?" - Anne Feeney
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Patti Spadaro took a round-about route to the Steel City: the Philly native went to the opposite coast, lived and worked in LA for 10 years, and then moseyed back across the country to Amwell Township in Washington County.
No, she didn't have kin around, but in a reversal from the norm, she relocated here after her hubby John found a job in the area. Spadaro settled in nicely, and started a family. Her daughters Alison, and Kaylee are now in school, freeing up the time for mama Spadaro to get back into the swing of the local music scene.
Spadaro started playing at age 11 and has been performing since age 13. She left Philly armed with a physics degree from Drexel University, but she wasn't going to LA to expand on Newton and Einstein's brainchildren; she was more interested in Jerry Garcia's work.
She played with a couple of local indie rock bands, did session work, and taught guitar.
Starting out with the Mystrals, Spadaro recorded on their CD "A Step Down From Luxury" and toured the southwest with the group.
Then she spent the next several years as the lead guitarist for the Zookeepers, a highly regarded West Coast band. They cut two CDs while she was with them, "The Zookeepers", and "Set Me Free," both big regional sellers. They gigged from San Diego to Seattle, and performed on area TV.
Spadaro also recorded and performed in Los Angeles with singer/songwriter and producer Sherby, along with singer/songwriter Roger Len Smith. She's a graduate of the Musician's Institue in Hollywood, where she studied with jazz/fusion guitarist Scott Henderson and blues/roots-rock guitarist Keith Wyatt.
She organized a benefit concert for Free Arts for Abused Children at the El Rey Theatre in LA with Little Feat as the headliners and the Smith/Spadaro Band opening the show.
In 2001, just before her baby boom and move to Western PA, Spadaro released the CD "Short Stay," recorded and mixed in Laguna Hills. It holds a six-song set of bluesy and jammin' Spadaro-written tunes. She played the lead guitar for all the tracks, and was the featured vocalist for two cuts (the others were sung by Stefana Dadas).
Then it was off to Amwell and the family life. Spadaro didn't entirely stay on the straight and narrow mommy track. She strayed enough to sit in with other bands every so often, hit some jam/open mike nights, and did some writing. In 2007, she did some solo acoustic sets and sat in with theCAUSE, and in 2008, the Patti Spadara Band joined the area's music scene.
The band introduced itself around town in a hurry. Spadara has performed with locals like theCAUSE, Jill West, the Mystic Knights, Tom Breiding, Bill Toms, The Sweaty Betty Blues Band, Women On Top and Craig King. She and the band have played at Moondogs, The Thunderbird Café, P.D.’s Pub (now Frankie and George's), Cefalo’s, Club Cafe, the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, JamBaloosa Music & Arts Festival, Jamband Festival, Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Fest, pUNKapalooza, Carnegie Music Hall, Southside Works, and Blues Go Pink.
The Patti Spadaro Band features bluesy jam-rock originals and cover songs ranging from soulful to Americana. The players are kinda like a Chinese menu; you have several columns to pick from. The main players around Spadaro, vocalist and lead guitarist, are:
Eric Kurtzrock on drums: He's worked in NY, LA and San Fransisco as a session drummer and has gigged with Eddie Henderson (of The Headhunters), Chipito Ayeres (Santana), Michelle Shocked, David Byrne, Boz Scaggs and many others. You could see Kurt Steinle (from Billy Price & the Rhythm Kings) behind the kit. Or for that matter, Davis Raborn, an acoustic drummer who's played for theimprovproject, Sonic Pulsar and Project Creation, could be poundin' out the beat.
Janelle Burdell was the original drummer; she's worked with Mickey Hart of the Dead and done programming for Planet Drum and The Other Ones and still sits in every so often. Former long-time Rusted Roots drummer Jim Donovan laid down four tracks on the CD, and as a friend of Spadaro's helped her get the band members in place.
Jeff Rosenthal on keyboards: He plays with Erin Burkett and was a member of The Usual Suspects; Denny Karl from the Mandrake Project also sits in on keys. Skip Sanders of The Clarks, Bill Deasy and Good Brother Earl recorded on the CD.
Ken Lamison on bass: He teaches and also plays with Bahama Breeze and Jumboband. Scooter Tamulinas of Bill Deasy and Bill Toms fame played on the CD.
The CD those guys played on is "Bringing Me Back," just released yesterday with a party at Frankie and George's (the old PD's Pub) on Forward Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
It was mastered at Swissvale's Sofa King Studios by Sean McDonald, who has worked with The Clarks, Aretha Franklin, Wynton Marsalis, Sinead O'Connor, and Soul Asylum. Some of the album was recorded at the McMurray studio of local musician Tom Breiding, and Jill Simmons and Cherylann Hawk lent the voices to the project.
The music is cataloged as jam-band American rock, ala Dave Matthews and the Grateful Dead. Songs from the CD, particularly "Live Out Loud," have gotten some airplay on WYEP-FM and local college stations. Spadaro is hoping the CD will help her and the band break out, at least regionally.
Until then, look for the Patti Spadaro Band dates in the paper, or for a stage with Patti doing an acoustic set. You'll get a bluesy jam-rock set with a solid groove and dancin' vibe; they love to get a room - and you - rockin'.
Patti Spadora Band - "Turn On Your Love Light"
Friday, November 5, 2010
28 North may be the biggest current thing in the Pittsburgh rock scene. They have their own playlist of original songs, now at 150+ and growing, and work a classic rock, southern jam vibe that's proven popular over the decades, not only in the Tri-State area but across the land.
Their sound has won enough local fans that the group was selected as 2010's Best Band in the annual WQED Readers Poll taken by Pittsburgh Magazine. It's solid rock, with hooks, harmony and radio-friendly riffs galore.
Followers of The Grateful Dead, Lynnard Skynyrd, Government Mule, Phish, the Allman Brothers and Blackfoot should groove to their music; the band itself says its muse is The Band, chief among others ranging from the Beatles to the Black Crowes.
The members of 28 North are frontman Mike Lindner (guitar/vocals), Alex Stanton (guitar/harp/vocals), Jonathan Colman (bass/vocals) and Tyler Bond (drum/vocals). They originally started out as a trio before adding Colman, a Philly native, to round out the sound.
They have three CDs out; "Gone Too Far" (2007), "Mystery" (2008), and "28 North" (2010), the last mastered by George Marino, who has worked with the Arctic Monkeys, Guns N' Roses and Bon Jovi. All are available through iTunes and Amazon; the group is unsigned and doesn't have a label to push them, yet, and so depends mightily on the digital record shops.
28 North is putting together a fourth album in Brooklyn, working with Felix McTeigue, a well-respected country writer and producer, while playing a November residency at Arlene's Grocery, a bar known for showcasing up-and-coming acts.
And 28 North isn't sitting on its laurels or looking to become home-town heroes. They tour nationwide to support their work, having done by their count some 400 shows in the past three years.
They've shared a stage with the Dave Matthews Band, My Morning Jacket, Crash Kings, Motley Crue, Dickie Betts, Ace Frehley, Billy Squire, Steven Adler, Pat McGee Band, Pat Travers, Ekoostik Hookah, and the Blues Travelers along with locals like Joe Grushecky and Rusted Root.
The venues are just as strong as the acts 28 North supports: they've played at LA's Whiskey A Go Go and Chicago's House of Blues, along with New York's CMJ, Austin's South by Southwest, and Park City's Sundance Film Festivals. They finished a busy summer tour at the end of July and are fitting together dates around Arlene's and studio time for the winter.
They work the home front pretty well, too. 28 North is regularly part of the rotation of WDVE and have appeared on the Morning Show, Coffee House and the station's on-air Christmas Party, while WYEP spins their music, too. They've also been getting some airplay nationally since the release of "28 North."
They play the big local fests like Ribs on the River 2010, the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Rivers Casino amphitheater concert, along with area venues such as the Altar Bar, Thunderbird Cafe, Club Cafe, and Mr. Smalls.
They've got all the licks needed to break out. Now it's just a matter of getting the breaks to launch that break out.