On a Saturday evening last month, I walked across Wilkes-Barre public square along with two good friends, Dean and Ray, both nearing the the Big 50. At 8 p.m., city street lights looked lonely, could only shine upon but a couple passerbys. Fortunate that night, public square peaceful, but only a few days later, Wilkes-Barre Police officers arrested a guy who carried a cross-bow while walking the square, taking aim at people. Dean, Ray and I arrived five minutes late , safely at our destination, the storied F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts concert series called “Live from the Chandelier Room.”
Although Northeast Pennsylvania media touted upcoming concert featuring James Taylor at Mohegan Sun Casino, Ray and Dean were committed to the Music Industry's lesser bluesgods, and opted to treat me to a more intimate evening with The Alexis P. Suter Band, and the Brooklyn native singer's deep, raspy, gospel and blues vocals. I get ahead of self, but I don't know if any such natural energy and force ever rolled into the Wyoming Valley, since 1972, Hurricane Agnes.
Standing beneath F.M. Kirby Center marquee roof, altered by homegrown nostalgia, not Acapulco Gold, I was absolutely wasted by memories of my concert-going past. An only child, late 1960s, I had a gasoline attendant job and car – indeed, no Bob Cratchik stories evolved out of my pampered teenage life. Inside the remodeled but still vintage Kirby Center, I handed my $20 concert ticket to a lady, stared into the lobby's impressive decor, a popcorn machine, sidebar, tables filled with elderly white people, slowly sipping gin and tonic, conscious of return home, D.U.I. checkpoints, the spirited crowd, approximately 200, patiently awaited a larger-than-after-life Valhalla blues experience.
Memories, memories... Alexis P. Suter had no idea where I had been, for one example, during April 1970, Wilkes-Barre Kings College rejected my application, the Vietnam War draft loomed. Small town teenagers much like me, filled with “piss and vinegar,”self-stymied high school education, cared not about the Watts riots, limited choices and subsequent requirement (for me) to leave for US Army Basic Training and A.I.T., Fort Polk, Louisiana. But there was one more summer thrill before donning Army fatigues and boots, my steady girlfriend, Donna and I, excitedly strutted inside the Kirby Theater – appearing was Grand Funk Railroad, along with national hit single, “I'm Your Captain.” Fast forward night of November 2014, I walked deeper into Kirby Chandelier Room, looked for a pretty girl who might be Donna, approached stage where Alexis's band would soon play. I tried sneaking peeks behind the lobby's south wall divider, desired to see the old stage where Mark Farner once sang, “I'm Getting Closer to My Home.” No Donna, no Farner, but “home” is something that gets knocked down, repossessed, but never entirely lost.
Suddenly, Kirby Center lights gone dim, legendary local concert promoter, Michael Cloeren, appeared on stage, warmly welcomed all, gave enthusiastic presentation on the performance soon to appear on stage, including artists on tap for future affordable events. Fortunate for Wilkes-Barre Scranton arts scene, Cloeren is in Michelangelo “finger-to-finger” touch with the Pennsylvania Blues scene, he announced Bluesman Norman Taylor would perform first, solo, then an on-stage interview with Alexis P. Suter. My heel spurs were killing me, stepped away from friends Ray and Dean who preferred standing, and I sat upon carpeted balcony steps, listened to the powerful Delta Blues voice and guitar strumming of Jonathan Taylor, until time for Alexis S. Suter interview appearance.
To rear of stage, I caught glimpse of Alexis P. Suter, and hurried down balcony, and noticed an empty metal chair available, located only ten or so feet from the Kirby stage. I smiled at a lady who looked as old as me (62), dressed almost as schlocky cool as me, and surprisingly, she smiled back, offered, “you can sit here at our family table... I'm Vickie Bell's mother, she sings for Alexis's band!” Thrilled, no need of more Tylenol Extra Strength, I expressed Dr. Scholl gratitude, sat comfortably, chatted with Vickie's mother who wore tight jeans and cowboy boots, and indicated she's a Binghamton, New York, native, “I'm official coal-cracker now, I live outside Wilkes-Barre!” The totally unexpected interview with Vickie's family ceased when Michael Cloeren sat down to talk with Alexis P. Suter.
A reader might be interested to know that I never saw a “live” interview conducted in all my 62 years. In fact, all the famous female singers I had the pleasure of experiencing “live,” they all weighed under 150-pounds, for example Emmylou Harris and Amy Helm. Let's say (in discredited Morton Downey humor) that latter figure was not in range of Alexis's weight class. She wore an pink pant suit and comfortable looking black pump-shoes which my sore heels really envied. Atop her head, the signature black Mardi Gras-style top hat! Dreadlocks hair, not excessively long, Alexis's big eyes were contemplative, guarded, wounded, seemed to point straight-up to Bethlehem Star peace. Brick and stick self-possession inside her, along with lots of mother's old 45s, non-Public Relation's “Joy to the World,” on that special night, Alexis substituted for Roy Orbison, and the Recording Angel sang for lonely and wayward... me.
Recommended for You
Michael Cloeren's interview proceeded flawlessly, he indulged pin point topics, and as if having emerged from a secret chamber, the audience learned about Alexis's Brooklyn childhood, taught to sing and cook by her 92-year-old “momma” whose presently well, alert, and is secure in her daughter's soul. Am no Edgar Cayce, and aware of lifestyle changes some financially successful musicians undertake, it seems Alexis is not in the moral league of wildly popular and wealthy American singers who would jump at opportunities to pay millions of dollars in order to perform during N.F.L. Superbowl halftimes. On that November Public Square night, Norman Taylor sang Bobby Womack's intense “Across 10th Street,” the dazzling interview... Alexis was all band, love for them, love for B.B. King, the late-Levon Helm, love for Michael Cloeren's mission, love for her audience, and a will to keep Blues music honest, pure, and fun. (Sigh) I weigh less than 200 pounds now, have roly-poly paunch, but while listening to Alexis and Michael talk, I wanted to Sumo wrestle her soul to the dirt, the place from where we all Humpty Dumpty rise and fall.
America needs good art, cities and towns need good music. And so much for me now, the Chandelier Lobby momentarily hushed, I watched as the Alexis P. Suter Band take stage, took-up instruments. Very frankly, I am a washed-up emergency response supervisor, and currently, a school bus driver. No doubt, I listened to lots of records since The Beatles appeared on my parent's black and white T.V., but I don't know shit about a musician's craft, tools-of-trade. I sat beside Vickie Bell's adorable adoring mother, song after song, my feet tapped fake bass drum and high-hat, just like back in early 60s, when I tried to be a drummer. Consequently I'll avoid boring people by laying empty comments on the reader, for instance,
- O what a jam!
- Man that song did me!
- I almost cried when she sang Let It Be, and,
- That drummer reminds me of John Bonham!
Best to let my good friend Dean, a horse farmer, environmentalist and amateur guitarist, tell the bulk of the Alexis P. Suter Band story.
So from Dean's capable hands and caring mind, the day before Thanksgiving:
“Pink it was, Chuck, color of Alexis's pant-suit. However, based on the near religious experience, I think a better description would be ENLIGHTENED pink. The guitar player is Jimmy Bennett. I wish I could justify making appropriate comment on his guitar prowess, but alas, I am an extreme novice. All I can say for certain is Jimmy is one of the best blues guitarists I have seen. Love the wah-wah pedal, slide work and slick subtle solos. Best is Jimmy wasn't crazy, over-powering. Even tough he was up front, IMHO he would not have been so captivating without the other pieces of the P. Suter band. I saw that they feed off one another. The animated movements and facial gestures of the drummer and the back-beat bass player enhanced the lead guitar licks to a tee... and the Wurlitzer was insane! Man, the keyboard player player was out of this Valley world. I think the best description of the band is that they have a great synergy, a total experience brought to you by all the little tight-knit pieces.”
Like General Al Haig, I shall take over now, and thanks a lot, Dean! Alexis P. Suters' voice? Astonishing facial expressions, stage presence, powerful and masterful pronunciation of words. A few minutes into the performance, Alexis removed top hat and moved Chuck Orloski to America's highest Delta plain of listening, minus the cost of some extraordinary bands for what they do inside much larger venues, in contrast to the $20 per person show that I witnessed. Following are unforgettable songs the band played: 25 Years, Nuthin' in the World, Big Mama, Hang On, and John the Revelator.
At performance end, the band played Shake Your Hips. Alexis turned deep eye upon Wilkes-Barre, explained to all stiff-limb baby boomers like me, “gonna' show you how it's done!” Geriatric people moved forward, danced along with Alexis's family. Dressed in a sun dress that might have been purchased at a Woodstock garage sale, energetic singer, Vickie Bell, hugged Alexis. Over powering cheers rattled the The Chandelier Lobby, and the band bowed, waved goodbye, politely invited all to purchase their newest C.D., Love The Way You Roll..., which I sincerely hope wins a Grammy, 2015, Chinese Year of the Sheep.
Incredible, incredible, the band is off to Boston and Maine. And who knows, maybe shake the Left West Coast come soon? Her music bites and sticks, and the wild man who aimed cross-bow on Wilkes-Barre Public Square is under arrest! Alexis P. Suter can show the flying drone machines how real musical rage will eventually catch-up, overcome.